By Jiang Xinhua | 2013-3-16 | NEWSPAPER EDITION
WITH sandy beaches, elegantly weathered homes and a subtropical climate which nourishes lush vegetation such as palm trees, hibiscus and bougainvillea, Key West is a hot vacation spot for snowbirds, spring breakers, international tourists and passengers embarking on cruises form Florida ports.
The island, the southernmost of the Florida Keys, was home at various times to Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and Robert Frost, and remains a retreat for writers and artists. However, on such a popular island, gourmet specialties or a Key Lime Shooter cocktail can cost your day's budget.
So instead, do as the locals do and enjoy Key West's free attractions. In addition to beaches, take a look at the landmark buoy marking the southernmost point in United States; become an art enthusiast- or critic- while browsing old streets lined with galleries; or simply join the crowds and marvel at Key West's amazing sunsets.
With its plethora of art galleries, Key West probably boasts the highest concentration of artists in Florida. Most are located at the upper end of Duval Street from the 600 to 1200 blocks.
Beginning at the 1200 block and walking your way down, you will be treated to a museum's worth of art in a wide variety of mediums, including photography, oils and watercolors, sculpture, metalwork, woodwork, jewelry and hand-blown glass. Subjects go way beyond the expected dolphins, sunsets and the Hemingway House - though even these may pleasantly surprise.
Dig through the ultra-cool collections of original vintage Art Deco posters at South Pointe Gallery (1201 Duval St). Experience the tribal art of Africa, teak Indonesian furniture and Iranian gabbeh rugs at Archeo (1208 Duval St).
Do explore the side streets off Duval Street. Enter the colorful energetic world of Haitian art at Haitian Art Co. (1100 Truman Ave) where original works include metal sculptural reliefs and Vodou spirit flags, an art form unique to Haiti.
The Southernmost Point of The United States (almost...)
One of the most visited and photographed sites on Key West, the brightly painted buoy labeled "SOUTHERNMOST POINT CONTINENTAL USA," is the most popular free attraction on the island. It is located at the corner of South Street and Whitehead Street.
Most visitors to the island will take a picture with the famous concrete marker to show they've been to the southernmost point of the continental United States.
However, they may be disappointed to learn that despite the hype, this is not actually the southernmost point.
The true southernmost point in the continental United States is Ballast Key, a private island which prohibits unauthorized visitors.
Besides having their photographs taken with the buoy, tourists can try fresh coconuts just picked from the trees, have a look at some souvenirs at the stalls nearby and sample Key lime pie - which is yellow not green - and a must-try dessert on the island.
Of Kest West's many natural attractions, its sunsets are among the most popular.
Visitors and locals seek out the moment when the trailing edge of the sun disk disappears into the Gulf of Mexico, the surface of the sea shining with intense oranges and reds.
Various types of cruises operate in the area, including those offering sunset sightseeing, reef diving and sailing. Passengers often wave and yell at landlubbers at the water's edge, as they celebrate sundown.
A must-see is the sunset celebration at Mallory Square, the most famous sunset viewing spot in Key West. Every night, weather permitting, street vendors and performers gather at Mallory Square Dock in Old Town off Duval Street.
Jugglers, palm readers, contortionists, musicians and other entertainers vie for the attention and donation of many spectators gathered for the sunset.
Locals and tourists alike can sing and dance away their worries to the accompaniment of live music on this romantic island.