Saturday, February 11, 2017

Florida Keys, Part III:
Key West packed with sights, attractions

A, or "the," destination of most first-time visitors to the Florida Keys is Key West, the western- and southern-most inhabited island of the archipelago. So it was with Lee Ann and I. We made a first visit there on our second full day in the Keys, Tuesday, Jan. 17.

We didn't have any particular strategy in mind when we hit the road from Marathon. In fact, we got a pretty late start; we didn't arrive until after noon. It involved our first trip across the Seven-Mile Bridge, and when we eventually arrived in Key West about an hour later (40 miles from the starting point -- the highway is one lane in either direction most of the way), we spent the first 15 minutes looking for a place to park.

Indeed, parking is at a premium in the commercial heart of Key West, which is why most locals get around on foot, bicycle, shuttle or bicycle taxi. We found a private lot on Caroline Street, just north of Whitehead Street, that charged us $15 to park for as long as we wanted through 9 a.m. the following day. We spent the rest of the day on foot.

On that first visit, we visited only one traditional tourist attraction -- the Truman Little White House (left), the compound that several presidents, most notably Harry Truman, used for a relaxing getaway. The Little White House is at the northwest end of the island, just south of Mallory Square. William Howard Taft was the first president to use the facility, and as it turned out, he was the only president who visited there while the residential building had a water view.

It was built in 1890 originally as a first officers' quarters for the naval station there. At some point before the 1940s, the officers' quarters was converted to a residence, and President William Howard Taft, in 1912, was the first president to visit and stay there. Later, but before Truman made his first visit in 1946, the government dredged the atoll fronting the water to allow for larger vessels and to create a submarine base.

They used the dredged material to fill the beach in front of the residence and create more land on which they erected a larger structure along the water, a building that blocked the residence's view of the water. The photo below shows the side of the residence that used to face the water.

Truman visited the compounded 11 times in his life (for a total of 175 days, including some after he left office), getting by far the most use of the facility by a president. Dwight Eisenhower went there to spend time recovering from his 1955 heart attack. John F. Kennedy stayed there twice -- once for a summit with British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in 1961, and again in late 1962 to relax after the Cuban missile crisis. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton also made visits, both after their presidencies.

The Little White House museum there opened in 1991, but the compound remains an "active" government site -- any incumbent or former president and any member of Congress is welcome to use it. As a result, no photographs were permitted inside the premises except for two rooms containing mementos and framed photographs, citations or other graphic illustrations.

There is an admission fee to the museum, which includes a tour of the home. I don't remember exactly how much we paid, but it was more than $10. There are discounts for seniors and military personnel.

Other than checking out the Little White House, we spent the rest of the day strolling down Duval Street, the main commercial corridor. It has a collection of pubs, eateries and eclectic retail shops and art studios. Particularly, it's where you'll find Sloppy Joe's, the favorite pub haunt of writer Ernest Hemingway during his nine years on the island. A ways down the street, it's also where you'll find Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville Cafe (a pub and eatery) and adjacent Margaritaville Shop (which sells shirts, hats and other traditional souvenirs fashioned after the Buffett brand).

It was along the commercial district that I came across the striking facade depicted in the photo leading off the post. It's an expansive building of retail shops on the bottom floor and a Pincher's Crab Shack (a restaurant chain in Florida), with a bowed midsection, on the top floor. Lee Ann makes a cameo appearance in the photo, strolling past one of the ground-level shops on the left.

A block southwest of Duval is Whitehead Street, and much further down from Sloppy Joe's you'll find the Hemingway house and museum at Whitehead's intersection with Olivia Street, just across the street from Key West Lighthouse, another attraction we were interested in.

By the time we got to those landmarks, however, it was pushing 5:30 p.m. both were closed for the day. And not far from both places was the popular touristy point marking the southern-most point in the continental U.S. This disappointment precipitated the decision to make another trip, which we began at the lighthouse, before moving to the Hemingway house and followed that with a stop at the southern-most point marker.

Photo geek stuff: Most everything you see here was taken with my Canon 6D equipped with a Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di PZD VC lens. Most outdoor shots were taken with a 67mm B&W polarizing filter, which I ceased using near dusk. I bracketed most compositions for three exposures that I processed in Photomatix high-dynamic range (HDR) software. A few images in this post were taken with my iPhone 6s Plus, including two of the photos inside Sloppy Joe's -- the shot of the mixed drinks and the one of performer Brian Roberts looking directly at the camera.

And as usual, if you'd like to see a larger, sharper version of an image, click on the image. This is particularly important if you access the blog using a mobile device. For a full gallery of my shots at Key West (including many yet to be featured in blog posts), visit my site at

 Above: One of many tour buses we saw during our visit to Key West.

Above is a shot of one of the many pubs snug to the sidewalk along Duval Street; below, the sign of a nearby eatery.

Above: St. Paul's Episcopal Church is on Duval Street, in the heart of the downtown commercial district.  

Above and below: The main facade of Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville Cafe (left, above) and store (right above). Below is what you see when you walk into the clothing side of the store. We didn't visit the cafe until our second trip to Key West, so those pictures will come with that post.

Above: A juxtaposition of person, tree and commerce that I found interesting. 

Above: A colorful outdoor display at one of the many shops along Duval Street.
Above: Lee Ann took this photo of me outside Sloppy Joe's before we entered for lunch. That's me in the background pointing up at the sign. Lee Ann took several shots, including a couple without obstructions, but I chose to use this in the post because it included bicyclists, evidence of a popular mode of transportation on the island. 

Performer Brian Roberts entertained during our lunch at Sloppy Joe's. Above, a shot I took with my 6D resting on our tabletop. Below, when Roberts strolled to our side of the stage, I grabbed my iPhone to take this shot, and Brian obliged. During a break in his performance while we were there, Brian sat a bar near our table, where he had this dog on his lap. I don't know if it was his, but it was a cute puppy for sure. I also took this photo with my iPhone. 

Above and below: Examples of decor inside Sloppy Joe's, which heavily promotes its association with writer Ernest Hemingway. 

Above: An iPhone shot of our mixed drinks during the meal at Sloppy Joe's. Details about the food there and other places will come in a later post dedicated to our culinary experiences in the Keys.

Above: An example of some of the art shops and galleries along Duval Street.

Above: It was nearing 5 p.m. or thereabouts when we came across this vehicle parked along Whitehead Street. I wish I could provide some sort of explanation, but alas ... 

Above: Yeah, throughout our stay in the Keys, Lee Ann and I shared the sentiments of this shop's name.

Above: When we arrived at the Hemingway house on Whitehead Street after 5 p.m., we learned it had closed for the day. I managed to get a few pictures from outside the grounds, including the one above. At some point during his nine years here, Hemingway had a 6-foot tall brick wall (iPhone photo below) built around his property to keep out curiosity-seekers. There is another foot or so of wire above the wall. To get the photo above, I rested the 6D on top of the wall and used my live view feature to compose, focus and shoot.  

Above: Almost all of the Keys are in Monroe County, and Key West is the county seat. Above is the county courthouse, along Whitehead street not far from the Hemingway house ... and also not far from the sign below, which marks the origin or terminus (depending on the direction you're going) of U.S. Highway 1, which also serves as the Overseas Highway extending the length of the Keys to mainland Florida and on up the East Coast.

Next up: Ernest Hemingway house

Previous posts in this series:

Part I: Not bad for 'almost paradise'

Part II: Sombrero Beach strikingly beautiful

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