It’s been almost a year since since the Keys were struck by the eye of Hurricane Irma on Sept. 10, 2017. So we decided to channel Kenny Chesney and “Cruise down A1A/Go hang out in Key West for awhile.”
I have to give it to the community to have bounced back so quickly. There are still areas that are in rebuild mode, but, for the most part, they are moving on and welcoming guests with open arms.
We stayed about three miles from Duvall Street at 24 North Hotel – a great location across from the ocean with a relaxing pool, large rooms and accommodating staff. This is a nice option if you want to be close to Mallory Square, the island’s entertainment hub with a nightly sunset celebration, but want a break from the noise and cruise ship activity that happens a few days a week. You can easily get to town via bike cruisers, which are available from the hotel, or the complimentary shuttle that travels back and forth from Duval Street every hour.
Take a tour of 24 North Hotel Key West!
Since we were only in Key West for a quick getaway, we tried to experience as much as we could. We were excited to learn that the 38th annual Hemingway Days Festival, which honors the Pulitzer Prize winning author on his July 21 birthday, was taking place the weekend we visited. The streets were filled with Ernest Hemingway look-alikes competing for the honor of being crowned the best. Other events included a three-day marlin fishing tournament, readings and book signings, a 5k run/paddleboard race and a Key West-style running of the bulls.
We started our trip by heading over to the Lazy Dog, a paddleboard and kayak rental company that was within walking distance of our hotel on Stock Island. Lazy Dog was also one of the sponsors for the Hemingway 5K Sunset Run & Paddleboard Race, where competitors of all skill levels paddleboarded 3.1 miles then took off for a 5k run before celebrating with music and beer at the awards party. They quickly set up our paddleboards and got us in the water. The ocean was calm and there was lots of sea life on display, including a few sharks and stingrays. Luckily, I stayed on my board and kept myself from becoming fish chum.
Back at 24 North, we hung out by the pool, which really means pool bar, and had lunch at Toasted Coconut before heading into Key West for a rum tour and mojito making class at Key West First Legal Rum Distillery. This boutique distillery is located in a former saloon and Coca-Cola bottling plant on Simonton St., and it’s decorated with memorabilia from the Keys and filled with barrels of rum. Paul Menta, the distillery’s owner and chef, is hands on with the research and making of this flavorful rum.
Not only can you sample the goods at the facility but you can also learn how to make an authentic Cuban mojito. They did their research in Havana, and they were delicious. Did you know not to pull the mint leaves off the stems before gently crushing them with a muddler exactly 20 times?
Although our time went by too quickly, we were still able to enjoy beautiful sunsets, shopping at unique places like Kinos (a store that makes their own leather sandals), live music at Irish Kevin’s and The Green Room and great fare from street vendors selling authentic Cuban food and restaurants featuring fresh conch and local recipes. You will not go hungry or thirsty in this place.
Heading back to Orlando, while driving across the seven-mile bridge overlooking the water and listening to Jimmy Buffett, I was already planning our next trip back. Here’s to the people, architecture, history, laid-back lifestyle, music, food and almost-anything-goes mentality. See you soon, Key West.