Inside Key West Womenfest

Now is the time to start making plans to attend the annual Key West Womenfest, the island’s biggest gathering for lesbians and their friends. Scheduled for September 4th through the 7th, 2014, this cornucopia of celebration pulls people in from all over the world for 3 days and nights of female-only playing, partying, and outdoor adventures. Now in its 28th year, this festival offers a plethora of activities guaranteed to appeal to a broad range of interests.

The active and adventurous will go in for the wild clothing-optional pool parties, hot nightlife and dance club scene, sexy & competitive bull riding, and many types of female-only water sports excursions.  Or chill out and indulge in some culture with plentiful offerings of art, comedy, live music, poetry, and theatre, often set in venues that take advantage of the tropical setting and fine Key West fall weather.

The 2013 Womenfest, while a bit less crowded than past festivals, was special because world-record setting distance swimmer and out lesbian Diana Nyad walked ashore September 3rd on a Key West beach having completed the first swim between the U.S. and Cuba without a shark cage. Nyad, age 64, battled powerful currents, sharks, and box jellyfish to finally best the difficult 110-mile crossing that had already defeated her 4 times previously. While Nyad was unable to stay in town for Womefest 2013 because of other commitments, her accomplishment was the talk of the town, and added an additional touch of excitement to the festival. The 2014 festival is sure to have its special moments as well, and is a great opportunity to simply enjoy being part of the pride and friendship that comes from thousands of gay women enjoying life and love, hanging out and about in Key West.

Womenfest 2014 will offer the same rich mix of events and activities as in years past, beginning when you first check in to the festival headquarters at the Gay Key West Visitor Center to pick up guides, maps, tickets, t-shirts, One Human Family Stickers, and other assorted swag. The party really kicks off with a no-cover launch party on September 3rd at Aqua night club, leading into an evening of shows and partying all night long with friends old and new.

Daily activities run the gamut from golf to sea kayaking, parades, photoshoots, watersports, yoga, and jet ski tours. Many of the local Key West tour operators put on special trips for womenfest attendees, allowing you to enjoy the experience of snorkeling, parasailing, sunning, swimming, snacking, and sunset cocktail cruising all in the comfortable company of like-minded companions. When you get off the water, prepare for evenings of happy hour specials, stand-up comedy performances, themed dance parties, all-girl bands, burlesque shows, and bikini competitions. And don’t forget to set an afternoon aside for the Gay Key West Trolley Tour to get an inside look at the history, architecture, and rich gay culture of the island.

If you want to experience the tolerance and diversity that Key West is famous for, a visit to Womenfest 2014 is the perfect way to do it. Plan now to visit Key West next fall and party with pride in a tropical paradise.

Inside Clothing-Optional Key West

Perhaps due to its history as a free-wheeling port city on a remote island, Key West has long been a place where tolerant, liberal attitudes set the tone for eccentric, creative lifestyle choices. The island has always hosted multiple racial and cultural groups, a mix of seafarers and landlubbers, travelers and permanent residents, fishermen and factory owners, businesspeople, pirates, smugglers, and rumrunners. In the modern era, Key West has been a magnet for artists, iconoclasts, hippies, gays, and lesbians since at least the late 1960’s.

As an accessory to or upshot of all of this, in Key West, naturist and clothing-optional facilities and activities are a big part of the urban scene. On many days in town, especially around the big festival dates like Fantasy Fest, it will be hard to move through the crowds without being “exposed” to various degrees and types of nudity. However, in general, things are not quite as “free” in Key West as one might think. There are, for example, no nude beaches on the island, and even topless sunbathing in the public realm is confined to a small section of Higgs Beach. The best bet for the naturist visiting Key West is to take advantage of the many private venues that support clothing-optional playing and partying.

Many of the most popular clothing-optional hotels in Key West are near Duval Street. If you are planning to visit one, it is mandatory to look into the details of the accommodation before booking. Some properties cater exclusively to males, others to females; some are primarily gay-oriented while others draw a mixed crowd; there are places that offer clothing-optional policies throughout the property, while others permit nudity around the pool area, or have a designated sundeck for clothes-free tanning. Here are some of the better-known of the Key West naturist hotels.

The Island House on Fleming Street is one of Key West’s most well-known all-male gay guest houses. The Island House is luxury-style clothing optional, has a fun pool area, a mist-cooled sun deck, and many other amenities. The staff is very attentive and the happy hour drinks are free. The location is good for accessing the Key West party scene, but many guests spend their entire visit on the Island House grounds.

Olivia by Duval on Olivia Street offers a good location within walking or biking distance of Mallory Square, Duval Street, and Zachary Taylor State Beach. It is a pet-friendly guest house, with some full-kitchen suites available. The outdoor swimming pool and sun deck are adults-only and clothing-optional.

The Pilot House is a restored Victorian-era mansion right in the middle of Old Town Key West on Simonton Street. Fourteen suites offer full-kitchen facilities, and clothing-optional policies are liberal around the lush and private tropical gardens, outdoor pool, and hot tub. Duval Street and several public beaches are within walking distance.

The La-Te-Da on Duval Street is a bar, restaurant, and hotel with a 30-year history as one of the most vibrant and iconic in Key West, and a clothing-optional sun deck. The resort features luxury surroundings and a choice of luxury, deluxe, or standard rooms. Amenities include an outdoor swimming pool, two bars and complimentary breakfast. South beach is within walking distance.

Beyond this brief sample list of Key West clothing-optional resorts, there are other options for the more adventurous naturist. The Garden of Eden is a Key West roof-top night club bar on the third floor of the Bull and Whistle Bar on Duval Street. When the music and dancing begin after dark, those who choose may enjoy the natural experience of the night air against exposed skin. There are also options for, shall we call it, “bare-boat” sailing. Enjoy sunbathing at sea, hedonistic cocktail cruises, and even swim with wild dolphins while wearing the same swimming suit that they do – skin. There are plenty of options, so come on down and expose yourself to unclothed Key West.

Inside Winter in Key West

Winter in Key West is the busy season as frozen northerners flock to the island for a tropical respite to tide them over until the spring thaw hits. With arctic blasts and record cold spells covering much of the continental US this winter, and even reaching down into Florida, there is more reason than ever to plan an escape to paradise. But good weather is not the only thing happening on the island in January. Several large-scale special events run through the latter part of January and offer Key West visitors a chance to add some special highlights to their island trip.

The 2014 Key West Food and Wine Festival runs from January 22 to the 26th, and is the event of the season for those who revel in excellent wine and delicious food. From the kickoff in the hospitality suite on the morning of the 21st, to the 20th annual Master Chef’s Classic on the afternoon of the 26th, this festival is nothing but 5 days of feasting, friends, and fun as you walk about, talk about, learn about, and enjoy great wine, amazing cuisine, and incredible vintners and chefs in the kind of party atmosphere that only Key West can put on. Wine, beer, and liquor tastings, gourmet food and wine seminars, competitions, parties, and feasts all vie for participants’ time in a packed schedule that fills each day from (not too early!) morning until late night. From barefoot beach parties to Cuban-style pig roasts, Key West shrimp boils, and Duval Street wine tasting crawls, this is a true tropical bacchanalia and is a perfect excuse to spend a week thawing out and unwinding in Key West.

Sailing fans and wannabe yachties alike can have a ball at the 27th annual Quantum Key West Regatta, in town from January 19 – 24.  Beginning with the skippers’ meeting and welcome reception on the 19th, the event features 5 days of racing with some of the most amazing yachts and crews in the world starting daily out of Key West harbor. The big 70-foot boats of the Mini-maxi class will inspire awe with their speed, power, and sheer size, while action will be fast and furious in the 52-foot class with an international fleet of 6 boats manned by some of the world’s top racing professionals.  This US SAILING-sanctioned event sponsored by high-performance sailmakers Quantum Sails includes the IRC 1, 2, and 3 classes along with the exciting J-classes, which draw some big fleets, like the 62-boat flotilla in the J/70 class, and promise some spectacular racing action. The racing will be conducted offshore under permit in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, but there are plenty of options for fans who cannot be out on the racecourse. Live twitter, blog, and video coverage will follow the action, and of course just being on the scene, checking out the boats and sponsors, and mingling with the crowds will offer some great nautical fun.

If you still have time in your Key West schedule, the Stock Island Marina Village King Mackerel Tournament runs from January 24th to the 26th. A fleet of elite anglers will go out after the big King Mackerel that migrate to Key West waters each winter, with each fisherman looking for the biggest fish and the $10,000 dollar purse that goes with it. Charter a boat and join the fun on an amateur basis, or follow the action at the daily weigh-ins and dockside parties. Non-fishermen may want to set aside January 25 – 26 for a visit to the 29th Annual Key West Craft Show. This free event features more than 100 jury-selected artisans and crafters who display the fruits of their talents in historic old Key West on lower Whitehead and Caroline Streets. Expect beautiful displays of pottery, fabric, glass, wood, jewelry and other colorful handmade works to be on display from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

From wind to wine, fine arts, fair weather, friendly folk, and fishing fun, Key West has got it going on in the depths of winter. Come on down out of the chill and be a part of it all!


Inside Key West Biking

The island of Key West is small – only 4 miles long and 2 miles wide. It is flat, and the city itself is very compact. In addition, most things that visitors want to see and do are located in close proximity, so moving from one to another is quick and easy even by walking. On the other hand, driving is difficult because traffic is heavy and parking is scarce. All things considered, as long as the weather is fairly dry and not too windy, Biking Key West is absolutely the best way to get around the island.

Perhaps the strongest support for this argument is the fact that the bicycle is the Key West local’s choice for island transportation. There are bike shops everywhere offering sales, rentals, and repairs; there are bike racks at nearly every popular destination, and there are plenty of bike paths as well. Key West is often called a “bike town”, and the name is well deserved. On the other hand, Key West as a “car town” is a nightmare. Yes, there are cars aplenty, in numbers far too great for the size of the island. Streets are small, traffic is heavy and clogging, and parking is non-existent. Many hotels and inns on the island do not even offer parking for paying guests. A quick search of this topic on any of the online travel guides will find visitor after visitor saying “don’t bother with a car” or “leave your car at the hotel”. It is advice to heed if at all possible.

There are also pleasures unique to Key West Biking that go beyond mere transportation. Winding through the quiet residential streets taking in the lush foliage and greenery, drifting fragrance of blooming flowers, and interesting architecture of historic homes is a great tourist activity in itself. There is also the sublime enjoyment of pedaling through the cool morning air down to the café for coffee, arriving and parking without a hint of stress, enjoying breakfast then continuing on with your day, maybe with the morning paper and some fresh tropical fruit in your bike basket. Or throw a towel, a book, and a picnic lunch in that basket and cruise the strip along Smathers Beach. A wide sidewalk runs the length of the beach, and the sights go from crowds of tourists on one end to more natural beauty and some interesting houseboat neighborhoods out on the other end. And of course Fort Zachary Taylor is a good beach to bike out to.

These are just a few of the many upsides to biking around Key West. For vacationers, the most important thing about biking is the total escape from the work-a-day world of cars, traffic, commutes, and parking. Just getting into a car can put you back in work mode, and that is the last thing you need when you are in Key West. You want to toss that aside and replace it with fresh air, exercise, and the ability to smile at people and greet them as you pedal by.

There are many ways to get your hands on a bike in Key West – it is impossible to miss them. In fact, many island accommodations have bikes on site or will arrange to get you and a bike together one way or another. Of course, use common sense and bike safely. Practice a bit in a quiet parking lot if you have not ridden in a while. Put helmets on children. Avoid riding at night. Take the quiet back streets whenever possible. Perhaps the most difficult safety rule to follow is to always pay more attention to where you are going than to the sights of Key West. But thousands do it every day and you can too. So be sure to give Key West Biking a try.