As on most small islands, the Key West locals can guide you to the spots you really want to enjoy and steer you away from the tourist traps. Number one on the tourist traps list in Key West is most tourists’ favorite, Duval Street. Yes, there are some spots not to miss on Duval, but not many. You will want to spend most of your time in Key West’s funky Conch neighborhoods, waterfront locals’ favorites, and hidden lanes, for which Key West is sought out by seasoned visitors. Over the next couple of months, I’ll provide you with an all-inclusive menu of Key West insider dos and don’ts when spending a tropical vacation where Jimmy Buffett records most of his studio albums, Hemingway made Sloppy Joe’s the most talked about watering hole in the South, Hunter S. Thompson terrorized one and all, and the immortal Shel Silverstein did some of his best work.
To begin: yes, Sloppy Joe’s is still worth a visit for a few beers. It opens at 9:00 a.m. daily, and you might be surprised at the number of folk who actually believe in the old Key West slogan “If it ain’t beer, it ain’t breakfast.” For the most part, however, you will want to shy away from the places most tourists visit and seek out the little gems patronized by the local Conchs.
Get yourself on the right track early each morning (except Sunday) with a con leche (strong Cuban coffee with hot milk ) and toasted Cuban bread at 5 Brothers Grocery on Southard Street midway between Duval and White Street. You’ll be in the heart of Old Town and will get a good flavor of a real Key West neighborhood. If you’re lucky, you will wait in line with the locals and hear the local gossip and color. Don’t be in a rush. Things move slowly in the Keys, and few people are in any kind of a rush. After you pick up your con leche, walk west on Southard one block to Mangia, Mangia, another local favorite, for pasta. Mangia can fill up fast after sunset, so expect a wait if you show up after the Mallory Square Sunset Celebration. Diagonally from Mangia on Margaret Street is Michaels. Michaels is one of the better top-end restaurants in Key West. Be sure to call ahead for reservations. The menu is excellent, with great steaks as well as local fish dishes. Have a great time in Key West.