It’s no secret that Key West is one of America’s most sought- after vacation destinations. The archipelago’s separation from the mainland is one of its biggest draws, and it lives up to its reputation as a tropical haven with a touch of quirk. With last year’s tourism pitfall, business in Key West declined dramatically as it did nearly everywhere else around the country. What’s surprising is that Key West’s recovery has been on an upward trajectory since hitting all-time lows, and it doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon. The island is seeing a rise in new businesses, hotel occupancy, incoming air travel and skyrocketing curiosity about the island chain, all in recent months. With soaring popularity comes the responsibility to stay true to your roots, and Key West has not lost any of its’ old-town charm, which you can enjoy from the comforts of a resort oasis or bungalow- style cottage. This is the summer of the comeback, and the Keys are a leading favorite; you deserve to be there while it happens.
The Capitana Key West
As one of Key West’s most recents additions, The Capitana is more than ready to treat you to a sleek and sophisticated boutique stay with a nod to the region’s peculiar maritime history. Named after a 1733 Spanish vessel that sank in surrounding waters, losing part of its treasure to the waves, The Capitana promises gulf and canal views, as well as beach access and on-site dining. Located poolside, McKee’s Tiki Bar is open all day for tropical cocktails and bites, and the hotel’s Sundry Market has you covered for snack breaks in between. Added bonuses like the fitness center and cottage grocery delivery are there to make sure your stay remains uninterrupted by errands. Book your stay at The Capitana today to welcome its crew to the Keys; and receive a warm, sun-drenched welcome yourself.
Sunset Key Cottages
For a true island escape, book one of Sunset Key Cottages’ one to four- bedroom guest houses located on the island of Sunset Key. Only seven minutes away from Key West by boat, the island houses the resort as well as a smattering of residential homes, allowing you a uniquely secluded stay. Round-the-clock ferry service is available to shuttle you to and from Key West, though it’ll be easy to spend the entirety of your time enjoying the island. After enjoying your hand- delivered basket of fresh pastries and fruit in the morning, head to the beach or one of two whirlpools before your customized spa appointment, designed by the Sunset Key team with your tastes in mind. Make sure you take a look at the resort’s list of special offers before you book!
Located a block away from the festivities of Duval Street, the Marquesa Hotel manages to provide you with your very own oasis built around a compound in Key West’s historic district. The hotel recently expanded to include several adjoining properties, meaning you’ll not only have more accommodations to choose from but more space to relax as well. With options like the Balcony Deluxe room or the Garden Cottage, you’ll have no trouble finding exactly what fits your mood for the duration of your stay.
Only a few steps past your doorway, the hotel’s renowned Cafe Marquesa serves gourmet dinner, dessert, and drinks based on what the season provides.
As a generally small-scale hotel, the Marquesa is a breath of fresh air; the intimate grounds are made for wandering and no two rooms are exactly alike. It’s a great choice if you’re looking to hide in the heart of it all.
Little Palm Island Resort & Spa
Accessible by boat or seaplane, Little Palm Island is a resort experience with a special focus on privacy and tuning out. The island itself is located about a half hour east of Key West, bringing you the archipelago experience without the fanfare of a major destination. If you’re arriving by car, the resort has a Welcome Station on Little Torch Key, where you can check in and get ready for the short trip to the island. Available suites range from the Island Romance Suites to the Island Premier Suites, all incorporating the latest design elements and special additions like outdoor tubs and private fire pits. The resort’s SpaTerre offers globally inspired healing sessions to zen you out before enjoying a gourmet, island- inspired meal in the dining room. Outdoor activities are abundant on and around the island, and the resort’s “Great Room” common area is the ideal place to regroup and plan out another perfect day.
The Reach Key West
Part of the Hilton’s Curio Collection, The Reach Key West is another centrally located resort the aims to please, especially if you’re looking for the added convenience of arranged activities, onsite spa services and a private, natural sand beach for guests to enjoy. The Curio Collection eschews the opulent in favor of resorts that strive to reflect the community around them, and The Reach is one of the most popular options on the list.
Located on Sunset Key, Latitudes serves Sunset Key Cottage guests and anyone looking to experience one of the Key’s most talked about dining destinations away from the crowds. The menu is constantly being improved upon to highlight seasonal ingredients and freshly caught seafood. The only addition that complements the fare better than Latitudes’ raw rum are the sunset views. Reserve early to guarantee a table; the restaurant also offers a lunch menu in case dinner is booked. However, advance reservations are absolutely necessary if you’re not a guest at Sunset Key Cottages, so plan accordingly!
For globally inspired dishes with Caribbean panache, head across town to Louie’s Backyard, which sits on the Southern edge of Key West. Chef Doug Shook has been behind the scenes at Louie’s for over three decades, approaching the menu with innovation and a special attention to detail. The produce used is grown specifically for the restaurant by local farms, while seafood is caught by Keys fishermen. Louie’s attached Cafe provides a chic-casual ambience for small plates and wine, while the Afterdeck Bar draws you outside to sample a full menu of inventive cocktails.
Tavern N’ Town
Spacious and inviting, Tavern N’ Town is an upscale restaurant with a menu that favors quality over quantity. The emphasis is on their entrees, which include local catch, but the tapas are just as likely to spark your curiosity. Try the Ribeye Steam Buns, Shrimp Fritters or Key West Conch Chowder before digging into your main course, and top it all off with a glass of wine from an extensive list. Don’t forget to ask your server for recommendations! Tavern N’ Town is right next door to the Key West Marriott Beachside and features an open kitchen as part of its roomy layout.
Scotty’s Front Street Stage
When Scott Edwards opened Scotty’s Front Street Stage this past December, he did so with the confidence that the Keys would come roaring back to life, and that his venue would be there to welcome them back. Scotty’s passion for music informs the restaurant’s daily live performances and high-spirited mood.
The kitchen serves familiar staples along with seafood and craft cocktails, which you can choose to savor on the rooftop deck. Scotty’s is an important reminder that Key West continues to welcome in the new, perhaps more so now than ever before.
The Spice & Tea Exchange of Key West
Though seasonings might not be the first thing you think of when looking for a beachy memento, The Spice & Tea Exchange of Key West takes the craft of spice to the next level. Their eighty-five plus collection of seasonings is selected, sifted, and mixed by hand to create nuanced accompaniments to any meal. The Exchange also offers teas, salts, sugars, and other aromatic gifts to beautify any kitchen in your life.
The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory gift shop carries a collection of butterfly- themed artwork, homeware and gifts that you might never come across all in one place again. With rotating merchandise and a gallery showcasing the butterfly as artist’s, the shop beckons those looking for a natural memento from Key West. Sam Trophia is the Conservatory’s featured artist, and you can view his mounted butterfly work throughout the space, as well as request a custom-made piece.
Things to Do:
Key West Seaplane Adventures
Officially approved by the National Park Service, Key West Seaplane Adventures is your gateway to Dry Tortugas National Park, one of the nation’s most remote destinations. A flight on one of their aircrafts is a rare experience meant to introduce you, at close proximity, to the delicate ecosystem and captivating history of the Dry Tortugas. Your aerial perspective will allow you to catch glimpses of sea life in shallow waters, coral atolls, shipwreck remnants and the haunting Fort Jefferson. The company has over thirty years of experience in the area, a flawless safety record and also offers focused excursions in bird-watching, historical sites, and snorkeling.
Audubon House & Tropical Gardens
John James Audubon’s connection to the historic home at 205 Whitehead Street has allowed the building to grow into a tropical destination, gallery and gardens since its construction in the nineteenth century. You can visit the Audubon House to view original editions of Audubon’s prints of fauna, with a special focus on birds native to the Florida Keys. Other than viewing the restored home, peek into the cook house replica, meander down brick paths to enjoy the gardens, and stop by the gift shop to support local artists.
The mid- nineteenth century home and surrounding property is also available to book for weddings and other events of a lifetime.
Key West Legal Rum
Key West Legal Rum is a distillery with a soft spot for rum’s unique place in history, local legend and regional culture. Alongside a packed list of rums to choose from, the distillery conducts mojito classes and daily tours; the intent here is to educate, share, and enjoy rum as a communal fascination. The distillery’s transparency about their processes will satisfy your curiosity and have you hooked. Learn more about Legal Rum’s story, tour/class schedule and specialty distilling methods here.
Tennessee Williams Museum
If you’re planning to dedicate any time to Ernest Hemingway on your trip to Key West, make sure longtime Key West resident Tennessee Williams is on your list as well. Opening to the public on June 17th, The Tennessee Williams Museum aims to introduce you to the famed playwright on the island he loved enough to call home for over thirty years. Tour the museum’s collection of memorabilia surrounding Williams’ early life, creative career and portrayal in the media. Getting to know Key West means understanding its myriad of cultural influences, and Tennessee Williams’ role in establishing the Keys as a creative haven remains significant.
When all that’s left on your Key West bucket list is leisure, Danger Charters understands. Their Wind & Wine Sunset Sail is ready to whisk you away on an evening cruise complete with appetizers, beers, and eight wines from all over the world. You’ll enjoy all this from the deck of a classic schooner rounding the coast of Key West as dusk falls around you. If you’re craving something a little more sobering, book a Danger Charters sailing, snorkeling, or kayaking day excursion instead and get to know the Lower Keys from an entirely new angle. There are various schedules and structures of activities to choose from, and you can find the details to plan your daredevil day trip here.
After last year’s profound effect on its tourism economy, Key West is in a unique position to welcome back annual visitors. With cruise ship traffic still curtailed, the islands are teeming with visitors coming by land and air; and looking to spend more time getting to know Florida’s most famous finish line. The prognosis for Summer 2021 is overwhelmingly positive, and the Keys are ready to host the celebration.