The Florida Keys are legends in their own right with stories immortalized in Jimmy Buffet songs and tales of Ernest Hemingway boxing and writing masterpieces fueled by an exuberance for life he found on the tiny isle of Key West. First come the creatives then the commercialization and just like that there's a Crocs on the corner and the charm seems to be gone. I've heard this before about New Orleans. They could almost be sister cities if the Mississippi was turquoise rather than brown and I constantly defend how the magic never leaves places like these. The magic is in the soul of the city and it takes a fresh perspective to constantly rediscover what you love about a city over and over again. My adventure to Key West recently was with a perspective as fresh as the air is salty: Find what inspires me anywhere, keep up a consistent workout plan and take on any adventure that requires me to get up, get moving and see a place in motion rather than still like a bump on a log. Here's what ended up inspiring me and what I would recommend hands-down if you plan a trip here. It's so easy to get to, no passport required, and has so much history and charm.
Sleep in a Modern Island Oasis
Boutique hotels always offer so much character and I love finding places that have a mix of charm but are also polished and modern enough to feel clean, comfy and new. The Gates just opened not even a few months ago and we were some of the first guests to stay. It's a modern oasis on an island filled with historic B&Bs and it's refreshing to have a food truck onsite for meals and chic bike rentals to explore. Both the bar and the food truck offer local twists like mangrove honey on the yogurt & granola bowl and rum from a distillery right on the island. I went with my boyfriend and we exhausted ourselves biking so much that we sat by the pool in the early evening for a few hours reading, snacking and sipping. Island jams were playing and there was a perfect breeze. The daily fresh ceviche, Cat's Pajamas yogurt & granola, the Cuban breakfast sandwich and the Blood Orange Moon cocktail were some of my favorites.
Bike To Discover, Feel the Burn
Tiny island but a huge opportunity to rack up the miles. I just talked recently about my obsession with biking and Key West is SO easy to bike around. It's actually the best way to see the island. It gets hot quickly and walking everywhere will drain the batteries before even making it up and down the width of the island. I had a constant breeze hitting me and was able to cover more ground faster. We tried out two different bikes that the hotel offered. One was a single-speed cruiser with a basket and the other was a Martone bike that offers a cool duomatic gear system that actually changes gears depending on your speed. The hotel is about 3-3.5 miles away from the center of town so we did at the minimum 7 miles a day.
Yoga Anywhere, even in the Moonlight
Yoga rocks because it can be done any time anywhere on practically any surface. I'm always researching interesting yoga spots wherever I go. We found Smather's Beach which has a great stretch of sand and gorgeous sunrise and sunset light, relatively quiet and away from the town center. The other beach is right off of Ft. Zachary where they do Yoga on the Beach 7 days a week.
That said, the one bucket list activity that is almost worth planning a whole trip around is SUP paddle boarding through the mangroves using only the light of the Full Moon. I almost cried when I realized I was there outside of the +-3 days around the Full Moon. They only offer it during those times but there are also sunset paddle board and daytime paddle board and SUP yoga during the daylight though the mangroves. Truly incredible. I recommend Lazy Dog and it's in Cow Key, a great starting spot for SUP and walking distance from the hotel.
The 70 Mile Journey
The Keys don't actually stop with Key West, only the road does. Who knew? The quest for an actual white sand beach with incredibly turquoise water ended when we found the Dry Tortugas. There are only two ways to make the 70 mile journey: by a 2.5 hour ferry or a 40 minute sea plane ride. Take the seaplane. This was my first time on one and it goes down as one of the best things I've done while traveling in a long time. The plane flies low enough to see sharks and turtles swimming in the shallow sea. On the island is a old fort that basically serves now as a fantastic jump off point for snorkeling. The sea plane tour provides all of the snorkeling gear, a cooler for drinks and zero cell phone service. It's heaven. The walls around the Fort's moat come up out of the water and walking along felt like I was on a walkway out to the middle of the sea.
Other restaurants we loved:
Juic-E on Duval Street (for fresh juices and smoothies)