Key West, Florida [Travel Guide]

Almost two years ago, my parents moved to Key West. I've now happily accepted the Conch Republic as my second home, a magical place to unwind and relax when I need a break from reality, and the town that occupies my daydreams when I'm craving bucci and a Cuban sandwich. From the roaming chickens to the quirky characters that walk around Duval street, there's so much to love about Key West. If you're planning a trip in the near future, keep reading to learn about some of my favorite spots! 

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FOOD

Santiago's Bodega: If there's a single restaurant you have to try while you're in Key West, Santiago's Bodega is it. This charming Spanish restaurant has a friendly neighborhood feel and offers affordable, mouthwatering tapas. Some of my favorites are the dates (stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in prosciutto), chicken skewers, patatas bravas, and gazpacho. If you love cheese and you're feeling a little adventurous, order the saganaki.

Bien Key West: Bien is where you want to go if you're craving authentic Caribbean food. My parents always get the mahi mahi in red sauce (which consists of tender mahi mahi sautéed in olive oil, garlic tapenade, cilantro, and red sauce, served over white rice), which is satisfyingly spicy and delicious. That's actually the only dish I've tried there...but I can promise you won't be disappointed.

French Cafe Creperie: This European-style cafe can make all their crepes and galettes gluten-free/vegan, so are you surprised that I'm obsessed? The atmosphere of French Cafe Creperie is also perfect. Palm trees shroud the colorful outdoor patio, and you might even spot a roaming chicken or two. I ordered a galette filled with avocado, romaine, a sunny egg, cheddar, goat cheese, and vinaigrette, which was amazing. But you really can't go wrong with anything on the menu.

Date & Thyme: Every time I visit Key West, I visit Date & Thyme more than once. It's basically my holy grail. With an organic menu that caters to those who can't eat gluten or dairy, I always find myself wanting to order multiple plates. Their spicy yellowfin tuna wrap is my all time favorite! I'm also a huge fan of their carrot zing juice. 

Garbo's Grill: I somehow still haven't eaten at Garbo's Grill, but it has over 1,000 five-star reviews on Yelp, and my parents are obsessed. If you're looking for eclectic tacos, burritos, or burgers, stop by this husband-and-wife run food stand. The yum yum shrimp tacos are calling my name next time I'm in town...

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The Lobster Shack: If you thought lobster rolls only existed in New England, think again! This quaint coastal restaurant offers a small but creative menu that includes gems like their famous key lime lobster roll (I ordered this one, and it was divine), a lobster "BLT" roll, and a lobster grilled cheese (that you can top with bacon or jalapeño). They even offer lobster breakfast burritos!

Better Than Sex: This intimate dessert restaurant will knock your socks off. The indulgent desserts are divine, the dim lighting is romantic, and the sexual puns are equally creative and hilarious. Their wine and beer options are served in chocolate/caramel rimmed glasses...need I say more? (Order the peanut butter perversion, and thank me later.)

While you're in Key West, key lime pie is a must! I'm a huge fan of Key West Key Lime Pie Co. because they offer gluten-free slices, but if you're a chocolate lover, you should definitely try the chocolate dipped key lime pie on a stick. You can find them all over Duval Street.

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CAFES

Sandy's Cafe: I've tried bucci at several cafes and restaurants in Key West, but Sandy's Cafe always wins. What exactly is bucci? It's basically "the quintessential espresso shot of the Cuban coffee world". Bucci is strong, rich, and lightly sweetened with cane sugar. Order the colada, which is a double bucci, if you're with a large group. And don't forget to try their Cuban sandwich. Overflowing with ham, pork, salami, melted swiss, tangy pickles, and mustard, I would argue it's the best in the area. 

Five Brothers: This cozy corner shop rivals Sandy's in the coffee department. On any given morning, you'll find local regulars packed in a line out the door. Five Brothers is definitely a Key West staple you don't want to miss.

Cuban Coffee Queen: I love the waterfront location of this cafe. It's the perfect spot to grab a coffee in the morning, stroll around the marina, and enjoy the sunshine. We were craving something sweet, so we ordered a Cuban caramel coffee (cafe con leche, sub almond milk, with caramel syrup). It was delicious!

THINGS TO DO

The Hemingway Home: If you're a fan of Ernest Hemingway...or cats...the Hemingway Home is an absolute must. The guided tour is thirty minutes long, and the tour guides are really entertaining. Hemingway led a pretty wild life, so you'll definitely get a kick out of your visit. It's a huge bonus that dozens of cats, some with six toes, roam around the property.

The Butterfly Conservatory: This is my favorite place in Key West. When you walk into the conservatory, butterflies (of all shapes, sizes, colors, and species) swarm around you. It's breathtaking. The climate-controlled space also features flowers, plants, colorful birds, turtles, waterfalls, and more. If you're looking for a peaceful place to unwind, this is the ticket. 

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Key West Lighthouse: The view from the top of this lighthouse is spectacular. You can see all the way to the crystal clear ocean (where you can often find a cruise ship in port), and there are signs placed along the lookout to show points of interest around the island. Just make sure you're up for a climb! There are 88 iron steps in the tower's spiral staircase. It feels pretty rickety, but it doesn't take long to get to the top. And when you do, the view is totally worth it.

The Little White House: I don't consider myself a history buff...but I still appreciated the rich history of Truman's Little White House. If you want to learn about the historic building that served as Harry S. Truman's infamous winter residence, book this tour. Garbo's Grill is just a few steps away, so you can easily grab lunch afterwards. 

Go for a bike ride: Smathers Beach is a popular public beach in Key West, and there's a large sidewalk that runs alongside it. This is an ideal activity if you're craving a combination of exercise, fresh air, and gorgeous views. My favorite time to do this is right around sunset. The view over the Atlantic Ocean at the end of the boardwalk is beautiful.

Visit Dry Tortugas National Park: This is one of the most unique national parks in the United States. You have to take a two-hour ferry ride (that spans over 70 miles) to get there, but you're rewarded with a small, peaceful island in the Gulf of Mexico. The main attraction at Dry Tortugas is Fort Jefferson, which was used as a prison during the Civil War. The park is also known for its treacherous coral reefs, abundant sea life, and shipwreck legends. I really recommend a day trip if you're spending more than a few days in Key West. My experience was INCREDIBLE. You can check out a video I put together here! And find out everything you need to know about the excursion here.

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I'd love to know your favorite things to do in Key West!

Christmas in Key West

My dad was lucky enough to land a job transfer to Key West back in October, so my parents are currently living in paradise as I freeze in Virginia's frosty winter. Actually, last Monday was the first day of spring, so that's not an accurate statement. And it's currently 63°F, so I shouldn't complain. (Honestly, though, I don't mind cold weather. I'm just sayin' - You can layer and layer to stay warm, but you can only take off so many articles of clothing until it's no longer socially acceptable...Actually, in Key West, those rules might not apply. I'm pretty sure anything goes down there.) I was sad that my parents were moving, but I was excited for their new adventure. I was also counting down the days to visit them for Christmas!

After weeks of anticipation, my brother and I flew down to Key West a few days before Christmas Eve. It's always a surreal feeling bundling up for a plane ride, reaching your destination, and having to change in the airport bathroom because the climate difference is so drastic. I went from wearing a warm Patagonia sweater to slipping on a summer dress and sandals. It was heavenly. The palm trees were swaying in the breeze, the sunshine was warm and bright, and roosters ran across the street and crowed loudly. It's amazing that four hours on a plane can get you to a totally different environment. 

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Our week in Key West was filled with delicious seafood, boat rides, pina coladas, an abundance of Florida sunshine, snorkeling in turquoise waters, and plenty of laughs with my brother and parents. We took a tour of Harry Truman's Little White House, spent hours in the Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, saw my dad's new office on base, explored every inch of Duvall Street, and rode beach cruisers along South Roosevelt Boulevard on Christmas Day. We also spent ample time relaxing, reminiscing on memories from the past, and playing with my parents' new kitten, Ginger. It was a perfect combination of sight-seeing and quality family time. One week in paradise wasn't nearly enough time, so I can't wait to return to Key West again.