Key West & the Florida Keys have LGBTQ tourists in mind

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U.S. Highway 1 Mile marker
U.S. Highway 1 Mile marker "0" in Key West, Florida. Photo by Peter Frycki.

Out Travel

Key West in the afternoon at Sunset Key with Latitudes restaurant in the distance
Key West in the afternoon at Sunset Key with Latitudes restaurant in the distance. Photo by Peter Frycki.

Key West is a popular vacation destination for the LGBTQ community and after COVID it has bounced back very quickly. It has been over three decades since I last visited Key West and the Florida Keys. I was curious to see what may have changed for LGBTQ tourists.

Things are ever-so-slightly quieter or maybe that was just me. The partying seemed to end a tad bit earlier. But plenty of gay fun and options are to be had all throughout Key West. Most important to vacationers is that the Keys, and especially Key West, love the LGBTQ community.

Historically the Keys have always been an eclectic and fun place. For the fisherman, the artists, the writers, and the LGBTQ community it has always been very welcoming. It is a great place to unwind, but if you want the perfect place to party it certainly is in Key West. Accommodations in Key West range from hotel chains and very upscale resorts like Sunset Key, to quaint B&B’s and LGBTQ-specific and clothing-optional accommodations such as Island House.

My stay started at one of several Kimpton Key West properties: Ella’s Cottages on Simonton Street, just a block from many of the popular gay tourist hotspots on Duval Street. Bar 801 and Saloon One are just a minute or two away. Ella’s was one of the best choices, I think. It is in the middle of everything. Once you are settled in you will be less than one-half mile from almost every type of restaurant, LGBTQ bar, or the many dozens of touristy destinations in town. Ella’s Cottages is the smallest of the Kimpton properties in town, but it offers all the usual amenities. Each room is unique and intimate, with its own special charm.

The Gay Key West Visitors Center at 808 Duval Street is operated by the Key West Business Guild, which has promoted Key West for LGBTQ travel since 1978. They have all the information you need to plan your trip ahead of time. You can also stop in for tips during your stay if your plans change. Another great resource before your trip is The Florida Keys and Key West.

Live entertainment and drag are everywhere in town. Recommended places are La-te-da at 1125 Duval Street and the ever popular 801 Bar upstairs. During the afternoon check out Island House. It is a very popular destination for the gay male community as an all-inclusive resort with bar, restaurant, pool, and hot tubs — and did I mention it is clothing-optional?

No visit to Key West is complete without seeing the sunset celebration at Mallory Square every evening. The street carnival takes place on the harbor with local arts and crafts exhibitors, live performers, and lots of food choices and tourist trinkets to bring home. It is the place to be at sunset in Key West.

The private porch at Ella's Cottages by Kimpton in Key West.
The private porch at Ella’s Cottages by Kimpton in Key West. Photo by Peter Frycki.

There are many museums in town, including the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum at 907 Whitehead Street, the Key West Lighthouse and Keepers’ Quarters at 938 White House Street, the Tennessee Williams Museum at 513 Truman Avenue, and don’t miss the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory at 1316 Duval Street.

Some interesting places to have dinner during your stay include Azur restaurant at 425 Grinnell Street, El Meson de Pepe at 410 Wall Street, and the Half Shell Raw Bar on the docks at 31 Margaret Street. Places to indulge your taste buds are everywhere. One of the highlights was dinner at the Red Shoe Island Bistro at 411 Petronia Street. The signature dish of yellowtail snapper is delish and Key Lime Pie is a must have.

The BluQ all-male cruise in Key West.
The BluQ all-male cruise in Key West.

One of the highlights of your trip to Key West might be an all-male day trip with BluQ flying the rainbow flag at the dock at 200 Margaret Street. BluQ is a LGBT water sports operator. The afternoon sailing I enjoyed went to a secluded sand bar offshore where the water was only three to six feet deep. They also feature a very popular sunset cruise. Note that clothing is optional once you’re offshore.

On a lazy afternoon I went kayaking for the first time with Get Up and Go Kayaking located on Sugarloaf Key, just a short drive north of Key West. It allowed me to explore a unique environment in a way I never could have imagined. The afternoon kayaking traveled through the mangroves where you will see the abundant marine life in the silence of the mangroves. The quiet and the exercise is both invigorating and relaxing. It is a one-of-a-kind experience in the clear see-through kayaks that Get Up and Go provides.

Notice the one-dollar bills everywher at the Hungry Tarpon restaurant at Robbies Marina in Islamorado.
Notice the one-dollar bills everywher at the Hungry Tarpon restaurant at Robbies Marina in Islamorado. Photo credit: Peter Frycki.

No visit to The Keys in Florida is complete without checking out the Old Seven Mile Bridge. It has some of the most amazing views at sunrise and sunset. It is located at mile marker 46.8 and was built as a railroad bridge over a century ago, then converted to motor vehicle use in 1938. Today it is a fishing pier and tourist walk.

In Islamorada remember to check out the brews at Florida Keys Brewing Co., 81611 Old Highway, the arts district at Morada Way, 81549 Old Highway, and Rain Barrel Artisan Village, 86700 Overseas Highway. Another incredible place for dinner is the Fish House, 102401 Overseas Highway. This “Keys Style” casual restaurant is extremely popular. Plan ahead as getting there early is highly recommended most evenings.

Semi-private Hammock Beach at Baker's Cay Resort in Key Largo.
Semi-private Hammock Beach at Baker’s Cay Key Largo. Photo by Peter Frycki.

Nearby is Robbies Marina, 77522 Overseas Highway, where the fresh seafood and outdoor atmosphere at the Hungry Tarpon Restaurant is superb. There are thousands of dollar bills stapled everywhere throughout the Marina as a testament to how much folks love this marina and the amenities that are available here.

On my return trip I visited Key Largo and stayed at the Baker’s Cay Key Largo. It features 200 spacious and upscale rooms with your own outdoor deck to view the sunsets on Florida Bay. The views here are spectacular. The Hilton resort includes the incredible Calusa Restaurant, a salon, multiple swimming pools, a boat dock, private secluded beach, and a Tiki Bar. I was told that before and after Key West Pride week (early June each year) this exclusive property catered to many dozens of LGBT tourists heading to or from Key West.

Peter Frycki is the Publisher of Out In Jersey magazine and an occasional writer and reviewer. He enjoys bicycling, long walks, reading non-fiction biography and historical novels. History, politics, and current events are a passion all-day long that keep him very busy.