Nov 6, 2012

how to not look like a tourist

i love being a tourist

but i love not going to the typical touristy spots.

while in key west we had to go to margaritaville at the request of my grandma.  so of course i couldn't say no.

but on a small island that prides itself on tourism - there are far better places to go and eat, play, and stay!

yelp and urbanspoon as well as internet searches can be great for finding hot spots and seeing the reviews before you decide to go somewhere - but buyer beware - many restaurants/bars pay a fee to show up in searches on yelp and the like.

not always a bad thing - i mean, people do review these places, so even if they do show up you usually see the honest reviews of the food.

i had never been to the keys so i wasn't 100% sure what i was getting when i chose our place to stay.

it turned out we were removed from the hustle and bustle part of the island.  not entirely a bad thing, and i ended up rather enjoying the bike ride every day. (it was about a mile one way)

by bike i was able to pass restaurants on the way to the main drag, that, if we had stayed on duval street we may have never discovered.

so in an effort to have a reference if we ever go back as well as a reference for anyone heading down to the keys and would like help finding the not-so-out-of-the-way places that are off the beaten goes:

where to eat:

this list would probably be easier if i listed where NOT to eat.

but first and foremost - whether lunch, brunch, breakfast, or even dinner
go to the Cuban Coffee Queen

i think we ate here 5 or 6 times

it was so so delicious.

we always split an egg and cheese breakfast sandwich and got small iced cuban coffees.  all their sandwiches are/can be served on pressed cuban bread - which is out of this world.  also, their coffee - we only ever got iced because we were hot, and drinking hot coffee felt weird to me - but the iced is made with frozen coffee cubes = the best way to make iced coffee!

tip:  if you're traveling with a friend or significant other i highly recommend splitting your meals.  it's an easy way not to stuff yourself, save money, and at the same time you have room and more budget to try more places.  bill and i typically ordered one entree and a side or a salad and split it.  it was always enough food and if we got hungry there were lots of snack options.

our other breakfast fav:

the Old Town Bakery

we only came here for breakfast (twice), but their lunch menu always sounded appealing

if you love pastries and bakery - their selection is made fresh daily.

for more substantial food offerings:

Lobos - if you're craving a burger or sandwich this is it!  they also offered veggie burger options (which were delicious)  we talked to the owner after we ordered and he was super friendly.  he also let us know that they had just started staying open for dinner and were trying it out.  i would call ahead of time to make sure they are still serving dinner if that is your plan.

roof top cafe - if you're looking for a bit more upscale setting this is it.  with beautiful views of the street below
it's also located just off duval street - so if you're in town for a short period of time this would be more convenient.we stopped in for lunch which made it more affordable and they were running lunch specials - a menu is available downstairs on the street.

if you're looking for fish my two favorite places were

BO's fishwagon

it's literally a hut with outdoor seating.  great for people watching - and not too far from duval.  the servings were huge, so i would definitely tell you to consider sharing.  also - try the key limeade.  i went back for seconds!

if you're looking for a group friendly sit down and stay awhile restaurant check out

conch republic seafood company  great bar area, lots of seating - lots of outdoor seating and you're right on the docks so you can see all the pretty boats.  the food is 10-20 $'s a plate and maybe more mainstream, but the atmosphere and open air really made this a nice place to be.

if you're traveling through the keys stop at islamorada at lorelei's cabana bar - this place was recommended by both brother and sister -in-laws and was great!  great fish sandwich, but lots of other seafood, you're on a deck right above the water - and the bloody  mary was spot on.

where to drink:

pretty much everywhere is a watering hole.  seriously.  beers being sold for $2 up and down duval.

a few favorites though

jack flats - it's on duval, but it's more of a sports restaurant/bar - lots of tv's and a good amount of seating (of course, if you don't have a sports crazed husband you can forgo this visit)

hog's breath saloon - we ate dinner here one night, and while kind of a gimmicky place - the food and mixed drinks were amazing!  if you're going to do one "gimmicky" "i need a t-shirt from this place" this is it!  the bar was packed and there was a band - and the hog's punch was the best drink i had the whole time we were there.  and yes.  i bought a t shirt and two coozies.

there's also a place right next to the green parrot bar - which according to google maps used to be bobalu's.  it's now a barbeque restaurant

smokehouse maybe?  i took this picture - maybe it hasn't been there long, but the bar area was nice, great selection of beers and i ordered some spicy green beans that were so good!  very spicy!

so now that you're fed and you have a nice buzz -

what to do in key west - there are things i would spend money on again, and there are things i would have saved and moved on

Definitely check out:

the aquarium  - an old building, that probably needs some major updating, but i really enjoyed it.  make sure to visit during the showtimes/feeding - interactive and your ticket is good all day and the next day.

jet ski tour  maybe because i've never been on one, but i thought it was worth it.  we also had the tour guide to ourselves - we went at noon - probably when most people were doing lunch or deemed it too hot - but i liked not being in a big group.  also - ride tandem and save money

glass bottom boat  if you can make it to the state park in key largo i would suggest going there - key west does offer some glass bottom boat tours, but i like giving my money to a park that will use it for conservation efforts.  plus you get coral reef + jesus statue.

if the water is warm, or you want to rent a wet suit - i would have loved to go snorkeling, but alas it was too cold - but apparently fort zachary taylor state park in key west is the best for snorkeling and swimming - we missed out on this experience :(

the lighthouse  the grounds make for some neat pictures - maybe a little expensive ($9 each) but the funds do go to the historical society.  if you have a fear of heights maybe not so much.

definitely worth passing on:

the dinner cruise - the sunset was beautiful.  but at $60 a head it just wasn't worth it.  the food was...pretty bad.  it was warm.  and that's about all i can say.  the drinks were all well drinks - and seriously - how much can you drink in 2 hours?

if you want to see the sunset from the water - which is truly beautiful many - of the catamaran party boats offer a food free option - with complimentary beer/wine/soda at half the cost of the buffet cruise.

the shipwreck museum - seriously cheesy.  instead of having a tour guide they acted out the information - which for small kids might be fun, but it was lost on me.

a couple things i might consider doing when coming back:

the train tour around the island.  very touristy, but i think you get a good amount of information and if you're going to do one touristy thing this might be it - we never went because we were always on the go and riding on a car/train around the island seemed to take too long

also - the ghost tour - i love ghost stories.  and i was intrigued when i read about this doll.  i ended up reading about the local stories and tried to pick out the places when we were riding bikes.  the tour would be informative and neat, but reading online about the haunts and then visiting them on my own sounds like more fun.

if the water was warm, or if we had wanted to rent a wet suit - i would have loved to go snorkeling, but alas it was too cold - but apparently fort zachary taylor state park in key west is the best for snorkeling and swimming - we missed out on this experience :(

ok.  so there you have it.  now go!

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