Welcome, diverse, colorful people: southern merchants, New England ships' captains, shipwreck salvagers, Cuban cigarmakers and aristocrats, pirates, poets, a vacationing president or two, and a vibrant gay and lesbian community. The city's official motto: One Human Family.
Key West, the "Southernmost City in the Continental United States
" is the final stop on the Overseas Highway, ending at Mile Marker 0. It is here that 19th-century charm and 20th-century attractions collide along quaint streets, cozy museums, historic gingerbread mansions built a century ago and a relaxed citizenry of the "Conch Republic."
In 1931, Ernest Hemingway
purchased a pre-Civil War mansion here and lived in it for a decade while writing some of his best-known novels. His home is now a museum with generational descendants of his six-toed cats lounging on the property, and an annual festival in his name honors the Hemingway legacy.
Key West's quirkiness and laid back atmosphere - of Key West probably has nurtured the talents of more writers per capita than another other city in the country. Ten Pulitzer Prize winners have lived in Key West and hundreds more, presently reside here today.
Legendary Mel Fisher, a treasure salvor, recovered more than $400 million in gold and silver from the ship Nuestra Señora de Atocha, a 17th-century Spanish galleon that sank 45 miles west of Key West. Fisher, who spent 16 years of his life searching for the booty, established the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society Museum
, where visitors may view and touch some of the riches of the Atocha and the Santa Margarita. After his death, family members continue seeking Atocha's valuable secrets.
And, the world's second largest ship ever sunk as an artificial reef, the 523-foot long Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, is now at the bottom of the ocean in 145 feet of water in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, thrilling divers from around the globe.
At sunset, visitors gather at Mallory Square
to "call it a day." The daily "sunset celebration" is lauded as the best "free" thing to do in Key West. Musicians, artisans, jugglers, mimes, fire-eaters, cat trainers and even cookie and popcorn vendors provide entertainment, as the sun sinks slowly below the horizon. If the sunset is especially gorgeous, the audience erupts in applause.
A plethora of restaurants, theater houses, alternative clubs and raucous taverns delight visitors of every creed and color.