Endless parties and pirate treasures.
Coastline washed by the waters of the Mexican Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
If this is not enough for you to pack your bags and go, continue reading these 33 stunning facts about Key West.
On this list, you’ll find:
- who the most famous Key West residents were,
- what peculiar customs the locals have,
- as well as where to celebrate one of the most jaw-dropping sunsets on the planet.
Let the exploration begin!
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Crazy Facts About Key West You Won’t Believe
Key West is its own republic. Crazy, right? It gets even more peculiar, so continue reading these fun Key West facts.
- Key West is a misnomer. The original name Spanish settlers gave to the island is Cayo Hueso. It means Bone Island and refers to the remains of the Calusa Indians, the natives who inhabited the Florida Keys. However, English-speaking settlers misheard the name as Key West, and it stuck.
- Locals are called conchs. You don’t become a conch by simply moving to Key West. However, if you’ve been a resident for at least seven years, some might consider you a “freshwater conch”. (Find more about the most prominent Key West residents below.)
- Key West is the Conch Republic. On April 23, 1982, the city declared secession from the U.S.A. It was a protest against the US Border Patrol checkpoint at the entrance of US 1 (Overseas Highway) in search of illegal immigrants and drugs. This was a major inconvenience for tourists trying to access the island. The resulting traffic jams were 17 miles long. Although the secession was mostly symbolic, the Conch Republic Independence Celebration in April is one must-see party.
- More hens roam the streets of Key West than tourists. A rooster crowing at dawn and a hen with her chicks crossing Duval Street. This is a usual sight in the City of Key West. The free-roaming chickens have been on the island for decades. Some find the countless town residents annoying, but most visitors see them as a unique addition to the local culture. We’ll let you decide 😉
- Key West is closer to Cuba than to Miami. Crazy fact, right? The Caribbean island is only 90 mi (145 km) away, while Miami stands 150 mi (240 km) from Key West. Key West is also the southernmost point of the contiguous United States. The Southernmost Buoy at the end of Simonton Street is a popular spot for sunset photos. The proximity to Cuba has infused the island with a unique blend of Cuban culture. You can best experience it in the abundant Cuban restaurants and during the Cuban-American Heritage Festival in June.
- Key West connects to the mainland via 42 bridges. The Overseas Highway, which runs through the Florida Keys, is one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the United States. The construction of the 113-mile-long concrete road finished in 1938. The longest and most stunning of the structures is the suitably named Seven Mile Bridge.
- Key West is not the western-most key. The Florida Keys extend further 70 miles west to the Dry Tortugas National Park. You can explore the uninhabited islands of the park and Fort Jefferson on a day trip or an overnight camping adventure. The journey via the high-speed Yankee Freedom III ferry takes approximately 2:30 h in each direction and costs $190 for the whole-day trip.
- Celebrating the jaw-dropping sunset in Key West is a major event. Every evening, locals and visitors gather in the Mallory Square to send the day off. Musicians, street performers, and food stands make sure you’re properly entertained. You can also join a sunset sail to enjoy the vibrant spectacle from the water.
- You’ll never freeze your butt off in Key West. It is one of the few places in the United States that never gets frost or snowfall. The lowest temperature recorded is 41°F (5°C). However, you’re unlikely to experience such a cold. It’s happened just twice, on January 12, 1886, and almost a century later, on January 13, 1981.
- Key Limes aren’t harvested in Key West any longer. While you can eat your weight in Key Lime Pie in Key West, finding the sweet and tangy citrus fruits from a local tree can be a real challenge. You can still purchase them in stores, but the produce is imported from Mexico, India, and the West Indies.
Legends Who Have Called Key West Home
Writers, presidents, and musicians have all fallen in love with the tiny island. Key West is well-known for its famous residents. Learn the most fascinating facts about Key West’s most prominent tenants below.
Tip: If you, too, wish to soak in the laid-back island vibe, learn where to stay in Key West from our detailed guide.
- Ernest Hemingway was a Key West resident. The acclaimed writer called Key West home in the 1930s. During this time, he wrote “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”, “To Have And Have Not”, “Islands in the Stream”, and “Green Hills of Africa” in the Keys. You can explore the writer’s legacy at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum and celebrate his works during the Hemingway Days Festival in July.
- Key West has inspired more writers per capita than any other American city. Apart from Ernest Hemingway, famous authors who called Key West home include Tennessee Williams, Shel Silverstein, Robert Frost, Philip Burton, and Elizabeth Bishop. Perhaps there’s something inspiring in the ocean breeze?
- Hemingway Home and Museum is a cat paradise. Among Hemingway’s legacies in Key West is the famous polydactyl. On his move to the Florida Keys, Hemingway brought with him Snowball, a white six-toed cat. Today, the Hemingway Home and Museum has between 50 and 60 permanent six-toed cuddly residents. It is definitely one of the coolest things to do in Key West.
- The Little White House in Key West welcomed several U.S. presidents. The visits started with Ulysses S. Grant in 1880, followed by Grover Cleveland, William Howard Taft, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. After them, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Jimmy Carter have also stayed at the Little White House. However, the president who was in Key West most frequently was Harry S. Truman. He visited for a total of 175 days on 11 occasions during his presidency and another five times after he left office.
- “Jimmy Buffett doesn’t live in Key West anymore.” Sadly, the lyrics of the David Allan Coe song are true. There’s a home on Windsor Lane which locals claim Jimmy Buffett still owns, but he’s no longer a Key West resident. Luckily, Parrotheads can always gather at the Margaritaville Cafe.
- However, the beloved children’s author Judy Blume still does! She has called Key West home for years and is a huge contributor to the local creative community.
Fun and Interesting Facts About Key West’s Diversity
The location of Key West and the laid-back life has produced some interesting customs and bio-diversity. Eager to impress your friends with more cool facts about Key West? Then read on.
- The Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico meet at Key West. Key West’s diverse and unique ecosystems are a result of the convergence of two major bodies of water. You’ve got the deep blue Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf Stream current to the south, and the shallow flats of the Gulf of Mexico to the west.
- The third-largest barrier coral reef is at Key West. The Florida Reef extends north towards Miami and west to the Dry Tortugas. With its 170 mi (270 km), it’s the third-largest in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Belize Barrier Reef. The Florida Reef is about four miles wide and houses nearly 1,400 species of marine plants and animals. Be sure to grab your snorkeling gear and explore the spectacular underwater world during your visit to Key West!
- Locals believe that the island is haunted. You can hear many ghost tales throughout the island, from Robert the Doll to the Key West Cemetery. The best way to get a taste of the haunted Key West is during a Ghosts & Gravestones Tour after sunset.
- You don’t want to celebrate Halloween in Key West. Instead, you should party the whole last week of October at the Fantasy Fest. The wild party takes over the island in a swirl of glitter, beads, and costumes. The culmination is during the Saturday night parade.
- Duval Street hosts a mile-long pub crawl. Countless bars, shops, and restaurants invite you for a visit. The most popular locales are Sloppy Joe’s, where Hemingway loved to hang, the original Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville Café, and the Flying Monkeys Bar. The 1.25-mile road runs from coast to coast and is lined with Victorian mansions featuring Bahamian and Spanish influences.
- The City of Key West consists of several islands. Dredgers Key, Fleming Key, Sunset Key, Wisteria Island, and the northern part of Stock Island, together with Key West, constitute the City of Key West. The largest one – Key West – is only about 4.2 sq. mi (10.9 km2) big. The Old Town takes up about half of its area.
- Sunset Key and Wisteria Island are man-made islets. Sunset Key, a host to luxury homes and resorts, and the neighboring uninhabited Wisteria Island were constructed by the U.S. Navy. Sunset Key served as a fuel tank depot during the Cold War which is why it is also called Tank Island. Wisteria Island’s nickname is Christmas Tree Island due to the abundance of pine trees growing on it.
- Mile markers are a big thing in Key West. The Overseas Highway US 1, which connects Key West to the mainland, starts with MM 0 (Mile Marker Zero) at the corner of Whitehead Street and Fleming Street in the Old Town. You can see a wide variety of “Mile 0” souvenirs and memorabilia practically everywhere in the Keys. Apart from being sold to tourists, mile markers serve as addresses along the Overseas Highway from Key West to Key Largo.
- The sand on the Key West beaches comes from the Bahamas. If that and the abundance of seaweed doesn’t bother you, then Smathers Beach and Higgs Beach will welcome you! The other city beaches feature ground coral or pebbles and rows of mangroves.
- Key West is home to three Civil War forts. These are Fort Zachary Taylor at the west tip of the island, Fort East Martello near the Key West International Airport, and West Martello Tower next to Higgs Beach. The massive Fort Jefferson is also easy to visit during a day trip from Key West to the Dry Tortugas.
- The US Naval Air Station takes up a large chunk of the island. The location of the training facility for air-to-air combat was selected in Key West because flight conditions are better in the Florida Keys than anywhere else in the United States.
Weird Historic Facts About Key West
From the ridiculous price that was paid for the island to the most profitable business in the area, these historical facts about Key West will astonish you.
- Key West was found by mistake. In 1513, the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León was the first European to visit Key West. Like many adventurers of his time, he was looking for the mythical “Fountain of Youth”. He died after a violent encounter with the native Calusa Indians.
- The native Calusa people and the Spanish settlers were forced to move to Cuba. When Great Britain took control over Florida in 1763, its soldiers forced the people then inhabiting the Key West area to move to Havana.
- John Simonton bought Key West for $2,000. In 1822, the businessman paid less than today’s average monthly rent in the City of Key West to own the whole island. Of course, that sum is worth a bit more nowadays – $44,492.31 to be exact. Still, you’ll be at least a few millions short from buying an island today.
- The U.S. Navy Pirate Fleet was established in Key West. A year after John Simonton bought the town, the navy came to chase away the pirates using the area as a base. Commodore David Porter of the United States Navy West Indies Anti-Pirate Squadron took charge of Key West in 1823. He ruled as a military dictator under martial law. His mission was fighting against piracy and the slave trade in the Key West area.
- In the 1830s, locals made their money by salvaging shipwrecks. They then auctioned and resold the treasures. By 1889, Key West was the biggest and wealthiest city in Florida. It even became the richest American city per capita. However, in 1921, the wrecking courts closed, ending the profitable industry. Today, you can relive this era at the Shipwreck Treasure Museum in Key West.
- Pan American was founded in Key West. In 1927, the Pan American Airways started a scheduled mail and passenger route from Key West to Havana, Cuba. Until the Cuban Revolution of 1959, there were regular ferry and airplane services between Key West and Havana.
33 Stunning Facts About Key West – The Spooky, the Crazy, and the Surprising
So, there you have it – 33 fun and interesting facts about Key West.
Regardless of whether you’re searching for fabulous restaurants and endless celebrations, bio-diversity and laid-back beach vibes, or an artistic scene like no other, you’ll find it all in this small, funky town.
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What Key West fact surprised you the most?
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