You are planning your Key West vacation – what do you need to know?

Key West is a beautiful and fun place to visit.   If you haven’t been before, then there is something you should know.  There are feral chickens everywhere.  Like thousands of them.   How they got there I don’t know and why they let them wander everywhere, again I don’t know.  There are also giant iguanas.  Not as many as the chickens but still quite a few.


Typical Key West feral chicken


This iguana liked to hang out by the pool


The beach at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park.   They did have some sand that was probably trucked in.

Another thing you need to know is that Key West doesn’t have beaches.   Technically there are a couple, mostly very small in the southwest corner of the island.   The best of the bunch is at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park and you have to pay to get in.   If you are wanting a “beach trip” though, this really isn’t it.    Well, if there are no beaches, then what do you do?   Here is a good list of things to do on your Key West trip.

  • By far the most popular thing to do in Key West is to drink alcohol and people watch on Duval Street.   Duval Street is the main drag through the island and there is a lot of, let’s say “interesting” people to watch.   Many people do a pub crawl up and down this strip.   If you like drinking and people watching then Key West will be right up your alley.   Just be careful not to over indulge or you may be the one people are watching!


Duval Street during the day


One of the more popular bars on Duval Street

  • Key West is also a great place for a foodie to visit.   Between the fresh seafood and the local Key Lime Pie there is a little of everything for you. Some of the better places I have eaten are DJ’s Clam Shack, Blue Macaw, Half Shell Raw Bar, and Blue Heaven.   Pretty much everywhere was good.   For desserts, I liked Cupcake Sushi, but my wife preferred Better than Sex. The Key Lime Pie seemed to be pretty good everywhere.


My cupcake sushi

  • Another of the most popular things to do in Key West is to leave.   That did not come out right.   What I mean is to take a boat tour away from the island to see the beautiful surroundings.   There is a lot of choices here for whatever you prefer to do.   There are boat trips to snorkel on the coral reefs, go deep sea fishing, and dolphin watching.   Also, you can take glass bottom boats and sunset tours as well.   I chose the boat tour to Dry Tortugas National Park which was a great experience that I recommend heartily.


The Yankee Freedom ferry to Dry Tortugas NP

  • When you get tired of drinking and sitting by the pool, there are a bunch of museums to visit.   I am not talking old, dry, dusty museums that take up all day.   These are quick, not too expensive, and lots of fun.   By far, my favorite was the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum.   I also enjoyed the Key West Lighthouse Museum and the Harry S. Truman Little White House.   Other popular spots include the Key West Shipwreck Museum and the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory.


The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum.   No chickens on the grounds, but probably 50 or 60 cats.


The view from the bottom of the Key West Lighthouse


The view from the top of the Key West Lighthouse


The Harry S. Truman Little White House

  • There are also several iconic Key West places to go take a picture and enjoy.   Number one in my book is watching the sunset from Mallory Square.   Grab a drink on the pier and enjoy watching the sunset.   Other popular spots are the Southernmost Point in the United States, Bahama Village, and the Historic Seaport Boardwalk.


This is by far the most popular place on the island to take a selfie picture.


Watching the sunset with a rum drink in hand from Mallory Square

Now that you are prepared for your trip, all you need to do is book your flight and hotel and go.   Have fun!    rk

The Ten Best National Park Gateway Towns:

The National Park gateway towns are more than just a place to grab a quick meal or a shower.  Many of them have become full fledged tourist destinations of their own.  Of course, as they become more hip and popular with tourists, they can lose some of the vibe that made them popular in the first place.

Any list like this is subjective of course.  I have visits to several of these gateway towns scheduled in the next 60 days to possibly change my opinion and move up or down the list.  Without further ado:

Honorable Mention) Key West FL:  Key West is the jump off point to Dry Tortugas National Park. This town can get overwhelmed by partying tourists from the cruise ships that stop here.

10) Springdale UT:  Located at the west entrance to Zion National Park, this small town is as beautiful as it is congested.

9) Gatlinburg TN: Gatlinburg is known for having the most pancake houses per capita almost as much as for being the gateway to ultra popular Smoky Mountains National Park.

8) Gardiner MT: Located at the north entrance to Yellowstone NP, near Mammoth Hot Springs.  This small town feels more authentic and less tourist trap. I had some great pizza here once at Yellowstone Pizza Company.

The Roosevelt Arch as you leave Gardiner and enter Yellowstone NP

7) Williams AZ: This iconic Route 66 town is almost an hour to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. That’s a little farther than most on this list, but the Grand Canyon Railway runs daily from here to the Grand Canyon Village.


Williams AZ on a snowy day.

6) Port Angeles WA: This small seaside town is a great base to explore the massive Olympic National Park. Port Angeles also features a ferry to beautiful Victoria BC.

Olympic National Park Visitor Center near Port Angeles

5) Durango CO: This wild west town is the gateway to Mesa Verde National Park. The historic Main Street is a great place to explore.

4) Whitefish MT: Whitefish is the gateway to gorgeous Glacier National Park. Wander Main Street and visit the many coffee shops and enjoy the lively art scene.

3) Moab UT: Moab is not the gateway to one National Park, but two: Arches and Canyonlands. This small desert town on the Colorado River is popular with bikers and off-road jeep enthusiasts.

My son Grant near “Tow-Mater” in Moab

2) Jackson WY: Jackson is ideally located at the southern entrance to Grand Teton National Park. The town square with elk antler arches is a great photo op before dining in one of the many fine dining establishments.

An arch made of elk antlers in Jackson WY

1) Bar Harbor ME: This quintessential New England coastal town is the gateway to Acadia National Park. Combine fresh Maine lobster and the unique low tide trek to neighboring Bar Island for a great time. I love the vibe here.

Beautiful Bar Harbor as seen from Bar Island