We’ve discussed planning a trip to the Florida Keys multiple times and each time, to my dismay, the State Parks are always booked. When friends made the executive decision to go to Key West we researched camping near Key West and discovered that we would have to settle on an “RV Park Campground.” I chose Boyd’s – the closest public campground to Key West.
At Boyd’s premium waterfront sites go for $110 which paled in comparison to $300 a night for a hotel room on Key West. Note to self: view a campground map beforehand and make sure you know what site you’re booking for $110 a night. Our “waterfront” site backed up to the boat ramp and dock and didn’t afford the wide-water vistas I had envisioned. However, being close to the ramp gave us easy access to launch the kayaks whenever we pleased. Frank ordered and had installed a Thule rack for the top of our truck’s cab to cradle the kayaks for this trip.
We spent five days and four nights in the Conch Republic and I truly learned to savor the Key West locale. The island isn’t overwhelming like a big city. There was something to see, do, or taste at all hours of the day – brunch at a cafe, shopping downtown, visiting a historic museum or home, a glass of vino while viewing a sunset, and of course the Duval-crawl at the wee hours of the night.
Here’s a breakdown of our agenda from Thursday through Monday.
Thursday, Day 1:
We left home around 8am and arrived on Stock Island – Boyd’s Campground – at 2pm-ish. Set up camp (good lord it’s hot!), had some snicky-snacks, and launched the kayaks for a paddle. When Frank saw the fish he couldn’t say no and went back for bait.
Friday, Day 2:
We spent $170 a person for a day trip to the Dry Tortugas! A high-speed ferry whisked us away two hours west and 70 miles later we arrived at the oasis known as the Dry Tortugas, and more specifically: Fort Jefferson. Breakfast and lunch were served on the boat but main events were the walking tours and snorkeling sessions around the fort. The array of fish on the outside of the fort’s moat was astounding. I learned that I really enjoy snorkeling and took a plethora of GoPro footage underwater. Booze and Jimmy Buffet accompanied us back to Key West and we were satisfied with our decision to take the trip.
A dip in the pool, a view of the sunset, and an exasperated walk around Mallory Square led us to a very late dinner at the renowned Santiago’s Bodega. In dim lighting we shared plates of tapas and guzzled glasses of ice water.
Saturday, Day 3:
Breakfast was at camp and then we packed up the bikes to head in to town for a day of exploration. We parked at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park for half the cost of a parking garage and peddled our bicycles in to town to try out the Custom House history museum. I’ve recently enjoyed reading the history of Flagler’s overseas railroad so I was interested to see the Flagler exhibit and visit the bookstore.
Next on the agenda was Hemingway’s house. We made it just in time for a docent-led tour of the house and grounds. Wow! One of my favorites. I love home tours and our docent was a diligent speaker having us laughing, reflecting, and smiling at the stories of Ernest Hemingway and his life in Key West.
We visited the obligatory “Southernmost Point” buoy and Frank ceremoniously ordered a coconut water to sip while we waited in line with the intense heat.
Air conditioning was welcomed during lunch nearby at the appropriately-named Six Toed Cat Cafe. Mmmmm beer and grilled cheese and french fries!
The last of our daytime hours were spent snorkeling at Fort Zachary Taylor’s beach and where we missed looking at the fort because the fishes had captivated us.
Saturday night turned in to our very own Duval Crawl. We had dinner at Sloppy Joe’s – Hemingway’s favorite bar – right as the band was going on set. The band rocked good cover music and hilarious matching silver pants. We traipsed up and down Duval and ended up at Durty Harry’s with an excellent punk rock cover band and a bartender that put on a fire-show routine. From there we didn’t go far and found a dance club where we shook our booties till 2am. Yesssss – we still got it! (Obviously we slept in the next morning.)
Sunday, Day 4:
A late brunch – what else? The Cafe, a mostly vegetarian restaurant, sounded like a delicious idea and it most certainly was. The menu was one of inclusion and home-cooked soulful sensations. Vegetarian biscuits and gravy! I was overwhelmed with culinary joy. So. Damn. Good.
We brought the bikes but opted for some retail therapy up and down Duval Street.
Our other goal was to get some more time in with the kayaks so we came back to camp in the early afternoon to paddle and fish after a quick dip in the campground pool. Frank caught a barracuda and got a photo! I settled in with a beer and my new book about Ernest Hemingway’s life in Key West. Hemingway was a big fisherman and liked to identify fish. When he didn’t know the name of a fish, he wrote in his journal “saw a new ‘scientific’ fish today.”
Our evening was one of cleaning, packing, and hand-crafted pizza from Roostica down the road.
Monday, Day 5:
The six hour drive home was spent reflecting on our adventures and my reading aloud a new book we started on the way down.
We met our goals for this trip: relaxing, a healthy amount of alcohol consumption, and touristy site seeing.