John books a couple destination weddings every year, but this year he was fortunate enough to have one in Key West followed by one in New Orleans, the very next weekend. Since his airfare & hotel costs for a few nights were covered, we took it as an opportunity to turn the trip into a working vacation with a few days in South Beach, Miami, in between. We had 3 nights in Key West, and really only one non-working day, but we did manage to pack a good amount of fun into that one day. And, technically, John and his second-shooter, Kyle, did end up squeezing in a quick photo shoot that day, but it was a fun one for Kyle’s girlfriend’s new line of swimwear. Check out Aileen’s awesomely cheeky designs at Bare Native and on instagram.
John had stayed here once before for another Key West wedding he’d shot a few years ago so he knew it was a convenient location with a cool vibe. It’s a small boutique hotel they describe as “South Beach hip with Key West flair”, which is fairly accurate. The pool area is well-designed, modern but inviting. The rooms pictured on the website show fun pops of color combined with funky prints, however our room had more of a traditional but trying-to-be-modern-caribbean feel. It wasn’t bad, just a bit more conservative than we were expecting based on John’s prior stay. There aren’t many steals to be found in Key West at this time of year (spring break), so at $278/nt. this wasn’t our idea of a bargain, but still a better deal than any of the big chain hotels, and with more flavor. A continental breakfast is included and served poolside. They even provide trays you can take back to your room or balcony, should you decide to treat yourself to breakfast in bed, which is a nice touch. A few minor tweaks that could improve the experience: plugs for charging phones that can reach the bedside tables; and hooks for towels in the bathroom that can actually be reached from the shower.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
Kojin Noodle Bar
601 Duval St #4, Key West, FL 33040
This is a tiny place with a counter and a handful of tables, but perfect for lunch or take-out. I had one of their specials of the day, a sesame shrimp noodle bowl, which was DELICIOUS.
Frita’s Cuban Burgers
425 Southard St, Key West, FL 33040
Essentially a food truck/take-out shack combo with an adorable outdoor patio area and super tasty Cuban sandwiches. The shrimp tacos and the House Cubano burger with jalepeno & bacon were both excellent. As an added bonus, they have Schofferhofer beer and churros.
El Mason de Pepe for Mojitos
410 Wall St, Mallory Square
We didn’t actually go inside this place, other than to use the restroom, which involves a walk down a slightly bizarre muralled hallway, so we can’t comment on the food. But the mojitos at the outside bar are fabulous, with a nice view of the water.
729 Thomas St, Key West, fl 33040
Several friends, as well as travel sites, recommended Blue Heaven. We were underwhelmed. The outdoor space was very cool with chickens and pastel colors and whatnot, but the food was overpriced and wasn’t awesome. The drinks were downright bad. They told us it would be an hour wait, but it was actually 1.5hrs. Maybe we just caught them on a off night.
Another one that had great reviews. Service was decent, the food, meh.
For the 3.5 hr drive back to Miami, we treated ourselves to a convertible. We don’t consider ourselves Mustang people, but HELL YEAH, that was definitely the way to do that drive. And if you need to grab a bite & beer in Key Largo on your way in or out of the Keys, we recommend Alabama Jacks. It’s a roadside dive bar with mediocre food, but it’s just the right place to get you into that Florida Keys spirit.