Florida Stories: A Walking Tour of Key West
Want to explore the cultural, historical, and architectural treasures of Key West, Fla.? There’s an app for that.
With this app you can learn, at your own pace and on your own schedule, what some of Florida’s most unique towns and cities have to offer.
Here’s an overview of what you can experience via the Key West app:
Where: Old Town Key West Historic District
Number of stops: 12
Total time: 90 minutes
Author: Bruce Neff, Key West historian and executive director of Historic Markers Inc.
Start: The Custom House
The Margaritaville vibe that lures more than 3 million visitors a year to Key West is built on a colorful history of shipwreck scavengers, boat captains, literary luminaries and adventurers that you’ll discover on this fascinating and compact walking tour.
The island city, with the Atlantic to the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the West, has maintained its distinctive tropical charm through hurricanes, yellow fever outbreaks, and T-shirt shops.
Key West has the largest historic district of frame buildings in the United States and its architectural style is unique.
Clinton Square, featuring a granite monument honoring Yankee troops surrounded by a fence honoring Confederates, is the only joint memorial of its kind in the country and a reminder that this was the only Southern city occupied by the Union for the entire length of the Civil War.
Old Custom House is the original, more modest building that was moved to this spot after the grander structure at stop 1 was built, reflecting the federal government’s attempts to regulate the wild and lucrative shipwreck industry that made Key West what it is.
Sloppy Joe’s Bar is inextricably linked with Key West’s most famous resident writer, Ernest Hemingway, and a band of colorful characters; it remains an authentic slice of Old Town.
The Porter House is not only a great example of classic Key West architecture, but the backdrop of the fight against crippling yellow fever epidemics that once threatened the tropical city.
The Oldest House and its gardens, complete with a detached kitchen, is a microcosm of the city’s history.
In the early 1800s Key West was the richest city per capita in the country and the biggest Florida city until the early 20th Century.
Things to Do
More than 3 million visitors are drawn each year to America’s Southern-most city, and there’s no shortage of ways to while away your time. There’s plenty more history to be had -- the Hemingway House (and its six-toed cats), the Truman Little White House (also used by five other presidents), and Fort Zachary Taylor State Park (a Civil War fort with a beach for swimming and snorkeling).
Get a broader view of the city with a narrated hop-on, hop-off trolley tour.
Sports fishing options span deep sea charters to light tackle back-country excursions.
Don’t miss sunset at Mallory Square, a veritable carnival of street performers (sword juggling and trained cats anyone?)
Dining options are vast, from fine to funky. Try the outdoor Blue Heaven, where chickens roam as diners tuck into classic Key Lime Pie. The modest El Siboney provides a taste of Havana just 90 miles south. Florida’s most famous chef, Norman Van Aken, calls Nine One Five “one of the nicer places for dinner” on Duval Street.
And while there are plenty of places for adult beverages, nothing beats the Gulf of Mexico view from the upper deck bar of Louie’s Backyard.