It’s more than the weather. Sure, the winter temperatures of Key West, with our outdoor dining options and barefoot attire, beckon to anyone living in an area marked by a snowflake on a weather map. And meteorologists unwittingly herd people south with their talk of wind chills and overnight accumulations.
But it’s more than the weather, which shocks newcomers with its absurd humidity and surprises them with fleeting thunderstorms. The weather may lure people here, but something else keeps them here, many for much longer than planned. A weekend getaway has turned into a year and that year has quickly become 12 for some folks who have found their soul’s home at the end of a long, hot road that didn’t always exist. People get a yearning in their voice when they speak of this American-Caribbean island within driving distance, where the water is safe to drink and anything goes.
But what is it that puts that yearning there?
Is it the people, the attitude, the water, the history?
It is all that and more.
It is the people.
Whether they live here or visit, they all understand on some level their need for the island that draws them like a magnet. For the people who “get it,” there’s an instinctual migration that cannot be denied.
They sip cocktails on porches and happily offer directions to anyone in need. There are men who dress like women and women who dress like pirates, and there are others who are no longer shocked by anything they see. They are our singing bartenders and patient policemen. They are millionaires and workers who choose a bike over a car, and they do so on an island with an ideal topography for two-legged transportation.
They are fishermen helping a 6-year-old reel in his first sailfish and scuba students just learning how it feels to breathe underwater. They are drag queens in 4-inch stilettos eating a Wendy’s frosty on Duval Street, and they are elderly women serving coffee and muffins at a morning yard sale. They are city officials joining two men in a commitment ceremony. They are kids with two mothers and their friends who know there is nothing wrong that.
It is the attitude.
It’s the attitude, one of humor and acceptance that stems from centuries of hot isolation coupled with forced coexistence on a finite speck of limestone. That enduring humor makes the Florida Keys and Key West an ideal winter vacation destination.
It’s the attitude that encourages everyone to leave their windows open, giving away their spaghetti sauce recipe or their weakness for Barry Manilow. The same attitude allows dogs in restaurants, and ensures that they have chilled water and a shady spot to rest.
It’s the attitude that sees nothing wrong with mimosas on a Saturday morning and mango daiquiris in the afternoon when that golden, pink afternoon light bounces off buildings and hovers over the city. It’s the difference between casual and “dressy” flip-flops, only one of which is appropriate for a dinner party. It’s the sense of escape that comes from an afternoon rain and a good book. It’s what allows us to walk with cocktails in plastic cups and savor the island’s history of pirates and rumrunners.
It’s the humor that lets a man dress like a wizard or charge pedestrians for compliments. It’s the staggering man who yells at his bike when he falls off. And it’s the impromptu combining of two or three tables at a restaurant that becomes raucous laughter among new friends and old – and at least two spilled drinks.
The islands of Key West and the Florida Keys offer something for everyone and then some. Spend the day celebrating Ernest Hemingway by hauling a sailfish from the ocean depths, or kayak through calm waters covered by mangrove tunnels.
Peruse the stunning views both outside and inside our local art galleries and carefully curated boutiques. Dive into fresh seafood available at scores of local establishments and then head out on the town for live music and lighthearted entertainment. And do it all in short sleeves and flip flops.
There are countless reasons to visit our islands any time of the year.
But a winter visit offers a warm escape from the real world.
Key West is more than warm weather and cold drinks – much more. It is everything anyone wants it to be.
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