I love watching Key West visitors stroll down our streets, past palm trees and tropical flora, and overhearing their “oohs and ahhs” as they check out the unique architecture and beauty of our historic Old Town homes.
We have many types of homes on the island, ranging from grand Victorian mansions with gingerbread trim to petite and beautifully restored cigar-makers’ cottages (sometimes called shotgun houses). When the front door of a cottage is open, you can literally see down a long hall to the back door. This architectural design was a very helpful way of keeping homes cool before the advent of air conditioning.
Key Westers love to take advantage of the balmy year-round temps, and that’s certainly evident when you see what lies behind their houses’ white picket fences, historic porticos and grand interiors. The outdoor living areas are as gorgeous as the interiors with meticulously maintained landscaping, pools, waterfalls, outdoor furniture and decks used to maximize open-air time with friends and family.
Want to get a peek inside some of these lovely private homes? If so, you’re in luck because our 59th annual Key West Home Tours take place Jan. 18-19, Feb. 15-16 and March 15-16.
The tours spotlight Key West’s unique architecture and modern island-style design, and are hosted by the Old Island Restoration Foundation. Created in 1960, the foundation is dedicated to promoting the restoration and preservation of the island city’s historic gems.
Proceeds from the tours help fund O.I.R.F.’s scholarships, grants and maintenance of the Oldest House Museum at 322 Duval St. The museum was originally a home built circa 1829 that’s now open to the public to illustrate Key West’s fascinating history.
Many of the showcased homes on each tour are located in Old Town — believed to be the largest predominantly wooden historic district in the U.S., with almost 3,000 structures. Today lots of these buildings are brilliantly restored and serve as single-family homes, quaint bed-and-breakfast guesthouses and unique heritage attractions.
Old Island Restoration Foundation volunteers serve as guides at each tour stop, advising visitors about each featured house’s history, architecture and décor. If you’re a tour participant, get ready to be wowed by majestic interiors filled with antiques and art collections — plus those outdoor living spaces with vibrant gardens and fragrant tropical plantings.
This year’s tours will include five private homes, plus one historic inn or hotel serving up some tasty snacks and libations.
The January tours are scheduled from 3-6 p.m. both evenings, and the February and March tours are offered from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days. You can explore the homes by foot, bicycle, vehicle or — in January only — via Conch Tour Train transportation.
Also, just a reminder that the Duval Loop bus carries passengers free of charge and could provide a convenient drop-off point for some of the homes.
Tickets for each self-guided tour cost $35 per person in advance ($40 on the day of the tour) and include a list of houses and a map. The cost for January tours with Conch Train transportation is $45 per person in advance and seating is limited, so it’s important to buy tickets early to guarantee a spot. Event tickets can be purchased here, by calling 305-294-9501 or at Key West locations including the Oldest House. During tour hours, tickets will be sold at the featured houses — but FYI, bring cash or a check since credit cards can’t be accepted.
I hope you can make it down to Key West for one of these amazing tours. You’ll get a glimpse of how our island citizens live — and, as an added bonus, escape from the northern winter.
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