Follow on Twitter

Monday, December 21, 2015

Give your Key West vacation a buzz at Key West's First Legal Rum Distillery

As a professional kiteboarder in Key West and around the world, Paul Menta has always watched the weather closely for the perfect windy conditions. Now he pays attention to atmospheric changes for different reasons  – it affects the flavor of his rum at Key West First Legal Rum Distillery. Truly a boutique distillery, each batch is slightly different, and you can taste the craftsmanship in each sip. Read More...

Monday, November 16, 2015

Take the Over-Sea Railroad to Florida Keys History

Take a drive back in time down U.S. Highway 1 in the Florida Keys and relive the history of the Over-Sea Railroad.
Construction to link the isolated islands to the mainland began in 1905 when oil tycoon Henry Flagler envisioned Key West as an ideal deep-water port for trade with Cuba, Latin America and ships passing through the Panama Canal. The railroad was destroyed during a tragic hurricane in 1935, but you can still explore remnants of what was once called the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”...Read More.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Weekend Getaway: Island Party at the 2016 Key West Food and Wine Festival

Key West has long been serious about its libations, but the rise of the Key West Food and Wine Festival to the top of the hot-foodie- destination list after only two years shows that it has more to offer than just the perfect margarita.

With its quirky vibe and come-as-you-are attitude, the Conch Republic (Key West’s nickname since its tongue-in-cheek secession from the United States in 1982) calls for all to leave their pretensions on the mainland. You’ll want to kick back and indulge, in true Key West style, in wines from around the world and local chef specialties featuring the fruits of the sea. This tropical bacchanalia takes over the streets of Key West’s historic Old Town in January; the 2016 festival runs from Jan. 27 through 31.

Must Do

On Wednesday night the top event is the Wine Around Neighborhood Strolls. The Old Town trolley whisks you to your choice of one of three historic areas. Part of the fun is making friends with fellow culinary connoisseurs while watching local chefs prepare their best nibbles, which are paired with wines generously poured into crystal souvenir glasses etched with the festival logo. Jean Hilkens, a 20-something bon vivant in wire-rimmed glasses, says he was lured here all the way from Amsterdam — he saw the festival’s logo on Facebook and his mind was made up. “I looked at that picture with the wine and the water, and I said, ‘That’s where I want to be in January when it’s cold!’”

A Grand Affair

Friday night’s Grand Tasting finds folks sipping wine to music performed by the Key West Symphony. Wine reps pull out their best selections for this more intimate crowd, and shorter lines mean more one-on-one time. Sean Sullberg of Michael Sullberg Wines engages in animated conversations about his day-to-day work. “The people here are fascinated with what it’s like to be out in California working at a winery, and the steps we take, from checking on the fruit to barrel tastings,” he says.
Wine By the Docks

On Saturday afternoon, the trolley fills up once again for a 10-minute ride to neighboring Stock Island’s Hogfish Bar and Grill for the big Key West Shrimp Boil. Set on the last vestiges of a working waterfront, the open-air eatery evokes a sense of Old Florida, and the sweet Key West pink shrimp caught by Rickey Toomer, a member of a longtime fishing family, come straight off his boat, JT.
Shrimp, Florida lobster tail, smoked sausage, corn on the cob, new potatoes, lemon halves, bay leaf and cilantro in red mesh bags are cooked to perfection and served at the wooden picnic tables under the tiki hut. Slices of fluffy white Cuban bread are used to sop up every last drop of the spicy juices. As the steam, scented from Old Bay spices, rises from the huge pot in the outdoor kitchen, wine from Washington State’s Hogue Family Vineyards flows nonstop.

Duval Uncorked

Saturday night brings Duval Uncorked, a mile-long food and wine tasting on Duval Street. Among historic architecture, chic boutiques, funky art galleries and hidden inns, hundreds of hungry foodies, with wine glasses hanging from lanyards draped around their necks, turn out for this upscale signature event. Amid Key West’s free-roaming chickens and the bustle of mopeds, bikes and electric cars, volunteers in white toques and blue aprons stand on corners and guide the wayward. With 40-plus stops to be made in three hours, a strategic game plan comes in handy; you can always adjust on the fly after swapping tips with others at what feels like a neighborhood party.
The first stop is the colorful Towels of Key West shop. Amid beach towels for sale, local chef Alice Weingarten, in her trademark leopard-print chef’s hat, white pearls and red lipstick, serves small plates of spicy conch ceviche to the crowd. The sea snail is tendered with fresh lime juice, red, green and yellow peppers, cilantro, red onion, and her secret ingredient — sriracha. “You can tell the locals from our visitors by how they pronounce ‘conch’ [kongk versus kaunch] and their great surprise at how good it tastes,” she says.
At Vino’s on Duval, one of Key West’s newest wine bars, vintner Donald Patz provides tasting notes while serving his Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast pinot noir. Dessert is cabernet and chardonnay sorbets from the Flamingo Crossing ice cream shop.
Hit the Market

At Sunday afternoon’s Outdoor Wine Market, wine reps set up tasting booths in the parking lot of the restaurant store on Eaton Street; inside, wines served at the festival are for sale by the bottle. Young guys dressed as modern-day pirates hack off the tops of fresh coconuts with machetes and offer cups of the water — the perfect hydrating tonic after a wild weekend — to visitors.
Where to Spend the Night

Wind down at La Mer Hotel & Dewey House. These two connecting homes at the more subdued end of Duval Street provide a quiet respite after a day of festivities. La Mer’s upstairs oceanfront king room has a straight-on view of the Atlantic Ocean and a private wraparound balcony overlooking a sandy stretch called South Beach. Listen to the waves rolling onto the shore, where sun worshipers spread their towels.
The room’s gabled architecture and a recessed bed nook create a sense of both space and coziness. Sink into the brown overstuffed chair, prop up your feet on the ottoman and watch the palm trees swaying outside your window — you’ll never want to leave. On the patio downstairs, tea is served in the afternoon and, in the morning, a bountiful breakfast with made-to-order waffles and a steaming cappuccino.

Portions of this blog previously printed in Florida Travel + Life Magazine

Related Posts:

2012 Key West Food & Wine Festival

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Key West's saucy Fantasy Fest: Tips for first-timers

This 10-day bacchanalia can be overwhelming for the uninitiated, but our local expert's insider tips will make your getaway to this tropical island unforgettable. ...Read More.

Monday, August 24, 2015

6 Tips for How to Photograph the Florida Keys Sunset

Photo by Claudia Miller
No visit to the Florida Keys would be complete without the perfect photo of the sun setting on the Gulf of Mexico. There are a number of resorts, marinas and parks throughout the islands that provide access to unobstructed water views. Check out these tips from local photography pros, Stephen Frink and Bob Care, to capture frame-worthy sunsets.
Be prepared. Learn your camera before leaving home. Read the manual, and play with the different settings. Review what type of equipment you might need, including a tripod and extra batteries.

Find out what time the sun sets, and get there early. You’ll want to scope out the best angles and vantage points. Once the sun begins to go down, it happens quickly. Also, there is a magical range of colors in the sky 30 minutes before and after the sun dips below the horizon.

Take advantage of cloudy days. Don’t think that just because it’s cloudy you won’t get a fantastic shot. In fact, the reflections on the clouds can create the more dramatic moments. No two sunsets are the same with a myriad of colors.

Include compositional elements. Try to include the reflections on the water, as well as tiki huts, boats, palm trees or birds to create interesting silhouettes. Produce a frame between you, the sun and your added subject. Learn the “rule of thirds” in image composition, a guideline that advises placing these elements off center.

Try different focal lengths. A telephoto lens will render a large ball of sun. A wide angle will have a smaller sun element, but will capture more of the sky and seascape.

Experiment with people. Unless you want a dark silhouette, use a flash and fill flash everyone in the foreground. Your subjects can be offset to produce a full frame including the sun. Or instead of facing into the sun with the person in front of you, let the light spill over your shoulder and front light them with the warm, appealing glow.

Originally published on

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Gates Opens Boutique Hotel in Key West

The Gates — a new boutique hotel at the entrance to Key West — pairs chic design with a laid-back vibe. Through partnerships with local businesses, artists, designers and tastemakers, they’ve captured the unique character and heritage of the island. ...Read more.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

10 Best Keys West Hotels for the Budget Traveler

Key West offers a variety of accommodations from B&Bs to luxury resorts. The one thing they have in common? They may give you sticker shock. Limited space on the island, paired with high demand, equals less availability and higher prices. This presents a challenge for budget-conscious travelers. Fear not, you can still find hidden hotels that offer reasonable rates--mostly small independent B&Bs and inns. There’s a price you pay for paradise, and “reasonable” is anything under $200. ...Read more.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

4 Tips for Florida Keys Mini Lobster Season

Mini Lobster Season kicks off in the Florida Keys on July 29th and 30th. The Florida spiny lobster, known for its sweet and tender meat is smaller than its cousin in Maine. Before you go out hunting for “bugs,” as the locals call them, make sure you're prepared. Here are some tips:
1)  Know the local rules and regulations. They were designed to protect lobster populations and the coral reef, as well as ensure the safety of boaters and divers. Plus, they keep you from racking up unwelcome fines. Most of the Monroe County regulations for recreational harvest and lobster information can be found in this brochure. It includes bag and size limits, proper measuring techniques, approved gear and no-take areas, such as national and state parks. 
2)  Get a license. You’ll need a valid Florida Saltwater Fishing License with a current crawfish endorsement. Licenses are available at most fish & tackle or K-mart stores. You can also call 1-888-FISH-FLORIDA or go online to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s site
3)  Know the waters. The Keys are famous for shallow patches, sandbars and coral reefs. All of which could add up to damage to the environmentally sensitive sea grass and corals -- not to mention a costly tow and repairs. Free nautical charts can be found online through NOAA.

4)  No boat? No problem. Check out lobster dive excursions with a local company.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Rooms With a View in Key West Photo Series

When you're coming to Key West, it's a must to ask for a room with a view. There's nothing more soothing than soaking in the open ocean vistas or looking out over the Victorian architecture. Here are just a few of the fabulous rooms with a view I've had the joy of staying in.

Oceanfront at Casa Marina, a Waldorf Astoria Resort in Key West

Oceanfront Suite at Ocean Key Resort & Spa in Key West overlooking Sunset Pier
Southernmost House, Key West
La Mer at Southernmost Resort overlooking South Beach, Key West
View from top floor room at La Concha Hotel in Key West

Monday, June 1, 2015

Hemingway Days Festival in Key West

Ernest Hemingway’s larger-than-life legacy is woven into the historic fabric of Key West. The Pulitzer Prize winning author made the island his home and playground throughout the 1930s--the most productive decade of his life. Pull back the curtain of time, and you’ll find his “St. Tropez of the poor” during July’s Hemingway Days Festival when the Southernmost City is flooded with hundreds of doppelgangers all vying to win the look-alike contest at Sloppy Joe’s Bar. ...Read more.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Specialty Boutiques and Tasty Treats Top Best Shopping List in Key West

Bypass the requisite tourist-town souvenir stands and $5 t-shirt vendors to discover a trove of small mom-and-pop boutiques filled with distinctive goods in Key West. Many shops like Green Pineapple and Besame Mucho are devoted to the owner’s passions. These entrepreneurs scour the world for items that speak to them. Their shelves are lined with precious finds like Fair Trade linen tunics or leather babouches (slippers) from Marrakech. ...Read more.

Friday, May 8, 2015

It's Always "5 o'clock Somewhere" at These Top 10 Key West Bars

Sunset Pier at Ocean Key Resort in Key West
With more bars per capita than anywhere else in the United States, Key West has a smorgasbord of watering holes. The island’s “It’s 5 o'clock somewhere mantra” means daytime drinking is perfectly acceptable, and finding the best happy hour is a sport. Key West’s rich rum-soaked history is filled with pirates, rum runners and famous writers. Old Town is pedestrian friendly, and these top ten bars were made for hopping. ...Read More.

Monday, April 27, 2015

360 View of Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park

On my last visit to Dry Tortugas National Park, the water was a too choppy for a snorkel--although a few hardy souls did give it a shot. I was content to wander along the moat walls and marvel at the sheer audacity of those who decided to build America’s largest 19th-century coastal fort on a remote a collection of islands 70 miles from Key West. As the waves crashed onto the bright-white sand below the towering 45-foot red-brick walls, I relished the serenity of being away from the rest of civilization... and especially no cell phone service.

Related blogs: Seaplane to the Dry Tortugas

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

LIQUID Pool Bar Makes a Splash at Ocean Key Resort

The name, LIQUID, says it all. Ocean Key Resort’s newly revitalized pool, bar and lounge in Key West flows with tropical cocktails, fruit-infused waters, shimmering pools and stunning views of the azure sea. The fresh look mixes vibrant blue fabrics throughout the lounges, pillows and draperies. Understated details like driftwood votives, sand-filled candles and distressed planking at the bar add a nautical feel. The overall effect? The pool seems to melt into the Atlantic at its feet. ...Read More.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Traditional to Tropical: 10 Best Key West Breakfast Spots

Photo credit: Glazed Donuts
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so schedule time on your Key West itinerary for a leisurely start each morning. Whether you’re headed out on the water or on a bike tour, you’ll need some hearty grub to keep you going. It's easy to linger on the shaded patios at cafes like Croissants de France, and waterfront views at Southernmost Cafe make that second Old Bay Bacon Bloody Mary a must. At Banana Cafe, people-watching on Duval Street will entertain, as you inhale homemade crepes and quiche. Most menus feature the fresh local seafood with entrees like the Key West shrimp omelet at Sarabeth’s and the Lobster Benedict at Blue Heaven. ...Read More.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Road Trip: Explore the Florida Keys

Traveling “the stretch,” those 18 miles that tie the Keys to the mainland, my shoulders relax gradually, in increments of mile markers, as civilization drops away into plains of seagrass and open swaths of turquoise water. Today, my boyfriend and I have turned the car south on U.S. Route 1 for a romantic adventure.

The first island we hit is Key Largo, where a junglelike path leads us to Kona Kai Resort, Gallery & Botanic Garden. Owner Joe Harris welcomes us with a tour of his botanical garden, plucking a banana from a tree for us to taste. Continuing past orchids, waterfalls and banks of ferns, we find our comfy Breadfruit Cottage facing the Florida Bay and a chilled bottle of champagne inside.

Dinnertime comes quickly, so we head to the twinkling patio at The Encore to feast on fresh hogfish baked with tomatoes, basil and capers. The waiter brings us a piece of Key lime pie to share. No visit is complete without a tasting of the tart pie with fluffy meringue. Night’s end finds us gently rocking in a hammock for two, gazing at stars so close we can almost touch them.

The morning sky is bright and cloudless, and we’re soon marveling at the natural beauty, history and roadside oddities. We pass Betsy, the colossal fiberglass lobster in front of the Rain Barrel artisan village in Islamorada, waving to the tourists posing with her. Traffic stops us at the Snake Creek drawbridge (there are 42 ahead). As a procession of boats pass through, we watch the morning sun glinting off the curving channels to our right and the open ocean to our left.

Ahead, iconic mermaid signage marks the Lorelei, the local breakfast joint by day and sunset attraction by night. We pull in for the Conch Republic breakfast, a heaping portion of fried mahimahi and eggs, enjoyed alongside fishermen.

When we arrive at Robbie’s Marina, our kayak for two is ready and off we go into the mangrove tunnels, the ocean’s version of lovers’ lane. As if sucked into a primeval land with no outside sounds, it’s easy to imagine that we’re the only two people in the world. The tangled mangrove roots host orange sponges, egrets and ibises; the clear water holds crab, lobster, young grouper and barracuda.

Back on dry land, Key West is our final destination. Zipping down the Overseas Highway, the surrounding waters turn turquoise, cerulean, midnight and baby blue, varying according to depth. Stacks of wooden lobster traps and osprey nests perched in telephone poles are part of the scenery.

When we approach the Seven Mile Bridge in Marathon, we explore the old defunct bridge. A remnant of Henry Flagler’s railroad, destroyed by the 1935 hurricane, the structure was once part of the highway, and my boyfriend muses, “I can’t believe we used to drive over this thing when I was a kid!” The new bridge rises in a 65-foot arc. As we drive, it seems we’re shooting right off into the sky.

After we pass Fat Albert, the U.S. Navy blimp hovering over Cudjoe Key, I keep an eye out for Baby’s Coffee. The dark roast, Sexpresso, rivals any Cuban blend.

Finally, we arrive at the Southernmost Hotel on the Beach and settle into our Key West digs, where views of the Atlantic make us smile. We trade the car for a pedicab and chuckle at the driver’s cool pirate hat. He drops us at the Sunset Tiki Bar on Front Street where, over margaritas and conch fritters, we watch schooners in the Historic Seaport. Soon the sky goes golden and we’re treated to the famous Key West sunset.

On Duval Street, the main drag, we dine at Nine One Five, where we share a bottle of wine and blackened-snapper tacos by candlelight. The full moon guides us back to the resort, and I fall asleep with visions of sunrise for two dancing in my head.

Previously published in Florida Travel + Life

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Tropic Cinema: A Cool Antidote for a Hot Key West Day

South Florida's only nonprofit multiplex, Tropic Cinema in Key West is the perfect refuge on a hot or rainy day during your vacation. With its dazzling marquee sign and streamlined Art Deco decor, the theater evokes a sense of nostalgia. It harkens back to a time when movies were grand events shown in upscale venues. The cozy lounge even features vintage photography and an exhibit space for local artists. With three screens, they have something for everyone from Indie and foreign films to Hollywood blockbusters and documentaries. ...Read More.