A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to explore beautiful Key West! It was my first time visiting Florida, and I loved it. I'm already itching to go back as the colder winter weather creeps up on NJ / NYC. This year has been such a whirlwind, and I have been desperately craving another big adventure since my solo trip last year -- this trip fulfilled that need, and so much more!
WHERE TO STAY
I stayed with The Gates Hotel, and had the best time! They were kind enough to cover my four night stay, and are the whole reason why this trip was even possible / affordable for me. Although I was there on a complimentary stay - I can honestly say it is hands down one of my favorite hotels that I've ever stayed in. The lush bed made me feel like a queen, the staff was super friendly, the pool & bar cooled me off after a sweaty day of exploring, and maybe best of all.. there was an on site food truck right around the corner from my room.
WHAT TO EAT
The Blind Pig - the on site food truck at the Gates Hotel. I ate breakfast once, and dinner here 3 of the 4 nights of my stay! I loved how convenient (and delicious) it was. It was the perfect way to fuel a day of exploring or wind down at the end of a fun day.
Rum Row - the bar at the Gates Hotel - located conveniently right next to the pool. ;) Some nights, they also host live music (which was one of my favorite parts)! It was like having a live concert right outside my door. On my last night in Key West, I ordered a piña colada and shamelessly drank it in my room while wearing my hotel robe, haha.
Blue Heaven - where I ate my first and last meals in Key West. It had been recommended by so many people - so it was very high on my list. I splurged on the lobster omelette for breakfast on my last day and I have ZERO regrets. ;) One of the best things I've ever eaten. They also have a great gift shop.
Salute! On The Beach - owned by the same people who run Blue Heaven, and located right on Higgs Beach. I went there for a late lunch / early dinner and ordered the shrimp salad salad (so light and refreshing) followed up by a slice of key lime pie with merengue whipped SKY HIGH.
The Cafe - a great, casual, vegetarian / vegan spot for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. This was a recommendation from a waitress at Blue Heaven, and I'm so glad I went to check it out!
Cuban Coffee Queen - a tourist-must for its iconic "Greetings From Key West" sign. I didn't try the coffee because I'm not a huge coffee drinker, but it smelled great and the line was long - always a good sign, right?! ;) They sell food, too. I ordered a fruit smoothie and a Cuban bagel.
Kermit's Key Lime Pie - you'll find key lime products from Kermit's all over the island. I didn't actually go to their physical storefront - but was in hot pursuit for their chocolate covered key lime pie on a stick at the airport on my last day. It was always sold out at The Blind Pig, so I was so happy to find it at the airport!
WHAT TO DO
Mallory Square - where the free shuttle from the Gates Hotel drops you off in Old Town. A tourist hub - there are many shops and attractions in the area. I often took the shuttle into town and walked from Mallory Square to where ever I was headed! It's also a very popular sunset spot.
Guild Hall Gallery - located right on Duval Street. I love shopping for art and supporting local artists whenever I travel. This gallery space was huge (2 floors) - and I could have probably spent hours in there looking at everything. I had a great time chatting with Abigail White, who was the artist running the cashier - and had to take home one of her imaginative conch shell house paintings.
The Oldest House - also located right on Duval Street. Built in 1829, and features original furniture, family portraits, and a peaceful garden out back. Admission is free, too!
Key West Lighthouse - 88 steps to the top. A beautiful view overlooking the island - completely worth the climb. Admission also includes access to the keeper's quarters museum on site.
Southernmost Buoy - the Southernmost point in the continental U.S. - just 90 miles from Cuba! It's a very popular tourist attraction, so be prepared to wait in line if you want to take a photo with it.
Ernest Hemingway House - The writer's home was converted into a historical site / museum. It's a beautiful piece of property, and I really enjoyed the guided tour! There are also 40-50 cats that live on the property - some of which are likely descendants of the original cats Hemingway had.
Nancy Forrester's Secret Garden - a hidden gem of Key West, and probably one of my favorite stops on this trip! Nancy rescues abandoned parrots and nurses them back to health. She is extremely passionate about what she does, and I loved listening to her talk about each bird's story.
Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory - one of the best butterfly exhibits I've ever visited. It's pretty hot & humid, but worth stopping by to get up close and personal with the wide variety of butterfly species they have. There are also a couple flamingos, quails, and other critters roaming around.
Dry Tortugas National Park - the southernmost National Park in the U.S. - it was at the top of my list! The Yankee Freedom Ferry is the cheapest way to get to the little island, but seaplane is also an option. Unfortunately, due to my indecisiveness on which day to go... I was unable to book tickets before they sold out. My advice: book it as soon as you know that you want to go. I was super bummed at the time.. but all the more reason to return to Key West some day soon! :)
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park - this ended up being my backup plan for the day that I had planned for the Dry Tortugas. It is much cheaper (only $2.50 admission!), and probably the most beautiful beach in Key West. I went early and staked a spot in the shaded picnic area. Spent the day beach combing the mountains of coral debris lining the shore and swimming in the shallow blue waters. It's a fairly rocky beach because the surrounding waters are primarily coral reefs - so definitely bring some water shoes / sturdy flip flops! There is also a cafe right on the beach - as well as snorkel gear / beach chair / umbrella rentals.
Thank you to The Gates Hotel for sponsoring this post, and making this whole trip possible!
As always, all stories and opinions are my own.