Travel
2 min

Key West

Remoteness fosters a laissez-faire, hedonistic lifestyle

Revellers gathered New Year's Eve outside the Bourbon St Pub to watch local celebrity Sushi lowered in a giant pump, marking the arrival of 2011. Credit: Newmanpr.com

Located literally at the end of the road, Key West has welcomed gay travellers for decades.

The island, known to locals as the Conch Republic, is roughly 90 miles north of Cuba and 160 miles south of Miami. This geographic isolation from mainland Florida and the state’s anti-gay politics remains one of the island’s best assets. The island’s police chief is gay and many of the city’s other elected officials are either gay or gay-friendly.

Although thousands of cruise ship passengers crowd the narrow cobblestone streets around Mallory Square on a daily basis, the island has maintained its anything-goes reputation. Key West’s tropical climate affords visitors the perfect opportunity to shed their clothes and sunbathe nude. It is not out of the realm of possibility to see men in thongs or G-strings and topless women on the main drag of Duval St.

Key West is certainly not a destination for either the prudish or those seeking an action-packed vacation. This island’s residents go out of their way to ensure that visitors experience their slower pace of life with an added touch of hedonistic fun.

Neighbourhoods

The vast majority of Key West’s gay-owned businesses are located in Old Town. Bustling Duval St, which stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, and Truman Ave are among the area’s main drags. Nearly all of Key West’s gay bars and clubs are found within a few blocks of Duval St.

What to see

The Southernmost Point monument at the intersection of South and Whitehead streets is an essential part of Key West’s tourist kitsch for anyone who has never visited the Conch Republic.

Literature aficionados will appreciate the Ernest Hemingway Museum and the more than 60 polydactyl cats that live on the property. Gay playwright Tennessee Williams once owned a small house at 1431 Duncan St.

One of the more enjoyable (and relaxing) attractions is the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory.

Getting there

Located two miles east of downtown, Key West International Airport offers daily flights to Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and a handful of other southern cities. A taxi from the airport to Duval St costs roughly $7.50 (US). The Blue and Green Routes operated by Key West Transit shuttle between the airport and locations around the city.

Many Key West visitors opt to fly into Miami International AIrport, which is roughly 150 miles to the north. They pick up rental cars and drive south via the Overseas Highway. The Keys Shuttle makes daily trips between Fort Lauderdale, Miami and destinations throughout the Keys. Greyhound also offers two daily trips between Miami and Key West.

Getting around

A rental car is not necessary once you arrive in Key West. Key West Transit operates across the island and the Lower Keys, but bicycles and mopeds are among the more popular ways to get around. Moped Hospital offers daily and weekly rentals.

The 70-minute gay and lesbian trolley tour on Saturday mornings is a great way to gain an appreciation for the island’s queer history. Pedicabs are also increasingly popular on Duval St and around Mallory Square. The operators and their sculpted calves provide good eye-candy.

For map locations and website links to 75 area places of interest see our gay Key West listings pages.