You need not go far from America’s mainland to discover lush tropical islands full of happy, sun-kissed locals. This sporty, laidback archipelago is still full of kitsch, but it’s the natural beauty saturating the landscape that’s the real draw. From a major revamp to a top-notch stay to a brand-new, ocean-based workout, here are a few new ways to best experience these coral cays.
Where To Stay
The Saint Hotel Key West, Autograph Collection
Relatively new to the hotel scene (soft opening was last year, after a $22 million redo of the former Southern Cross Hotel), the 36-room Saint Hotel has hit its stride and operates as one of Key West’s most edgy, modern properties, right in the heart of the historic Old Town district. Resting Buddha sculptures flank the pool, a cobalt-and-white color scheme dominates the rooms, and bathrooms come with marble surfaces and Niven Morgan bath products. From $250; 417 Eaton St.; 305-294-3200; thesainthotelkeywest.com.
This year, the landmark Waldorf Astoria property collaborates with Key West Seaplanes for a two-night package that allows guests to fly directly to the resort’s pier from most major Florida airports. A beach butler, complimentary breakfast, and two pairs of Ray-Ban aviators come with either an ocean-facing suite or room with a lanai a few steps from the beach. Package, from $6,250; 1500 Reynolds St.; 305-296-3535; casamarinaresort.com.
Where To Eat
Angler and Ale
Located on the docks at the Hawks Kay Resort, Angler and Ale opened this May and serves American classics with a tropical spin, like wedge salad with shrimp or barbecue chicken with a mango glaze. As Key West is playfully referred to as “The Conch Republic,” don’t miss out on eating the restaurant’s conch (sea snail) options, served two ways: in a chowder, with coconut broth and a splash of sherry, or as fritters, with key lime aioli for dipping. 500 Duck Key Dr.; 305-209-9991; hawkscay.com.
Florida Keys Brewing Company
This year-old microbrewery—the only one in the Keys—offers a great selection of housemade brews in their tasting room, like their popular session IPA and a new a honey hibiscus kolsch. This summer, they have a robust lineup of events in their space, from live music to boozy yoga. 200 Morada Way, Islamorada; 305-916-5206; floridakeysbrewingco.com.
What To Do
Ernest Hemmingway Home and Museum
While Hemmingway is more often associated with Paris than Key West, the author had a beautiful home (with striking mustard-hued shutters), which currently operates as a well-preserved museum with most of the original furniture left intact. Thirty-minute long guided tours (from $13) are offered throughout the day, and visitors can browse the bookstore and tropical flower garden on the premises. 907 Whitehead St.; 305-294-1136; hemingwayhome.com.
Key West Lobsterfest
The 20th annual Key West Lobsterfest takes place from August 11-14, 2016, and features a lobster boil, street fair, live music, and more, to celebrate the start of the islands’ lobster season. It’s the best time to sample warm water, or spiny, lobster, which pair well with Caribbean seasonings. keywestlobsterfest.com.
The Florida Keys have the world’s third-largest barrier reef, making it a popular diving destination. Every year around late summer’s full moon (August 2 and September 1, 2016), millions of coral gametes are released underwater in a synchronized exchange, and the sight is incredible. South Point Divers offers night dives every Wednesday and Saturday evening, but private charters for night dives are available through Dive Key West.