Only in this tropical, anything-goes paradise will you find someone working in drag at a store checkout or a guy shopping with a parrot on his shoulder.
With the New England winter living up to its chilly reputation and the economy damping our spirits, it's time for endless sun and high spirits in America's southernmost town, Key West.
It's one of the liveliest resort destinations in the country with more than enough action – of all kinds, day and night – to satisfy every urge. Only in this tropical, anything-goes paradise will you find someone working in drag at a store checkout or a guy shopping with a parrot on his shoulder.
That's what Key West is all about!
To get an idea of what's hot, take a stroll along cool Duval Street, to see the clubs, bars, restaurants, cafés, shops, galleries, visitors and locals - several that look as if they're from another planet. Viva la difference! Or if you want to see it all in a hurry, you can fast-forward on a rented bicycle or moped from Moped Hospital.
If you want to leave the driving to someone else, climb aboard the hop-on, hop-off Old Town Trolley or take the Conch Tour train. They cover dozens of interesting places in town as does the rockin' Gay Trolley Tour that offers a 70 - 80 minute trip for only $25.
Don't miss Fast Buck Freddie's fabulous department store and Towels of Key West - who knew terry cloth came in so many luxurious styles? For visitors who like the great outdoors, there's a laundry list of activities for every level of endurance, including some that are probably illegal in conservative towns.
Other top activities and attractions include Ernest Hemingway's home, the grand 1921 Casa Marina Hotel, Mel Fisher's Treasure Exhibit, Pirate Soul Museum, the Audubon House, Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, regional theater, a symphony orchestra (lesbian conductor), and the beautifully restored Conch houses in adjacent well-landscaped residential streets.
For great food, perfect service and smart-casual ambiance try Mangoes, Cafe Marquesa, Seven Fish, Roof Top Cafe for the world's best crab cake, Harpoon Harry's (breakfast/lunch/dinner), El Siboney, and Camille's for inexpensive fine dining.
For the ultimate budget meals, we recommend picking up picnic foods and eating poolside at your guesthouse or at the beach and other relaxing public places that offer views from the saintly to the sinful.
The gay guesthouses usually have clothing-optional pools and sundecks, but there are good beaches, too. The best bets are Higgs Beach at the east end of Reynolds Street, Fort Zachary Taylor (known locally as Liz Taylor beach) and Smathers Beach.
With Valentine's holiday coming up you can have an all-day, all-night honeymoon with your lover or a ‘possible' in tropical Key West. And even if you have a marriage license from Connecticut or Massachusetts, double your vows, double your union by also becoming a citizen of the Conch Republic, which has gay marriage - not legal, but festive. And happy couples are issued passports, too.
For a special treat, don't miss Mallory Dock Square at sunset. It's a decades-old tradition that always draws a huge and jolly crowd. If the street entertainers (fire eater, jugglers, et al.) or the sunset is spectacular that evening, the crowd will applaud appreciatively.
For recreation, there's Island Bike Tours. For snorkeling and sunset sailing contact The Blue Q with Capt Steve or luxury yacht, Skinny Dipper, with Captain Tim. This gay island paradise has several exceptional resorts; some exclusively for the boys only and one for women-only.
Island House for Men has deservingly been named by more than fourteen gay publishers around the globe as the ‘best gay men's resort in the world.' And we second – or should we say ‘fifteenth' – that, based on our own memorable stay at this sophisticated, tropical hideaway just a short walk from all the action downtown on Duval Street.
The private and lushly landscaped Island House for Men has luxurious rooms, two Jacuzzis, health club, steam room, sauna, and a free happy hour every evening in the poolside café and bar. This is clothing-optional and nude guys are ever-present.
The casual restaurant offers excellent food poolside 24-hours a day, or your room. And the well-trained young staff is personable and friendly. The poolside bar is hoppin' 8 a.m. until 4 a.m. www.islandhousekeywest.com
For women, there's Pearl's Rainbow in downtown Key West. The owners, Heather and Leslie, have won just about every inn keeping award in the world for creating what one guest described as a "Garden of Eden for women." The accolades include the prestigious Out Traveler Readers' Award as the ‘best lesbian property worldwide', Out and About Editor's Choice Award, and ‘Property of the Year' by the Lodging Association of the Florida Keys and Key West. And its owners are "Proud to be a Florida Green Lodging Property."
There are 35 rooms and suites; two heated pools, two outdoor hot tubs, and Pearl's Patio and Grill. Bar and food service is available to local women and guest's guests. This is a clothing-optional, romantic bed and breakfast property with luxury amenities and features in a collection of five historic, renovated buildings set in a lush tropical landscape.
Our experience at Pearl's was limited to lunch with the charming owners who put up a few well-placed signs around the property warning that MEN were taking a quick look at the beautiful rooms, suites, outdoor bar and pool areas, and a pit stop in the airy, spacious restaurant. We saw and ate enough to highly recommend Pearl's Rainbow. www.pearlsrainbow.com
Other outstanding choices are: Equator, http://www.equatorresort.com; the renovated Coconut Grove, http://www.keywest-allmale.com; Big Ruby's, www.bigrubys.com; and Alexander's Guesthouse, http://www.alexghouse.com. We've seen them and they're all first-cabin.
There are so many bars and clubs in this small town that you'll need at least four nights to enjoy them all - including La Te Da (an entertainment complex), Bobby's Monkey Bar (mix of local men and women), Bourbon Street. 801 Duval, Kwest Men on Duval Street and Aqua. We call them ‘ding-dong' clubs because nude entertainers are legal. Swing them bells! And if show tunes are your bag, visit the new Keys Piano Bar on Duval Street.
The charming LGBT Community (and visitor) Center is on Truman Street just off Duval and has many social functions that are open to visitors. The Visitors Center is open seven days a week and staffed by the Key West Business Guild. It has a full calendar of events for gay men and programs for both men and women, including AA. For detailed information go to www.glcckeywest.org, www.gaykeywestfl.com and www.fla-keys.com.
For example, Gay Spring Break in March, Womenfest starting the day after Labor Day and the 27th annual Headdress Ball will kickoff FantasyFest on October 27. Bone Island Bare-It-All Weekend, (July 18 – 20 and December 4 – 6) has quickly become South Florida's favorite event for gay male naturists – large crowds of naked men and boys from Florida and beyond. It features clothing-optional dance parties, pool parties, and fun contests.
This popular event is quickly sold out because it features naked dinner at one of Key West's top fine-dining establishments (be sure to put your napkin in your lap) and naked shopping at Graffiti on Duval Street. www.bourbonstreetcomplex.com and www.wildfyresociety.org.
Tropical Heat (August 20-23) is Key West's largest event for gay men. Originally created to celebrate Key West's liberal adult entertainment laws, it features over ten parties that showcase Key West's reputation as a premier gay male playground.
This can't-miss lineup includes underwear dance parties, a foam party, fetish party, pool parties, black-out maze, erotic dancers, gay guesthouse tour, underwear shows, s&m drag show, live DJ's, porn stars, male revue, VIP Lounge, tea dance, including the All Access Pass and full-event schedule. It's all on online. Book your room now for the best summer rates. www.tropicalheatkw.com.
Now it's time for you to get an itsy-bitsy thong and tight tee to hit the streets and beaches running or roller skating in wild, wild Key West.
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