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Key West - Orlando / Florida Guide

Florida Guide > Places to Visit

We have visited Key West several times and have always been charmed by its quaint houses and fascinating museums and shops. Located in Monroe County, Florida, 129 miles from Miami, Key West is a delightful place to visit if you have time to spend a few days away from the Orlando area. It is a mere 94 miles from Cuba, and has developed, in recent years, as a major destination for cruise ships. Indeed, our very first foray into Key West was when we docked there as our first port of call one Christmas. At that time we dropped anchor offshore and had to be tendered in by small boats, but we soon became enchanted by its colourful buildings, busy streets, white picket fences, gingerbread cottages and its laid-back atmosphere. The main streets are full of pavement cafes, conch restaurants, and dozens of t-shirt shops, and it is an easy place to explore.

Frequented by many famous people, who often made their homes there, Key West has a huge number of historical buildings and museums to fascinate and enthral. You can walk in the footsteps of President Truman or visit Ernest Hemmingway’s house-cum-museum. It is a magnet for artists and hippies and is a colourful place to visit with its Conch train and Trolley rides, which wind their way through the pretty streets and out to the oceanfront.

Although tiny, Key West has a small airport, and as far back as 1927 it had a seaplane service to Havana provided by Pan-Am. It still has a very important Naval Air Station which provides a training site for naval pilots, due to its excellent weather conditions all year round.

It has a wonderful climate, due in large to the effects of the Gulf Stream, and it has never experienced a frost. Indeed, whenever we have visited, which has often been at Christmas, temperatures have been in the high 80’s. In fact, it has such a temperate climate that it was chosen by President Harry S Truman as his ‘winter White House. ’

Its original Spanish name was ‘Cayo Hueso’ which means ‘bone key’ as it was said that the island was littered with human bones. It was once nicknamed the Conch Republic, because many of its early settlers came from the Bahamas and were known as ‘Conchs’ which is pronounced ‘conks. ’ It is the southernmost City in Continental United States of America. Its motto is ‘One Human Family’ which certainly represents its diverse cultures.

Key West became a very rich town, and in the 19th century its industries included salt, fishing and salvage. Indeed, by 1860 it had become the largest and wealthiest city in Florida due to its wrecking industry. Because of the large number of reefs in the area, many inhabitants worked on salvaging wrecks, taking many of the items they found back to their homes. As these industries declined it became a centre for cigar manufacture. However, Key West remained quite isolated as it was not connected to the mainland until 1912, when Henry Flagler built his railway which joined it to the mainland. Sadly, this railway link was destroyed during the terrible hurricane of 1935, when hundreds of residents were killed, and the railway could not afford to rebuild it. The rail route was later rebuilt by the US government as a highway, which was completed in 1938.

Driving over the famous Seven Mile Bridge, which now links all the tiny islands of the Keys, is a truly stunning experience, and it has been made even more famous as a location for several major movies, including Licence to Kill, True Lies and Up Close and Personal.

The islands of the Keys form a chain, like a rope of pearls, each linked by bridges, with Key West being the final, and most facinating, pearl in the necklace.

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