When you actually take the time to think of it, the U.S. has an impressive number of islands—and we’re not just talking about you, Hawaii. Barrier islands dot the coast of Texas in the Gulf, while Washington boasts its own collection of Pacific Coast islets. From the isles of Alaska to the islands off the coast of New England, this nation doesn’t leave you wanting in the form of water-locked land.
Each destination has its own charm, but Key West is arguably one of the best islands to visit in the U.S. Besides its pristine blue waters and toasty temperatures, this Florida island has an arsenal of reasons that make it deserving of such fame, from its dedication to the sunset to the delicious tart pies. Why is Key West the ultimate island in the nation? Let us count the ways:
1. There’s a sunset gathering every single night
You know you’ve arrived in paradise when the island city hosts a Sunset Celebration every evening. Two hours before the sun slips below the coastal horizon, Mallory Square Dock gets into the party spirit with live music, street performers, and art vendors to toast to the setting sun. Good company and a front row view make for the most magical way to welcome dusk.
2. You won’t find a better key lime pie
Although the island no longer produces key limes, that hasn’t stopped it from baking some of the most divine key lime pie you’ll ever dig your fork into. There’s a lot of talk about what makes the tastiest pie, from meringue toppings to graham cracker crusts, but you’ll soon find that it doesn’t matter—they’re all lip-smacking good. Visit Key West and taste them for yourself with a tour of the best kitchens in town.
3. The seafood alone is worth a visit
Before you go on a strict key lime pie diet, wait until you see the seafood spreads that this island has to offer. Pink shrimp, native to the Keys, is a favorite among locals, served peel-and-eat style. These sweet crustaceans are best paired with a heaping plate of meaty stone crab claws. Fun fact: Since stone crabs regrow their claws, fishermen are prohibited from sourcing the whole crab (they take the claws and toss the crab back in the sea to let them regenerate).
4. The world’s third largest coral reef barrier sits off the coast
Listen up snorkelers and scuba divers: You don’t need to travel across the globe to arrive at your underwater playground. In the Key’s backyard, flipper your way over to the massive, colorful collection of coral reefs; two-thirds of which are in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. As rays and porcupinefish flutter by, you’ll experience a whole new world under the surface.
5. The city was a muse for some of the nation’s greatest writers
You’ve heard that Ernest Hemmingway made his home in Key West, along with his six-toed cat, Snow White, but he wasn’t the only author who gathered literary inspiration from the island. Tennessee Williams, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, and Shel Silverstein are just a few of the many other writers who scribbled away while on this island turf. Who knows? You might get the urge to take a stab at some poetry while you’re on island time.
6. A bicycle is all you need
No reason to fuss over rental cars or taxi service when you travel to Key West. The island is only 4 miles long and 1 mile wide, meaning it’s easy to bike around the entire destination in an afternoon. Cruise to Garrison Bight to cycle past the colorful houseboats along the waterfront, and then zip over to West Martello Tower at Higgs Beach. After riding over the water on White Street Pier and whizzing around Audubon House and Tropical Gardens, you’ll get to the know the lay of the land like a local.
Viewfinder Tip: Head to Smathers Beach or Higgs Beach if you’re looking to lounge at the seaside.
7. It’s a boarders dream come true
Kiteboarding, paddle boarding, wakeboarding—whatever your passion, you’ll find it in Key West. The Key West Flats have rideable winds from all directions, supreme for kiteboarders, while Smathers Beach and Sugar Loaf Key are ideal launching spots for paddle boarders. Rather catch some air on a wakeboard? Head north to Marathon to try out the unique cable system rigged for wakeboards at Keys Cable and Adventure Park.
8. There’s more to the island than sunshine and sand
The coastal vibes are lovely, but the city has more depth to it than you might realize. On the island, you’ll find several forts that were used during the American Civil War to protect the Key West harbor. Fort Zachary Taylor was built first, followed by the East and West Martello Towers, which were all connected by a railroad. Fort Zachary Taylor was then later used in the Spanish American War, both World Wars, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Take a break from bumming it on the beach to see a slice of the island’s past.
What do you like best about Key West?
Header image via Flickr/Ed Schipul