The Florida Keys
The United State’s wild, weird piece of Caribbean archipelago
Conchs, the eccentric Key West locals, say that hurricanes blew away all the churches but left the bars standing. And while the Conch bars absolutely must be explored, the Keys have so much more to them than a debauched trip down Duval Street. Stretching nearly 150 miles, the Keys are teeming with history, mystery, wildlife, and weirdos. Home to the only coral reef in the continental U.S. -- and one of the most delicate, diverse and important ecosystems in the world -- they’re a national treasure to be savored and preserved. Wise and patient explorers will see barracuda, egret, osprey, manatee, key deer (they’re mini!), bald eagles, and the radiantly pink roseate spoonbill, a shy bird that once was nearly exterminated by plume hunters.
At the end of the road Key West, a place both tacky and elegant -- have drinks at Sloppy Joe's, said to be Hemingway’s favorite bar, get boisterous at the Green Parrot, but also spend a sophisticated evening at Louie's Backyard, an Atlantic-facing restaurant with Key West's best views. A gay haven and iconic LGBTQ destination, Key West has also been a community for many of America's greatest writers. Hemingway, yes, but also Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, Tennessee Williams, and Joy Williams, who wrote a guide to the Keys that remains one of the best pieces of travel writing in existence.
Good luck finding an AirBnB for rent; instead opt for one of Key West's many stately guesthouses, which echo with ghosts and history. Don't expect an abundance of sandy beach in the rocky keys, but the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West does the trick, and Bahia Honda State Park has a lovely sandy beach 35 miles up from Key West. -- Bison Messink
MORE: Things to do on a trip to Key West