Lodging in a Nutshell
|by Valinda Almeida, Key West Correspondent
Long a haven for creative spirits, Key West is famous for its sensational sunsets, boisterous street festivals, divine cuisine, over-the-top tropical drinks, world-class diving and snorkeling, enchanting gingerbread houses, and its laid-back, anything-goes atmosphere.
This tiny island city - a scant two-mile by four-mile slice - offers just about anything you are looking for.
Extremely tourist-friendly, it's almost impossible to get lost here. Reflecting its hugely diverse resident population, Key West has an inherently tolerant personality. There is a sense of detachment from reality. It's non-stop fun for everyone who visits the southernmost city in the continental U.S.
Maybe there's something in the water here that boosts creativity. Eight Key West writers, including Ernest Hemingway, have won the Pulitzer Prize. Check out his watering hole, Sloppy Joe's, at the corner of Duval and Greene Streets. The city still harbors plenty of poets, painters, and writers.
It was also a hideaway for presidents. Harry Truman spent lots of time on Front Street in the "Little White House." John F. Kennedy stayed there during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Key West is on the doorstep of Fidel Castro's Cuba. Also known as the Conch Republic, Key West is closer to Havana (90 miles) than it is to Miami (150 miles).
Because Key West is so compact, it's easy to get around. The city is divided into two major sections: Old Town and New Town. The heart of the city is Old Town, a square mile of restored houses that runs from White Street west to the waterfront. Duval Street, renovated from a seedy place to a bright tourist strip filled with boutiques, eateries, and T-shirt shops, serves as the island's anchor. It's called the longest main street in the world because it goes from coast to coast, cutting across Key West from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
You'll find plenty of choices for accommodations in historic Old Town, from Victorian-style bed and
breakfasts to chain hotels and luxury resorts. New Town is the area east of White Street to Cow Key Channel, including South and North Roosevelt Boulevards. There are lots of lodging choices in this part of Key West, too.
The Overseas Highway splits as it enters Key West. One fork becomes South Roosevelt Boulevard, running along the Atlantic Ocean. Nearby are the Key West International Airport and Smathers Beach. The other fork, running along the Gulf of Mexico, becomes North Roosevelt Boulevard. It passes the Key West Welcome Center, new shopping centers, chain hotels, fast-food eateries, and Palm Avenue, which leads to Old Town.
All roads in this compressed city eventually lead to Old Town and the Mallory Square Dock, where
sunset-watching is a spectacular spectator sport.