Key West - there’s no other place quite like it. We’re an anything goes, come as you are, one human family kind of a place; and that means we embrace the oddities and eccentricities that other towns might shun. A ride aboard the Conch Tour Train offers plenty of insight into that “only in Key West” culture. To give you an idea, we’ve compiled this roundup detailing the quirky - and, oh, so delightful - culture of Key West.
Held the last week of October every year, Fantasy Fest is the culmination of Key West’s quirky culture. Revelers take to the streets for a week filled with parties dressed in little more than body paint, beads, glitter, tutus and crazy costumes. The grand finale is the parade through town on Saturday night.
Locals are Called Conchs
And that’s pronounced “KONK”. In Key West, you’ll see conch shells in gift shops, conch fritters on menus and even conchs on the seafloor at the reef. Anyone born in Key West is also called a conch. If you weren’t born here, but you’ve lived here long enough, you might be granted the title “freshwater conch.”
Key West Chickens
Was that a rooster’s crow that woke you up at sunrise? Yes, indeed it was! Key West has a population of free-range chickens that roam wild throughout town. After a few days, you’ll grow accustomed to hearing their crows and seeing them cross the streets. Some find the animals amusing, others a nuisance, but one thing’s for sure, they’re all over Key West!
The sun sinking into the western horizon is celebrated every night in Key West. Whether you watch the street performers in Mallory Square or embark on a sunset sail, be sure to catch it every night you’re here. Another great viewing point is atop the La Concha Hotel, which at six stories high is the tallest building in Key West.
While a visit to the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author’s home is on the list for bibliophiles, it’s also a fascinating look into the author’s life and his affinity for cats, especially the six-toed variety. These special felines were once believed to have been good luck for sailors. Today, the home is crawling with descendants of Hemingway’s beloved Snowball; there’s even a small pet cemetery onsite. The cats are named after movie stars like Charlie Chaplin and Johnny Depp.
Forget About a Rental Car
The most practical way to get around in Key West is on bicycle. Do as the locals do and rent one during your stay on the island. It’s the best way to get off the beaten path and explore the lovely side streets, complete with pastel conch cottages and tropical flora. As long as you’re staying in Old Town,(which you should!, this is the only means of transportation you’ll need.
“I Told You I Was Sick”
Wander through the Key West Cemetery in the center of Old Town for a peek into Key West’s past. You’ll see that entertaining, salty characters have made this island home for years, especially when you spot the epitaph for one deceased islander that reads: I told you I was sick.
The Garden of Eden
For a real eyeful, wander to the rooftop bar above the Bull & Whistle; the name says it all. The Garden of Eden is a clothing optional bar overlooking Duval Street. We’re not saying you need to stay all night (hey, unless that’s your thing!); but it’s worth a peek. A favorite trick amongst locals is to take visitors there without warning to see their unsuspecting reaction.
The Green Parrot
The Green Parrot is a Key West institution and easily the most beloved bar on the island. Part island grit, part oasis, this laid back bar’s mantra is “no sniveling.” Covered with psychedelic art and knick-knacks, weekends draw great live musical acts and crowds that spill into the sidewalk. Order a root beer barrel shot with a Bud Light chaser and dish up a plate of popcorn. There’s a dartboard, plenty of pool tables, and an island-famous jukebox.