"Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer." -Charles Tobias
Those of us who live in Key West year-round have all heard it. Our friends in other states ask us, "You stay in Key West through the Summer? Are you crazy?" We get it. The idea of Summer in the tropics can be a bit intimidating- "Night of the Iguana" images spring to mind.
But not so fast! Would it surprise you to hear that for as long as records have been kept, it has never hit 100°F in Key West? That's true. Most days in the Summer, Miami has higher temps than our little island. Being 120 miles from the mainland, with the Gulf Stream flowing right around us, has its advantages. Don't get me wrong- it does get hot here. In July- our hottest month- Key West has an average temperature of 85°F.
Of course we are air-conditioned to the max. Whether your vacation rental home is a grand estate or a sweet little Key West cottage, you will have AC. Every store, gallery, restaurant and museum you walk into will be air conditioned. But who wants to visit this fabulous island and then stay indoors the whole time? The Southernmost City thrived and grew as a military stronghold, a bustling seaport, and sweet place to live for well over a century before AC arrived. Early houses were designed for comfortable Caribbean-style living. Shiny metal roofs deflected the Sun's rays. Nearly every home had a big, covered front porch, creating a shaded space and cooler air. Classic "eyebrow houses" were built with porch roofs which drop below the level of upper windows. These create deeper shade for the second floor. Some of the grander homes had vented ductwork built into the interior walls. As warmer air moved up to escape into the attic or the outdoors, it drew cool air up from the dark crawl space underneath. This nicely cooled the house as it rose. Borrowing from well-established Caribbean tradition, some homes had metal louvers on the windows, allowing residents to darken the interior during the hottest part of the day. They could then be adjusted to allow good airflow as the sun sunk low. By the 1920's electric ceiling fans- now popular everywhere (and ubiquitous in the tropics)- became commonplace, both indoors and in covered outdoor spaces.
In the 1940's, air conditioning began to appear in a few public buildings. Movie houses and grocery stores were among the earliest cooled spaces. In the 50's some of the island's wealthier residents began air conditioning their homes, as did many mainland Floridians. Before long, AC had become de rigueur for every building in town.
But in Key West, we love the outdoors. And we don't hesitate to venture out. For our Summer outings we have discovered a few simple guidelines to make moving around a pleasure.
Easy does it- Summer on Duval Street
- Slow down (this usually happens naturally in Key West, anyway.)
- Seek shade- and there is plenty of it thanks to lush tropical vegetation.
- Hydrate- we suggest water or juices (cocktails can wait 'til sundown.)
- Dress for the tropics- loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing. Sandals or flip flops are practically mandatory!
A Different Kind of Season
What can you expect when you visit us in the Summer? The old-timers here love to reminisce about Summers when you could "roll a bowling ball from one end of Duval to the other without hitting anything or anybody." Those days are definitely long gone, but there are, nonetheless, far fewer visitors here during the "off-season." And in many ways, that can be pretty nice. Of course, we love our visitors to the island, but after a bustling season through the Winter and Spring, a break is nice. We traditionally have a big "Survivors Party" in Duval Street shortly after Memorial Day. This is a chance for hard-working locals to celebrate having survived another "Season."
Traffic, never really a big-city nightmare here, is even lighter, and getting around is simplified. Strolling and biking about is a laid-back pleasure. During the Season, it's generally advisable to plan ahead and make dinner reservations. Off-season there are much thinner crowds, and short lines or none at all. So you can be a little more spontaneous and still be able to enjoy many of Key West's exceptional dining spots while you are here.
The famous Key West nightlife scene is still vibrant in the Summertime. The music still plays, and the party goes on, but the bars and clubs are not as packed. So of course, it's easier to keep the drinks coming! It's also easier to move around within the clubs, and from one spot to the next, should you be inclined to do the "Duval crawl."
Galleries, museums, shops and attractions are likewise less busy, so it's really a great time to leisurely enjoy these things, too.
The Season of Spectacular Clouds
"A cloudless plain blue sky is like a flowerless garden." -Terri Guillemets
Wintertime visitors to the Florida Keys frequently comment on how bright the daylight is here. Between the clean, clear air and the Southern latitude, the pure, rich blue of the sky comes blasting through from horizon to horizon. But in the Summer, an entirely different sort of magic happens overhead. Cumulonimbus and Cumulus clouds
form dramatic, massive skyscapes in every direction.
Key West is famous for its sunsets, but a simple "buttermilk sky" alone does not a great sunset make. When mammoth cloud formations provide a richly textured canvas for the setting sun to embellish, truly epic things happen. Mallory Square, with its nightly Sunset Celebration
is a prime location for sharing the thrill with other sunset connoisseurs. The Truman Waterfront Park or anywhere along the Historic Waterfront offer striking views as well. And don't forget to check out sunrise too. If you can manage to drag yourself out of bed, the payoff is well worth it. Smathers Beach, Higgs Beach and the White Street Pier all offer great vantage points for the spectacular show.
In most coastal and island towns, the locals will tell you, "If you don't like the weather here, just wait 15 minutes." And Key West in the Summertime certainly lives up to that old saw. While we can sometimes go weeks without a drop of rain in the Winter and Spring, diurnal (daytime) showers often pop up in the Summer. These generally pass by pretty quickly, but for as long as they last, they are a pleasure to experience here in the tropics. While you may seek shelter to wait it out, some of us really don't mind getting a little damp. Depending on how we are dressed when it comes, strolling through a nice warm shower can be rather dreamy!
A walk around the island after a rain can be a real pleasure, too. Often a slightly cooler breeze will follow a shower. The colors of the flowers and foliage seem a bit more intense, and the intoxicating scents of Summer-blossoms fill the air. The moist air infused with the heady perfumes of jasmine, gardenia and frangipani is like a natural spa treatment for your skin. Paradise, indeed!
So...Key West, Summer, rainstorms. By now you may be asking, "But don't you guys have hurricanes there?" And the answer is, yes, occasionally we do. But not as often as you may think. Typically many years, or often decades, pass between hurricane hits. County officials closely monitor tropical depressions as they form out to sea. If a storm develops into a hurricane, and is anticipated to hit Key West, the island is evacuated well in advance in an orderly fashion.
During hurricane season, you can protect your vacation rental investment with Trip Cancellation and Interruption Insurance. This insurance will protect your trip from costs due to an impending storm, hurricane warning, mandatory evacuation, or a cancellation due to a sudden emergency before or during your trip.
VHKW guests are strongly advised to purchase this insurance
during hurricane season months. VHKW has been affiliated with Travel Guard Insurance for over 15 years.
Get In The Water
Visitors enjoy a charter day trip off the island.
In the daytime, the beaches are inviting. You can break up your sun time with shady breaks beneath the palms at Smathers Beach, or in the heavenly soft shade of the Australian pines at Ft. Zach Beach
. The Summertime seawater is rather warm- 85°F, as opposed to 72-78 in the Winter and Spring. While it may be less invigorating, the warm, salty water is ever so soothing. You came here to relax, right?
How about making your ocean dipping experience a special event? Full- and half-day charter trips are available to get you "off the rock" and into unique ocean environs. You can customize a charter to include sight-seeing excursions and visits to sand bar hangouts usually only enjoyed by locals. Stop at tiny uninhabited islands and mangrove mini-forests completely surrounded by the ocean. We recommend Courage Charters
for such an individualized experience.
For larger groups, or to join others, check out Argo Navis Charters
. If you're up for a more immersive experience, you can snorkel, scuba or Snuba, depending on your experience level. Visit Snuba Key West
for lots of fun underwater options.
Check our earlier blog post, Things to Do On the Water
, to find more suggestions for your water-based fun.
Living in a Greenhouse
Red and fuchsia bougainvillea and yellow allamanda overflow a garden wall.
At all different times of the year, there are always flowers blooming in Key West. Orchids, for example put on their best show in the Wintertime. Other plants dazzle us in the Spring. But Summer brings the showiest displays of all. All over town you'll spot cascades of bougainvillea tumbling over fences and walls. Purple and blue verbena adorn trellises and pergolas, and blooming shrubs such as jasmine and plumeria delight both the visual and olfactory senses. The grandest displays of all are provided by the expansive canopies of fire-orange blossoms adorning the island's innumerable Royal Poinciana trees.
And, of course, Summer is mango season! While many tropical fruit trees thrive and produce here- soursop, avocado, guava, banana, papaya to name a few- the mango is the most beloved. Each June, there is even a Mango Festival
, where dozens of local restaurants present samples of their proudest mango creations. And as much as we all love our mangoes, no doubt the most famous fruit here would be Key Limes. Not to be outdone, these distinctive citrus gems have their own Key Lime Festival
in July. There you can sample, basically, Key Lime everything, including the world's largest Key Lime pie! Both of these fruity festivals are annual favorites, and benefit local organizations.
We've heard it said that all you need to be a successful gardener in Key West is a chainsaw. Maybe that's just a little bit of an overstatement, but nonetheless it is remarkably easy to grow a wide variety of stunning tropical and subtropical trees, plants and flowers here. They really love the plentiful sunshine and nourishing atmosphere of the Keys, and the flora would probably take over, given half a chance.
Surprisingly, it was not always thus. Before the early 1800's the Keys were only occupied, intermittently, by various aboriginal communities. But then professional seafaring people from new England and various Caribbean islands arrived and began setting up a permanent settlement in what is now Key West. When they arrived, the plant life here was primarily comprised of scruffy, low-growing brush with just a few kinds of trees. Mangroves occupied wetlands along the shores, and a few sea grapes, various wild figs and some indigenous, rather unremarkable trees. Most of the larger ones were soon chopped down to be used as firewood. But being a primary port where numerous trade routes converged, plants, roots, and seeds (including coconuts) started arriving from all over. Since most tropical species were so happy to take root here, the barren island was gradually transformed into the lush botanical wonderland it is today. Always lush, and always vibrant, the flora here takes on an especially rich depth of color once the Summer rains arrive.
Come See Us!
Whether you are a regular "on-season" visitor, or have never been to our enchanting little tropical paradise, we invite you to come share the distinctive qualities that make Key West in the Summer a unique and pleasurable environment.
There goes the Sun.