When you arrive in Key West as a final destination or just stop by as part of a larger Florida Keys trip, you’re bound to be immediately bombarded by two distinct contradictions of atmosphere. Between the gorgeous beaches and enough Old Florida charm to live up to the well-deserved reputation of “Sunshine State,” you’ll be at no loss of places to eat and shop–and you’ll have more than enough places to go see. There will certainly be more places to have fun than you’ll know what to do with, especially if you’re looking to have a quality Key West vacation in a short amount of time. So in the interests of having the best vacation, here are five of the best kept Key West Secrets in no particular order:
The Unmarked Home of Tennessee Williams
If you go check out Williams’ cottage at 1431 Duncan St., you’ll not only get to miss the lines of visitors who line up everyday to see Ernest Hemingway’s digs, you’ll get pass by the compound he build around the place that included a swimming pool and a writing room he called the “Mad House.” Other less-traveled sites to check out on a Key West vacation for the literary inclined could include Elizabeth Bishop’s clapboard house that she once owned on 624 White Street and several of the other properties Hemingway was known for frequenting.
Marked one of Yelp’s “Best of Key West” by locals, this permanent-fixture food truck is operated by a husband and wife team who serves up the best mahi and Korean beef tacos in town. Located on Greene St. just down the road from Hemingway’s favorite bar, Sloppy Joe’s, you might not find a place to sit down, but you’ll enjoy the food and the inspiring “Van Sharkson” artwork on the van.
Epitaphs at Key West Cemetery
Okay, so it might seem odd that anyone would recommend a cemetery outing while you’re on a laid-back beach getaway, but some one-time residents of Key West took their morbid senses of humor with them to the grave, and had it carved in as an epitaph. You’ll want to see such gems as “I told you I was sick,” “Devoted Fan of Julio Iglesias,” and “At least I know where he’s sleeping tonight” in person. Bonus sights to see include three pink-granite gravestones for someone’s beloved Yorkshire terriers, and a pet deer that has been forever immortalized alongside them.
The Old Town Parking Garage
At the corner of Caroline and Grinnell Streets, you’ll find one of the best places to see all of Key West after nightfall. From the top of this location you can look down and see several historical sights in all their glory without all the hustle and bustle of the Lighthouse Museum or the La Concha Hotel. If you enter from the rear stairwell on James St., you can just head over after having a few drinks at Finnegan’s Wake.
Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden
Whether you have children, or don’t, this location is a wonderful destination if you need a few moments to collect yourself around a tremendous collection of parrots, macaws and cockatoos among lush fruit trees and orchids on your getaway.
That said, it may also be tempting to simply meander in and out of all the haunts on Duval Street, often referred to as the “longest street in the world” since it runs across the island from the Gulf of Mexico. You don’t want to have too many plans, right? Keeping it laid back and simple is why you’re here. It’s your Key West vacation, you can always do that if you want to. If spending time weaving out of expensive souvenir shops and bars filled with tourists and expensive main attractions is your idea of a laid-back keys getaway, then by all means have at it. But if you’re like us, and you want to hit some of the best “off-the-beaten-path” locations, you’ll have to journey a little further inward, be a little more adventurous, and be ready to meet some locals who can give you a real taste of Key West’s amazing flavor.