Key West – Day 1

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Having filled 3 days in Key West with as much activity as
“a relaxing getaway” will allow, I’ve decided to approach this from a daily travelogue approach.  Having taken many vacations and forgotten all the details, I’m happy to do this for my own future reference, and if anyone else benefits, more the better.

Key West has been an intended destination for my wife and I for years, delayed by both the allure and disadvantage of not being on the way to anywhere else.  We finally made that happen.

My wife entrusted me with all the details of the trip, which while rewarding to do it my way also risked blame if planned poorly.  So be it.  Besides, can you go wrong in Key West? I researched the visit carefully, planning to get the most out of our time there. 

There were a number of preconceived notions that I had about the Keys, below which are the ones relevant to Day 1:

1) By the map, the drive from Miami to the Keys would be fabulously scenic.

2) That, given its location and reputation, seafood would be plentiful and inexpensive.

3) That it possessed some naturalistic charm.

4) There would be something to the landscape that suggested a tropic inhospitality, resulting from a geographic location that would suggest a status of Grand Central Station for passing hurricanes.

We drove from Miami, which takes about 3 hours, at what seems a worthwhile savings compared to flying direct.  It was worth doing, once.  In looking at the map, US Hwy 1 stretches over numerous slivers of islands, often with lengthy bridges.  The bridges, as might be expected, offered gorgeous views of the blue/green Gulf waters.  Then, entering the next Key, the fantasy is lost.  US Hwy 1 suffers from the same unplanned, aging or somewhat trashy development that afflicts any commercial highway. 

We stopped for lunch on one of the larger Keys, Islamorada.  It’s difficult to choose where to stop when there aren’t that many options and you come to judgment when you’ve already passed it.  After saying “no” for whatever reasons,  Debbiy-Doo's, Islamorada, FLwe finally said “yes” for whatever reason, and stopped  at Debbiy-Doos Deli & Market.

The owner seemed to treat locals very warmly, while we garnered a general disinterest.  That said, we had Tuna Fish and Corned Beef on Rye sandwiches, which were excellent though doubly portioned.  Had we known, we would have split a Debbiy-Doo's, Islamorada, FLsandwich.  As we entered the car, my wife noticed the restroom sign, evidence that we were indeed on the road road.

There are a number of State Parks along US 1, which is good for the preservationist in each of us.  They are reportedly very popular, and as one Ranger told us, people often arrive shocked to find out that campsites are booked a full year in advance.

We detoured to Bahia Honda State Park, advertised to have been voted a Top 10 US beach Bahia Honda State Parksome years ago.  The voters must have been Park employees, but it did have some nice camping spots.  And a restroom.

Key West has tons of motels and Bed & Breakfasts.  How to choose?  TripAdvisor to the rescue! 

Many of the most expensive places had negative comments, and many of the cheaper places had even more.  It all begs the question of what motivates people to post reviews.  I’d expect people that had a bad experience to be more motivated express their dissatisfaction.  As it is, I’ll take a guess that the reviewers just don’t have a blog...

I settled on Simonton Court, located a block off of Duval St.  Its reviews read as consistently favorable as I could find, and though its somewhat pricey (peak season), the ambience sounded perfect for a romantic three night visit.  Simonton Court is basically a collection of old buildings converted to varied styles of rooms/suites, offered in Bed and Breakfast style hospitality.  It was an all but a perfect choice, only tempered by a shared door into an adjacent suite that did nothing to dampen sound.  A directory of other Simonton Court photos can be viewed by clicking either picture below.

Entry to the courtyard area View from unit TH2

After unpacking and briefly exploring our haven, we asked the reception desk for a dinner recommendation.  This is somewhat ironic, as I had carefully (with TripAdvisor’s help) created a list of “approved restaurants, none of which we would actually visit.  While it’s one thing to place intended stops on a map, it’s another to guesstimate walking time when you’re hungry.A& B Lobster House

A&B Lobster House, as suggested, was excellent.  It was also expensive.  Expectation #2 was thus partially debunked by this and later observations.   

Key West had the highest per capita income in the late 1800’s, derived from salvaging shipwrecks on the reef.  The historical district is packed with houses from that era, most in excellent condition.  Given the visible wealth exhibited in the area and the general cost of shipping virtually everything to the end of road, it shouldn’t be a surprise that seafood isn’t inexpensive.

“Naturalistic” was confirmed, but not in the way I expected. I had thought that there would be salty breezes, exposed beaches, and possibly undeveloped areas due to zoning, erosion, etc.  Silly me.  It’s a coral island, and the only sandy beaches are artificially created by adjacent hotels who import the sand.  There were certainly ample breezes, but none spoke of seaports or any particular coastal odor as might be found in Charleston or Savannah.  And, of course, the island is built out.  That said, it is an amazingly lush place, with mature palm trees, large leaved plants, flowering this and that, etc. 

The most surprising aspect was that, given the multitude of historic homes and buildings (many of which are on the National Historic Register), the island appears untouched from hurricane damage.  I had expected to see many buildings built on pilings to allow for storm surges.    Practically all buildings in Key West, including newer ones, are built on the ground, testifying that hurricanes have been very kind to Key West for the past century.  

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