Key West is a funky, fabulous cruise destination. And while first-timers should do the tourist thing -- get their bearings on a Conch Train tour, visit the Hemingway House and Museum, have a drink at Sloppy Joe's (Hemingway's favorite bar), dine at tropically fabulous Mangoes and enjoy the daily sunset celebration at Mallory Square -- next-timers should check out a different side of the Conch Nation.
Once you've been there and done that ... what's next? Here, geared at "next-timers" (as well as first-timers with a sense of adventure), are our editor's picks for our 10 favorite things in Key West that never get old, no matter how often we visit.
Banana Cafe (1211 Duval, 305-294-7227) offers a touch of France and is a fab spot particularly for breakfast or brunch. Crepes are a house specialty, and you can get one with Swiss cheese for under $5. Its location is in the nicer and quieter portion of Duval. The building, with its welcoming porch, was the birthplace of famous Key West folk artist Mario Sanchez. Thursday night is jazz night.
For ice cream (homemade, including tropical flavors like soursop and a yummy pina colada), locals skip Ben & Jerry's (although there is one in town) and go to Flamingo Crossing (1105 Duval, 305-296-6124). Gelato and various sorbets are also on the menu. Enjoy your treat ($3.50 for two flavors) in the garden. The building next door at 1107 was constructed in the 1920's using wood and other materials from a World War I blimp hangar.
Garden of Eden (224 Duval (305-296-4565; www.thebullandwhistle.com), above the Bull & Whistle, is Key West's clothing-optional bar. Yes, we mean naked. Venture to the garden at the very top of the building and hope there are people there worth looking at. A favorite activity is getting your body painted. Be aware photos are not allowed. The bar opens daily at 10 a.m., live music starts at 5 p.m. and D.J.'s take over late at night.
There are numerous galleries in artsy Key West, but for something different check out Hands On (1206 Duval, 305-296-7399; www.handsongallery.com), where the art is wearable. The shop features owner Ellen Steininger's hand-woven creations as well as clothes art by other craftspeople, jewelry and gift items (like nifty martini sets).
The newest attraction in town does Captain Kidd proud. It's Pirate Soul (524 Front Street, 305-292-1113; www.piratesoul.com), the brainchild of Pat Croce, best-selling author, host of the syndicated TV show "Pat Croce: Moving In" and former minority owner of the 76ers. Okay, so you're thinking Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean -- and you're partially right. This museum does feature animatronics, interactive displays and new technologies like creepy 3-D sound in its attempt to recreate the Golden Age of Piracy (1690-1730). But look in the cases and you'll see real treasures, most from Croce's personal collection, including one of only two Jolly Roger flags known to exist and the only authentic pirate chest in America. There are real weapons and Pieces of Eight too. Says Croce's daughter, Kelly Croce Sorg, who runs the museum, "We're Disney with an edge." Admission is $12.95 adults, $6.95 kids. Be sure to check out the cool pirate-themed gift shop too.
It stands out as the pretty red brick historic building on the waterfront. And if you venture inside the recently revived Custom House, built in 1891, you'll now find the Key West Museum of Art & History (281 Front Street, 305-295-6616; www.kwahs.com). Here local artists shine in nice gallery space on the first floor, while upstairs exhibits highlight Hemingway and pirates and other touches of Key West history. In March 2005, a new exhibit will feature the work of folk artist Mario Sanchez. In July 2005, a life-size bronze of Hemingway in fishing gear will be unveiled outside on the occasion of Hemingway's 105th birthday. Admission is $7 adults, $5 kids, with a free audio tour (on which the museum's director notes that it's the drama and joys of Key West's lives that make the city special).
Fast Buck Freddie's (500 Duval, 305-294-2007) is the wildest department store you'll ever venture into. You can tell it's something special just by checking out the elaborate window displays. Here you'll find dresses for $40 next to ones for $200. There are high-fashion brands like Lacoste and tropical brands like Tommy Bahama. The store also stocks decorative items like the kind you'd find in Pier One. Bargain hunters should check out the store's outlet, Half Buck Freddie's (726 Caroline Street).
When Ernest Hemingway first came to Key West in 1928 it was to buy a car. He stayed at what is now known as Casa Antigua (314 Simonton Street at Caroline, 305-292-9955), a hotel that catered to folks who'd traveled to the island to buy a car -- and wound up waiting for it. Like theirs, Hemingway's was delayed, and he and wife Pauline ended up staying three weeks and falling in love with the town. The interior of the building later burned but has been partially restored. You can tour the huge atrium garden and get a glimpse of the Hemingways' suite. Don't laugh, but to do this you have to enter the Caribbean gift shop known as Pelican Poop. Pay the clerk $2 and he'll click on the audio tour. This is also the place where the awards are presented in the annual Hemingway short story competition.
When conches want a quick lunch, they head to Five Brother's Grocery Store (930 Southward Street, 305-296-5205) for a Cuban sandwich: cold cuts on grilled bread with pickles. The store is in a residential neighborhood but worth the step off the beaten path. Buy a sandwich ($4.25) and a cup of strong cafe con leche ($1 for a medium) and sit on one of the benches outside. Chances are conversation with a local will ensue. A good opening line is, "There's nothing like a good Cuban." The store also sells (in addition to standard groceries) decent Cuban cigars.
Sure, Duval Street is full of bars, but for more of a local scene venture a few blocks away to the Green Parrot (601 Whitehead Street, 305-294-6133; www.greenparrot.com). This open-air tropical saloon opened in 1890 and is a Key West landmark. Darts, pool and pinball keep visitors well occupied. The jukebox is fabulous, featuring the blues. There's live music on weekends and on many weeknights, and there's no cover charge. Happy hour is daily from 4 - 7 p.m. Celebrities (think Goldie Hawn) have been known to stop by.
Image of Pirate Soul appears courtesy of Pirate Soul.