I could hardly contain my excitement for my four-day getaway to the island of Key West, Fla. Envisioning white sandy beaches and crystal clear water, I wanted nothing more than to lay on the beach all day and perfect my tan. I was quick to find out that Key West was no place to be lazy, and that tropical beaches are the last thing that draws tourists into the charming island. I was pleasantly surprised by the buzzing atmosphere of the island with its mix of locals and tourists, and even more surprised to find that the heat in Key West was no worse than Maryland in mid-July.
Three things you'll need
A rental car: Even though most of the excitement is in downtown Key West, there are still some attractions that are not easily accessible by walking. Ernest Hemingway's house and the southernmost point of the U.S. are both things you'll want to see while there. Also, because there are no direct flights into Key West, I would highly recommend flying into Naples or Miami and enjoying the scenic drive to the island in a rental car.
Bathing suits and sunscreen: Plan on spending a majority of your time in the water whether you're jet skiing, snorkeling or laying by the pool. The sun is hot and strong and you'll need to re-apply, re-apply, re-apply!
Comfortable shoes: You'll want to walk the streets of downtown, and sometimes it takes a few blocks to find that restaurant the concierge recommended, or that bar you heard was worth going to.
Three travel tips
Stay downtown: Even if you have a rental car, you'll want to be where all the action is. Any of the resorts or hotels downtown have a short walk to the bars and shops, and sometimes it is difficult to find parking or drive through the crowded streets.
Pack light: The only clothes you'll need in Key West are bathing suits, cover-ups and tank tops, and maybe a few nice clothes if you want to go out at night. I over-packed horrendously and had to lug home a bunch of clothes I never wore as well as clothes and souvenirs I bought there.
Wake up early: Key West is most beautiful in the morning before 11 a.m. Take a morning jog through downtown while the streets are clean and not crowded with people, or go to breakfast and sit outside before the sun gets too hot.
Three things to do or see
Snorkeling, jet skiing or some type of excursion: I highly recommend taking the time and money to go on some type of excursion while in Key West. Whether it is snorkeling, jet skiing, kayaking or fishing, there are many opportunities to spend a fun-filled day on the water in Key West. My mom and I did a half-day excursion on a sailboat which included snorkeling, kayaking and watching the sunset on the water. Not to mention we were given free food and drinks, and the hospitality was unbelievable.
The sunset in Mallory Square: Located on the waterfront, Mallory Square is famous for the most exquisite view of the sunset in Key West. The square fills up this time of night with tourists, street performers and vendors, and is definitely a sight to see.
Duval Street: Duval Street is the center of nightlife in Key West, famous for its bars, restaurant and shops. Take a night to experience the bars on Duval Street and go to "Sloppy Joe's," which is famous for being Hemingway's favorite drinking spot.
One thing to skip
The beach: I didn't understand what our cab driver meant on the first day when he said, "Beaches aren't really what we do here." After the 20-minute walk to the island's most popular beach, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, I understood why. The beach was crowded and full of rocks; it was difficult to even find a comfortable spot. The rocks were big and painful and we were forced to dodge or step on them on our way into the water. Flip flops will not count as a reliable source of footwear for this beach.