When thinking Spring Break, you don't automatically think Key West! But if you're wanting a Spring Break out of the ordinary and you're ready to "live and let live" when you get there, then you might want to consider Key West!
Key West is America's ONLY Caribbean island... it's exotic, warm and tropical... gay and straight - in fact, Key West considers itself an independent republic; it seceded from the Union on April 23rd, 1982! Faced with a Border Patrol blockade looking for illegal aliens, Key West's then mayor, Dennis Wardlow, seceded... declared war, surrendered, and demanded $1 billion in foreign aid-all in one day! You've got to admit it- a place with that kind of a quirky sense of humor and so much diversity is perfect for Spring Break... as long as you're prepared to get along with the natives! It's possible to get pretty wild in Key West without anyone raising an eyebrow... but it's also important to "fit into" the island vibe rather than stick out and TAKE OVER... after all, Key West has LONG been known for its good time vibe! Maybe it wouldn't hurt to find out what that's all about!
Another positive Key West factor is the warm water of the Gulf of Mexico! Unlike Panama City, Destin, and Daytona in March, the water is actually comfortable and you never have to worry about a sudden cold front dipping temperatures into the 60's. Key West is unrivaled with its warm, sultry weather and it's a paradise unlike any other... since the 1800's Key West has been known for its diverse cast of characters that know how to LIVE... and let live! Life on the beach in Key West can be a lot of fun... the beaches aren't exactly "nude beaches" but you'll find the locals are more tolerant than most... especially if you're respectful of them.
Smathers Beach is where most of the breakers spend their waking hours until the sun goes down. The beach is lined with vendors selling and renting everything from lemonade and beer to jet-skis and parasailing. The beach quickly fills with the aroma of sunscreen, games of volleyball ignite and music fills the air. The water is warm and you can go out a good ways before even getting over your head... while there's little surf, there's also absolutely NO danger of an undertow! Life's good at Smather's Beach... it's free and it's right across from the airport and the Sheraton Suites, a popular Key West hotel that will rent rooms to students.
Fort Zachary Taylor is the State Park that's actually in Old Town and has a great beach and picnic grounds. It's not free, but it's only a couple of dollars and you can go in and out all day if you like. The park is all natural and flows to the point of rocks where the Atlantic meets the Gulf of Mexico... you can actually see the currents flowing into each other. Fort Zach or "Elizabeth Taylor," as the locals call it, is really cool and a great place to have a picnic. It's the perfect place to relax, lie in the sun and have a soothing swim in the deep aquamarine water.
Naturally the beaches and the weather are a big part of Key West's draw as a Spring Break destination. A subtropical climate and a 2 by 4 island surrounded by sparkling turquoise water that's perfect for diving, kayaking, sailing, windsurfing, wave running and just plain swimming... this is a water sports enthusiast's paradise! Key West's public beaches- Higgs Beach, Indigenous Park, Simonton Beach and Smathers Beach each have a feel all their own, but Smather's and Higgs have the most water sports equipment, including essentials like beach chairs, umbrellas, jet-skis, and kayaks. There's NO camping allowed anywhere in Key West but Boyd's Campground on Stock Island, just outside Key West, might have space if you make a reservation ahead of time.
Key West has a party atmosphere only rivaled by New Orleans... the clubs and bars along Duval Street get crazy - OK, they're pretty crazy year-round, but it does pick up during Spring Break- but once again... in Key West, it's better to join the party rather than make your own stand out... no one-local or tourist-will appreciate anyone "taking over"... simply blend in... join the fun and GO FOR IT, getting DOWN with the coolest mixture of locals, Breakers, and Bohemians of all stripes can really be a blast!
People not content to sit on the beach all day usually do a number of other activities like fishing, parasailing, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, or simply, boating. Key West has the only living coral reef in the United States and it's mind blowing to see all the marine life that's just below the surface. Snorkeling only requires a certain comfort level in the water and the breathing apparatus and large fins on your feet do the rest. Be sure to wear PLENTY of sunscreen on your back as you'll spend your time floating face down in the water totally amazed at what you're seeing... if you've never been snorkeling on a coral reef, you're in for a real treat!
It's easy to arrange all of these activities - people will be "hawking" them to you on the beach, on the street and in your hotel. Sunset cruises are another Key West specialty and if you're lucky, you'll see the celebrated "green flash!" If you're in Key West long enough for a day trip, consider going to Ft. Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas on Garden Key. Half the fun's in getting there - Ft. Jefferson is only accessible by boat or seaplane. The fort is a stark reminder of days gone-by, when Ft. Jefferson was the lynchpin in America's coastal defense... it was, however, obsolete before it was completed. Now, it makes the perfect day trip - take a picnic and laze on the pristine white sandy beach, explore the fort, snorkel and then return later in the day.
Key West is of course noted for its abundant art and theatre scene. Something about Key West- the weather, the light, the frontier atmosphere- has drawn artists and writers to its shores for over a hundred years. Without a doubt, the most famous was Ernest Hemingway, who featured Key West and its inhabitants in several of his novels. Tennessee Williams lived and wrote in Key West as did Jimmy Kirkwood, who wrote "A Chorus Line." There are also a number of great galleries all over town that display the unique efforts of the many artists who live in Key West... you may even see one of them standing on a street corner with his easel, painting as you go by.
Duval Street is your one stop Spring Break Street and it's the only street in the world that spans from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico... a mile and a quarter of shops, boutiques, galleries and... BARS! "So many bars, so little time," all on one street and open until 4AM. There's usually no cover and several bars, Ricks Bar, Sloppy Joes, Fat Tuesday's, Hog's Breath and Rumrunner's included, very much cater to the Spring Break crowd! Most bars have live music, DJ's and if you need a taxi, the island's small and the fares are cheap... just remember that once you're off of Duval, you're walking by someone's HOME and it's unlikely that they're still up at 4AM! Leave the party at the bar or in your room... the side streets of Key West are cherished for their calm, island "silence".
Spring Breakers don't usually stay at Key West's finer hotels and bed & breakfasts, although some do and that list is endless and it's a terrific experience if you can afford it. You may have to do some smooth talking, however, to get them to rent you a room but hey... anyone's entitled who isn't interested in trashing a room! Most people in the keys have excellent intuition and they follow it! As mentioned before, the Sheraton Suites across from Smathers Beach is very popular. So too, the Holiday Inn Beachside on the right and the Comfort Inn and the Days Inn on your left just as you enter Key West. The beaches CLOSE at 11:00 PM and they are regularly patrolled so that's out! Key Wester's are not big on the idea of anyone sleeping in their car either and large vans are strictly prohibited in old town. Unfortunately, you need a room somewhere so you shouldn't abuse it... then, the party goes on!
Key West for Spring Break? Definitely one of the nation's hot spots - it has been for years and years. It's an island paradise with beauty that rivals any Caribbean island, yet it's in the US, just at the western tip of Florida. The drive is a long one but also extraordinarily beautiful once you get on the Overseas Highway just past Miami and into the Florida Keys. The two-lane highway jumps from Key to Key over a series of 45 bridges, one an incredible 7 miles in length. The Atlantic is on your left and the Gulf of Mexico on your right... 150 miles from Miami to Key West and nothin' but fun... especially if you're with your best friends in a convertible and you passed all your tests... so far? Key West has always been as out of control as you hope to be... you just have to slip into the "island groove" and then - let loose! Why not give America's Caribbean island a go and get away from the ordinary? Key West has always known how to throw a good party... any day, any month, any time of the year!