It’s a balmy 75 degrees. The sun is shining and everywhere tourists are fanning out from Duval Street to explore Key West after disembarking from their cruise ship. You can choose to travel to Key West by driving 155 miles from Miami along the Overseas Highway, fly into Key West International Airport or, as these tourists have opted for, arrive by sea.

One of the best ways to get a good overview of the southernmost city in the continental United States is the 90-minute Conch Tour Train. Tour 5KWguides are very knowledgeable in explaining where specific attractions are as well as this island’s colorful past — from the Native Americans who once inhabited the two- by four- mile island right up through the 1930s when Earnest Hemmingway made his home here.

The Hemingway Home and Museum is one of the most popular attractions. Expect long lines especially if there is a cruise ship docked in the harbor. Admission includes a guided tour of the house and gardens. The Nobel Prize winner penned many of his most notable works while living here.

Another interesting chapter of island history is the practice of wrecking; taking valuables from a shipwreck. A major route for shipping between the east coast and Gulf of Mexico ports and the western Caribbean runs along the Keys. Powerful currents would sometimes bring the ships too close to the reef. During the 19th century, wrecking in the Keys became a highly organized and regulated industry with dozens of vessels and hundreds of men active in the trade at any given time.

1KWThe Key West Shipwreck Historium and Museum is a great place to discover the shipwrecking business. Actors, video presentations, artifacts and a 65 foot lookout tower create a fun and educational way to relive 1800s island living. Guests enter the world of an 1856 wrecker’s warehouse and learn how Key West became the richest city in the United States.  

Close by is the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum. On display at this modern day treasure hunter’s museum is recovered treasure including gold and silver coins, ornate jewelry encrusted with jewels, bars of silver, navigational instruments and artifacts from the sunken10KW Nuestra Señora de Atocha and Santa Margarita — Spanish galleons that sunk in the 17th century.  

From here Front Street curves with the far western contours of Key West. Past the Museum of Art & History at the Custom House, and bustling shops and restaurants, it meanders south into a quiet neighborhood where there’s a white clapboard building surrounded by a spacious lawn.

Although the building is large, it doesn’t seem to possess the honorable standing that it has as the Harry S. Truman Little White House and host to five other U.S. Presidents.

Built in 1890 as naval officer housing, it served as the naval station’s command headquarters during the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II. It was in 1946 that it first served as the winter White House of President Truman.

Knowledgeable guides take visitors through the house and describe the 33rd President’s visits as he handled business, relaxed and contemplated the impending issues of the day between 1946 and 1952. It continued to be used by later Presidents — Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, 11KWJimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. William Howard Taft also visited in 1912. Occasionally, the Little White House is still used for government functions.

A few blocks back toward the heart of the city is the Audubon House and Gardens.

The house did not belong to John Audubon, but he was a guest here in 1832. During his time on the island he sighted and drew 18 new birds for his “Birds of America” folio. Audubon’s painting of the white-crowned pigeon features the Geiger tree found in the front yard of the house.

Guides introduce visitors to the house built by harbor pilot and master wrecker Captain John H. Geiger for his wife and nine children. Guests can then explore the home’s three stories and get a close-up view of the 28 first edition Audubon works in the house followed by a leisurely stroll in the gardens.

If history isn’t your bailiwick, there’s always the water. Although Key West is not known for its beaches, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park offers wide stretches of sand and clear blue waters. The park also offers snorkeling, fishing, hiking and bicycling within the park.

Key West is also known for its libations, and there are those who like to spend their time in paradise sippingc25KW a margarita and enjoying live entertainment. Hemmingway’s favorite watering hole was Sloppy Joes located at the corner of Greene and Duval Streets.

If you are in the city as the sun sets, make your way to Mallory Square where crowds gather to celebrate another day. The festive atmosphere is punctuated by street entertainers and music.

If you go:

Key West is easy to navigate on foot or by bicycle. There are several bicycle rental shops on the island.

Several cruise lines include Key West as a port-of-call including Carnival (, Disney Cruise Line ( and Royal Caribbean (

Another option is the Key West Express, a four-hour ferry departing twice a day from the Miami Seaquarium.

Major airlines offer connections to Key West through Miami and other Florida airports.  

Many visitors choose to drive the scenic 155 miles from Miami which takes approximately three hours.

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