Key West? Off Season? Hell, Yes!!
Getting there is Half the Misery.
"Are you crazy? It's gonna be so HOT!" That or words to that effect was the first thing most people said to us when we told them we were heading to the Keys in August. (Insert big, loud, game show buzzer here.) I've been more uncomfortable on the Jersey shore in August. The Costa del Sol can be hotter and muggier in August. There is something magical about the Gulf. The air moves. And shy of a hurricane, the waters are a delight. Fortunately for me and my Best Girl, we have never listened to anyone who has not already done what we plan to do. They don't know, so their opinions do not count. And as usual, it paid off.
That said, here's a raspberry I can blow that comes with experience. Unless you are a photographer - pro or amateur - with a lightning eye for a great composition; AND unless your plane arrives in Lauderdale or Miami by 0700, DON'T DRIVE THE CAUSEWAY ALL THE WAY TO KEY WEST. Doing so was advice from my shutterbug brother. He said there were so many sights to take in along the way. He spent hours and hours driving the distance because there were so many places to pull over to take pictures. Well, we got to Lauderdale in the afternoon. The late-day light is harsh and whatever there is to see is not as colorful as it might be in the morning sun. I've sat through Navy rating exams more exciting than driving the causeway to Key West. It's mostly two lanes and 40 miles per hour. Take my advise; unless you want to stop and snap yet another picture of a house with seagulls around it every 10 miles or so, pay a few extra bucks and fly straight to Key West. There are other advantages I'll discuss later.
But we can now say that we've driven the Causeway. That's one off the bucket list. And when people tell us they are going to Key West, I can tell them to BE SURE TO DRIVE THE CAUSEWAY! IT'S AMAZING! AND THINK OF THE MONEY YOU'LL SAVE ON AIRFARE! I know, I'm a sonofabitch.
Love at First Sight.
Just before rolling over the bridge to Key West proper, we passed a golf course. I had previously told Lyn I would be golfing a lot on our vacation. Funny… that was the first and last time I saw the golf course.
It was late day/early evening when we got to…wait for it…Coconut Mallory's Resort and Marina. When I booked this, based on availability and amenities, I was worried some simpleton in a pirate outfit would greet me at the front desk. "Argh, Matie! What can I do fer ye?" But, t'was not the case. The staff was top notch, relaxed and unpretentious. They were, as a good resort staff should be, prepared for anything I might ask and had an answer at the ready. Mallory's itself, was a nice resort. It has two pools, access to the water and boat ramps and has its own boathouse/wine/beer bar. Our room had a kitchen, dinette, living room and a loft bedroom accessed via spiral staircase. There were several units like ours, there are also 31 two-bedroom units.
Our porch had a ceiling fan. Of course! Not what you tend to see growing up in Philly, but it made perfect sense in a place where you can be outdoors 12 months a year. We spent 100% of the time when we weren't buzzing around the island or sleeping, on the porch.
Considering the hour, we decided that instead of exploring, we'd head back across the bridge to the Hurricane Hole for dinner. Simple fare this night; sunset from the restaurant deck, burgers and off to bed.
Of the little we had seen, we were loving this place already.
Some of Our Favorite Places
Coconut Mallory's Resort and Marina
Oh, the Humanity! Lyn on a bike!
Sunday was a semi-lazy day. We had breakfast at Camille's (highly over-rated) and explored the island. Not a golf club in sight. While we were out, we did some grocery shopping. I am like a rambunctious child at times like this. When we would vacation on the Jersey shore, the last place on earth I wanted to be was with my mom shopping. I am the same way today. But, we intended to eat in some nights so…
On the way home I spotted Eaton Bike Rentals. I hit on the best idea ever: Let's rent bikes.
A Bit of Backstory
Lyn grew up in a crowded part London SW. Unless traction, bone screws and feeding tubes are your thing, it's not the best place to learn to ride a bike. Lyn never indulged the desire. In the mid-90s, being the helper that I am, I took it upon myself to teach her to ride. We used I-476 in Pennsylvania (the Blue Route) before it opened. There was unpleasantness involving a bike, Lyn and a concrete jersey wall at about 15 MPH. There would end the lesson.
Needless to say, my plan to rent bikes in Key West went over like a fart in church. But, I told Herself that she could rent a trike, which she eventually agreed to do.
Eaton told us they would deliver the bikes in a few hours to our hotel. So we saw an opportunity to check out Mallory's pool while we waited. It was very pleasant and always sparsely populated. This is the pool next to the marina; the shady one (by that I mean shady as in comfortable, not shady as in this is where nefarious characters lurked).
At this point we put our plans for the rest of the day to a vote. Swimming and sunbathing won out over quantum mechanics. It was a squeaker. Once, while we swam, a very large iguana decided to occupy our lounge chair and keep watch. I'd have supplied pictures but the lizard was sitting on my camera and phone at the time. It served as a good ice-breaker. Everyone had a good laugh and soon all the guests were chatting it up like old friends.
We needed to hydrate, so we figured a beer or wine would do nicely. Just kidding, we had water with us. But we did want to see the boathouse bar. This is a fun spot to spend time; beachy, rustic, open to the boat slips on one side. If you are traveling with a group, trust me, this will be your HQ.
While we sipped our beer, our bikes magically arrived on the resort bike rack. When I discovered this, I switched into little kid mode and started nagging Lyn to go for a ride. I ended up riding alone. So I did a quick recon of the local beach before heading back to the room and having steak prepared by my best girl.
Today, We Ride!
We had breakfast in the room and immediately jumped on the bikes. Lyn's nerves were soon soothed when she saw how wide the sidewalk was all the way to the far end of the beach. This corner of the island, reaching all the way to 1st Street, halfway across the island, was created for bikers, walkers and runners.
I can say without reservation that the very best thing about being here off season was that Smathers Beach, on that same road, remained almost empty for the entire week. We loved it. There were enough people there that we would occasionally have an interesting conversation with people near us or passing by, and once we watched kids playing in the water and having their pictures taken. But by and large it was just me and Lyn. Sleeping, swimming and reading were the order of the day for most of the week.
It was on this, our first beach morning, that I realized that I wasn't going to be golfing this week. I was just feeling too mellow to chase that little, white, dimpled bastard around a giant lawn for 4 hours.
Such a Little Island, So Much To Do!
In my next installment, I will take you to Duval Street, Mallory Square, the Green Parrot and a daring ride through the tropical night. In the meantime there is still some "off-season," or "shoulder season" if you will. For those who like to take mini vacations on a whim, there is still time left to enjoy Key West at an uncrowded, unhurried pace. Dale Goodman, an executive with Mallory's, says the slowest time is the last 3 weeks in September. But I can tell you from experience that August, between festivals is a great time too.
Of course, if festivals are you thing…Keys Events
Uncorked Key Largo and Islamorada Food and Wine Fest
A Caribbean standard. concurs with Duval Crawl
Charity Golf Tournament
Think about leaving the kids at home for this one.
This is just a sampling of Keys events. For more information click here.
Matt Jordan is a travel writer living in Thornburg, Virginia.