So you’ve come to Key West to soak up the tropical sunshine, but Mother Nature has given you a tropical shower instead? Not to worry. The Conch Train will continue to run in any weather, but the experience will be closer to a flume ride at an amusement park. Luckily, Key West has plenty of other attractions that will keep you both entertained and dry.
First, here are a few essential tips. Keep in mind that a rainy day in Key West requires some navigating, especially the Mallory Square end of Duval Street. This area tends to flood; think people kayaking down the street.
Since you can't get out on the water, let the Eco-Discovery Center bring the fish to you — Photo courtesy of Andy Newman / Florida Keys News Bureau
If you’ve rented a bike or moped, consider returning it or moving it to higher ground. If it gets damaged under your watch - even by flood waters - you could be held responsible for the damage. If you have a car, ask the proprietor of your hotel for the safest place to park. Store the number for Five Sixes Taxi in your cell phone.
Many of the restaurants feature outdoor seating to take advantage of the normally stellar weather. In the morning, head for indoor eateries like Harpoon Harry’s. This old-school diner near the historic seaport has been a local favorite for over 20 years, especially for their all-day breakfast menu. Homestyle comfort foods like corned beef hash paired with their spicy Bloody Mary will cure whatever ails you.
Since you can’t get out on the water to see the vast array of tropical fish and sea life, grab a cab to the Eco-Discovery Center, where they bring the fish to you. Exhibits include a replica of Aquarius, the world's only underwater ocean laboratory, and an underwater video camera monitoring a coral reef. The real star is the Living Reef exhibit, which includes a 2,500-gallon reef tank teeming with corals and fish. Bonus: Admission is free.
The City View Trolley has roll-down windows for inclement weather days — Photo courtesy of City View Trolley
In front of the Eco-Discovery Center, you’ll find a pickup spot for the City View Trolley Tour. They have roll-down windows for inclement weather. Settle in and listen to the knowledgeable tour guide give you a brief history of Key West as you pass notable attractions like the Audubon House, Oldest House Museum, San Carlos Theatre and the Key West Cemetery.
They have eight stops with trolleys that run every 30 minutes. This hop-on/hop-off format makes it easy to visit indoor gardens like the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory. It’s 5,000-square-foot glass-enclosed greenhouse is home to 1,200 to 2,000 butterflies, two pink flamingos, a koi pond, turtles and colorful finches.
Next, stop in at the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, where the larger-than-life author lived and wrote during the 1930s. Entertaining tour guides will take you through the two-story house and recount the exploits and adventures of “Papa.” Over 50 polydactyl (six-toed) cats have the run of the property, and you’ll find them lounging on display cases and antiques. If you're feeling energetic, you can climb the 88 winding steps to the top of Key West Lighthouse Museum across the street.
Grab a Cheeseburger in Paradise at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville Cafe — Photo courtesy of Sam Howzit
At the La Conch Hotel stop, make a mad dash for Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville Cafe across the street for a much-deserved cocktail and lunch. While it’s smaller than the other Margaritaville restaurants around the country, nothing beats the original.
Decorated with - what else? - Jimmy Buffett memorabilia, the eatery plays concert footage across a big-screen TV. Stick to the burgers on the menu; it’s what they do best. After all, you can’t miss having a Cheeseburger in Paradise, while sipping on a perfect margarita. If you’re a serious Parrothead, hit up the gift shop next door.
After such a busy day, why not spend the rest of the afternoon getting pampered at the Nailtini Bar & Day Spa, just a few blocks away from Margaritaville? Even guys are getting hip to the simple pleasures of a good mani-pedi these days, and the complimentary cocktail doesn’t hurt. Plop down in one of the massage chairs for their Signature Spa Pedicure and sip an appletini.
For dinner, focus on the local seafood at top spots like Pisces and Seven Fish. Both have limited seating, so reservations are a must. Pisces is a splurge and one of the more "formal" restaurants in Key West (i.e. Tacky t-shirts won't fly). The innovative chef fuses local seafood dishes with French cuisine, creating a decadent menu you won't find elsewhere. Try their signature entree: Lobster Tango Mango. Shelled Maine lobster is flambeed in cognac and paired with shrimp in saffron butter, mango and basil. It's a photo-worthy presentation.
Seven Fish has a simple yet elegant approach to cuisine; they mix both fresh seafood and comfort food on their menu. Start with the spicy tuna roll or the wild mushroom quesadilla, followed by their namesake specialty - fish of the day with Thai curry cream sauce. Don't miss their refreshing strawberry whipped cream pie with a chocolate graham cracker crust. The taste of summer-ripe berries will make you feel like it’s been a bright sunny day after all.