The year 2020 has been an unusual one (to say the least), and really thought outside the box with an innovative lineup of categories for its “Best of 2020” awards. And the Florida Keys & Key West are nominated in three of the nine categories.

Florida Keys Overseas Highway aerial

The Florida Keys Overseas Highway connects the entire island chain. Motorists can enjoy ever-changing land- and seascapes while experiencing the “bucket list” drive. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

As you might have noticed, I’m very proud of this island chain and its numerous accolades — especially those related to the LGBTQ community. So I would love your help in giving the Keys some love by voting for your favorites in GayCities’ “Best of 2020” awards.

Here are the categories we’re nominated in, with some reasons why I feel we stand out above the rest.

Iconic Road Trips: Miami to Key West. You can reach the Florida Keys via land, air and sea. My favorite methods are car-free, but I always recommend that travelers experience the iconic drive through the island chain at least once.

That’s because the 127-mile road trip from mainland Florida to Key West via U.S. Highway 1 is absolutely breathtaking. In fact, the southern part of U.S. 1 is also known as the Overseas Highway because of its 42 bridges over water that link the Keys.

A glistening Atlantic Ocean, Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico surround you with gorgeous colors ranging from turquoise to blue to deep green as you travel to Key West, the southernmost city in the continental U.S.

While winding through the captivating island chain, definitely stop at one of our funky waterfront dining venues to savor some incredibly fresh seafood — served up to please even the most discerning palate.

Dry Tortugas Fort Jefferson Aerial

Dry Tortugas National Park, 68 miles west of Key West, is made up of seven tiny coral-and-sand islands. Fort Jefferson takes up nearly the entire land mass of the largest, Garden Key. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

There are also many amazing off-the-beaten-path beaches and parks, and boutiques and galleries carrying one-of-a-kind Keys-crafted offerings to satisfy your inner shopper.

One of my favorite stops is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, located in Key Largo and offering AH-mazing snorkeling, diving and other watersports to enjoy.

The Great Outdoors: Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas. The unspoiled Dry Tortugas, alive with rare migratory birds and colorful marine life, cover 100 square miles in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Tortugas consist of seven small coral-and-sand islands, including the 22-acre Garden Key that’s home to the awe-inspiring Fort Jefferson.

One of the largest masonry structures in the Western Hemisphere, the fort is sometimes called the Gibraltar of the Gulf. Its construction began in 1846, and it served as a Union military prison for captured deserters during the Civil War.

These days, the Dry Tortugas make up one of America’s most secluded national parks — where you can “unplug” with ranger-guided tours, pristine beaches for sunning, world-class bird-watching and clear blue waters for snorkeling. The park can only be reached by ferry, seaplane or private boat.

The Yankee Freedom III ferries passengers to the park daily (weather permitting). The daylong adventure includes a breakfast snack, lunch, complimentary snorkeling equipment, park fee and plenty of time to enjoy the Tortugas’ fort, beach, and gorgeous ocean vistas.

You can also fly to the park with Key West Seaplane Adventures. Excursions aboard 10-passenger planes depart from Key West International Airport and travel time is about 40 minutes each way, leaving passengers ample time to explore the park.

Higgs Beach Key West

Key West’s casual, friendly Atlantic-front Higgs Beach was named one of the world’s 11 best gay beaches in 2018. (Photo by Carol Tedesco, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Urban Outdoor Hangouts: Higgs Beach, Key West. Higgs Beach was recognized in 2018 as one of the world’s 11 best gay beaches in an article in “GayCities: Your Gay Travel Guide.” Writer Chris Bull praised the beach as “a great spot known for snorkeling, volleyball, and jet skiing.” It’s definitely all that, and more.

The 16.5-acre white-sand beach overlooks the Atlantic Ocean beside historic West Martello Tower, home of the Key West Garden Club.

The lushly planted spot is well worth exploring during a beach break. The free-admission attraction showcases magnificent flora, a peace garden and a white perfume garden, all set against the Civil War-era fort’s weathered bricks.

After a day of sun and fun, check out Salute!, a beachfront restaurant famous for its Caribbean-influenced take on Italian classics (and fantastic people-watching opportunities).

 If you’re a fan of the Keys like I am, please remember to vote for us on the GayCities website (and by the way, you can vote once a day until the Dec. 18 deadline).

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