Don't be *that guy* while you're in paradise.
Key West is a remarkable place that attracts all kinds of visitors. The weather is hot, the food is spicy, and the drinks are strong. What’s not to love? Well, if you’re a local dealing with out of control tourists, quite a bit. According to the US Census Bureau, almost 25,000 people call Key West and the surrounding islands home, a fact that is lost on most visitors.
The truth is that the best way to see the island is with the help of a local. But in order to shoulder up to someone who calls Key West home year around, you have to avoid behaviors that send them running in the other direction.
Don’t Disrespect the Conchs
In Key West, a Conch is a person who is born and raised on the island. They are the locals, the heart and soul of the island. Whatever you do, don’t park in their residential parking spots. They will have you ticketed or towed. Also, don’t ask Conchs ridiculous questions like “Does the sun always set on the same side of the island?” Because clearly, it does.
INSIDER TIPStep out of your comfort zone and seek out advice from a local. Those are the folks that make the island run. Ask them about restaurants, what kind of activities to take part in, and what nightlife spots to avoid. And please, try not to sound pretentious.
Step onto a sidewalk in Old Town and you’ll see a scooter zip by in under 60 seconds. It’s possible that it could be a local–if the moped is covered with stickers or is on the older side. More than likely, it’s a scooter that’s bright yellow with a decal on the side. Easy to point out on the street. Tourist. Sure, a person can have a driver’s license, but does that mean they know how to navigate on two wheels without getting anyone killed? Not only do locals despise how tourists zoom around on mopeds with no care for traffic laws, they hate how tourists constantly beep the stupid little horn.
INSIDER TIPTry renting a bicycle instead, and stick to the designated lanes on the streets. It won’t hurt to get a little exercise to balance out that rest and relaxation.
“What Happens in Key West, Stays in Key West”
There are many opportunities while visiting Key West that might make a visitor feel like their actions don’t have consequences. They can stay out all night drinking and take part in general debauchery. Then, when their trip is over, they return to their jobs and families as if nothing veered left of rest and relaxation.
Guess what? There are consequences. Duval Street isn’t Bourbon Street — there is no open container law in Key West, so you can count on getting cited for carrying a beer around all willy nilly. Also, Key West is still in the United States — drugs are illegal! Enjoy yourself, drink and be merry. Just don’t be ignorant about the consequences.
INSIDER TIPKeep your top on and your pants up if you don’t want to end up in a squad car.
Searching for Starbucks
If you’re visiting Key West, you’re walking around in the land of delicious Cuban coffee and rich cafe con leches. If you’re opting for scorched espresso over Sandy’s, Dolphin Deli or the Cuban Coffee Queen, you’re doing it wrong. There’s one Starbucks on the island and it’s in a hotel and most of the time the line wraps around the store. There’s a time and a place for getting Starbucks–island time and Key West isn’t either of those.
INSIDER TIPTry 5 Brothers Grocery and Sandwich Shop for a delicious cafe con leche and tostada Cubano (Cuban bread toasted with butter).
Don't Follow the Crowd
Folks are more likely to purchase daily excursions out on the water with larger companies because they have representatives in the lobbies of the bigger hotels. While these trips are easier to book because of the convenience, the experience usually falls flat. You’ll be competing with all those other tourists for the same photo ops and snorkel gear. It will probably be crowded. Locals cringe when they see tourists flocking to the docks and marching aboard those flashy boats.
INSIDER TIPDo yourself a favor and book with smaller, local outfits like Venus Charters. You’ll end up with a more personalized, enjoyable adventure that isn’t crowded or rushed.
Oh, Is It Hot?
While Key West’s high season is between December and April, many tourists take advantage of the lower rates in the warmer, off-season. Warmer as in extremely hot. Key West has a tropical climate. In the summer it can feel like it’s boiling outside with 100% humidity. You will feel swampy. It will probably rain every day. Drink lots of water and if you can’t handle the heat, get off the island.
INSIDER TIPCarry a refillable water bottle filled with H2O, not alcohol. Wear sunglasses, a ton of sunscreen, and breathable clothing.
Eating Imported Seafood: Why?!
You’ll be surprised to find that a majority of KeyWest restaurants frequented by tourists import some portion of their seafood from Asia. All you have to do is get up early and check out what places are getting frozen deliveries off the trucks. That being said, there are many restaurants like Louie’s Backyard that have an amazing offering of locally sourced seafood, from rock shrimp to mahi-mahi to grouper. Stay away from the chain restaurants and stick to the places favored by locals.
Get off Duval Street
While Duval Street is the main drag and tourist attraction in Key West, there is more to explore across the island. Both Old Town and New Town are scattered with amazing restaurants, unique boutiques and some of the most relaxing bars in the country. Maybe 1 percent of the best things on the island are on Duval.
INSIDER TIPTake a bike ride along the Atlantic sea wall between Old Town and New Town for gorgeous oceanside views. While Mallory Square is a tourist favorite at sunset, take the path less traveled and experience all those colors from a different angle.
Don’t Feed the Iguanas or Harass the Chickens
There are two things that make Key West a truly unique destination: wild chickens and iguanas. You will find lots of them running around during your stay. The chickens are lawfully protected. If you hit one with a car, there’s a chance you could get ticketed. It is against the law to kill a local chicken.
As far as the iguanas go, they have become quite the nuisance and the locals are trying to find ways to keep them from defecating all over their pool decks as they are protected by anti-cruelty laws. They have no boundaries and will crawl all over everything to try to get to food. If you feed them, they will come in hoards. Don’t instigate the problem.