This post is not about California but I wanted to share with you the beauty of Florida prior to the destruction of Hurricane Irma. I never got the chance to visit the Keys when I lived in Florida a few years back. Luckily, I was able to visit a couple of days before they ordered a mandatory evacuation.

I particularly wanted to see the southernmost tip of Florida, which is Key West.  Key West is about 3.5 hours south of Miami Beach with smooth traffic. However, the highway to get to Key West and back is mostly 1-lane each direction so plan accordingly. I went during Labor Day weekend and traffic was congested on many parts.

The views are breathtaking to the left and right as you travel between keys (or small islands). Ocean water in different shades of blue and green stretch out so far into the horizon until it meets the sky.

I recommend a pit stop at Island Fish Co in Marathon, FL if you get hungry along the way. This is a good halfway point as Key West is only about 1.5 hours south from here. The restaurant is right on the water which allows the sea breeze to cool you as you enjoy their scrumptious, wide selection of fresh seafood. I had the Key West Sunset Ale Beer Steamed Shrimp, which was cooked to perfection.

We checked into the Double Tree Resort. The hotel has a shuttle that takes you to Mallory Square and back every hour.

the hotel

the very tropical pool area

Mallory Square is the heart of Key West. It has the restaurants, shops, art galleries, etc. It also has a lot of people so parking can be tough, which makes the shuttle so convenient. Once in Mallory Square, a lot of things are pretty much within walking distance.

We watched this beautiful sunset by the water behind the Custom House Museum.

The following day, I grabbed café con leche and a Cuban sandwich from the Cuban Coffee Queen. This is not a sit-down restaurant but it is well-known for good coffee and sandwiches. Cuban food was my staple diet during my visit to Florida. I pretty much ordered it wherever I went including Fort Lauderdale! 🙂

Next on my list was the Key West Lighthouse, which is across from the Hemingway House. The original lighthouse built on 1847 was 46 feet high. In 1894, it was extended to 85 feet. If you are unafraid of heights, walk up the 88 steps to the observation deck. The winding staircase and the observation deck are both narrow, but from the top you do get a 360 degree view of Key West. For $10, this for me is a must-see!

view of the ocean from the lighthouse observation deck

view of the Hemingway house (or roof lol) front and center from the lighthouse

Look at the photo above. Do you see the house on the very right? Well, it is the roof of the house on the left in this photo.

In the afternoon, I stopped by the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. I have read some great reviews about this place that houses 50-60 different species of butterflies so I definitely wanted to see it. As soon as you enter through the double doors, you immediately see a lot of flying butterflies in different kinds and colors.  I observed a lot of blue monarchs chasing each other around. They were difficult to capture with my camera phone so this is one that is quite mesmerizing to see in person. I spent a couple of hours here trying in vain to get good shots. When you exit into the gift shop area, there are so many beautiful, colorful butterfly products on display and for purchase but photography was not allowed there.  

Unfortunately, I did not have a fancy camera to capture them in flight so this was the best I can do.

This beautiful pair of flamingos moved ever so slowly and was still for most of the time so I was to capture clear shots! 🙂

I wish I could have stayed longer but I had a strict itinerary planned, which I did not get to do anyway because of the approaching hurricane. Still, I am very thankful that I was able to visit Key West even if it was just as quick as a dream.

Key West definitely has its own rhythm and vibe. It was very lively at night, while at the same time relaxed. Roosters roamed freely. It was like visiting a Caribbean island without leaving the U.S. Hopefully the hurricane did not damage the butterflies’ shelter or caused too much damage to the city for that matter. This is definitely a place I enjoyed and I look forward to seeing again. 

Our beautiful drive home. This photo did not do it justice.