West is the final stop on the Overseas Highway, where the land ends and
meets the sea amid 19th-century charm and 20th-century attractions. The
ambiance of continental America's southernmost city - which is situated
closer to Cuba than Miami - is embedded in its quaint, palm-studded streets,
historic hundred-year-old gingerbread mansions and a relaxed citizenry
of self-styled "Conchs" (pronounced konks).
In Key West, families will find 20th-century attractions set amid 19th-century
charm. Military history literally surrounds the city in the form of four
classic, red-brick forts. Families can venture into towers reminiscent
of a medieval castle or climb a 48-step winding staircase to the top of
one fort, for a sweeping view of the island and surrounding blue waters.
For a truly extraordinary experience, take a seaplane or charter a boat
from Key West out to Fort Jefferson, which lies among a cluster of seven
coral reefs called the Dry Tortugas. Here, visitors marvel at the fort
walls 8-feet thick and 50-feet high, as well as three gun tiers designed
for 450 guns. During the Civil War, the fort was held by the Union and
served as a prison for captured deserters. Today, visitors can hear stories
about the prisons most famous inmate, Dr. Samuel Mudd, the Maryland
physician who unwittingly set the broken leg of President Lincolns
assassin, John Wilkes Booth.
family can explore museums such as the remarkable Lighthouse Military
Museum; the stately Audubon House, where John James Audubon stayed while
painting his noted works depicting wildlife in the Florida Keys; and the
glitzy Key West Shipwreck Historeum, which focuses on the fascinating
wrecking era of Key West.The whole family should see the areas most
famous historical site, the Hemingway House, where Ernest Hemingway lived
and worked for 10 years.
No trip would be complete without a stop at the Key West Aquarium, the
first tourist attraction built in the Florida Keys, where a 50,000-gallon
tank exhibits a cross section of a near-shore mangrove environment, including
a variety of tropical and game fish, sea turtles and birds.
It has been said that the idiosyncratic architecture and the laid-back
atmosphere of this small, two-by-four-mile island probably have nurtured
the talents of more writers per capita than any other city in the country.
More than 100 published authors reside, full- or part-time, in Key West,
and the island is noted for its artistic community with a number of galleries
exhibiting artwork in varying styles and mediums.
Key West is home to other treasures as well. Longtime resident Mel Fisher,
a legendary treasure hunter who died in December 1998, recovered more
than $400 million in gold and silver from the ship Nuestra Señora
de Atocha, a 17th-century Spanish galleon which sank 45 miles west of
Key West. Fisher, who spent 16 years of his life searching for the shipwreck,
established the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society Museum where visitors
may view, touch and even buy some of the riches of the Atocha and Santa