Don’t Wait On Others… Discover Key West
An ocean view of a sailboat, seen from Sunset Pier.
Jennifer Harned was tired of waiting on her friends’ busy schedules to travel. The girl needed a beach and she needed it now. So, 12 years ago, Jenn made a decision that changed her life: She wasn’t going to wait on anyone to travel — she could do it by all by herself!
Jenn’s first solo travel experiences involved cruises throughout the Caribbean, but on her second cruise, Jenn found her home away from home: Key West. Since then, she has traveled to the U.S.’ southernmost point a whopping nine times.
“I went to Key West with my family when I was 14, but when I got off the cruise ship 12 years ago, I had this feeling…this is my place! There is a bumper sticker there that says ‘Wonderfully Weird’ and that about sums it up. There’s a guy who dresses up as Spiderman and plays the sitar, there’s a local named Max who walks around naked except for these giant butterfly wings and a bunny tail (I don’t know where he adheres that thing). Everyone is so welcoming and open, no one discriminates, I feel comfortable traveling alone. I can walk all day and never run out of things to see,” Jenn says.
Key West has sparked Jenn’s love for photography. The iconic architecture, the copious tropical flowers, the constant parade of street performers, panhandlers, and glorious freaks — it is a voyeur’s dream. Could there be a better place to observe? Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, and countless others have found inspiration from this magical four-by-two mile archipelago, and so too has Jenn.
“You never know what you will see: a gaudy chandelier hanging from a front porch on one side of the street, and a gutted-out airplane that the neighbors use as a camper on the other side, old bicycles, land pirates, gorgeous sunsets, and shutters.
“It is a judgment-free getaway. It is just a bunch of misfits, artists, and street musicians coming together to have a great time.”
No wonder Jenn has found her place in Key West. A quick jaunt from Louisville and a sanctuary from judgment, this colorful city knows no dull days.
Jennifer posing in the faux “shower area” at The Blue Heaven.
Thinking of a visit? Here are Jenn’s tips:
Where to Stay
If traveling alone, Jenn recommends staying on the second floor of a place a good distance from Duval Street. That way, the nights are quiet and you can admire the chirping frogs. Use bikes, scooters, or walk to the action, but finding a friend with a golf cart is a bonus.
March through May is the best time to visit as the summer months are extremely hot and humid and prone to hurricanes. However, October is great for Fantasy Fest, where body-painted folks parade the streets.
Jenn’s favorite place to stay as of late is the Albury Court Hotel, one of several historic inns on the island. Flight and lodging are pricey (around $250-350 per night), but expenses on the island are minimal.
What to Pack
As musician Erykah Badu sings in Bag Lady, “pack light!”
• Shorts and tank tops
• Comfortable sandals and no socks
(Jenn says, “No one in Key West wears socks!”)
• Adhesive bandages and sunblock
• Water pills (the sun and drinking make you swell)
Harpoon Harry’s Restaurant, which offers breakfast all day.
Where to Eat (and drink, of course)
• The Blue Heaven is lodged in an old house among a grove of banyan trees. You can play ping-pong, listen to live music, sip a mimosa at breakfast, or even take an outdoor shower there (the sign claims “$1 for a shower, $2 to watch”).
• The Saint Hotel is Jenn’s favorite dinner spot. A native New York Italian, Jenn has quite the discerning palate when it comes to pasta, but she claims this to be the best she’s ever had.
• Harpoon Harry’s is a New York-style diner that serves breakfast all-day.
• The Sunset Pier is a great place to have a sunset cocktail on the pier.
• The Salty Angler features delicious adult milkshakes.
• 801 Bourbon Bar for a drag show.
• Eat “The Pinks” (Key West shrimp), conch fritters, and Key Lime Pie.