Cruise ships dock at Pier B in the Port of Key West, located in the heart of Old Town, or at Navy Pier, just outside town. Both piers are within a short distance of the top attractions. The downtown area is extremely compact—about the size of New York City’s Central Park—so getting around on foot is as easy as key lime pie.
Renowned for its liberated soul, Key West harbors a freethinking community that prides itself on tolerance. Key West is the last, largest, and most marvelous gem of the Florida Keys archipelago, a 120-mile-long string of islands that stretch southwest from the Florida mainland. Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad linked Key West to the mainland in 1912.
Today, motorists take the Overseas Highway through the Keys to reach Key West, which remains a stronghold of easygoing independence. It’s composed of a disparate population of locals, immigrants, artists, and affluent part-timers. Key Westerners refer to themselves as Conchs. Natives are Saltwater Conchs; longtime residents are Freshwater Conchs. Saline status aside, many Conchs are united by a distaste for mainland hassles.
The heart of Key West’s Old Town is zany appeal is highly apparent at Mallory Square. Street vendors, performance artists, live music, local artisans, waterfront restaurants, and alluring attractions blend to create a fun-filled demonstration of the city’s zany charm. Look down by the water and spot a glimpse of the huge tarpon that hang out by the docks and the several small islands across the harbor.
Numerous historic homes, tropical gardens, and, of course, great shops, and, of course, opportunities to play in the 80-degree saltwater are within walking distance of Mallory Square. Duval Street, Key West’s main business thoroughfare, is lined with the town’s most popular shops, art galleries, bars, and restaurants. Souvenir shops compete for attention with lavish window displays designed to elicit a reaction from passersby. Specialty items, handmade crafts, and eco-friendly resort wear are available at seemingly every turn.