Key West is the southernmost city in the contiguous United States and the
westernmost island connected by highway in the Florida Keys. It lies at
the southernmost end of U.S. Route 1, the longest north-south road in the United
States all the way from the border of Canada to Key West in Florida. Key West is about 90
miles from Cuba at their closest points; in fact, Key West is closer to Havana
than it is to Miami. Like most tropical climates, Key West has only a
small difference in monthly mean temperatures between the coolest month
and the warmest month (July, 84.5°F
or 29.2°C), but has a two-season wet (from May to October) and dry (from
November to April) climate. Key West is famous for watersports, lively
nightlife, beaches, historic sites and its pastel, conch-style architecture.
Getting there ...
We had a red-eye flight on the night before (11:55PM) and arrived in Fort
Lauderdale at about 11AM. Although it was the Thanksgiving holiday, the
travel and traffic was not too bad at all. It was a long drive (~190
miles) to go through Florida Keys via numerous islands and bridges to Key West.
11/28 (Day 1) ...
- Florida Keys
The Florida Keys are a coral cay archipelago located off the southern
coast of Florida, forming the southernmost part of the continental United
States. The 125-mile-long chain of islands begin
at the southeastern coast of the Florida peninsula, about 15 miles (24 km)
south of Miami, and extend in a gentle arc south-southwest and then westward
to Key West, and on to the uninhabited Dry Tortugas. Today, the
Florida Keys are connected by 42 bridges along the Overseas Highway (U.S.
Highway 1), including the famous Seven Mile Bridge (which has been featured
in films and television series, such as License to Kill (1989), True Lies
(1994), 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), and Burn Notice (2007-2013)).
- Seven Mile Bridge
The original bridge was built for railroad from
1909 to 1912 as part of the Overseas Railroad. After the railroad was
damaged by the hurricane in 1935, the line was refurbished as Seven
Mile Bridge for automobile use. Today there are two bridges in this
location. The modern bridge (constructed from 1978 to 1982) is open to
vehicular traffic; the older one only to pedestrians and cyclists. We
stopped at the southern end of the bridge (Little Duck Key Wayside Park) and
walked on the old bridge for 0.7 mile to see the end of a broken section.
It was a pleasant walk on the old bridge which is wide enough for walk, but
it is difficult to image how it could handle two-way automobile traffic in
The northern end of the old bridge (from Marathon to Pigeon Key) was closed
in 2017with extensive repairs predicted to be finished by late 2021.
- Bahia Honda State Park
Bahia Honda State Park is another nice place
to see a section of old broken bridge. The water was so shallow that we
almost wanted to walk into it. However, we did not have any towels with us.
- Key West Sunset
Sun was setting down quickly when we got closer to Key West.
I stopped by a parking lot near the Key West Airport and ran across
the street to get the setting sun. After we checked in to our hotel,
we walked to the pier at the end of Duval Street (only 1 block from our
hotel) for the nice afterglow of the sunset.
11/29 (Day 2) ...
Tortugas National Park
Almost 70 miles (113 km) west of Key West lies the
remote Dry Tortugas National Park. This 100-square mile park is mostly open
water with seven small islands. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, the
park is known as the home of magnificent Fort Jefferson,
picturesque blue waters, superlative coral reefs and marine life, and the
vast assortment of bird life that frequents the area.
We chose the
seaplane (~30 min one
way) instead of ferry boat (more
than 2 hours one way) so we can save time and get to island before any other
tourists. When we got to the Dry Tortugas at 8:30AM, there were only
20 of us (2 planes with 10 passengers
per plane) on the island for the next 2 hours before the ferry arrived.
The 30-min flight was smooth and scenic. Since it stayed below 500
feet for the entire flight, we could see the shallow sea and some sunken ships
clearly from the air.
Fort Jefferson is a massive but unfinished
coastal fortress. It is the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere,
and is composed of more than 16 million bricks. Fort Jefferson was built
to protect one of the most strategic deep-water anchorages in North America. By
fortifying this spacious harbor, the United States maintained an important
“advance post” for ships patrolling the Gulf of Mexico and the Straits of
Florida. Construction of Fort Jefferson was begun on Garden Key in
December 1846. Nearly thirty years in the making (1846-1875), Fort
Jefferson was never finished nor fully armed. During the Civil War,
the fort was also used as a prison, mainly for Union deserters. Its most famous
prisoner was Dr. Samuel Mudd, the physician who set the broken leg of John
Wilkes Booth (who assassinated President Lincoln in 1865) .
After about 2.5 hours of exploring around the Fort
Jefferson, we took the flight back to Key West at 11AM. Landing and
take-off on water were definitely an interesting and unique experience for this
particular trip, not to mention the incredible aerial views of the most western
end of Florida Keys.
- Key West Butterfly and
lunch and short break, we walked to the Key West Butterfly and Nature
Conservatory (just right next door to our hotel). We spent about two
hours to walk through a tropical paradise with hundreds of butterflies and
exotic colorful birds (you can actually walk through the garden in 2 minutes
if you do not stop at all). In fact, we liked it so much that we came
back to the Conservatory again in the late afternoon for another half an
hour before it closed. The butterflies here are not collected from the wild. They
come from butterfly farming operations. The captive breeding of butterflies
is well suited to tropical regions and can be an environmentally beneficial
endeavor through the release of excess production into the wild.
11/30 (Day 3) ...
- Southernmost Point
One of the most popular attractions on the island
is a concrete replica of a buoy at the corner of South and Whitehead Streets
that claims to be the southernmost point in the contiguous United States.
Since it is the most often photographed tourist site in the Florida Keys and
always has a long line of tourists waiting for taking pictures, we came here
in the early morning after sunrise so we could enjoy a rare quiet moment at
this popular location. Technically, Whitehead Spit on the nearby
US Navy land is the actual southernmost point of Key West...
- The Ernest Hemingway Home and
This was Hemingway's home from 1931 to 1939, although he
retained title to the home until he died. During his stay he wrote or
worked on Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The
Snows of Kilimanjaro, and The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.
He used Depression-era Key West as one of the locations in To Have and
Have Not—his only novel with scenes that occur in the United States. It
is a private, for-profit tourist attraction now populated by six- and
seven-toed cats that are descendants of Hemingway's cat "Snow White".
Key West Lighthouse
The first Key West lighthouse was a 65-foot
(20 m) tower completed in 1825, but was destroyed by the Great Havana
Hurricane in 1846. The new tower for the Key West Light was completed
in 1848. It was 50 feet (15 m) tall with 13 lamps in 21-inch (530 mm)
reflectors, and stood on ground about 15 feet (4.6 m) above sea level. The
growth of trees and taller buildings in Key West began to obscure the light,
and in 1894 the tower was raised twenty feet, placing the light about 100
feet (30 m) above sea level. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1969
and became the Key West Light House and Keeper's Quarters Museum. We walked
up the 88 spiral steps to the top of the lighthouse to enjoy the 360-degree views.
- Highway 1 Mile 0
U.S Highway 1 runs 2,369 miles (3,813 km), from Key
West, Florida north to Fort Kent, Maine, at the Canadian border, making it
the longest north–south road in the United States. The Mile 0 posts
("END" for south-bound and "BEGIN" for north-bound) are one of the most
checked-in places in Key West.
- USCGC Ingham
built at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1935-1936. Ingham served with
distinction during World War II on convoy duty. On 15 December 1942, during
one crossing, Ingham engaged and sank the Germany submarine U-626.
Ingham earned two Presidential Unit Citations for her service in Operation
SEA LORDS and Operation SWIFT RAIDER during the Vietnam War in 1968-1969.
On completion of her deployment to Vietnam the Ingham returned to regular
Coast Guard duties, serving until 1988, when she was decommissioned.
Ingham was towed to Key West, Florida arriving there on 24 November 2009.
She is now a member of Key West Maritime Memorial Museum.
- Key West Houses
We walked through a nice Key West residential
neighborhood on the way to the Little White House.
- Truman Little White
The house was originally waterfront when it was built in 1890
as the first officer's quarters on the submarine base naval station.
In November 1946, President Harry S Truman had finished 19 months in office,
but was physically exhausted. His doctor, Wallace Graham, ordered a warm
vacation. Truman arrived in November 1946 for his first visit to Key West.
He then returned every November–December and every February–March for a
total of 175 days on 11 visits during his presidency and visited five times
after he left office. Although this house gets its name "Truman Little
White House", there were many other presidents also visiting here, including
William Howard Taft in 1912, Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1955 (recuperating from
a heart attack),
John F. Kennedy in 1961 and 1962, Jimmy Carter and family had a reunion
here in 1996, and Bill and Hillary Clinton spent a weekend here in 2005.
We walked to the end of Duval Street and found a place to have
a relaxed afternoon Happy Hour (Appetizer + Beer + Key Lime Cakes). We
walked to Mallory Square when it got closer to sunset time. Mallory
Square is the meeting place for nightly festivities where locals and
visitors alike salute one of nature’s wonders surrounded by performers, such
as magicians, jugglers, clowns, psychics, local musicians, artists, and
vendors in a wonderful show of community while everyone can enjoy in
watching the glowing pink and red sun sink into the Gulf of Mexico horizon.
- Fireworks at Southernmost Point
After a take-out dinner back to our
hotel room, we heard some loud noise and ran out to see the fantastic
fireworks on the pier at the end of Duval Street.
12/1 (Day 4) ...
We started our driving toward Miami in the early morning at about 7AM.
The sun broke out from the cloud for a short moment that I had to find a
place to stop for a quick snapshot.
- Biscayne National Park
We passed by Biscayne
National Park for a brief visit. Within sight of downtown Miami, yet
worlds away, Biscayne protects a rare combination of aquamarine waters,
emerald islands, and fish-bejeweled coral reefs. The park covers 172,971
acres (270.3 sq. mi; 700.0 km2) and includes Elliott Key, the park's largest
island and northernmost of the true Florida Keys, formed from
fossilized coral reef. Ninety-five percent of the park is water, and the
shore of the bay is the location of an extensive mangrove forest.
Since we did not have much time (and we were not real water activity
people), we only spent ~30 min to walk a short trail along the shore near
the visitor center. This made the shortest visit to a national park we
have ever visited!
Going Home ...
|We were back to Fort Lauderdale
airport before noon and immediately felt the crowds of the Thanksgiving
holiday travel. We were put on the standby list for our first leg
of flight (a short hop to Orlando) due to flight weight rebalance (we
did not know exactly what it meant). We got our seats 30 min
before the scheduled departure time, but the flight was delayed for an
hour. When we got to Orlando, our 2nd leg of flight to SFO was
delayed for more than 3 hours because there was a storm in San Francisco
Bay Area and the air traffic control was in place to limit in-bound
flights to SFO. After a long dinner (we ordered an extra dessert
and coffee) and a long wait, we were boarding and taking off at ~10PM
local time, and we were finally back to home after 2AM to conclude our
another honeymoon like Thanksgiving vacation.
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