We were in Key West from 1/3 to 1/10/2022, as part of our Florida in January trip.
Our week in Key West might be the longest we’ve ever camped in one place, other than when we lived in the Airstream for six months. We figured we should stay awhile since it’s so far away, and because it’s AWESOME. It’s picturesque, historic, entertaining, and full of good food and drink. We had so much fun in Key West! Bonus: the last few days of our visit overlapped with our moms’ vacation to Key West–yes, our moms vacation together! (The moms stayed in the CUTEST cottage. If you don’t have an RV and want to stay in town, consider renting this!)
It was a long drive (four hours or so) from our last stop, Juno Beach, but Key West is a long drive from anywhere. Route 1 through the keys has lots of places to stop and shop or eat, if you want to break up the drive.
We stayed at Boyd’s Key West RV Campground, a huge and amenity-filled park with a busy pool and activity schedule, laundry, a boat launch, and a Cuban food truck. Our site was pretty perfect: we only had a small water view, but we had a grassy area that Bugsy loved, so it was worth not having the full water view. Warning: a campground worker told me a horror story about someone’s dog chasing an iguana from the campsite to the water’s edge and getting eaten by an alligator! Keep track of your dogs!
From the campground (Boyd’s is actually on Stock Island, across the bridge from Key West), it’s a 15 minute drive into town (our Ubers were particularly nice and quick to arrive here), but you can walk to a CVS, and it’s a short drive to a public golf course and marinas for water sports rentals. We could also walk (although it was a longish, no-sidewalk walk) to our favorite bar (Hogfish), and our favorite key lime pie restaurant (Matt’s).
Also, and this is a first for us in our 6 years of Airstream travel: we got to see an RVing pig! One of our fellow campers was walking a big pig around the campground! I wish I could have talked to the pig’s parents, I had so many questions. [Side note from four stops later in the trip! Our campground host in Palm Harbor said the pig was there while we were! Somehow we missed it!]
Obviously we focused our eating on seafood and key lime pie!
Hogfish Bar and Grill – We loved Hogfish for the cool bar scene and reliably delicious food. We went multiple times: we walked there for a snack and split the special hogfish sandwich – yum! The hogfish tacos were fantastic, and the key lime pie was top-notch (more on that later). On our last night in town, we took the Moms for a sunset drink and to-go sandwiches (the frozen drinks are suuuper sugary, the Key West pink shrimp are delicious, and the fried hogfish won over the grilled hogfish sandwich). There’s some waterfront seating, and the inside is basically open-air with lots of ventilation. The walk from the campground was fairly sketchy, without sidewalks or lights, but doable.
Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen & Bar was not too far from home on Stock Island, so we decided to walk there. That walk was also a little iffy, but fine. The marina area has Matt’s, which is a higher-end restaurant, and the Salty Oyster bar, where you can have a drink while you wait for the Matt’s to open for dinner. Matt’s is dog-friendly on the patio, and our food was so good: grouper with crawfish sauce, oysters from Vancouver… and the key lime pie! More on that later.
DeLuna’s Cafe is a Cuban food truck located IN the campground! Can’t get more convenient than that. J got lunch from them, and thought the food was great, but nothing on their meat-heavy menu excited me. I did enjoy helping J eat his tostones and flan!
Hurricane Hole was a lunch of convenience: we picked up my mom at the airport and had to return soon to get J’s mom, so chose Hurricane Hole for airport proximity and waterfront location. I thought the mahi-mahi Reuben was scrumptious, but the fish tacos and fries less so.
El Siboney has been around forever, serving authentic Cuban food. We picked up El Siboney carryout on our last day in Key West, knowing we were heading into the wilderness for a couple days and would appreciate an easy, delicious meal, and we did! The meal was huge, inexpensive, and satisfying.
We mainly stayed off Duval Street for our Key West dining and drinking. Maybe we are fuddy duddies, but Duval at night, with the crowds and noise, is not our scene. It’s like a baby Bourbon Street.
Garbo’s Grill is an Airstream food truck in the backyard of Hank’s, a crowded, dog-friendly bar with live music. We ordered fish tacos and a lobster roll from Garbo’s, and a painkiller from Hank’s. The lobster roll was super (and we know lobster rolls), the painkillers were delish, the live music was fun, but the fish tacos were meh (and we know fish tacos). Overall, it’s a great spot.
Blue Heaven serves Caribbean food on a gorgeous patio, with live music and a focus on local and seasonal ingredients. The history of the restaurant and the property is neat, and our experience was good: we loved the scene and the service was great, but the food and band were great-minus. You have got to see their Key lime pie (which you can also order across the street at Andy’s Cabana; see below). It’s a work of art, although it wasn’t our #1 Key lime pie… more on that later.
Santiago’s Bodega for dinner was incredible. We went with the Moms for a fun tapas meal and had a feast of ceviche, Brussels sprouts, carpaccio, short ribs, chicken, patatas, pear avocado salad, and sangria. It was super good, even if they don’t have Key lime pie. I didn’t take a photo because we were having too much fun.
Eaton Street Seafood Market is a couple blocks from the house the Moms rented. We had a lovely lunch there: excellent lobster roll from Maine (the mom from Boston scoffed but it was legit, on perfectly buttered and toasted bread), the choose-your-fish fish tacos were fab (the staff recommended porgy, which we weren’t familiar with, but it was a winner), the crab cake on a croissant got raves, and I’ll discuss the Key lime pie below.
Louie’s Backyard is a highly-rated beach-front spot, and my aunt’s bestie recommended that we go for lunch rather for dinner, for the ocean views. It was a good recommendation! The fish tacos were yummy, and J loved his French dip, but the fries were sad. We were too full for Key lime pie, and when we returned later after wandering around town for an hour, the kitchen was closed. 🙁
A&B Lobster House was our attempt to impress the Moms, and it was a fantastic evening, other than our waiter being grouchy. We shared lobster tail, grouper, shrimp cocktail, burrata salad, and, of course, Key lime pie.
Pirates Cove surprised us as we hadn’t heard of it, and it’s a cool spot with water views and good food. We enjoyed tasty painkillers, fish tacos, and mahi-mahi salads while on our Conch Train tour.
When we walked to Hogfish, we noted Absinthe House, just a couple blocks from the campground. It’s only open Thursday through Sunday and we completely forgot to go back over there. We’re not super into absinthe, but their yard looks like a fun place to have a cocktail, and the proximity to Boyd’s can’t be beat. Next time!
I mentioned Hogfish earlier, but will note them again here, because we liked the scene there. It’s a big, open-air restaurant, with a row of tables next to the boats in the little marina, and is just a fun place to hang out.
Andy’s Cabana was our main hangout while we were in Key West. We ended up there pretty much every day for painkillers or beers and live music and a super chill vibe. It’s basically the waiting room for Blue Heaven across the street, a shady yard with a window serving drinks and snacks and Key lime pie.
The Roost is a tiny cocktail bar close to our moms’ house, on a quiet street just off Duval. We enjoyed a fancy drink at a sidewalk table our first night in town, and on a subsequent night learned they’ll do cocktails to go! The Roost is a true craft cocktail bar and served the best drinks we had in Key West, with a chill, not-touristy scene.
Louie’s has a beach bar down the hill from the upscale dining porch. Our hope was to return after post-lunch wandering for a piece of Key lime pie to take home with us, but alas, the kitchen was closed between lunch and dinner. We drowned our sorrows with a drink and it was a nice spot to relax and watch the dogs play on the little dog beach next door.
Waterfront Brewery is the only brewery we made it to in Key West. We didn’t like the look of the other brewery, First Flight–it looked like a sit-down restaurant instead of a taproom–so we skipped it. Waterfront scored big points with me for the sunset view and the Key lime sour, but they didn’t have a hazy IPA for J.
General Horseplay is a lively speakeasy-feeling cocktail bar with a small outdoor space and very creative drinks. Mine had glitter! We sat on the porch and listened to the live music over at Hanks. Our only complaint is that the service was suuuuuper slow.
Sunset Pier is a popular spot near Mallory Square to watch the sun set (duh). We had an unremarkable cocktail and beer to break up a marathon sightseeing day, but enjoyed the breezy pier.
Willie T’s is a bustling bar on Duval, and it’s probably a very fun place to hang out if you like those sorts of places. As I said before, we no longer do, but we thought hey, why not grab a painkiller to go, for our sightseeing enjoyment? It wasn’t good, in our expert opinions.
Our normal Airstream trips are hiking-focused, but for a Florida trip it seemed more appropriate to bring our road bikes. So expect to read more about cycling than usual over this next batch of posts!
We loved the Overseas Heritage trail. It’s a multi-use, paved path running for 90 miles down the keys along an old railway bed, and the section we rode was mostly separated from the highway and felt very safe. And do I need to mention that there are no hills? We did, however, get the first of many flat tires of the trip riding this trail.
Our recommendation: starting from Stock Island, ride about 11 miles north to Baby’s Coffee for a snack break. The coffee is fab and the pizza bagel is to die for. We did this ride twice while in Key West, and we also stopped at Baby’s with the Airstream on our way back to the mainland.
When you’re surrounded by so much water, you have to get out and explore it, right? We wanted to rent kayaks, didn’t want to do a tour, didn’t want to drive far, and wanted to explore scenic areas rather than busy boat areas. We chose Lazy Dog, a woman-owned company on Stock Island, for a 2-hour rental. It was inexpensive and awesome: we paddled through winding mangrove tunnels and saw zillions of kooky Cassiopeia jellyfish, lots of pelicans and ospreys, but alas, no turtles or stingrays or manatees. It was a super fun outing. Hurricane Hole restaurant, mentioned above, is adjacent to Lazy Dog.
Walking around town is the best way to get a feel for Key West. The historic section is compact and full of sights. Our advice is to pick your priorities and focus on those, because there’s a lot to see: the Southernmost House and Southernmost Point marker, the butterfly conservatory, Mallory Square, the state park, Hemingway House, the Little White House…
Our thoughts are as follows:
- The Southernmost House is pretty. Go admire it, but don’t expect to get a picture by the Southernmost Point marker, because the line will be stupid long.
- I didn’t get the appeal of Mallory Square. It’s a crowded square with vendors selling crap.
- The state park is too far if you’re on foot. We were walking, and bailed halfway there. Please tell me if it’s cool.
- Aunt Lynn LOVED her experience at the butterfly conservatory. We were still being careful with indoor activities due to Omicron, so we saved that for next visit.
- Our moms did the Hemingway House and Little White House and appreciated the history and the grounds of each place, particularly Hemingway’s polydactyl cats
- I got a kick out of the Route 1 Mile 0 Start and End signs (probably only interesting if you’re an East Coaster), and we had them all to ourselves
The main touristy activity we did was the Conch Tour Train and it was great! It’s a 90-minute guided tour around the historic part of town, with a few stops if you want to jump off and catch a later train–which we did and grabbed lunch at Pirates Cove. We learned about the origin of the ubiquitous chickens, the fantastical Kapok trees, the story of the independence of the Conch Republic, and funny epitaphs in the cemetery. It was delightful.
Key Lime Pie
I took this task very seriously: I wanted to find the best Key lime pie in Key West, and I wanted to eat a piece a day. This research is for you, dear blog readers. By the end of the week I was really struggling to hit that daily requirement, but I persevered!
Here’s our ranking:
- Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen and Bar: perfect tart-sweet custard, great crust, delicious whipped topping
- Eaton Street Seafood Market: tart custard, tart, nice whipped topping. It’s made by Kermit’s, a local bakery
- Hogfish Bar and Grill: a good all-around pie with tart custard and lots of whipped topping
- A&B Lobster House: nice and fresh, but a bit softer. Merengue top rather than whipped cream, but merengue gave it an interesting smokiness
- Southernmost Key Lime Shop: a little too sweet? Made by a local bakery; the counterperson didn’t want to give me much info. J said “at this point they all taste the same to me”
- Blue Heaven: it’s a work of art, but ratio of custard to topping is way off, and the giant marshmellowy cloud has a weird surface skin
- El Siboney: It was fine, but didn’t have any whipped topping. In their defense, an authentic Cuban restaurant only has Key lime pie on the menu for the tourists
We definitely want to return!
- Touristy stuff that we skipped: Butterfly Conservatory, Hemingway House, Truman’s Little White House
- Have a cocktail with a view at Sunset Tiki Bar
- Get a drink at Chart Room (recommendation from Andy’s staff member; it’s only indoors though)
- Eat on the beach at Salute! On the Beach (sister of Blue Heaven and Andy’s Cabana)
- If I’m not focused on Key lime pie, get a doughnut at Glazed Donuts (although surely they have a KLP donut)
- Clear the toxins with organic veggie food from Date & Thyme or The Cafe
- Check out the scene at our neighbor Absinthe House
Next stop, the Everglades!