When you visit the Florida Keys, don’t limit your tour of the Conch Republic to the “Duval crawl” (the bar hop at each of the famous pubs down the famous and colorful Duval Street). Instead, visit wonderful, wacky, real Key West. Schedule in a few of the Keys’ top stops; you don’t see them in tourist brochures, but every local knows them like the back of their hand.
See what’s in the basket at the Kino Sandal Factory. These hand-made sandals, widely considered by locals to be darn near indestructible, are found in a storefront tucked back in the corner of Greene and Fitzpatrick streets. Locals know all about Kinos – walk in, check out the bins to see what’s left in your size, and grab it while you can! Get there early or you’ll leave empty-handed. The store is open Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Check out the voodoo art flags and the vivid colors in the collections at Haitian Art Company. Learn something about the Haitian community whose influence has so widely and colorfully painted the Florida Keys. The shop is open every day from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. — get your art fix before the sun goes down.
Key West Island Books is the place to be for bibliophiles. Everyone knows Key West has long been beloved by writers like Hemingway and Tennessee Williams. Instead of looking through the new books, ask to see the rare book room here at 513 ½ Fleming Street, open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday. With any luck, you’ll catch the ghost of one of the greats, reaching out for his own first-edition book.
Instead of knocking back conch fritters and cold beer, why not head down to the historic Key West Cemetery, which has been welcoming visitors – living and otherwise – since 1847. Although the cemetery closes at sunset during the summer months, if you stop at the corner of Angela and Margaret Streets, you might just catch the voices of the spirits of those lost during the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1887.
If you like a good ghost story, head over to the East Martello Museum to check out Robert the Sailor, the famous and slightly creepy sailor doll who is a legend for his haunting nature. It was said that little Robert tormented the little boy who owned him. You can almost imagine it, looking at the doll’s worn face. People flock to the museum just to see Robert, and to try to catch him in his mischief-making. The museum is located at 3501 S. Roosevelt Boulevard.
If you’d rather look to the heavens during your stay, head to the Key West Lighthouse Museum. Climb the 88 steps and see for yourself the view that’s guided sailors to safety since 1847. The museum is as much a testament to the lives of the Keepers who lived there and tended the lamps.
There’s no end to the things to learn, see and do in the Keys. A poke into the island’s nooks and crannies will win you a treasure of a visit.