11 September 2016
KEY WEST, Florida Keys — Since the mid-1800s, the island of Key West has been renowned for its overall refined sense of taste. Wrecking captains salvaged fine cargo goods — silks and laces, wines, silver and gold, exotic trinkets and jewelry — from ships grounded on nearby Florida Keys reefs. Valuable goods from exotic ports were sold at auction to eager buyers.
 
Today, Key West’s tasteful sophistication can be found in a vast array of shopping and fine dining venues. Visitors are often surprised to discover such variety on a 2-by-4-mile subtropical island.
 
Many shops and venues proudly fly the original rainbow flag, and some cater specifically to an LGBT clientele. But all visitors can enjoy discovering hidden treasures at Key West’s welcoming emporiums.
 
Duval Street, the island’s main shopping thoroughfare, has 14 blocks of fine art galleries, clothing and gift stores and boutiques. The famed street, 1.25 miles long, stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
 
Skin care manufacturer Key West Aloe, born on the island, formulates hundreds of skin and body products: sun-care creams, exclusive fragrances, hair and bath goods, and a variety of aromatic gifts such as salt scrubs. It offers both women’s and men’s lines of products scented with mango, Key lime, frangipani, coconut and lemon eucalyptus.
 
Graffitti, celebrating 30 years on Duval Street, sells casual men’s clothing, accessories, beach towels and water-related gear. The In Touch store sells kitschy souvenirs, brightly colored wigs and feather boas.
 
Art lovers can explore Gingerbread Square Gallery, located on upper Duval Street in a Victorian structure overlooking a courtyard. Gingerbread Square is the city’s oldest private art gallery, opened in the early 1970s by the nation’s first openly gay mayor, Richard Heyman. It has showcased works of playwright Tennessee Williams and today houses a collection of vibrant paintings, art glass, sculpture and other offerings.
 
The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory features a unique art gallery, gift shop and learning center. With a spectacular glass-enclosed, climate-controlled greenhouse, it has walkways through a lush environment that is home to hundreds of exotic butterflies, birds and plants from around the world.
 
Off the beaten path, Kino Sandals hand cuts, assembles and glues its traditional leather, natural rubber-soled sandals at its Kino Plaza factory that’s tucked off the corner of Greene and Fitzpatrick streets. The factory was established in 1966 and the sturdy sandals, available in 17 colors, can be seen on the feet of many Key West locals.
 
For those seeking take-home libations, the Key West First Legal Rum Distillery on Simonton Street offers tastings and a tour, showing how rum is batched. There’s a wide array of rums, including one infused with Key limes. The nearby Key West Winery offers tastings of specialty tropical wines flavored with fruits such as Key lime and mango.
 
Salt Island Provisions, nestled on Fleming Street, is one of Key West’s most colorful shops — a purveyor of handcrafted, locally sourced treats such as savory salts and sweet wild honey.
 
Not to be missed is Mallory Square, home to the nightly Sunset Celebration featuring performers and artisans. Here visitors can find handcrafted gifts, Keys collectibles and one-of-a-kind jewelry.
 
Key West offers both sophisticated and casual dining, with exquisite seafood served throughout the island. The fresh fish that graces a restaurant table in the evening was likely unloaded at Keys docks that morning. Local chefs pride themselves on uniquely creative seafood concoctions flavored with regional ingredients.
 
Among favorites are Key West pink shrimp, a delicacy generally considered sweeter than other crustaceans. Whether sautéed in scampi, nestled atop pasta or salads, battered and fried or simply steamed with savory sauces, Key West pinks are light and flavorful.
 
The mollusk conch (pronounced “konk”) also is coveted, served in lime-kissed salad, spicy chowder or golden fried fritters. Stone crabs, known for their sweet and succulent meat, are a delicacy too, with claws commonly served with drawn butter or chilled with mustard sauce.
 
Spiny Florida lobsters are a favorite as well. Yellowtail, hog and mutton snapper, hogfish, grouper and mahi-mahi can be served grilled, broiled, blackened, baked or fried.
 
Cuban eateries also are popular, offering sweet coffee, pressed sandwiches, picadillo and roast pork among other treats.
 
No meal is complete without a taste of Key lime pie. Each restaurant places an individual hallmark on this tasty, tangy dessert, but the primary ingredients are condensed milk, tiny yellow Key limes, graham cracker crust and whipped cream or meringue topping.
 
While Key West may best be known among all visitors for its warm welcome, the island’s sophisticated shopping and fine dining are among the reasons it’s one of the nation’s top LGBT destinations.
 
 
Key West visitor information: www.fla-keys.com/gay, www.fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY
Gay Key West Visitor Center: www.gaykeywestfl.com, 305-294-4603 or 1-800-535-7797 
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