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Key West Florida: Sunset Celebrations, Pirate History, Harry Truman, and Drag Queens
While all the Keys have their own personality, specialities and pleasures, Key West is a bit of an oxymoron. Itís certainly got the laid-back Keysy feeling, but with so much to do and experience, it's hard to take the time to be laid-back.
Key West is a popular cruise ship port, as well as a destination for those who want something very different from the rest of Florida. If you will only have a day in Key West, start with these suggestions. If you have a few days, and nights, there is even more to enjoy.
Historic CemeteryKey West Cemetery has extensive system of graves above the ground, but the reason here has nothing to do with water levels (despite being barely above sea level). Key West is largely founded on coral, and about as easy to dig into as cement. In fact, one building in town is actually constructed of quarried coral. Note: the coral cement of the cityís bedrock is far different from the fragile living coral of the reefs. The grave stones of the cemetery also give true meaning to the phrase "got in the final word." None sums that up better than the grave of Pearl Roberts (1929 - 1979) which reads "I told you I was sick." Although usually portrayed as the comment of a hypochondriac itís worth noting that Pearl was only 50 years old when she died. The Historic Florida Keys Foundation gives walking tours of the cemetery. Call them at 305-292-6718.
ToursTake the Conch Train Tours and Old Town Trolley tour. A great way to orient yourself, get around town to the attractions. The 90-minute tour goes through the entire Key West, not just the historic heart but some of the out-of-downtown spots including the beach. This is a hop on and off. Key West is a gay-friendly town, so it's natural there'd be a gay-friendly tour. Although some of the same highlights are included, there are some others as well. It's fun, even if your not gay, but it also provides a good introduction to Key West from the gay point of view.
MuseumsFor a place that's known for partying more than history, there are some wonderful museums that illuminate Key West's truly fascinating history. Pirates and Sunken Treasure Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum tells the story of one of the countries most amazing sunken treasure finds. The short version is that Mel Fisher uncovered the wreck of the Spanish galleon Atocha in 1985. But what the museum tells you is the long torturous journey to find it, and the true treasures he and his partners uncovered. In 1622 treasure fleet a combined fleet of 28 ships left Havana harbor for Spain loaded with treasure. It was driven off course by a hurricane. Two ships, including the Atocha carried more than 2 million ducats. When found main cargo hold it was a virtual reef of silver bars, chests of coins, over 1000 silver bars and boxes of coins.
Ernest Hemingwayís House, the Southernmost point of the continental USA, Butterfly gardens, shopping, charming streets, funky restaurants. Visitors can happily spend several days being charmed by Key West. And then, night comes, and it's time to party.
Sunset CelebrationOne way to both mellow out and do a popular Key West activity is to... watch the sunset. You can do it anywhere of course, including from a boat that sails along the shore, but go down to Mallory Square and enjoy the Sunset Celebration. The Key West Sunset Celebration happens every day...at sunset. Jugglers, tightrope walkers, clowns, guitar players, artists of all kinds set up their individual spaces. Boats cruise the waters. People stroll among the performers. Station yourself by one of the musicians, and stand along with everyone else, simply watching the sun set. There is no charge, and the performers make no salary. If you watch a performance, enjoy the music, provide a donation. They work solely on tips.
Catch a Howard Livingston and the Mile Marker 24 BandHoward Livingston epitomizes the story of the Keys. This former businessman fell in love with the lifestyle, weather, and water. The decision was easy. He was going to move to the Keys and make music. Today, Howard strums his way through mellow, Keysy, tropical music thatís a delight. Plus, he makes margaritas (using his specially constructed outboard motor) thatís passed around in tiny cups for the audience to get into the Margaritaville feeling. And thatís easy to do when Howard sings "Blame It On The Margaritas" and "Liviní On Key West Time." Check his schedule at http://www.milemarker24.com/schedule.php and plan on a wonderful concert.
Sushi and the Drag QueensKey West is home to main two drag performer venues. Thereís the Aqua Nightclub, at 711 Duval Street which has quite a following, but if you stop by the Bourbon Bar and Cabaret at 801 Duval youíll likely meet Sushi, standing outside with one or two of her ďgirlsĒ with a distinct come-hither look. Go upstairs and prepare to be entertained by some of the most outrageous and funniest drag queen acts. Sushi struts, strolls, hams it up and soon has everyone stuffing dollars into her clothing. And the rest of her troop matches Sushiís skills and good humor. Day or night, and anytime of year, Key West is a true Keysy experience. For more information go to Florida Keys. I'm ready.