Key West is the final stop on the Overseas Highway, where the land ends and meets the sea amid 19th-century charm and contemporary attractions. The ambiance of continental America's southernmost city - which is situated closer to Cuba than Miami - is embedded in its quaint, palm-studded streets, historic hundred-year-old gingerbread mansions and a relaxed citizenry of self-styled "conchs" (pronounced konks).
It has been said that the idiosyncratic architecture and the laid-back atmosphere of this small, 2-by-4-mile island probably have nurtured the talents of more writers per capita than any other city in the country. Literally scores of published authors reside in Key West either full- or part-time, and the island is noted for its artistic community with a number of galleries exhibiting artwork in varying styles and mediums.
Key West is home to other treasures as well. Longtime resident Mel Fisher, a legendary treasure hunter who died in 1998, recovered more than $400 million in gold and silver from the Nuestra Señora de Atocha, a 17th-century Spanish galleon that sank 45 miles west of Key West. Fisher, who spent 16 years searching for the shipwreck, established the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum where visitors can view, touch and learn about the riches of the Atocha and other area shipwrecks including the galleon Santa Margarita.
At day's end in Key West, visitors gather at Mallory Square to experience the nightly "sunset celebration" - a tradition that Key Westers share with visitors. While musicians, jugglers, mimes and other performers provide entertainment, the sun sinks slowly below the horizon as sunset cruise boats sail by in Key West Harbor.
Dining opportunities in the island city are as enticing as the sunset. Cuisine choices are varied and unique, but most restaurants feature great area seafood such as shrimp, Florida lobster, conch chowder, local fish and stone crab claws. Key lime pie is a heavenly end to an exquisite meal.
The nightlife in Key West can be exciting and diverse. The "Duval Crawl" is a popular phrase used to describe fun-seekers' evening jaunts up and down the island's main street to sample numerous taverns and entertainment offerings.
For more information about the Florida Keys & Key West, visit the Keys Web site at www.fla-keys.com or, in the U.S. and Canada, dial toll-free 1-800-FLA-KEYS (800-352-5397).
Information is courtesy of the Florida Keys Tourist Development Council , Photo by Catherine Girt