Duval Street, Key West

Pose with Jack Sparrow on Duval

You’ll see it all on Duval. If I were a slogan-writer, that’s how I’d refer to the main thoroughfare in Old Town, Key West, a road that stretches approximately two miles southeast to northwest on the western side of Bone Island.

Duval Street is where the cruise ship tourists stroll, the Fantasy Fest participants parade, the pubbers crawl,  and the chickens roam. Some of the unusual sights I’ve seen are pirates, performing animals, transvestites, and body-painted tourists. Once, I even saw a man on a leash.

A Biking Town

A constant hum of scooters, conch cruisers, pedi-cabs, pink taxis, motorcycles, and cars fills this street, joining the Conch Train and Ghost Train tours that chug through periodically, day and night.

Duval Street is split into Upper and Lower Duval. To keep it simple, remember that the lower the street number, the closer to Lower Duval you are. At the beginning of Lower Duval is Mallory Square, renowned site of beautiful sunsets and free nightly street performances on the Gulf of Mexico.

We especially like watching Dominic the Cat Man whenever we attend Sunset Celebration.

A tamer storefront

Like the island’s peoples, stores along Duval Street are eclectic. You’ll find mom-and-pop grocery stores and smoke shops sandwiched between big-name stores such as The Gap and Coach. There are endless t-shirt shops here as well, with storefront displays of tacky silkscreen art and the occasional marijuana paraphenalia.

Sloppy Joe's of Key West

Lower Duval is where the famous Sloppy Joe’s and numerous other bars are located. We enjoy Hogs Breath Saloon for its hogaritia, a potent version of a margarita, and its live music. Irish Kevin’s is the bar to visit for raunchy versions of your favorite songs. There are also piano bars, sports bars, clothing optional, and upscale martini bars. Key West’s Smallest Bar, with its two stools, is a proud resident of this famous street.

As you travel toward what I refer to as mid-Duval, a variety of aromas will whet your appetitie. We’ve enjoyed tapas at 915, Sunday brunch at Croissants de France, and American cuisine at Fogerty’s. If you crave ice cream, frozen yogurt, or smoothies, walk or bike a few blocks until you spy a snack shop that suits your desire. Jimmy Buffett fans attending the 35th Parrothead convention a few weeks ago had the surprise of a lifetime when he performed an impromptu concert for them outside the Key West Margaritaville at 500 Duval Street. Check out this concert video courtesy of YouTube:

I wouldn’t consider myself a Parrothead and I don’t generally like crowds, but I would’ve really liked to have been in Key West for that experience.

Upper Duval is at the southeast end of the street where you’ll find the Southernmost Hotel, including a tiki bar/restaurant and beach on the Atlantic Ocean. The Key West Butterfly Conservatory , one of Old Town’s must-see attractions, is on Upper Duval, too. This end has plentiful window shopping opportunities, with its beautiful art galleries, jewelry stores, and other specialty shops.

You never know what you’re going to see on Key West’s Duval Street, but I can almost guarantee you’ll come home with a story or two. Join me here every Monday for a Margarita Moment where I’ll be sure to share another of mine. Until then, enjoy each day doing what you love.

Do you have any Duval Street stories to share? Or questions for me? I’d be happy to answer questions, or research as necessary.

Key West Beaches

Smather's Beach, Key West

Key West is known for many things, including its Caribbean atmosphere, its crazy nightlife, and incredible seafood, but its beaches aren’t typically on a tourists’ Top Ten List when planning a trip to the Florida Keys’ southwesternmost island. Having grown up with lake beaches made of rock and/or dirt, maybe my expectations are less than people accustomed to ocean beaches. Whatever the case, I was pleasantly surprised by my first glimpse at three of Conch Republic’s public beaches. Fort Zachary Taylor, Southernmost, and Smather’s beaches each offer a slightly different experience on a Key West getaway.

Beachside views on bike trail

Fort Zachary Taylor Beach, located in Truman Annex, is wonderful not only for beach goers, but for bike enthusiasts and history buffs as well. There is a park fee, less for bikers or walkers than for cars.

We rode our Conch Cruisers to Fort Zach, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Gulf of Mexico, and on its sandy trails. Surrounded only by the tranquil beauty of beach grasses and azure waters made me feel as if we were the only two souls on earth–a scene I won’t soon forget.

Fort Zach Beach, Key West

Tours of the beach’s namesake are held daily at noon. As for the beach itself, we brought the usual gear. People either lie on towels or rent chairs. I enjoy sunning and floating here. Fort Zach’s seafloor is quite rocky, making wading uncomfortable. I’ve heard the currents can make it difficult for snorklers to find much sealife, but those we talked to said they saw parrot fish and yellowtail snapper.

Southernmost Beach, Key West

Southernmost Beach, named because of its location at the southern end of Duval Street, is tiny and flanked luxury resorts. This is a great place for social butterflies, with a friendly, open-air restaurant where locals and tourists mix.

Smather's Beach, Key West

Chairs are available to rent here, too. I don’t like wading at Southernmost Beach because the seafloor has the consistency of oatmeal, but it’s fun to float in the warm water. Be aware:  This beach sometimes closes early for a late afternoon or evening wedding. Isn’t that romantic!

Smather’s Beach is located on South Roosevelt Boulevard on the Atlantic Ocean. For tourists staying at the Sheraton Suites, it’s right across the street. If staying in Old Town, it’s too far to walk but is a pleasant bike or scooter ride away. Smather’s sand was imported from the Bahamas in 1961.

This beach is huge compared to the other two, and offers the greatest variety of water sports, including parasailing and kayaking. As for swimming, the only complaint I’ve heard is encountering the occasional clump of seaweed. Otherwise, the water is crystal clear. The video below is a good depiction of Smather’s Beach during peak season:

Of these three beaches, I prefer Smather’s. I love its silky sand, the freedom to lounge apart from the crowd or be part of it, socializing and people-watching. We like to rent a kayak and explore the shallow waters as we enjoy each other’s company–away from the daily stresses of work and home.

Key West’s beaches may not compare to the pink sands of Bermuda or black sands of Hawaii, but I believe they are well worth the bike ride to enjoy the views, the sun, the activity, and interesting people.

Do you have a favorite beach experience?

Ocean life up close!

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