I woke up at 8:30 Tuesday morning covered in bites from what was presumably the largest swarm of mosquitos in history. (Possibly they were chiggers or something beach-like on that order, but I’m not sure. All I know is that I wanted to scratch off all the skin on my legs. It sucked.)
We checked out of our run-down resort and hopped on the Overseas Highway. We crossed back over Seven Mile Bridge and passed Bahia Honda, then crossed into Big Pine Key. As soon as you’re over the bridge, there are fences on either side of the road; that’s to protect the Key deer, which are just miniature version of real deer). They’re only found in Big Pine Key, and they’re very protected. There are signs everywhere about their extremely low speed limit, and stories of people being pulled over all the time. I was dead-set on seeing one, since I hadn’t on our last trip through.
Shortly after crossing the bridge, I saw the back half of one of them pressed against the fence, so I felt like that was a good sign. The lady at the Key Largo welcome center said they just wander all over the neighborhoods in the Key, so I turned onto a side street and we started driving around slowly. The key is densely tree-covered, so it seemed like it would be pretty easy to see them in such a protected area, in a driveway or side street. BUT NO.
We drove further into the depths of the key, crossing to No Name key. Mostly I just wanted to see something with that name, but we figured there might be deer there too. But no, just a lot of awesome oceanside houses and swampy, empty space.
We finally decided to just go to the Key Deer center and see them there. We parked and walked up to the entrance, only to find it closed; it’s apparently part of the national parks system, and this was during the government shutdown. Lame.
I resignedly got back on the highway, and we headed south again. Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw something on the side of the road: a Key deer was starting to cross. We stopped and watched it walk across the Overseas Highway. Of course we would finally see one in the most populated area of the island.
After Big Pine Key, there are a ton of bridges and causeways connecting more spread-out and less-touristy islands with awesome names, like Sugarloaf Key, Cudjoe Key, Knockemdown Key, and Saddlebunch Key. There are communities lining the coast with ridiculously giant oceanside mansions and huge boats. I did indeed have some envy over that, but I’d be happy with a very small oceanside house and a smaller boat.
We stopped at the famous Baby’s Coffee to pick up some beans to take home (we loved that some of their blends were Hemingway references), and then crossed over onto Stock Island. Our predetermined lunch destination was Hogfish Bar and Grill, which was hard to locate even with signs AND Google Maps’ help. We finally found it down by the docks, and were thrilled to officially be in Key West.
We got a picnic table and checked out the menu. Of course the only ‘vegetarian’ option was Caesar salad, but I didn’t really care that much. We ordered beer and hung out looking at the docks and the roosters wandering around the dirt road.
After lunch, we drove into Key West proper. There was road construction and traffic was terrible, but we had time to kill before we could check in anyway. We headed over to the fishing pier near Martello Tower, because we’d never seen that part of town before. It was about a billion degrees and humid outside, so the wind on the pier was a nice break. Also, we saw this dude fishing on the rocks:
This is facing the southernmost point in the continental U.S.:
We walked back and headed to East Martello Tower, because I really wanted to see the gardens there.
The man taking admission up front was a Packers season ticketholder. Seriously, they’re EVERYWHERE.
The gardens are run by the Key West Garden Club, and they were fantastic. It’s like a little sanctuary inside the fort. There’s even a huge banyan tree with a doorway in it, and geckos and iguanas hanging out all over the place.
The gardens were quiet and secluded, and the perfect setup for a wedding. There were fruit trees all over the place.
There were a couple ibis walking around, too, and this guy was not happy that we followed him around.
A little light rain started while we were there, but we could barely feel it. We wandered around in the orchids some more, and then went to find the in-laws, who were hanging out inside watching a video about the place.
By then it was time to check in, so we headed over in the direction of the Lighthouse Court. Since it’s across the street from the Hemingway House, traffic around there was insane (it’s always insane in Key West – having a car there is a huge inconvenience), so Matt dropped us and the bags off, and went to circle while we checked in.
The guys at the front desk were incredibly friendly, and gave us 2-for-1 mojito coupons from their onsite bar and a parking pass, since it turned out they had free spaces behind the hotel. We had no reason to use the car while we were in town, so that worked well. I met Matt to go park, and the in-laws went to their room. We had two rooms next door to each other in one of their long buildings on the property.
The rooms weren’t big, but they were very clean and comfortable, and each of them opened onto the deck that led out to the patio and pool in back. Plus there was a cornhole court in the shade of the Key West Lighthouse, and the place seemed really quiet despite being in the middle of everything. Also, you get to see Hemingway’s place every time you walk out the front gate:
We had a drink in the rooms with Matt’s parents, then headed down Whitehead Street to visit the Southernmost Point marker. As usual, there was a line of people waiting to take photos of it, but somehow I managed to finally get one without anyone in it!
From there we walked over to see the Southernmost House, where we’d stayed for our last visit, and then back up Duval Street, past all the shops and restaurants. My mother-in-law is scared to death of birds, but she didn’t seem too bothered by the roosters there. (Pigeons would be another matter entirely.)
We stopped back at the hotel bar to redeem our mojito coupons, and hung out on the patio for a while. Around 5:30, we headed back out and went directly to Sloppy Joe’s, because it was very important that they witness the most legendary Key West bar posthaste. They loved it, of course. And so did we, because they serve Papa Dobles.
It was nearing sunset time, so we got some roadies and walked down to Mallory Square. Judy keyed in on a guy singing reggae, so we stood near him to watch the sunset. He said his name was Key West Mustafa, and he was pretty entertaining to listen to.
After sunset, we watched another busker doing weird ladder tricks with fire, and then walked down Duval Street again to Margaritaville for dinner, because NOBODY loves Jimmy Buffett like my mother-in-law. Seriously, I’m surprised she doesn’t go to the parrothead conventions. According to their website, they had live music nightly at 9:30, but by the end of dinner it was clear that the in-laws weren’t going to make it anywhere near that long. They hopped on a pedicab back to the hotel, and Matt and I set off to wander.
The smallest bar (a tiny walk-up place in an alley) was empty, so we had to stop in for a drink. We asked the bartender where he hung out, and he recommended Levity Lounge. We made a note of that for later, and headed over to Captain Tony’s because it was a lot nearer. It was super-crowded and took forever to get any service, but I did discover that one of their house beers is pretty good.) From there we went to the Rum Barrel, which was surprisingly empty by that time of night. While the bartender set us up for a rum flight, it became clear that they were ready to close. We asked her about it and she said she didn’t care, since she’d be there cleaning up anyway. I like island bars.
Once they closed, we walked over to World of Beer (which I think was new since our previous visit). They had a monstrous and awesome beer list, which of course is a GREAT idea after a bunch of rum. We ended the night with Matt getting pizza at a little shop while I made friends with a girl from Wisconsin across the street from Sloppy Joe’s. As it goes in Key West.