Talk to anyone who went to Key West in the 1970s or early 1980s and you will, without question, hear some version of, “Oh you should have seen it back when I first went down there! It was so cool back then. No chain restaurants, no Starbucks, no fast-food joints, everything was local and unique. Now it’s just a big tourist trap!”
Everyone laments the commercialization of their favorite vacation spots, it’s true. Its never fun to go back years later and discover the bar you thought was so choice, and that probably only you and a few locals even knew existed, is now an Au Bon Pain. Jimmy Buffett, one of the original troubadours of Key West, the man who many times in concert complained about the commercialization of this once funky, drunken town…even HE opened a cheesy restaurant/bar/gift shop down on Duval Street, naming it after one of his songs!
But in spite all of this, Key West is still Key West. It still has groovy, local-flavor joints to hang out in. Little hideaways. Quiet places that the large crowds never seem to find. Sure, the Weekend Warriors from Miami descend most Friday nights, turning Duval Street into The French Quarter during Mardi Gras for a couple days. But big deal. Who really wants to hang out on Duval Street anyway?
Go down for a week and do things when everyone else isn’t. Don’t go to Mallory Square for sunset. Don’t eat at Sloppy Joe’s. (Or worse, Cheeseburger In Paradise!) Don’t let the crowds coming in from cruise ships bother you. They’re only there for a while. The place will settle down again once they’re gone.
The unique and funky version of Key West is still there. You just need to dig a little deeper to find it. Guide books have their place, for sure, but the great thing about traveling is the exploring, searching and discovering. You never know what might be just around the corner.
Above sunset not at Mallory Square.