Key West: Life in Pictures

Get to know this sunny and laid-back city from a local's perspective.
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Photo By: Bob Krist

Photo By: Nancy Klingener

Photo By: Nancy Klingener

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Photo By: Nancy Klingener

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Photo By: Nancy Klingener

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Busker Will Soto juggles on a tightrope at the sunset celebration in Key West, Fla. The sunset celebration at Mallory Square is a daily ritual for visitors to this subtropical island at the bottom of the Florida Keys island chain. 

Key West Bikes

For many Key Westers, bikes aren't for recreation or exercise, they're everyday transportation. Many of the homes are elevated several feet above ground level, which allows for protection from flooding and some air circulation. Bikes are used by many residents and several businesses in town rent them to visitors

Classic Revival House

Many of the wooden homes in Key West's historic district date to the 19th century and are built in a style that combines Victorian architecture with tropical adaptations, like the second story gallery on this home where residents could escape the heat before the days of air conditioning. This is a common type of home on the island in a style called classic revival.

Clinton Square Market

The former Coast Guard headquarters -- note the lighthouse above the door -- has been repurposed as a mini-mall, with shops catering mostly to passengers from the cruise ships that dock close by.

Curry's Grave

Key West's City Cemetery is in the center of town -- close to the highest point on the island, which is only 16 feet above sea level. Like the island itself, it reflects a diversity of styles, eras and [more] economic levels. This plot marks the resting place of William Curry, Florida's first millionaire, who came to Key West in the middle of the 19th century as a penniless immigrant from the Bahamas. He made a fortune salvaging cargo from ships that wrecked on the reef.

Custom House

The island's Custom House -- built in the last decade of the 19th century, when the island was a prosperous port for shipping and home to a large cigar manufacturing industry -- was the site of the inquiry into the explosion of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor. Later it became the island's post office and an administrative building for the Navy. It was eventually abandoned by the Navy and purchased by the state of Florida. A local nonprofit, the Key West Art & Historical Society, restored it and it now serves as a museum. The sculptures out front are by J. Seward Johnson, Jr., a winter resident of the island.

Key West Artwork

Key Westers are a creative bunch and often decorate their homes with artwork, like this dragon.

Key West Elizabeth Street House

Key West was prosperous in the 19th century, from salvaging shipwrecks, cigar manufacturing and sponging, among other industries. Many of the grand homes from that era have been turned into guesthouses but some are still private homes, which sell for several million dollars after restoration.


One of the charms of Key West is that a multi-million-dollar home may be on the same block, or even next door, to a ramshackle cottage in need of repair. This home displays Key West's distinctive  "sawtooth" style: additions are added to the back of a home as a family grows. It also has scuttles, or hatches, on the front part of the roof that can be opened for ventilation -- a feature adapted by carpenters from ships.

Gumbo Limbo Tree

The opportunities for gardening and landscaping in Key West are year-round, thanks to the subtropical climate. Many islanders choose native species, which thrive in the salty conditions and seasonal wet/dry cycles. The tree on the left, a gumbo limbo, is sometimes called the tourist tree because its bark resembles peeling sunburn.

Restaurant & Laundromat

Many of the island's buildings, especially the commercial structures, have been repurposed multiple times. This building was originally a corner gas station; now it's a laundromat and organic vegetarian restaurant. Other former gas stations in the historic district serve as fish markets and upscale restaurants. 

Key West Historic Neighborhood Sign

The historic district is also the center of Key West's tourism industry -- which leads to some tension. These signs are intended to help educate tourists that they are visiting a residential neighborhood.

Stylish Recycling

Key Westers like to recycle almost everything -- in this case, power line insulators have been turned into a garden border.

Art Gallery

Key West has a lively art scene, with everything from "schlock"- aimed at tourists to high-end fine art. Lucky Street Gallery represents some of the finest local artists like John Martini, a longtime resident of the island who also works and shows in France. Photo courtesy of Darene Cahill.

Souvenir Shop

Key West is a tourist town and sees hundreds of thousands of visitors a year -- many arriving by cruise ship. Thus, it has the typical tourist wares on offer at shops like this one.

Old Town Bakery

This structure was originally the Salgado Brothers Grocery. In recent years it has been a bakery, a bar, a convenience store, a fish market and most recently, a bakery again.

Historic District

Key West's historic district -- recognized in the National Register of Historic Places -- was one of the earliest settlements in South Florida. It was a properous port nearly a century before Miami and Fort Lauderdale were developed. Today the district, known as Old Town, serves as a tourist attraction, commercial hub and residential neighborhood; a model for the sort of mixed-use development that has been adapted in neo-traditional design. 

The Porter Home

This home stayed in the hands of the Porter family -- descendants of Dr. Porter, commemorated in this marker -- until last year, though it has been used as a commercial structure for decades. Most recently, it has become the home of a beer-and-wine bar called The Porch that is popular with locals despite its location in the heart of the tourist district on Duval Street.

Wine Bar

The interior of The Porch bar shows its extnsive wine selection and some details of the original molding of the historic building, which was once home ot an eminent Key West doctor. 

Queen Anne House

This home is an example of the Victorian architecture known as the Queen Anne style. It has been extensively renovated -- and is two doors down from the fixer-upper in slide 9. 

Red Doors

This building near the waterfront, known as the Red Doors, was once a bar popular with shrimpers (a rough crowd). Today it's an upscale boutique featuring jewelry and linen clothing.  

Singleton Statue

Key West's harbor -- naturally deep and sheltered from the Gulf of Mexico -- led to the island's early prosperity in the shipwreck salvaging, cigar manufacturing and fishing industries. Until the 1970s it was used by boats that brought in catches of shrimp and green turtles. Today it is filled with boats catering to tourists, offering fishing, snorkeling and diving trips out to the reef. The city now owns much of the waterfront, purchased in the 1990s from the family of shrimper Henry "Booty" Singleton, shown in this statue.

Key West Cottage

Simple cottages like this one were built for workers in the island's cigar factories -- a big business in the late 19th century. Today they are often renovated to become small but elegant homes.

Starfish Neighborhood

This beautiful Old Town home was renovated and then decorated with starfish lights. Key West goes all-out for the holiday season but many cannot resist leaving lights and decorations up year-round.

Turtle Kraals

The Turtle Kraals was once the waterfront area where green turtles were brought in, kept (the term kraal is equivalent to corral) and slaughtered. Since sea turtles were protected in the 1970s, the building has become a popular waterfront restaurant and bar. 

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