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Come As You Are to Key West, a Small Town That’s Big on Diversity

Florida island provides a welcome respite for every budget and every lifestyle

Key West, Fla., offers plenty of options for adventure for water lovers, including day trips for inner and outer reef dives, snorkeling on the coral reefs, renting personal watercraft or chartering a yacht for a private cruise.
Key West, Fla., offers plenty of options for adventure for water lovers, including day trips for inner and outer reef dives, snorkeling on the coral reefs, renting personal watercraft or chartering a yacht for a private cruise.  (Jenn Kennedy photo /

By Jenn Kennedy, Noozhawk Contributing Writer | @jennkennedy |

One Human Family bumper stickers adorn a variety of cars and businesses throughout Key West, Fla. It’s a simple slogan that reveals the open attitude toward the diverse population. Gay, straight or somewhere in between, we are all one human family.


Hotels are scattered throughout the island and offer a range of amenities to fit every budget and décor preference.

I chose to stay at the Hyatt, located on the far northwest end of Key West. Curved around a pool, the hotel feels smaller than the 118 rooms.

Well appointed, the recently renovated rooms are bright, modern and comfortable. All rooms have an ocean view, generous amenities and nice finishes (stone showers, tasteful vases and attractive linens). Rooms at this location are part of a program called Respire by Hyatt. Hypoallergenic, the rooms undergo a six-step process to reduce airborne particles and minimize the presence of potential irritants. This process includes an air purification system and treatment of all fabrics and surfaces in the guestroom. Rooms run $270 to $400 nightly depending on season and availability.

The Curry Mansion Inn is notable for being the home of Florida’s first millionaire. The main house functions as a museum, with rooms staged as they would have been used 50 to 100 years ago. Guests are encouraged to roam freely, although touching the accoutrements is not allowed.

Highlights included a working phonograph in the parlor and various newspapers with salacious headlines over the years. I also spied several haggard but intact oversized wardrobe trunks bearing the Curry name on my way to see the widow’s walk. After climbing three long sets of nearly vertical stairs, I arrived on the narrow walk with a 360-degree view of the city — which back in the shipping days was used by loved ones awaiting their returning sailors.

Several simple bungalows surround a curious, round pool behind the main house museum. Generous with wicker and accented with antiques, the room costs include a full deluxe breakfast, afternoon open bar cocktail party and full access to the 22-room mansion. Rooms run $220 to $400.

Other major chains on the island include the Westin, DoubleTree and Marriott.


First off, Key West is not the place to come for low-calorie, bland dining. Everything has spice, and many traditional dishes are modified with the local flavor. The truly local items that come out of Key West include honey, key lime pie and the conch (pronounced without the “ch”), which are used for chowders and a host of other creative meals.

SHOR American Seafood is fine dining at the Hyatt, while Blue Mojito offers an open-air poolside option for more casual meals and drinks. Recently corporate Hyatt opened the door to allow each property executive chef to create locally inspired signature meals.

Chef Dan Elinan has designed a menu meant for seafood lovers. Lunch specials include conch fritters and flavorful American blue crab cakes, while dinner starts with fresh catch ceviche (served with cantaloupe, honeydew and lime cilantro marinade). At various meals, I sampled both the apple and white cheddar soup — which was a subtle mix of savory and sweet as well as the seafood sliders (scallops, shrimp, mahi mahi, chipotle mayo), my favorite item. Dinners are organized so that you order a meat or fish, and then choose from a range of sauces such as barbecue, banana rum, key lime and green peppercorn. I played it safe and ordered the filet with peppercorn, which was absolutely delicious.

Another night we made it out to Antonia’s on Duval Street. Classic, with low lights and dark furniture, this is the place to come for pasta and great red wine. My mushroom fettuccini was one of my all-time favorite meals.

Seeing the Sites

The gay and lesbian historic trolley tour is a must. Departing Saturdays at 11 a.m. from the city lot, one block off Duval on Simonton Street, it costs $25 per person and will give you the insider’s look at the gayest of Keys. During the 75-minute rolling party, we saw the mainstream and off-beat sites through a colorful and hilarious presentation by a seasoned and sassy old queen.

Highlights included Mallory Square, the military base, the post office, and homes of famous residents such as Tennessee Williams and Harry Truman, whose Little White House is Florida’s only presidential site.

Our trolley driver proudly recounted Key West’s participation in the anniversary of the rainbow flag. In 2003, Gilbert Baker, who is also credited with making the first-ever rainbow flag for his friend, Harvey Milk, created a rainbow flag that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean in Key West to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the flag. Today, Steve Smith, a representative with the tourism board and longtime resident, sends portions of the notorious flag to various gay pride celebrations throughout the world as a way to celebrate and connect the community.

Tickets for the tour can be purchased on the trolley or at

Aqua Adventure

Numerous local shops offer day trips for inner and outer reef dives, as well as night and wreck dives. The main options for the more adventurous diver looking for shipwrecks include Joe’s Tug, the Cayman Salvager and the 523-foot-long Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, which was scuttled in 2009 to become an artificial reef.

Other water activities include snorkeling on the coral reefs, renting personal watercraft or chartering a yacht for a private cruise. Hydro Thunder rents scooters, golf carts and personal watercraft out of Hyatt and offers a 27-mile island tour through both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico for $120 per person.


Hyatt’s on-site spa, Jala, has two treatment rooms and offers massage (Swedish, hot stone, deep tissue and prenatal) as well as a variety of hydrating, energy boosting and purifying facials and body treatments.

Like my check-in at the front desk, my massage began with my technician, Douglas, offering me a glass of bubbly. Next he began a foot scrub using locally sourced herbs — a signature of all Hyatt’s spas. My deep tissue massage was spot on with regards to pressure and even coverage. They offer a steam shower option — take it. Near the end of the massage, Douglas turned on the steam and I felt the remainder of my stress fall away.

Key West is fairly compact, so getting downtown or to the waterfront is a 15-minute walk from most hotels. Bikes are also a prevalent mode of transportation throughout the island.

The nightlife is as mixed as the population, with countless bars and restaurants. Garden of Eden is a notorious “clothing optional” hot spot that I found tended to attract more gawkers than patrons, but it’s worth a drop by. We also stopped in to see the smoky-eyed drag queens at 801 and listen to a live band near the open-air waterfront at the Schooner Wharf Bar.

The tourism department has an active section dedicated to courting and hosting gay visitors. Major events include a Key West Pride, Tropical Heat, Womenfest, Headdress Ball and Gay Spring Break. Several major airlines offer nonstop flights out of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta and Orlando.

Click here for updated events, maps, trolley tickets and nightlife options.

Noozhawk contributing writer Jenn Kennedy blogs at and is a contributor to HuffPost, and as a writer and photographer. Click here to see more of her work. Contact her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and follow her on Twitter: @jennkennedy.

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