Key West is internationally known as a gay mecca, attracting more than 250,000 visitors to this top LGBTQ vacation spot that celebrates openness and pride — the entire destination is renowned for its welcoming and accepting attitude.
“One Human Family” became Key West’s official philosophy in 2000 — and was soon adopted by Monroe County, which encompasses the entire Florida Keys island chain.
Some of the best annual events staged on the two-mile by four-mile island each year include June’s Key West Pride and September’s Womenfest.
Hungry for a warm-weather vacation spot with great restaurants and a welcoming vibe? Satisfy your appetite in sunny, subtropical Key West.
One: Celebrate diversity.
The Florida Keys salute diversity and openness, and the subtropical island of Key West is internationally known as a top LGBTQ vacation spot. The city of Key West proudly adopted “One Human Family” as its official philosophy in 2000 — a move soon followed by Monroe County, which encompasses the entire Florida Keys island chain. Recognizing that all people are created equal, the all-inclusive destination is renowned for its welcoming and accepting attitude.
Two: Stay at a unique LGBTQ accommodation or an all-welcome property.
Key West features several properties that specifically cater to gay men — complete with pools, Jacuzzis, clothing-optional sundecks, full-service bars and complimentary happy hours. Other accommodations are known for their warm welcome to all guests and include a wide array of hotels, motels, inns and waterfront resorts.
Three: Discover some of Key West’s LGBTQ history.
The Tennessee Williams Museum, located at 513 Truman Ave., memorializes the iconic playwright who called Key West home from the late 1940s until his death in 1983. Williams lived in Key West as an openly gay man with his partner Frank Merlo and had a pivotal influence on the island’s literary culture. The museum features one of the largest permanent collections of Williams memorabilia currently on display for the public.
Four: Dine at a landmark gay-owned and -operated restaurant.
From upscale gourmet restaurants to casual seafood spots, Key West and the Keys are known for culinary excellence. Among Key West’s landmark restaurants are Azur, featuring Mediterranean specialties and wonderful brunches on a shaded terrace or in an intimate dining room; and The Flaming Buoy Filet Co., a blend of retro supper club and sassy corner bistro. Both are gay-owned and -operated, providing top-rated cuisine and warmly personal service.
Five: Get out and play.
Key West offers fantastic nightlife with many LGBTQ bars, shops and entertainment venues — including several located around the 700 block of Duval Street near the island city’s permanent rainbow crosswalks. Premier LGBTQ events are held each year that attract visitors from around the world: Key West Pride, Tropical Heat, Womenfest and the Headdress Ball among others.
Six: Take a ‘southernmost selfie.’
Key West’s red, black and yellow Southernmost Point marker isn’t terribly picturesque, but hundreds of visitors take their photos beside it every day. Why? Because the buoy replica marks the southernmost spot in the continental United States. Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on Whitehead Street, its brightly-painted body bears lettering that proclaims it’s just 90 miles from Cuba. What better place for a selfie?
Seven: Laze on a beach nicknamed for Liz Taylor.
Key West is home to several public beaches including the locals’ favorite at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park (affectionately nicknamed Fort Liz Taylor Beach by the LGBTQ community). Taylor stayed in Key West frequently during her years with Richard Burton — whose adoptive father, playwright Philip Burton, numbered among the island’s famous residents. The beach is a perfect place to swim and snorkel in crystal-clear waters, and the park provides numerous amenities.
Eight: Experience an LGBTQ watersports adventure.
Blu Q Gay Sailing Adventures offers a fantastic portfolio of scheduled watersports activities. Passengers can enjoy several different clothing-optional excursions including the all-male Sail, Snorkel & Paddle trips — as well as all-welcome sunset sails. Some trips include visits to remote islands and sandbars, sailing across the clear shallow waters of the backcountry and viewing stunning scenery of mangroves and marine life. Dolphins, stingrays, and turtles occasionally appear to give passengers a true aquatic welcome.
Nine: Find that picture-perfect place to watch the sunset.
Venture out and enjoy one of Key West’s world-famous sunsets. While many spots offer breathtaking sunset views, virtually everyone MUST experience the Mallory Square Sunset Celebration. The iconic waterfront gathering takes place each evening beside Key West Harbor, where crowds enjoy the talents of energetic street performers, view artisans’ handmade wares and applaud the sun setting over the water.
Ten: Ring in the new year “island style.”
New Year’s Eve celebrations in Key West generally include balmy weather and a warmhearted “One Human Family” welcome for visitors eager to swap their heavy winter clothes for shorts and tank tops. In typically offbeat style, revelers can choose from several zany takeoffs on New York City’s traditional Times Square ball drop — including the “drop” of a drag queen in a giant-sized red fiberglass high heel. Drag queen and resident celebrity Sushi (aka Gary Marion) stars in the festivities while suspended high above the Duval Street crowds at the Bourbon St. Pub complex.
Eleven: Tie the knot in paradise!
Key West weddings may be religious or civil and take place at a church, on the Monroe County Courthouse steps where the Florida Keys’ first same-sex marriage was held, or elsewhere on the island. They can range from a simple exchange of vows to a full ceremony with music by an organist or classical ensemble.
Experienced gay and lesbian wedding specialists are experts in finding just the right attire, flowers, music, wedding rings, catering, cakes, photographers, videographers, decorators, transportation and officiants.
And once the knot is tied, Florida Keys honeymoons can be spent in a luxury oceanfront resort, an intimate island suite or a lovingly restored historic guest house. Romantic activities might include commandeering the wheel of a tall ship, chartering a sailboat or hiring a seaplane for a truly memorable day trip to the Dry Tortugas.
OUT sent newlyweds Kit Williamson and John Halbach, from the acclaimed series, Eastsiders, to our favorite gay mecca, Key West. From breakfast pineapple pancakes to poolside margaritas, and from private tours of the Hemingway Home to nude snorkeling off the Florida coast, these guys experienced and discovered all that Gay Key West has to offer. Follow along as Kit and John take you OUT in Key West.
Key West’s modern-day history was shaped by LGBTQ personalities, influences and events.
Tennessee Williams first visits Key West. He subsequently buys a house and lives there until his death in 1983, helping shape the literary and cultural community that still flourishes. A museum and annual festival celebrate his Key West connection.
Leonard Bernstein writes his first published piece of music, “Sonata for Clarinet and Piano,” during his initial visit to Key West. He also begins a ballet titled “Conch Town.” Bernstein continues spending significant time on the island throughout his life.
Key West Business Guild is established to support the LGBTQ community and encourage tourism. One of North America’s oldest gay and lesbian destination marketing organizations, it helps Key West become and remain a world-renowned LGBTQ vacation spot.
Richard Heyman is elected mayor of Key West, becoming the United States’ first openly gay mayor. His legacy remains both in politics and in the Gingerbread Square Gallery he founded in 1974.
The Red Shoe Drop (a.k.a. Drag Queen Drop) debuts on New Year’s Eve at the New Orleans House complex on Duval Street. Drag queen Sushi, perched in a super-sized red high-heel shoe, is lowered from the balcony at midnight, spoofing New York’s Times Square “ball drop.” CNN has featured the event many times on its national New Year’s Eve broadcast.
The Key West AIDS Memorial overlooking the Atlantic Ocean is completed. Believed to be world’s only official municipal monument of its kind, it is inscribed with the names of over 1,000 men and women who died of AIDS.
One Human Family is unanimously adopted by the Key West City Commission as the city’s official philosophy — and later is adopted for the entire Florida Keys. Local designer J.T. Thompson began the One Human Family movement by printing bumper stickers that read, “All people are created equal members of ONE HUMAN FAMILY.”
A 1.25-mile-long rainbow flag is unfurled along the length of Duval Street from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean during Key West’s 2003 Pride celebration. The banner was constructed on the island by Gilbert Baker, who created the original rainbow flag, to mark its 25th anniversary. Sections of the Key West flag have been displayed at Pride events worldwide.
The Florida Keys’ first same-sex wedding is performed Jan. 6, moments after marriage equality begins in Florida. The ceremony unites Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, who won a lawsuit to overturn Florida’s same-sex marriage ban.
Four permanent rainbow crosswalks are installed by the City of Key West at the intersection of Duval and Petronia streets — the heart of the LGBTQ entertainment district.
Key West’s first lesbian mayor is elected. Teri Johnston, a former city commissioner, is the first openly gay woman elected mayor of a major Florida city.