As any recently married couple can attest, despite the utter joy and excitement a wedding brings, the recovery is often a much-needed component. My new hubby and I had arranged a little breather before jetting off on our official honeymoon, so as to be sure we had enough time to travel and enjoy our dreamy destination (more to come on that soon!).
That didn’t stop us from booking a “minimoon” to one of our favorite getaway spots right after our wedding, though. To Key West.
Just a hop, skip and 45-minute flight from central-Florida, we happily boarded a little speck of a plane in Tampa and stepped foot on beautiful Key West shortly after.
Blissfully exhausted from days of non-stop wedding celebrations, we wanted to make sure we didn’t overtax ourselves, but with just two full days on the most southern point of our home-state of Florida, we did want to tackle some of the key experiences.
Having explored this tropical destination a few times now, I’ve gathered up a guide of recommendations to make even a two-day visit a wonderful experience.
Where to Stay
First, don’t worry if your hotel isn’t located on Duval Street. In fact, unless you’re in town for an event, I’d suggest staying somewhere a bit removed from the touristy magnet that can be the Duval area.
I love The Inn at Key West, located on the opposite end of Key West. Their major draw is their oasis of a pool courtyard that has the magic power to make you almost forget the rest of the world exists.
Minus the locals, who can get a little in your face…
And even attempt to wander off with your food or pool reading.
Where to Soak Up Sun
There are very few “beach” areas on Key West (gasp!). Much of the coast is shells or even a bit rougher.
Some beaches do exist, but they will get busy fast in nice weather. The better options are a truly spectacular pool. This is another reason to find a hotel with a big pool.
You can just setup shop in a lounge chair, cabana or along the pool’s edge.
The other option for the sun worshippers and adventurers alike is probably obvious given Key West is surrounded by water. A boat!
Loads of day-cruises, charters and excursions are available at the Marina near Mallory Square. Book one when you arrive to get a good spot.
How to Get Around
You can rent a car or even a scooter to get around easily. There are even day-rentals you can book through your hotel concierge. Unless you’re planning to leave Key West, however, I’d recommend renting a bicycle.
Not only is it excellent exercise to burn off all those poolside piña coladas, but it’s also an incredible way to explore!
Getting a cruiser type bike (versus a road bike or mountain bike) also usually includes a handy basket, perfect for storing purses, purchases and supplies. Be sure to get a good bike lock and some lights (usually available from wherever you rent from) though.
Also, stick to the sidewalks wherever you can on bigger, main roads. Bike lanes exist on the bigger roads, but the locals will shout out you like you’re a crazy person (“Do you have a death wish?!”) if you try to use them. Trust me. Use the big sidewalks. Backroads don’t really have sidewalks, so usually bike rules apply.
Cabs are also a decent way to get around, especially if you’re a group taking one car, as regulated costs make them more affordable for groups.
What to See & Do
Beyond floating at the pool or embracing your inner pirate on a boat excursion, I would highly recommend you take in some other kind of water activity (unless you get motion sickness easy).
Little booking huts for the various adventure excursions are situated almost every block in the southern section of Key West. You can actually throw a stone from one to another, they’re that close. Also, your hotel concierge will have some great recommendations and rates.
That’s how we found Sunset Water Sports Dolphin Watch.
A smaller catamaran boat, only a handful of people can fit, so you don’t have to battle with loads of other visitors.
They’ll take you out to an area off the coast of Key West called the Dolphin’s Playground where the amazingly blue waters alone will hypnotize you…
But of course, it’s what you’ll spot in the water that will have you squealing with delight.
Apparently pods of dolphins frolic in this area of waters and it’s common to see them enjoying themselves on any old day.
Any good boat captain won’t allow you to swim with the wild dolphins. They’ll simply pop their boats in neutral and bob along, adjusting course every so often to float near the dolphins. It’s best to appreciate these majestic creatures from your boat as a passive observer, no matter how badly you want to try your hand in speaking dolphin in the water next to them.
The other part of our boat adventure was the part i was really looking forward to. In fact, I couldn’t take my eyes off the horizon for too long as I sought out our anchor spot…
For a bit of snorkeling!
We got to spend about 30-45 minutes snorkeling and diving along the only coral reef in the continental U.S., which was pretty much perfection.
Nothing too deep or overwhelming, but with plenty of fish, rays, coral and more to explore.
If you have time, you can also explore a few more places back on land including the Southernmost Point (best to be on foot for this one, as the crowds get really dense).
Where you can also find a great cart coconut water cart. The freshest in town.
There are also loads of historical homes to spot.
Some are open to the public and offer tours through the house or grounds too!
Be sure you also catch at least one sunset at Mallory Square. Just be ready for some rather ridiculous crowds.
Bypass the vendors and pop yourself by a waterfront location facing West. While you wait for the sun to set, you can enteratin yourself with some of the fishy locals…
Until the sun begins to set and the real show begins.
But wait for it, wait for iiiiittttt….
It truly is one of the best sunset locations I’ve ever seen with the sun seemingly burning out as it dips over the edge of the billionaire’s private island.
Where to Eat
I had to save the food for last because there are so many fantastic options. The Mr. and I discovered some truly special spots on our minimoon that we vowed to try to get back to each year.
One great new find was the Old Town Bakery on Eaton St., not too far from Duval St.
We biked down each morning from our hotel, taking back roads to explore the beautiful streets lined with colorful homes. The reason we biked there?
Brioche breakfast sandwiches and fresh coffee.
Another good breakfast spot popular with the locals (and Food Network enthusiasts) is Sandy’s Cafe.
If you’re in need of a healthier recharge, load up on pressed juices and fresh food at the former gas station turned health mart, Date & Thyme.
Plus, some super cute locals frequent this place. Always a bonus.
Afternoon snacks in Key West should always include conch (pronounced “conk”) fritters, a snail-like creature chopped up and combined with spices, corn and some batter, then deep fried and served with a tangy key lime mustard.
The best are served in a remote kiosk right on the water’s edge at Mallory Square, directly behind the Aquarium.
Happy Hour can be taken in at any bar on Duval St, but we found that it pays to seek out the slighty off-the-beaten-path type spots for truly unique finds. 2 Cents Restaurant & Pub was such a find that you might completely miss, as it’s practically located in a side alley off Duval!
We knew when we sat down and were asked to “roll the dice” that we found something right up our alley.
Of course, I rolled a six, but my lucky man rolled a two!
The drinks were delicious, but the bacon served up at each table while you peruse the menu? BONUS!
For a truly spectacular dining experience, do yourself a favor and immediately make a reservation for Louie’s Backyard when you arrive in Key West. Heck, what are you waiting for? Book it now then go get your plane tickets.
Walking into Louie’s makes you feel like you’ve somehow been lucky enough to score entry into the coolest backyard shindig in all of the Keys. Overlooking the water, the view alone makes it unique.
But the string lights, casual setting and laughing people paired with well-trained wait staff and some of the best Caribbean-American food, is what makes this Zagat rated establishment truly exceptional.
From start to finish, every moment was spectacular.
As was our whole visit to Key West!
If you’ve made it through this whole, long post, let me know if you’ve ever been to Key West, and if you have, what your favorite part/place there is!
I’m already plotting my return.