July 14, 2021
Key West, Florida is about 129 miles southwest of Miami along US Highway 1, the Overseas Highway.
It is also 106 miles north-northeast of Havana, Cuba as the crow flies.
That sounds pretty close to places you've heard of, but Key West is light years away in culture and history from almost any other place most folks have visited.
The town and island was originally called Cayo Hueso by the Spanish, a term that means "bone key". Many Key West businesses still use the name.
When Great Britain took control of Florida in 1763, the Spanish and Native American population of Key West were largely removed to Havana.
When Spain took control back about 20 years later, there was no attempt to resettle the mostly deserted island.
It began to be used by Cuban fishermen and loyalist settlers from the Bahamas who had fled the United States after the Revolutionary War.
These early white Bahamian settlers were known as Conchs, pronounced conk, like conk in the head). They began to really populate the Keys in the years after 1830.
This earlier isolation and current end of the road status gives Key West Florida its romantic bohemian flavor today.
Key West became nationally famous when U.S. President Harry S. Truman made the island city his winter "Whitehouse" after World War Two.
The personality of the people of Key West was demonstrated dramatically in 1982 when the citizens decided to leave the USA and founded the Conch Republic.
This action was taken in response to a blockade set up by the Federal Government in Florida City at the Last Chance Saloon.
The blockade was supposedly to search for illegal drugs and immigrants. It immediately caused a huge 17 mile traffic jam and was hurting the tourism industry.
Read a great account of the entire incident at this link.
The Naval Air Station Key West is a major employer, and conducts year round training for naval aviators.
The military presence is one of the reasons Harry Truman chose Key West as the winter White House when he was president.
The heart of Key West is Duval Street and its central business district.
This district takes up most of the northwest corner of the island.
There are many restaurants here and the famous Sloppy Joe's Bar, the legendary drinking hangout of Ernest Hemingway.
Other major streets are Whitehead, Simonton, Front, Greene,
Carolina, Eaton and Truman Avenue.
Ernest Hemingway's home is on Whitehead and is open to the public. You will probably see some descendants of his many six toed cats.
There are hundreds of things to do in Key West. Something always seems to be happening.
A daily event that locals and tourists both love is the evening sunset celebration at Mallory Square.
There are also many great hotels in Key West to serve as your base of operations. Be forewarned, however: lodging is very expensive in Key West.
Some popular annual events include:
Key West is the end of the Keys island chain. Here is a guide that tells you all about the rest of the Keys: