Before the miracle of Henry Flagler's Overseas Railroad and subsequent Overseas Highway, Key West was accessible only by boat -- a fact which accounts for its physical appearance more in line with ports of the Caribbean chain rather than an extension of Florida. And while Key West offers many activities typical of the islands -- such as sightseeing, diving and fishing -- its relatively small area (eight square miles) and excellent marine facilities make it the perfect place to host the "Indy" event of ocean powerboat racing. A state park, numerous resorts and a cruise dock (Mallory Square) hug the deepwater harbor (a portion of the race course), providing perfect viewing positions to watch the high-powered craft thunder by. After the action, race crews and fans may avail themselves of superior shopping, historical attractions, fishing, diving and local cuisine.
Key West, the southernmost city in the continental United States, is 159 miles southwest of Miami and 90 miles north of Cuba. The Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico meet to surround the final island of the Florida Keys.
Via the modern Overseas Highway, Key West is a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Miami. But commuter airlines provide frequent flight service from Miami -- and other airports --often less than 45 minutes. The island also is a frequent port-of-call on cruise ship itineraries
Duval and Front streets are the traditional business center of Old Town, where ongoing restoration has recreated the bustling sea town of the 1890s. More than 75 stores in this area offer a wide variety of shopping opportunities. Robert Ripley once said Duval Street could be considered the longest street in the world -- it stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
Key West's historical attractions include Hemingway House, Audubon House, Oldest House, the East Martello Museum, Truman's Little White House and Mel Fisher's Maritime Heritage Society's Treasure Museum. An overview of the island and all of its offerings is available via the Old Town Trolley or Conch Tour Train.
At day's end visitors gather at Mallory Square to "call it a day." Hardly a contrived activity, the daily "sunset celebration" is an old tradition that Key Westers gladly share with visitors. While musicians, jugglers, mimes and an occasional fire-eater provide entertainment, the sun sinks slowly below the horizon and -- only if the sunset is good enough -- the audience applauds. Following sunset, visitors make a hasty retreat to such famous local taverns as Sloppy Joe's Bar or Captain Tony's Saloon. Or they venture to restaurants to sample local delicacies such as conch fritters, stone crabs and Key lime pie.
The name Key West is a corruption of the Spanish "Cayo Hueso," or "Bone Key." Key West first was populated by Calusa Indians and subsequently was a Spanish territory, following Ponce de Leon's discovery of Florida. In 1821, a Mobile, Ala. businessman, John Simonton, bought the island for $2,000. In 1868, Key West was a boom town, the largest city in the state of Florida. Henry Flagler's Overseas Railroad was completed in 1912 and, after running 22 years, rail service was discontinued. The roadbed, however, became the foundation of the old Overseas Highway. Today's new highway, with 43 modern bridges, was completed in 1982. After years of military presence, tourism is today's chief industry for Key West. Key West attracts writers, artists and people yearning for the laid-back, relaxed island lifestyle. Perhaps it is due to these attributes, as well as a superb natural offshore powerboat "race track," that Key West has become a popular host city for offshore racing.
For more Key West visitors information call, toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, 1-800-LAST-KEY. Elsewhere, dial (305) 294-2587. Or tap into the Florida Keys World Wide Web Site.