Days are short and temperatures have dropped in most of the United States — which means people are seeking a place to avoid winter’s chill and continue to enjoy outdoor experiences. For some, that means taking a break on the subtropical island of Key West.
At the southernmost outpost in the continental U.S., it’s possible to soak up salt air, sweet breezes and an irresistibly laid-back vibe, while immersing yourself in the Key West state of mind.
Quintessential Key West pleasures include strolling the Old Town streets past pastel-painted homes adorned with flowers.
As of this writing, Key West (like many other places) has a mandatory mask ordinance to protect against the spread of coronavirus. So whenever you’re away from your hotel room or other accommodation — and while checking out the six fully or partially open-air amusements here — please wear your mask.
ONE: Build a sand sculpture. Sure you’re a grownup, but that doesn’t mean you can’t build an oversized sandcastle on the beach. At the historic waterfront Casa Marina Key West, a Waldorf Astoria Resort at 1500 Reynolds St., you can create a sand masterpiece guided by Marianne van den Broek from Just Sand and Water. Marianne is acclaimed for constructing large-scale sand sculptures to mark holidays, special events, proposals and much more. Her fun-filled workshops last 2.5 hours and participants build their own sand sculpture from scratch during the experience.
TWO: Bike or walk through Key West’s Old Town neighborhood, the largest predominantly wooden historic district in the country, just before dusk. Meander along narrow lanes to discover carefully restored Victorian homes and cottages, while enjoying the lush fragrance of flowers spilling over white picket fences. Peek into hidden gardens and small neighborhood emporiums, and exchange nods and smiles with anyone you might encounter along the way.
THREE: Indulge your inner child at the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory at 1316 Duval St. It’s one of just three major butterfly facilities in Florida, and its highlight is a 5,000-square-foot glass-domed tropical butterfly habitat. In this magical “rainforest,” you’ll walk among hundreds of butterflies from 50 to 60 species, plus dozens of tiny exotic birds from 20-some species — and even meet a pair of graceful pink flamingos. You’ll also learn about butterflies’ role in the natural world and be amazed by the butterfly artwork of Sam Trophia, the conservatory’s co-founder.
Visitors to the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservancy enjoy the “rainforest” atmosphere while being greeted by the pair of resident flamingos. (Photo by Mike Freas, Florida Keys News Bureau)
FOUR: Speaking of art, why not create your own art gallery stroll? Key West’s historic Old Town district features dozens of enticing galleries including the Gingerbread Square Gallery on upper Duval Street. Since its establishment in 1974, it has displayed the art of notables like Sal Salinero, famed for his vibrant studies of rainforest flora and fauna. Or check out White Street’s Harrison Gallery, whose offerings include Helen Harrison’s distinctive sculptures. And don’t miss Gallery on Greene, which represents the late folk artist Mario Sanchez and painter in oils Peter Vey among many others.
FIVE: If you’re looking for a genuine local hangout with great live music, head for the Schooner Wharf Bar at 202 William St. It’s an inviting open-air spot where people bring their dogs, fishing buddies and significant others for satisfying libations and lively conversation. It also serves good casual food overlooking the water in the colorful Key West Historic Seaport.
SIX: Enjoy the blue-green water. Swim from the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, the locals’ favorite getaway spot. Take a sunset sailing excursion on a tall ship with creaking rigging. Kayak the backcountry shallows with Lazy Dog. Snorkel or dive the living coral reef that parallels the Florida Keys. Or simply gaze at the seemingly endless view from sprawling Smathers Beach, stretching along the Atlantic Ocean shoreline.
Want more warm-weather outdoor pastimes to savor in Key West? Just click here.