I’m often asked by visitors why I decided to make Key West my home. My typical response is usually my checklist of prerequisites for a suitable home base, which are:

Key West Marilyn Monroe sculpture

Car-free living, anyone? A pedicab takes passengers past the Tropic Cinema and its Seward Johnson statue of Marilyn Monroe in a famous pose. (Photo by Mike Freas, Florida Keys News Bureau)

1. Gay friendly.
2. Warm weather all year around.
3. A place I can bike or walk everywhere.
4. A community where I can escape the fast-paced lifestyle of the mainland.
5. A location close to the ocean with beautiful beaches.

Now that I’ve lived here for over 15 years, I’ve found that my checklist only scratches the surface of why so many residents love living in the Florida Keys. Every day of my life on the island is eye-opening, and like many residents I find myself repeating the phrase “OMG, only in Key West” (in a loving way, of course).

When I mention how many years I’ve lived in the Keys, the most predictable comment I receive from visitors now is, “Wow, you must love it here.”

Okay, Greg, now what’s your response going to be? I have been tempted on occasion to be a bit sarcastic and respond, “Well, yeah, hello?” However, my polite nature always takes over and kindness prevails.

Recently I compiled some of my top “loves of life in Key West” — but please note that the following list is not in any particular order, because every element heads my list.

Car-Free Living.  It takes a little work to convince first-time visitors to Key West that they really won’t need a car, but once they arrive, they have that “Aha!” moment. Our tiny 2-by-4-mile island caters to non-motorized vehicles with many bike lanes, paths and parking areas just for cyclists. Also, our narrow streets with little traffic make bike-riding a breeze. And if you’re shy about getting back on a two-wheeler, we have many car-free options to get you moving around the island.

Doggie divas get pushed in a carriage during a past Key West Dachshund Walk. As many as 200 canines typically participate in the quirky pooch parade. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Pets Give Key West a “Four Paws Up.” To say Key West is pet friendly would be a bit of an understatement. Between the dog water bowls at many storefronts and doggie treats distributed at bars and restaurants, your pooch will feel pampered in Key West. The island has many pet-friendly restaurants, bars and hotels. (Most years, there’s even a  New Year’s Eve Dachshund Walk with as many as 200 furry participants — many wearing adorable costumes — parading through the downtown streets with their proud human companions.)

Picture Perfect Beaches. Key West is home to five public beaches, including the locals’ favorite aFort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, which spans over 45 acres. FYI, it has been affectionately nicknamed Fort Liz Taylor Beach by our LGBTQ community. Taylor stayed in Key West frequently during her years with Richard Burton, and the park’s marvelous beach is a great place to swim and snorkel in crystal-clear waters. The venue provides everything you might need for a perfect day at the beach: picnic tables, grills, nature trails — and even some shade for non-sun-worshipping visitors, thanks to the site’s majestic Australian pines.

A Foodie’s Delight. Key West has some of the best restaurants and world-class chefs in the U.S. Throughout the Keys, restaurants range from gourmet emporiums to dockside seafood “shacks” and intriguing food trucks. Cuisine at these spots typically incorporates diverse and delicious influences, with a reliance on the abundant array of fish and seafood harvested from surrounding seas.

Ocean Adventures Abound. Get out and enjoy the gorgeous ocean waters surrounding Key West with scheduled watersports activities. You can experience several different types, including all-male sailing trips, snorkel excursions and paddle adventures — and all-welcome sunset sails. Some tours 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.

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