Key West is the Best- The Final Days

It was the last few days of our trip. The wedding was getting near, and we were all full of excitement for the nuptials of our friends. Most everyone who would be traveling down for the event had arrived at this point. While the bride and groom were off busy entertaining their incoming guests we took off on our bikes and ventured out to a breakfast spot that we were told by many was a must-stop, Blue Heaven on Thomas Street.

Blue Heaven is a great spot for brunch, lunch or dinner. They have indoor seating, but the outdoor seating is where you want to sit, if possible. We arrived early enough that our wait was very short, and grabbing a Bloody Mary at their outdoor bar is a great option. I wanted to start with a coffee and was very delighted to find that they offered cappuccinos and espressos. I was also thrilled to see they had a vast selection of eggs Benedict, which is my absolute favorite thing to order for brunch.  I ordered the bacon Benedict while my husband ordered their specialty Benedict, the BLT (Bacon, Lobster, Tomato) Benedict, and he added avocado to it as well. I loved the lime hollandaise sauce they use. It was a nice twist on the lemon juice that is typically used to make a traditional hollandaise sauce. Everything we had was delicious and the service was superb. It was a great way to start the day.

After finishing up brunch, we biked a few more blocks down Whitehead Street to the Southernmost Point. This large concrete buoy marking the southernmost point of the United States is a great spot for the touristy required photos from your trip to Key West.  There was a little bit of a line when we arrived of other visitors waiting for their chance to take photos at the popular photo-op spot. The line moved quickly and we quickly took our chance at getting our photo made. Once we had checked this off our list, we headed back across town to our rental home to get ready for our afternoon boating/snorkeling adventure.

The bride and groom had arranged a snorkeling excursion for those that wanted to attend. Sebago Watersports curated the trip out to the reefs. We went on the afternoon snorkel trip they offer. It’s a great option for your group if you are wanting to get out on the water a bit, and see some of the beautiful reefs off the key.  We had a smooth trip out to the reef, and I enjoyed soaking up some sunshine off the back of the catamaran. After an hour or so out on the water, we returned to shore with hungry stomachs. We went back to the rental house and prepared ourselves for the rehearsal dinner that was held at the Waterfront Brewery.

After a delicious dinner at the brewery, we all wandered back down to Duval Street for the sights and libations of Key West nightlife. We popped in Dirty Harry’s and were immediately drawn to the live music surrounding us. I did not take long and I was making my way back to our rental house to rest up for the big wedding day. The group continued wandering down Duval, but I was happy to crawl into our comfy bed.

The morning of the wedding the bridal group all met at the Blue Macaw off Whitehead Street for brunch. They have a great shaded outdoor patio that you can sit on and watch the bikers and pedestrians pass by while you enjoy your brunch. I had one of their house Bloody Mary’s and it was absolutely perfect. It had the right amount of spice and flavor. For my breakfast, I again ordered by the suggestion of our waiter, the Blue Beni. Their version of the Benedict consisted of mini waffles versus English muffins and pulled pork instead of ham. It was absolutely scrumptious. After a delightful brunch, we headed back to the rental house to start getting ourselves ready for the wedding.

The wedding was held at the West Martello Tower. They had originally planned to get married under the massive banyan/strangler fig tree located in the botanical gardens, but Hurricane Irma ravaged the gardens and unfortunately, the tree was lost. The root alone was twenty-five tons! It must have been a breath-taking sight. They were able to move the wedding to a small spot inside the gardens, referred to as the Butterfly Garden. It was slightly cooler in this shaded spot, so everything worked out as it should have.

When the photographer, Rachel E. Ligon, arrived at the house, the festivities truly began! We started popping bottles of champagne and celebrating what is going to be a very memorable day for our friends. After taking a few photos at the house of the bride getting gussied up, we all made our way down to Atlantic Boulevard to watch our friendship vow their everlasting love to one another.

We cozily gathered inside the Butterfly Room at West Martello. There was a steel drum playing live some of the bride and grooms favorite songs. The sounds of the drum and the distance waves crashing on the beach just beyond the tower really set the mood for a magical ceremony. My husband was the officiant for the wedding and hearing him present the ceremony brought waves of tears to my eyes. It took me back to our wedding day and memories of us speaking similar vows to each other and made my heart fill with love and emotion.

After the ceremony, we all reconvened at Michael’s off Margaret Street. We were all grouped together and seated towards the rear of the restaurant in an outdoor patio style seating. The ambiance was cozy and tropical. The weather was warm, but I do not recall being hot or feeling uncomfortable sitting outside. We were severed several appetizers, to begin with, the coconut shrimp being one of my favorites. We had a choice of entree and followed dinner up with wedding cake for dessert. The groom, a certified sommelier, opened several magnum bottles of wine. We all had a bit of fun taking photos next to these larger-than-life bottles of wine.

After dinner, much of the wedding party made a last minute stop at Sloppy Joe’s just around the corner from our rental home. I could hear the groom telling everyone “You can’t come to Disney World and not go to the Magic Kingdom.”  Sloppy Joe’s has been an establishment in Key West since 1933.

The following morning, we all sadly had to start packing our bags and start making our way back to the airport to return home. I had gone to bed earlier than everyone the night before because I had a few more stops on my list of things to see in Key West before we headed out. (Plus I did not want to be hungover traveling home.)

I rode my bike for one last time down a few blocks to the Cuban Coffee Queen. They are a well-known location due to the large Key West mural on one side of the building. They have the most incredible cafe con leche, which was my sole mission during the early hours of the morning. They also had some breakfast items for sale, but I wanted to wait for my husband to join me for our final breakfast in the key. Once we were together, we decided to hit up Sandy’s Original Cuban Sandwich shop just down the road. We were told by a long-time Key West native that we had to go to the original Sandy’s on White Street. They have been operating out of here since 1984. They had an incredibly delicious Cuban sandwich, tostones, and croquetas de jamón, the latter of which made me very reminiscent of Puerto Rico.

We successfully saw everything and then some during our time in Key West. It truly was a magical and memorable extended weekend trip. We were so fortunate to have been introduced to this little slice of heaven by such dear friends, and lifelong visitors/residents of Key West. Even though we have been home for just a short while, we are already talking about going back again next year for a reunion. If you are looking for a laid-back place to vacation, put Key West on your radar!

Entrance to Blue Heaven on  Thomas Street.

A picturesque Key West side street.

Unique banyan tree to the rear of Blue Heaven.

Bacon Benedict at Blue Heaven.

Lobster Benedict at Blue Heaven.

Street art off Thomas Street.

Southernmost point in the southernmost city!

Our catamaran for the day.

 

Blue Macaw on Whitehead Street.

Delicious house Bloody Mary at the Blue Macaw.

Small wedding inside the Butterfly Room in West Martello Tower in Key West.

Wedding dinner at Michael’s on Margaret Street.

Delicious coconut shrimp was one of the starters for dinner at Michael’s.

Cuban Coffee Queen of the port side of Margaret Street.

A must- stop, Sandy’s Cafe in Key West. Tostones and Cuban’s!

Hasta la vista, Key West!

Key West is the Best- Day Two

The best way to wake up after a late night out is to just pick up right where you left off; grab yourself a Bloody Mary, and keep yourself moving. I am an early riser so I was up despite the late night/early morning prior. It is truly a blessing and curse. A blessing because I get to enjoy the quiet and stillness that the morning often brings. A curse because my body was starved for much-needed rest. Coffee is the first thing I drink every single morning. It is one of the few constants in my life. I bring my own Mama Mocha’s Coffee with me whenever I travel. Our AirBnB was stocked with a coffee pot and filters and after a quick walk around the block to the supermarket for my favorite creamer, I was set.

I spent my morning reading on the front porch and drinking my coffee while all my housemates caught up on their rest. Our porch overlooked the gorgeous Curry Mansion. It was nice to watch the beautiful bed and breakfast start to come alive for the day. I think if we were to ever return, I would love to stay there. However, I do enjoy the amenities and sense of being at home that vacation rentals afford.

Once everyone started to rise, I was anxious for us to decide on somewhere to eat because it was almost midday. The groom suggested we stroll down Caroline Street a few blocks and meet his incoming family at one of their favorite places, B.O.’s Fish Wagon. A staple in Key West for over twenty-five years, this no-frills shack just blocks from the water is a must stop. They are known for their conch fritters with key lime mayo and Cuban sandwiches. We ordered the conch fritter appetizer, my husband had a Cuban sandwich, and I tried their burger. The conch fritters were good, and my burger was absolutely delicious. Between the coffee and the burger, I felt like a new woman.

After lunch, my husband and I separated from the group to go and see the Hemingway House, which was on my list of must-do’s while in Key West.  It was a short stroll from our rental house down our favorite street, Whitehead Street. Along the way, we passed the impressive Kapok Tree and many banyan trees; truly a botanists dream. We popped into a few local shops for souvenirs, and could not resist making a pit stop at our favorite bar, The Green Parrot.

After having a quick cocktail, we wandered down a few more blocks to the breath-taking estate of Ernest Hemingway. We arrived midday, and I was happy to see there were not hoards of people visiting. We slowly wandered throughout the house, stopping to pet the numerous kitties (some with six toes) and taking pictures of all the nostalgic memorabilia of one of my favorite authors. They offered guided tours throughout the home, but in an effort to avoid the crowd, we chose to do a self-guided tour and kept to ourselves. The lush lawn, the picturesque pool, and the overall ambiance of the property are captivating.

Later, we cleaned up for a nice dinner at a spot recommended to us by the groom’s mother, Bagatelle on Duval. This was hands down one of the best dining experiences we had while on the island. The atmosphere was tropical and intimate. We were seated in the upstairs dining room overlooking the moon lounge. We made the reservation last minute, so I was thankful they were able to accommodate us on such short notice. We started with cocktails and moved into wine with dinner. They had an excellent selection of cocktails and wines. For an appetizer, we shard the octopus salad and the barbecue shrimp wrapped in bacon. For my entree, I ordered the whole fried snapper. I had only had snapper like this before on one of our trips to Puerto Rico. I was really excited to see it on the menu here and to be taken back for a moment to our time in Culebra. The snapper was better than I could have hoped for, and I really like the Thai chili sauce that lightly covered the snapper. My husband had the yellowfin dish and it was equally tasty.

After dinner, we hurried down to Mallory Square to catch the sunset celebration and meet back up with our group. We had perfect timing and caught all the excitement. Our visit to Key West coincided with the Conch Republic Independence celebrations. They were having boat wars out in the water, there was a conch shell blower, and all kinds of exciting activities going on pier side. One of the more unusual acts we saw was that of Cat Man, Dominique LeFort. He has a slew of cats that he has trained to jump through fiery hoops and walk tight-ropes. It was intriguing to say the least. He is a staple act on the pier in Key West.

After the sun had set, our group ventured over to the Smoking Tuna off Charles Street. They had a live band playing, and everyone was having a great time. We hopped around after leaving here until we all ended up back at the house to rest up for what would be another eventful day.

B.O.’s Fish Camp on Caroline Street.

Really cool looking banyan trees everywhere.

The Kapok Tree on Whitehead Street.

Sidewalk quotes are throughout the Key.

Back at The Green Parrot.

Hemingway House Historical Maker.

Such an exquisite property. Can I live here?

Lord cat of the manner. He was huge….

And he has SIX toes!

If this pool could talk!

Exceptional dinner menu at Bagatelle on Duval Street.

Octopus and fresh tomato salad with Parmesan crisps.

Key West pink shrimp wrapped in bacon with a spicy chipotle sauce.

Whole fried snapper with a thai chili sauce served with jasmine rice.

Sesame Yellowfin Tuna with udon noodles, pickled edamame and a peanut sauce.

Sunset walking up to Sunset Pier at the end of Duval Street.

Key West Cat Man, Dominque LeFort.

Key West is the Best- Day One

“We didn’t come here to lose weight or save money!” – Andrew Harris

We recently took a trip to Key West, Florida to celebrate a good friend’s wedding. I had never been to the island and was very excited to explore a new place and discover new things. I had compiled a list of all the things I wanted to accomplish during my first visit to the Southernmost city. Top of the list was to try conch, followed by seeing the Hemingway House, and hopefully working on my tan. We easily accomplished all of these during our stay on the island. I could see quickly why our friends love this place and chose to marry here.

We had a non-stop flight from Atlanta to Key West. Delta Airlines gave our entire wedding party drink vouchers. The celebrations started off from the jump. The flight was smooth and quick. The airport in Key West is tiny.  Grabbing our luggage and hopping in a taxi was easy and took seconds. We were at our rental house within a flash of an eye, which was centrally located just a block off Duval Street. We unloaded our luggage and started cruising on our bikes, which had already been delivered to our house by Eaton Bikes. I loved the ease of being able to go everywhere via a quick bike ride or a short walk. Everything is literally within a few blocks.

We were fortunate to be traveling with long-time Key West locals. They were perfect guides for the trip. We saw and ate everything that was ‘a must’ during a trip to the Key. First, we biked down Caroline Street to the Half Shell Raw Bar on the marina. This was a perfect first stop. They had all the fresh seafood our hearts desired and water views. We ordered raw oysters, fresh shrimp, conch fritters, and the fresh catch fish sandwich. I was delightfully surprised at how delicious the conch fritters were. I am not certain I would enjoy a raw version of conch but served inside the yummy hush-puppyish breading, they were very enjoyable. You cannot go to the “Conch Republic” and not have conch.

After having a late lunch at the Half Shell, we wandered over to Schooner’s Wharf Bar. This was another local dive bar on the water off the Historic Seaport harbor walk. They had every drink you could imagine, including my favorite vacation drink, the frozen piña colada. They had live music, plenty of seating, and as most places are, were pet-friendly. Within hours of being in Key West, I was in love. You can walk or bike everywhere. You can get fresh seafood just about every place you stop. Best of all, you can take your pups with you most places. This place is pretty close to heaven on earth.

We continued wandering around the island from here biking the two miles to West Martello Tower on the opposite side of the island. This was to be the location of the wedding ceremony.  The island is flat and there is a nice sea breeze in the air which made biking around delightful. I preferred it to walking, however, some of the gentlemen in the group would beg to differ. We briefly toured the gardens at the tower and took in some nice beach views while the bride and groom worked on finalizing the upcoming wedding day details.

From West Martello, we continued to the Key West courthouse to get the marriage license. While they ironed out the last few wedding details, we waited at The Green Parrot on Whitehead Street, directly across from the courthouse. Born out of an 1890’s grocery store, the now Green Parrot came to life in the 70’s and has long since been a watering-hole haven for all walks of life. This ended up being my favorite bar during our time on the island. They had the best live music and some of the best people watching.

It was hard to pull us away from The Green Parrot, but our hungry stomachs helped. We ventured over to Pepe’s Cafe for dinner based on a recommendation from the mother of the groom, who lived in Key West for close to twenty years. Her recommendations during our entire trip were spot on. She lured everyone with the promise that every Thursday night is Thanksgiving at Pepe’s. This dinner special entailed Thanksgiving turkey, dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, cornbread, and green beans. My husband and I ordered some of the stone crab claws as well, which is one of my absolute favorite things on earth.  The owner was a friend of the groom’s mom and sent out a slice of Key lime pie for us to all share. You cannot go to Key West and not have Key lime pie. All of it was food for the soul and made you feel like you were home.

After dinner, we wandered back down to The Green Parrot and danced the night away to a Grateful Dead cover band. Perfect ending to our exciting first day in Key West.

Green Parrot Barn on Whitehead Street.

Pepe’s  on Caroline.

Schooner’s Wharf Bar on William’s Street. Next to the marina.

Deplaning on the runway and walking into the airport.

Our AirBnB one block from Duval.

Half Shell Raw Bar

Inside the fort at West Martello.

Gardens at West Martello Tower.

Green Parrot Package Store adjacent to the bar on Whitehead Street.