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Key West, Florida
To its rocky shores, sandy beaches and weathered home reminiscent of a coastal New England town, Key West adds another feature: its subtropical climate, which nourishes lush vegetation, especially palm tree, hibiscus and bougainvillea. Ship carpenters, using wooden pegs instead of nails, built many of the older houses, which are predominantly Bahamian in architecture.
The southernmost city in the continental United States, Key West once served as a base of operation against pirates; today it is the southern terminus of the scenic Overseas Highway (US 1). The prosperity of mid-19th century Key West was based on the thriving salvage business. At one time these enterprises provided the town with the highest per capita income in the nation.
Because of its proximity to Havana, about 90 miles south, the town was later a haven for Cuban political exiles. San Carlos Institute on Duval Street dates from the late 19th century, when it was used as a meeting place for the local Cuban community. City Cemetery on Margaret Street is the gravesite of the victims of the USS Maine, whose sinking precipitated the Spanish-American War.
Although turtle hunting was once a major industry, federal laws protecting the endangered reptiles were enacted in the 1970s. The remains of a turtle-canning factory stand behind Turtle Kraals Bar and Restaurant on the harborfront at the north end of Margaret Street.
Donkey Milk House Museum, 613 Eaton Street, derives its name from the alley in back where donkeys used to pull milk delivery carts. The restored 1860s home is open by appointment only; phone 305-296.1866.
Of Key West's many natural attractions, its sunsets are among the most popular. Every night, weather permitting, more than two dozen street vendors and performers gather at Mallory Square Dock in Old Town off Duval Street. Jugglers, palm readers, contortionists, musicians and other entertainers vie for the attention and donations of the many spectators who begin gathering about an hour before sunset.
Nature also puts on a show in the shady confines of Nancy Forrester's Secret Garden at 1 Free School Lane, off Simonton Street, where an extensive collection of rain forest plants creates a junglelike atmosphere complete with (caged) parrots; phone 305.294.0015.
The Caribbean influence extends to the town's cuisine. Along Duval Street and its side streets, imaginative cafes and open-air restaurants serve foods ranging from gourmet specialties to ethnic snacks.
Various types of cruises, including those offering sailing, snorkeling and reef diving, depart from several private and city marinas. Deep-sea fishing trips leave from City Marina on Garrison Bight off Roosevelt Boulevard. Seaplanes of Key West Inc. provides transportation to Dry Tortugas National Park, 68 miles west.
Parking regulations are strictly enforced throughout the city. There is no street parking available for recreational vehicles; follow signs to designated RV parking areas.
Key West Chamber of Commerce: Mallory Square, 402 Wall Street, Key West, Florida 33040; phone 305.294.2587 or 800.527.8539.
Self-guiding tours: Pelican Path-a route marked with pelican signs-leads visitors through historic Key West. A descriptive brochure outlining the tour and its sights can be picked up at the chamber of commerce.
Name: Key West, Florida