Once the base for Caribbean pirates and later home to Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, Key West, Florida also served as the winter White House for President Truman and the inspiration for the drawings of John James Audubon.

Inhabitants are a colorful blend of eclectic artists, writers and others just escaping from everyday life. Everyone has a story and they’re more than willing to share it with you. No one seems to care about the rest of the world, only about enjoying life every single day in warm sunshine beside crystal clear waters.

Lodging options abound from national chains to intimate B&B’s. Sunset Key Cottages (www.westinsunsetkeycottages.com) inhabit their own island just minutes from downtown by launch. The cottages are beautifully decorated and there’s an excellent restaurant where they’ll set a table for you in the water surrounded by flaming torches. Once the largest private estate on the island, the Gardens Hotel (www.gardenshotel.com) has been transformed into an exotic oasis just blocks from the action on Duval. The grounds, framed by a 10 foot wall, are meticulously landscaped with brick patios winding through lush tropical foliage, with beautiful orchids and secluded little alcoves. Staying at La Mer and Dewey House (www.southernmostresorts.com/la-mer-dewey-house) provides the intimacy of a B&B with the amenities of the adjacent Southernmost Hotel which has three pools, two outside bars and a fishing pier. If location is everything, then the Ocean Key Resort (www.oceankey.com) has it all. Located at the end of bustling Duval Street and right on the Gulf, the Resort stands next to Mallory Square the site of the nightly sundown festival.

Dining is an adventure in Key West, beginning at breakfast. Blue Heaven www.blueheavenkw.com) arguably has the best in town and the setting in a courtyard with chickens and roosters running around is quite unique. Or, head to Pepe’s (www.pepescafe.net) where the bar is open for a hangover remedy at 6:30am and the breakfast is delicious. Pepe’s also serves a full Thanksgiving dinner every Thursday night and there’s always free pickles for pregnant women. Mangoes (www.mangoeskw.com) on Duval is excellent for lunch and people watching and Café Sole (www.cafesole.com) has excellent food (have the hogfish) in a charming tropical garden. Try the Half Shell Raw Bar (www.halfshellrawbar.com) for an afternoon snack of shellfish and cold beer and don’t miss the tourist traps, Sloppy Joe’s (www.sloppyjoes.com) and Hog’s Breath (www.hogsbreath.com) for a cocktail or two.

No trip to Key West is complete without dinner at the waterfront, Louie’s Backyard, (www.louiesbackyard.com/), Michael’s (www.michaelskeywest.com) is an award winning steakhouse with the best stuffed veal chop I have ever had and Cafe Marquesa (www.marquesa.com/cafe-marquesa) in the Marquesa Hotel is a charming American/Seafood restaurant with an excellent wine list.

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