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Key West has two embarkation piers, one within walking distance of the town center, the other a free trolley ride away. It is located 150 miles from Miami, and just 90 miles from Havana. It is a tropical city which was originally called Cayo Hueso (Bone Key) by the Spaniards found because of the Indian skeletons they found on its shores when they first landed here in the 16th century. The name was eventually changed to Key West. With all it has to offer (its wide array of 19th century architecture, its tropical weather, fine restaurants, galleries, shops, museums, theaters, nightclubs, and a host of historical sites) Key West is a very popular spot for people of all ages. The island is 2 miles wide by 4 miles long and is one of about a thousand coral islets that stretches southward from Miami. It's linked to the mainland by an Overseas Highway.
Famous artists, writers, and movie moguls visited and lived in Key West (Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, James Audubon and Gina Ert Frost). It was a vacation spot for President Truman. The Florida Keys are no known as the Conch Republic. The “republic” celebrates its independence each April in a ten-day, festival.
Where You are Cruise Ship Dock
Cruise ships dock near Mallory Square, an area where you will find lots of shops, restaurants, artwork on display outdoor entertainment and artwork. Most of the attractions are within walking distance of the pier.
Key West is an island, or Key, that is just two miles long by four miles wide, so all the essentials are near the docks -- bars, restaurants, shopping, scuba diving and beach-going. Mallory Square, on the waterfront near the docks, has restaurants, shops and public restrooms.
It's a snap in Key West. Consider Duval Street the main thoroughfare. Popular bars, T-shirt and souvenir shops and art galleries line both sides of the street and can be found from the 200 block to the end near Mallory Square. Although there is an open-container law in Key West prohibiting alcohol on public streets, it isn't largely enforced on visitors along the 100 and 200 blocks of Duval.
Bikes, scooters and flip-flops are the most popular modes of transportation, for both locals and visitors. Key West is really flat, so cycling is easy. Bike rentals typically require a refundable deposit or cruise key card. A and M Rentals (523 Truman Avenue; 305-294-4556) and Tropical Rentals (1300 Duval Street; 305-294-8136) are reliable shops.
"Conch Cruisers," slow-moving electric vehicles that resemble golf carts, are also available for rent. They can hold two to six passengers and can be rented in two-hour increments. A reliable shop is Key West Cruisers (500 Truman Avenue; 305-294-4724). Deposits are required. For first-timers, the Old Town Trolley Tours offers hop-on, hop-off, all-day transport, while the Conch Tour Train features a personal tour guide driving you through Old Town while pointing out the sights and historic markers. Pedicabs are available and generally charge per minute. Perfect Pedicab on Whitehead Street is a popular company.
Things To See and Do
Key West cruise ship passengers, who number some 820,000 a year among the island's 3 million visitors, disembark at Mallory Square, a Navy pier near the Westin Resort. But the island city is a breeze to explore by walking, bike, scooter or even pedicab. Famous residents have included Pulitzer Prize-winner Ernest Hemingway, whose home on Simonton Street is now a museum where six-toed cats roam the grounds, pool and living quarters. Key West was also a home away from home for President Harry Truman, whose one-time respite from Washington, D.C., is the "Little White House," a museum by the waterfront.
Even if you only have half of a day to spend in Key West on a cruise excursion, there are plenty of attractions near the port that make it easy to enjoy the island’s unique history, architecture, marine life and culture. For a quick primer, take the Conch Tour Train, which lazily winds through the side streets past the quaint Victorian homes and notable sights. In Mallory Square there are several attractions within feet of each other, like the Key West Aquarium, with its popular marine life touch-tank, and the Key West Shipwreck Museum, where costumed storytellers share the tales of 400 local shipwrecks. The nearby Mel Fisher Museum exhibits the mother lode of treasure pulled from some of those same ships.
A stroll along the scenic boardwalk of the historic seaport allows you to peruse funky shops and indulge at seafood restaurants in the ocean breezes. At the opposite end of Duval, the Butterfly Conservatory offers a magical respite with hundreds of butterflies and chirping birds in a peaceful garden. On Whitehead Street, you can hit the 1847 Key West Lighthouse and the Hemingway Home (with the famed six-toed cats), which are across the street from each other. A little more off-the-beaten path is the free Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center, 6,000 square feet of interactive exhibits about the dynamic Keys’ eco-systems. For a morning at the beach, rent a bike and head to Ft. Zachary State Park for a picnic on the sandy shores in the shadow of a Civil War fort.
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
A common misconception traveler's make when planning a trip to Key West is that there will be sparkling white-sand beaches. In fact they are few and far between. Fort Zachary Taylor is one of the exceptions and is blessed with a well-maintained, sandy beach with chairs, umbrellas and water sports equipment for rent. Completed in 1866, the fort played important roles in the Civil War and Spanish-American War, and visitors can tour the National Historic Landmark every day at noon. This 54-acre state park is also home to several nature trails, a stunning coral reef for snorkelers, picnic tables and a beachfront café. Fishing is permitted in certain areas. The three-story fort once held the largest collection of Civil War cannons in the U.S. (many of which are still there). Admission to the park is $2.50 when walking or biking. (305-292-6713)
Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center
When the museum admissions and snorkeling tours start to add up, free options are always the way to go - especially when the kids can learn a thing or two. The Eco-Discovery Center provides a look into the ecosystems of the Florida Keys. Just a step away from Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, exhibits include an interactive satellite map of the Keys, a replica of the Aquarius the world's only underwater ocean laboratory and an underwater video camera used for monitoring the health of a coral reef. The real star is the Living Reef exhibit, which includes a 2,500-gallon reef tank with living corals and tropical fish. (305-809-4750)
The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum
Just three weeks after arriving in Key West, Ernest Hemingway finished "A Farewell to Arms", and he and his wife fell in love with the island. They built their home in 1851, and it is now a National Historic Landmark. Beautiful gardens blooming with hibiscus and water lilies surround the property, along with a 60-foot swimming pool--an architectural wonder in itself. The house was the first on the island to have a swimming pool and indoor plumbing. Tours take one half hour and include many anecdotes about the writer and his life on the island. To top it off, over 50 six-toed cats roam the property. Take the guided tour which is included in the ticket price. You'll get more out of your experience. Looking into his former study, literary buffs and writers may find a little inspiration in this beautiful home, just like Hemingway did while living there. (305-294-1575)
Key West Lighthouse Museum
Key West's iconic lighthouse was built in 1847 and originally powered by 15 oil lamps that helped guide sailors to the island. Although it no longer serves as a functioning lighthouse, visitors can climb the 88 winding steps to the top for 360-degree views of the city and the ocean. Admission includes entrance to the museum (the former keeper's quarters), where audio and visual recordings are available as well as glass display cases of the previous owner's possessions. Photographs and quotes from lighthouse keepers and their families show ensure that the now obsolete way of life will never be forgotten. Note that it closes at 4:30 p.m., so don't try to wait for the sunset. While many lighthouses in the U.S. are not open to the public, Key West's tower invites visitors to explore and learn about the past. (305-294-0012)
Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
Soothing music, birds, fish, turtles, fountains and over 80 species of butterflies make a relaxing break from Margaritaville. The entrance to the conservatory offers a wealth of interesting information about the life cycle and behavior of these stunning insects. Take a breather on a butterfly-shaped bench and try to get a close-up photo of a camera-shy Blue Morpho. You'll wind up staying longer than planned. Cocoons are on display in the glass-enclosed pupae room toward the rear that are clearly labeled with the species name. At any time, 1200 to 2,000 butterflies reside in the conservatory, and if one chooses to land on you, it's a sign of good luck. They also just added two pink flamingos to the garden. (305-296-2988)
Historic Seaport at Key West Bight
Back in the late 1700s, the Key West Historic Seaport had a safe anchorage and stocks of drinkable water at primitive wells ashore. Settlers of the island relied heavily on marine life as an integral part of the economy, including fisheries for sea turtles, sponges, and shrimp to supply local and distant markets. Today, the only turtles you'll see on land are at the Turtle Kraals restaurant, where visitors can witness the turtle races on Mondays and Friday evenings. The rest of the harbor is lined with shops, bars, fishing and sailing vessels, dive boats, and traditional schooners that offer sunset cruises. (NA)
Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum
Let out your inner treasure hunter at the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum. Fisher is famous for finding the 1622 wreck of the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha in 1985 with an estimated $450 million cache of gold, silver, emeralds and more. Rather than a flashy show, this is a real-deal museum with a collection that holds over 100,000 pieces of jewelry, coins, glassware, tools, cannons, iron shackles, and anchors that were all found on sunken ships. All of these items translate into human stories of how they were lost and found. Take your time to peruse the exhibits and soak up the air conditioning (a big plus in the warmer months). The Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society is a non-profit organization that works to preserve archaeological artifacts and educates visitors on maritime history. A number of educational programs are also available including children's camps to study marine life and the environment, plus a night at the museum. (305-294-2633)
Key West Shipwreck Museum
The stories of the 400 shipwrecks along the Florida Keys are told with all the bells and whistles at this part-museum, part theme-park attraction. Visitors are greeted with a 15-minute live story telling presentation before touring the museum. There are some actual artifacts from the 17th and 18th century (while others are just for show), as well as video presentations, audio recordings, and a 64-pound silver bar that families can lift up. Most people head to the 65-foot lookout tower for stunning views of the island and surrounding waters where ships met their final resting place. For those interested in seeing more real treasure from other shipwrecks, be sure to check out the Mel Fisher Museum. (305-292-8990)
Key West Aquarium
You'll spot the Key West Aquarium off Mallory Square by the distinctive great white shark bursting from the top of its façade. Built between 1932 and 1934, it's one of Florida's oldest aquariums. While on the small side, the facility offers children the opportunity to touch and hold living starfish, sea cucumbers, horseshoe crabs and conchs. The long building is lined with tanks that showcase the other critters that populate the Florida Keys like eels, lobster, seahorses and glowing jellyfish. You'll also spot alligators, stingrays and rescued sea turtles on view. (305-296-2051, 800-868-7482)
Conch Train Tours
The Conch Train makes a lot of top 10 lists, and for good reason. While it may feel a little touristy, it's an easy way to get acquainted with the entire island and its history. The bright yellow train has been in operation since 1958. Their knowledgeable "engineers" will give you an overview of the historic district, covering 100 point of interest such as the Harry S. Truman Little White House, Southernmost Point, the conch-style architecture and more. They also provide an entertaining commentary on the legends of the city like Robert the haunted doll, who lives at Fort East Martello. (888-916-8687)
Other Attractions
Fort Zachary Taylor State Historic Park : This was once a base for the Union blockade used on Confederate shipping during the Civil War. It now houses one of the largest collections of Civil War armaments in the U.S.
Conch Train/Trolley Tour: This fun ride allows a visitor to view as many as 60 points of interest in one day. These points of interest include, the Hemingway House, Audubon House, the Cemetery, Naval Base, the Southernmost Point Lighthouse, Truman's White House and a lot more.
Mallory Square: Mallory Square is the place where residents as well as visitors get together every afternoon around two hours prior to watch the sunset. A wide array of talent is encountered on this visit every day. You will find street jugglers, musicians, food vendors, clowns, and arts and crafts exhibitors at Mallory Square to watch the beautiful sunset.
Sloppy Joe's: Hemingway's favorite bar. Owned by, Joe Russell, Hemingway's boat pilot and fishing buddy. Russell was the inspiration for the character Freddy in the movie, "To Have and Have Not."
Key West Aquarium: Built in 1934, this open air aquarium houses many of the marine animals, including grouper, moray eels, barracuda, tropical fish, tarpon, sharks, and parrotfish.
Audubon House and Tropical Garden: On display here are the original bird drawings of John Audubon's. The home was built in the 1850's and includes a one-acre tropical garden.
Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Center: If you would like to go on a treasure hunt, go on in. In 1622 two Spanish galleons sank off of the coast of Key West. There treasures are displayed here.
Swim with Dolphins: Visit Dolphin World to enjoy Dolphin adventures.
Bicycling: If you prefer seeing the town by bicycle then do so. It is one of the best ways to see the city.
Golf : For you golfing fans, play the Reese Jones-designed 18-hole, 6,500-yard course at the Mangrove Hole.
Water Sports: There is a beach within a few blocks in any direction you walk in Key West. Please remember to be very careful as there are no lifeguards. Topless and nude sunbathing are prohibited. You may charter sail and motor yachts, catamarans - even schooners.
Snorkeling/SCUBA Diving: Feel free to enjoy the beauty of the water, coral, and fish. Just bring your equipment.
Best Party Beach: Smathers Beach, off South Roosevelt Boulevard, features shallow water, so it's good for little kids, too. There are food concessions and restrooms. Equipment rentals include chairs, umbrellas, kayaks, windsurf boards and other water sports.
Best for Quiet Time: Rest Beach near the White Street Pier, at about 300 feet long, is a locals' favorite. So is the pedestrian and bicycle-only fishing pier, where glorious sunset-viewing and people-watching are free gifts of the island. Amenities are few, but restrooms are just down the road at Higgs Beach.
Best Gay-Friendly Beach: Higgs Beach at the end of Reynolds Street offers chairs and snorkel equipment rentals, tennis courts, volleyball courts, kids playgrounds on both sides of the road, a beachside restaurant, outdoor showers and a spacious dog park -- with separate space for little dogs -- across from the beach.
Best for Snorkeling: Fort Zachary Taylor State Park's beach at the end of Southard Street requires a daily entrance fee. The beach offers sparkling blue and green waters, a snack bar, snorkel and chair rentals, shady picnic areas with grills and tables, and the best public restrooms and showers on the island. There is also the historic fort and a Civil War Museum
By Tram & Trolley Bus
Yes, it's more than a bit hokey to sit on this 60-foot tram of yellow cars, but it's worth it -- at least once. The city's whole story is packed into a neat, 90-minute package on the Conch Tour Train, which covers the island and all its rich, raunchy history. In operation since 1958, the cars are open-air, which can make the ride uncomfortable in bad weather. The engine of the "train" is a propane-powered jeep disguised as a locomotive. Tours depart from both Mallory Square and the Welcome Center, near where U.S. 1 becomes North Roosevelt Boulevard, on the less-developed side of the island. For information, call tel. 305/294-5161 or go to www.conchtourtrain.com. The cost is $29 for adults, $14 for children 4 to 12. Tickets are cheaper on the website. Daily departures are every half-hour from 9am to 4:30pm.
The Old Town Trolley is the choice in bad weather or if you're staying at one of the hotels on its route. Humorous drivers maintain a running commentary as the enclosed trolley loops around the island's streets past all the major sights. Trolley buses depart from Mallory Square and other points around the island, including many area hotels. For details, call tel. 305/296-6688 or visit www.trolleytours.com. Tours are $29 for adults, $14 for children 4 to 12. Tickets are cheaper on the website. Departures are daily every half-hour (though not always on the half-hour) from 9am to 4:30pm.
By Air
Proclaimed by the mayor as "the official air force of the Conch Republic," Island Aeroplane Tours, at Key West Airport, 3469 S. Roosevelt Blvd. (tel. 305/294-8687; www.keywestairtours.com), offers windy rides in its open-cockpit 1940 Waco biplanes that take you over the reefs and around the islands. Thrill-seekers will also enjoy a spin in the company's S2-B aerobatics airplane, which does loops, rolls, and sideways figure-eights. Company owner Fred Cabanas was decorated in 1991, after he spotted a Cuban airman defecting to the United States in a Russian-built MIG fighter. Sightseeing flights cost $90 to $345 for two people, depending on duration.
By Boat
The catamarans and the glass-bottom boat of Fury Water Adventures, 237 Front St. (tel. 305/296-6293; www.furycat.com), depart on daytime coral-reef tours and evening sunset cruises (call for times). Reef trips cost $35 per person; sunset cruises are $37 per person. Kids ages 5 through 12 sail on all cruises for $19. Prices are cheaper on the website.
The schooner Western Union (tel. 305/292-9830; www.schoonerwesternunion.com) was built in 1939 and served as a cable-repair vessel until it was designated the flagship of the city of Key West and began day, sunset, and charter sailings. Sunset sailings are especially memorable and include entertainment, cocktails, and a cannon fire. Prices vary; inquire for details.
A new boat tour combines Florida Keys sunsets with delectable Keys cuisine. Sunset Culinaire Tours (tel. 305/296-0982; www.sunsetculinaire.com) is a cruise aboard the vessel RB's Lady and includes a tour of Key West harbor as the sun sinks below the horizon, and a three-course gourmet dinner (including beer or wine) prepared by Chef Brian Kirkpatrick. The vessel departs from Sunset Marina, off U.S. 1 at 5555 College Rd., at 5:30pm nightly. Boarding time is 5pm and the cost is $85 per person.
Other Tours
Sharon Wells (tel. 305/294-0566; www.kwlightgallery.com), historian, artist and owner of the KW Light Gallery, leads a slew of great tours throughout the island, focusing on things as diverse as literature, architecture, and places connected with the island's gay and lesbian culture.
For a lively look at Key West, try the Key West Pub Crawl (tel. 305/744-9804; www.keywestwalkingtours.com), a tour of the island's most famous bars. It's given on Tuesday and Friday nights at 8pm, lasts 2 1/2 hours, costs $30, and includes five (!) drinks. Another fun option is the 1-mile, 90-minute ghost tour (tel. 305/294-WALK [9255]; www.hauntedtours.com), leaving daily at 8 and 9pm from the Holiday Inn La Concha, 430 Duval St. Cost is $15 for adults and $10 for children 11 and under. This spooky and interesting tour gives participants insight into many old island legends.
Key West's Ghosts and Legends Tour (tel. 866/622-4467 or 305/294-1713; www.keywestghosts.com) is a fun, 90-minute narrated tour of the island and spirits that don't come in a plastic cup or mug. You'll walk through the shadowy streets and lanes of Old Town, stopping at allegedly haunted Victorian mansions, and learning about fascinating island pirate lore, voodoo superstitions and rituals, a Count who lived with the corpse of his beloved, and other bizarre yet true aspects of this eerie place. Tours depart nightly from the Porter Mansion on the corner of Duval and Caroline streets. Space is limited and reservations are required. Tickets are $18 for adults and $10 for children.
Since the early 1940s, Key West has been a haven for gay luminaries such as Tennessee Williams and Broadway legend Jerry Herman. A trolley tour of Gay Key West, created by the Key West Business Guild, showcases the history, contributions, and landmarks associated with the island's flourishing gay and lesbian culture. Highlights include Williams's house, the art gallery owned by Key West's first gay mayor, and a variety of guesthouses whose gay owners fueled the island's architectural-restoration movement. The 70-minute tour takes place Saturday at 10:50am, starting and ending at City of Key West parking lot, corner of Simonton and Angela streets. Look for the trolley with the rainbow flags. The cost is $20 to $25. Call tel. 305/294-4603 or go to www.gaykeywestfl.com.
Parrotheads on Parade
For Jimmy Buffett fans, or "parrotheads," as they're also known, Trails and Tales of Key West (tel. 305/292-2040) is an amusing, 2-hour guided walking tour in which Key West's finest storytellers share tales of Jimmy Buffett, Captain Tony, Ernest Hemingway, Mel Fisher, and more. The informative and often hilarious guides lead you past the hangouts and other high points of these colorful characters' Key West. Visit Buffett's first house on the island, Shrimp Boat Sound Recording Studio, where the likes of Toby Keith have since recorded. Visit legendary pubs and the historic seaport; plus, hear fascinating stories about the Conch Republic and get some insider tips to the secrets of Key West. This 2-hour tour departs daily at 4pm from Captain Tony's Saloon, 428 Greene St., where Buffett used to hang out and perform, and ends at -- you guessed it -- Margaritaville Cafe, on Duval Street. The tour conveniently goes during happy hour. Tickets are $20 for adults, and $10 for children 6 to 12. Bring cash or traveler's checks; no credit cards are accepted. Reservations are required.
Eating Out
Best Local Oysters: Half Shell Raw Bar
“This is one of oldest spots in town, right on the water. It’s a nice place to grab a beer, and they have shuckers going through tons of Apalachicola oysters right in front of you—in fact, the local oyster shucking competitions are held here.” www.halfshellrawbar.com
Date Night: Café Marquesa
“Inside the Marquesa Hotel, this is a beautiful jewel of a restaurant, with no more than 35 seats. A million years ago I opened it, and my sous-chef is still the chef there. It has the most elegant interior anywhere in Key West.” www.marquesa.com
Best Cuban in Town: El Siboney
“The last true old-fashioned Cuban restaurant in town is in a residential neighborhood where you wouldn’t think there would be a restaurant. They’re great for Cuban standards: black beans, yellow rice, roast pork, repeat. Wash it down with a cold beer from the cooler. And flan.” elsiboneyrestaurant.com

Classic Seafood: Hogfish Bar and Grill
“Hogfish is a sweet local fish you can’t really find outside the Keys. This restaurant is on nearby Stock Island, but it’s what many people consider reflective of the old style of Key West—laid back and right on the water in Safe Harbor. They do great smoked fish, and their chalkboard specials are always solid, but the hogfish sandwich is really the thing to get.” www.hogfishbar.com
Dinner on Duval Street: Nine One Five
“One of the nicer places for dinner on Key West’s main strip, Duval Street, Nine One Five is in a Victorian house with an upstairs lounge called Point 5. Sometimes there’s live jazz, and they have an interesting menu with lots of local seafood like pan-roasted grouper with chorizo, spinach and olives.” www.915duval.com

Old-School Diner: Pepe’s Café
“I drank Cuban coffee here for the first time. They bill themselves as the ‘eldest eating house in the Florida Keys,’ and it’s become more touristy over the years, but it’s got a lot of history. They serve diner classics and steaks, which are kind of unusual in Key West.” www.pepescafe.net
True French Café: La Crêperie Key West
“Two expat French women, Yolande Findlay and Sylvie Le Nouail, recreated this place as if it were a postcard from their hometown in Brittany. It’s a small space with an open kitchen, where you can watch them make 30 different kinds of crêpes, both sweet and savory, on circular griddles.” www.lacreperiekeywest.com
Seafood Lunch: Badboy Burrito
“The former chef of Nine One Five, Chris Otten, opened this tiny little spot where they do a very high-quality fish burrito with whatever’s locally caught, like hogfish or grouper.” badboyburrito.com
Sweet Snack: Glazed Donuts
“Everything here is made from scratch, and they do fritter-style and cake doughnuts, including some exotic ones with hibiscus syrup and candied bacon.” facebook.com/GlazedDonutsKeyWest

“The restaurant here serves a full menu, but the real magic is at the upper deck bar, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world to have a drink. The deck sits directly on the Gulf of Mexico—go around 5 p.m., and watch the sun set.”www.louiesbackyard.com
Local Haunt: Green Parrot Bar “This is the oldest bar in Key West, and my favorite place to go. It’s an open-air place with live honky-tonk music that starts around 5:30 p.m., with no cover. The locals pour in to drink working-class stuff, nothing too fancy. It’s just got a great vibe. And heck yes, people dance!” www.greenparrot.com

You'll find all kinds of unique gifts and souvenirs in Key West, from coconut postcards to Key lime pies. On Duval Street, T-shirt shops outnumber almost any other business. If you must get a wearable memento, be careful of unscrupulous salespeople. Despite efforts to curtail the practice, many shops have been known to rip off unwitting shoppers. It pays to check the prices and the exchange rate before signing any sales slips. You are entitled to a written estimate of any T-shirt work before you pay for it.
At Mallory Square, you'll find the Clinton Street Market, an overly air-conditioned mall of kiosks and stalls designed for the many cruise-ship passengers who never venture beyond this super-commercial zone. There are some coffee and candy shops, and some high-priced hats and shoes. There's also a free and clean restroom.
Once the main industry of Key West, cigar making is enjoying renewed success at the handful of factories that survived the slow years. Stroll through Cigar Alley (while on Greene St., go 2 blocks west and you'll hit Cigar Alley, also known as Pirate's Alley), where you will find viejitos (little old men) rolling fat stogies just as they used to do in their homeland across the Florida Straits. Stop at the Conch Republic Cigar Factory, 512 Greene St. (tel. 305/295-9036; www.conch-cigars.com), for an excellent selection of imported and locally rolled smokes, including the famous El Hemingway. Remember, buying or selling Cuban-made cigars is illegal. Shops advertising "Cuban cigars" are usually referring to domestic cigars made from tobacco grown from seeds that were brought from Cuba decades ago. To be fair, though, many premium cigars today are grown from Cuban seed tobacco -- only it is grown in Latin America and the Caribbean, not Cuba.
If you're looking for local or Caribbean art, you'll find nearly a dozen galleries and shops clustered on Duval Street between Catherine and Fleming streets. There are also some excellent shops scattered on the side streets. One worth seeking out is the Haitian Art Co., 1100 Truman Ave. (tel. 305/296-8932; www.haitian-art-co.com), where you can browse through room upon room of original paintings from well-known and obscure Haitian artists, in a range of prices from a few dollars to a few thousand. Also check out Cuba, Cuba! at 814 Duval St. (tel. 305/295-9442; www.cubacubastore.com), where you'll see paintings, sculpture, and photos by Cuban artists, as well as books and art from the island.
From sweet to spicy, Peppers of Key West, 602 Greene St. (tel. 305/295-9333; www.peppersofkeywest.com), is a hot-sauce-lover's heaven, with hundreds of variations, from mild to brutally spicy. Grab a seat at the tasting bar and be prepared to let your taste buds sizzle. Tip: Bring beer, and they'll let you taste some of their secret sauces!
Literature and music buffs will appreciate the many bookshops and record stores on the island. Key West Island Bookstore, 513 Fleming St. (tel. 305/294-2904), carries new, used, and rare books, and specializes in fiction by residents of the Keys, including Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Shel Silverstein, Ann Beattie, Richard Wilbur, and John Hersey. The bookstore is open daily from 10am to 9pm.
For anything else, from bed linens to candlesticks to clothing, go to downtown's oldest and most renowned department store, Fast Buck Freddie's, 500 Duval St. (tel. 305/294-2007). For the same merchandise at reduced prices, try Half Buck Freddie's, 726 Caroline St. (tel. 305/294-2007), where you can shop for out-of-season bargains and "rejects" from the main store.

Also check out KW Light Gallery, 534 Fleming St. (tel. 305/294-0566), for high-quality contemporary photography as well as historic images and other artwork relating to the Keys or to the concept of light and its varied interpretations. The gallery is open Thursday through Tuesday from 10am to 6pm (10am-4pm in summer). Owner/photographer/painter Sharon Wells also gives historic tours of Key West so inquire while you're inside for the inside scoop.

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