A perfect gay getaway in the country's southernmost city is within easy reach. Here are some suggestions for how to spend your time in quirky, progressive and friendly Key West, a secluded yet accessible island paradise that's been a favorite gay destination for decades.
You might think of this relaxing, fun-loving town chiefly as a place for lazing away around the pool or gathering with friends at convivial restaurants and gay nightclubs, and indeed, you'll find plenty of these diversions. But Key West has several other worthwhile pursuits to savor.
You can trace the legacy of one of America's great literary giants at the historic Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, and one of the nation's seminal political minds at the former vacation retreat of President Harry S. Truman, the Little White House. Along colorful Duval Street, you'll find enough clothing boutiques, art galleries and gift shops to keep you busy for a full day or more.
Of course, the town's tropical climate and clear-blue waters account for much of its popularity. Fans of flora and fauna shouldn't miss the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, with its glass-enclosed environment sheltering a variety of fluttering butterfly species along with more than 20 exotic bird species, plus fragrant flowers and nectar-rich plants. The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum displays the famed treasures of shipwrecked golden galleons. Take to the seas by booking cruises with outfitters such as all-gay blu Q or gay and lesbian-owned Venus Charters, which offers women-only snorkeling, sunset and dolphin-watching adventures.
Out on the Town
Key West excels when it comes to gay-friendly restaurants and bars. If you're seeking a sophisticated "gay date" spot, try swanky Square One Restaurant, a romantic place serving a melting pot of all sorts of food.
The see-and-be-seen Mangoes, with its lovely outdoor patio, draws a colorful bunch with its delicious selection of Floribbean and American foods. The trendy eatery Seven Fish has an urbane interior – drop by for seafood-intensive bistro fare, including delicious penne pasta with mango chutney, crawfish and scallops. For an authentic Cuban sandwich, head to 5 Brothers Grocery, on a quiet street in the historic district.
You'll find most of the town's gay bars along Duval Street. There's the pulsing Aqua Nightclub, with its wild drag shows (performed by the inimitable Aquanettes) and expansive dance floor. The "Big Easy"-inspired Bourbon St. Pub is super-friendly and plays lively videos on its many TV screens. Nearby, duck into the 801 Bourbon Bar, home to the 801 girls, a drag troupe headed by Sushi, the drag queen who stars in the "red shoe drop" each New Year's Eve that has been broadcast on CNN for many years, which has a solid group of regulars. And don't overlook the La Te Da Hotel and Restaurant, which has a poolside lounge, a classy piano bar and The Cabaret in The Crystal Room.
Home Away from Home
Where to stay in Key West? You'll find no shortage of gay-friendly hotels, resorts and B&Bs in this town famed for its welcoming attitude. Quite a few clothing-optional properties cater primarily to gays and lesbians, too. The all-welcome adult resort (age 21 and up only, no children) Pearl’s Key West, is gay friendly. The on-site restaurant The Strand at Pearl's serves cooked to order breakfasts and the popular poolside bar Pearl's Patio offers great drink specials and fabulous food.
The gay guesthouse, Alexander’s, with its sprawling, tree-shaded grounds, draws a mix of men and women. It’s a great choice for co-ed groups of friends traveling together.
Among men's accommodations, the Equator Resort and New Orleans House (above the Bourbon St. Pub) both offer elegant rooms, dapper pool and sunning areas, and moderate rates. Men seeking a playful, racy vibe should head to the beautifully maintained Island House, with its poolside café and bar, full health club and highly professional staff. Big Ruby's Guest House is another idyllic location geared toward gay men.
And finally, the neighboring Coconut Grove Guesthouse, Oasis Guest House and Coral Tree Inn men's properties make up one, sprawling elegant resort with lushly landscaped grounds and lovely pools. If visitors to Key West face any kind of challenge at all, it's deciding where – with so many inviting, gay-oriented options – to stay, eat and socialize.
Key West is wonderful to visit any time of year, but the town truly springs to life during several gay events. Here are some to watch for:
Late February-Early April / Gay Spring Break in Key West (www.gayspringbreakkeywest.com): The town opens its doors to LGBT students and others seeking warm-weather fun in the sun. Beach gatherings, exciting nightlife, dance parties, jet-skiing tours and snorkeling trips will keep you busy, and a number of shops, restaurants and accommodations offer special deals.
Early June / Key West Pride (www.keywestpride.org): A community celebration featuring a street fair, pride parade, dance parties, sunset sails, music, film and so much more! All set on a tropical island that is legendary for its laid-back vibe and it’s open and accepting atmosphere.
Late August / Tropical Heat (www.tropicalheatkw.org): A long weekend of intriguingly decedent adult parties for gay men with events including clothing optional pool parties, a feisty fetish bash, an underwear “or not” parties and much more.
Early September / Womenfest in Key West (www.womenfest.org): One of the nation's premier events for lesbians and their friends, this six-day fiesta includes clothing-optional pool parties, a sizzling dance club scene, a golf tournament and women-only water excursions, while film, live music and a curiously-strong comedy show offer the opportunity to enjoy paradise at a slower pace.
For more information about planning your gay getaway to Key West, visit www.fla-keys.com.