Closer to Havana than to Miami, Key West is the southernmost point of the continental United States, and it feels like another world. The town still celebrates its brief rebellion (in 1982) as the independent Conch Republic in typical laid-back Key West style, with parades, parties and souvenir T-shirts. Not that locals and visitors -- Hemingway aficionados, beach connoisseurs, scuba divers and snorkelers, deep-sea anglers, road trippers, cruise passengers, and seasonal hordes of spring-break revelers -- need much excuse to blend up another pitcher of margaritas. With its balmy Caribbean climate, the place seems to be on vacation year-round, and recreation and relaxation are the top priorities.
What other city is audacious enough to secede from the United States, declare war, immediately surrender and then request $1 million in foreign aid?
When Key West seceded to protest the U.S. Border blockade in 1982, Mayor Dennis Wardlow's "Conch Republic" was born. Its foreign policy: "The Mitigation of World Tensionthrough the Exercise of Humor."
Key West is the epitome of the "Gee, I'd love to live there" place. Sassy, laid-back, glorified in travel brochures and Jimmy Buffett songs, the tiny island of Margaritaville beckons with its lure of lazily swinging hammocks, rum drinks at Sloppy Joe's and all the conch you can eat.
Harry Truman established his summer White House in Key West, and Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams lived here too. More Pulitzer Prize winners have lived in Key West than in any other U.S. city. But don't call the moving van just yet. Key West's cost of living is the highest in the state and the only real economic base is tourism with its accompanying (low-paying) service jobs.
Not everyone can live here, but many can visit. Sunsets are celebrated every evening in Mallory Square. The annual Fantasy Fest, Key West's answer to Mardi Gras, is a 10-day October event that draws over 50,000 visitors. Museums, a truly unique cemetary, and spectacular diving and snorkeling continue to fascinate and send out their alluring sirens' call.