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Key West Neighborhoods

If you suspect that an island only 2 by 4 miles in size doesn’t have a huge number of districts and regions, you’re right. The two main areas are simply called New Town and Old Town, with a handful of smaller sections in each.

Old Town

Putt-putt past the upper half of Key West that’s closest to U.S. 1, cross White Street and you’ve ventured into Old Town. This is the heart of the original waterfront settlement that comprises the Historic District. For architecture admirers, many of the old homes and Bahamian “conch houses” have been turned into guesthouses. The wooden foundations of these mini-mansions rise several feet from the ground on pilings, and feature elegant covered porches and balconies, louvered shutters, gingerbread trim and pastel colors. Many structures in Old Town aren’t old at all, particularly modern hotels along the waterfront and renovated restaurants and attractions. Old Town contains three main sections: on Duval Street, you pass block after block of raunchy T-shirt shops, sultry bars and fashionable eateries; Bahama Village is west of Whitehead Street and oozes with wonderful Bahamian culture; Solares Hill, which begins near the intersection of Simonton and Olivia streets, constitutes the highest natural point on Key West, a whopping 16 feet above sea level. Old Town is where you’ll be spending most of the time because it is home to the largest number of attractions and nightlife.

Smathers Beach

The beach sand is imported on this half-mile stretch along A1A on the Atlantic side of the island. Who cares? We say it’s the best in Key West, particularly with nearby restrooms, concessions stands, the shaved iced drinks are absolutely exquisite on a sunny day (the grape is outstanding). There are volleyball nets and you can rent personal watercraft and windsurfers or go parasailing.

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

You’re not going to find Florida Keys beaches featured in anyone’s list of the Top 10 in the world, and that includes Key West. Nonetheless, a few of them make a beach experience worthwhile. Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is named for the pre-Civil War fort on the property. There’s plenty of sand, but walk carefully, there’s plenty of rock mixed in. There’s a fee to access the park, and the entrance is through the Truman Annex at Southard Street, but it’s worth the inconveniences for restrooms, picnic tables and such. If you’re snorkeling and get lucky, you might see some small marine life like fish, lobster and corals.

Higgs Beach

This is the best beach if you have kids with you, across the street is a playground. Located at the end of Reynolds Street, it’s a pretty good beach that includes a long wooden pier. For snorkelers, go to the end of the pier and enter the water via some steps, swim out to a series of pilings from a former pier and chances are good you’ll find lots of fish. When you’re snorkeling or diving, remember to look but don’t touch, some marine critters (fire coral, stonefish) can sting. Rent a chair or a raft for the beach, and there’s a restaurant offering sit-down service and a respite from the heat.

New Town

New Town is the area from White Street to the entrance of Key West. It offers more in the way of fast-food chains, strip malls, schools, chain hotels, an airport and the like. Homes tend to be concrete block construction more typical of the mainland. Thanks to extensive “reclamation” filling in oceanic shallows to make terra firma--New Town has greatly increased in size since the 1940s. It includes many worthwhile places to visit, such as Smathers Beach, the Fort East Martello Museum, the best museum in Key West, and Charter Boat Row in the City Marina. Some locals don’t consider Stock Island a part of Key West since it’s separated by a small bridge, but technically it is. Stock Island features the only golf course within about 100 miles, a Botanical Garden and the Tennessee Williams Theater Performing Arts Center.
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