A Curated Travel Guide to Key West, FL
The Jewel of the Florida Keys
The tiny island of Key West lives large, celebrating life with a bohemian, adventurous spirit. More Caribbean than Floridian, the southernmost point of the continental U.S. lures travelers with sparkling white sand beaches, colorful bungalows, Victorian mansions, an eclectic art scene and vibrant nightlife. Ultimately, Key West life centers around its star attraction, the ocean.
"It was an easy decision to make this island paradise my home," says South Florida native and 10-year resident, Stacy Peele. "You are surrounded by astonishing views, open vistas, and friendly neighbors. I love guiding others to enjoy the same experiences that locals relish every day." A marketing and hospitality consultant, Stacy is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to having fun in the Conch Republic.
Compass & Key invited Stacy to share the best of her adopted hometown, starting with the most breathtaking of Key West experiences: the sunset.
LOCAL EXPERT: STACY PEELE
ITINERARY FOR WANDERING: KEY WEST
"When I want to relax and enjoy the beauty of our island, I head to Higgs Beach, which offers something for everyone," says Stacy. Escape the sunset crowds at popular Mallory Square Pier to discover your own piece of paradise.
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When to Go
Key West's subtropical location 150 miles from Florida's mainland provides a Caribbean climate and remains a popular destination year-round. Crowds tend to taper off by late March, and temperatures remain pleasant through May. You'll find the best snorkeling conditions in June.
With its small 7-square mile footprint, walking is the ideal way to explore the island. Cycling is also popular, with plenty of rental shops dotting the island. "I always encourage visitors to venture off the main roads to seek out the hidden gems tucked away on residential streets," says Stacy.
A sanctuary throughout its 500-year history, the island has welcomed seafarers and freed slaves, artists, chefs, and writers, helping to create a dynamic ethnic food scene. You'll find the signature fruit, the key lime, used in everything from rum to sauces to the quintessential island dessert, key lime pie.
A haven for diving, snorkeling, and kayaking, it's easy to interact with nature in the Florida Keys. The area has a long and successful history of conserving and protecting their natural resources, including sanctuaries for endangered bird and marine life, the largest barrier coral reef in the continental United States, and Dry Tortugas National Park, which protects the island and marine ecosystems in its 100-square mile footprint.
CHECK FLIGHT TIMES TO KEY WEST
A luxury boutique hotel in the heart of Old Town, with a rotating arts program and a nod to traditional Key West architecture.
From its central Old Town location, Not Your Average Hotel serves groups of friends ranging from two to six. Much more than a dormitory, guests will find classic Key West architecture with shady porches, several pools and a lively bar.
For a getaway that lets guests get away from indoor fitness altogether, the Gates Hotel offers free sunrise and sunset bicycle tours when visitors want a break from the in-room yoga mats and iPads pre-loaded with workouts.
In 1860, off the coast of Key West, the U.S. Navy intercepted three ships holding 1,432 African men, women, and children bound for Cuba. The American ships, which were engaged in the illegal transatlantic slave trade, were forced to relinquish their human cargo.
The Florida Keys of the 19th century were nothing like they are today. Before tourism dominated Key West, several adventurous professions made it one of Florida's most booming industrial cities. If you hate Margaritaville for its kitschy depiction of tropical melodrama, blame Jimmy Buffett.