The Baltimore Sun

The weather is cooling off in Florida, but the season is beginning to heat up. First up for the fall is Key West's Fantasy Fest, an oftentimes bacchanalian event featuring parades, masquerades, music, parties and elaborate balls. The festival, which has been around for about 30 years, begins Friday and spreads out over 10 days. If you visit during Fantasy Fest, it'll be hard to get away from the spectacle, but there's plenty more to do in this southernmost city.


Circle Mallory Square : It's the place to be at sunset. The celebration gets under way nightly at the park overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and providing a colorful view of the sun sinking into the horizon.


Visit the Dry Tortugas : This national park, a collection of seven islands, is about 70 miles west of Key West. Take a ferry here for spectacular snorkeling, beach camping or sightseeing at historic Fort Jefferson.


See Hemingway's haunts : The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum showcases furniture owned by the author and, of course, those six-toed cats believed to be descendants of his pet. Make your next stop at Sloppy Joe's Bar, where Hemingway is said to have spent many an afternoon just chilling.


Stroll a parade : The Fantasy Fest parade is the culmination of the festival and a highlight for many visitors. The hours-long event, reminiscent of a Mardi Gras parade, begins about sunset along Duval Street with marching bands, floats, dancers and costumes galore. This year's theme, "Pirates, Pundits and Political

Animals," should make for interesting viewing.


Mix it up at Margaritaville : Even if you're not a Parrothead, a stop at Jimmy Buffett's original cafe and restaurant is worthwhile. Relax, have a "Cheeseburger in Paradise" and celebrate the island way of life.

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