Hidden Gems: Key West, Florida

On an island that measures roughly four miles by two miles, it’s hard for anything to really be called
"hidden." Still, there are places in Key West that are a little quieter, a little less likely to show up on
the average tourist’s radar. As someone born and raised in Key West, these are the spots I always recommend to my
friends when they visit.

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Being a foodie at heart, Five Brothers
Grocery, at the corner of Southard and Grinnell Streets, is usually the first place I send people. This unassuming
Cuban grocery serves up what most locals agree to be the best coffee and sandwiches in town. Order a cafe con
leche
, or, even better, a buchi, a single shot of sweet Cuban espresso. You can’t really go wrong with
any of the sandwiches, but a Cuban mix or a midnite (like a Cuban but on a sweet roll) might be your best bet. A side
of bollitos, blackeyed pea fritters with garlic, and a bottle of Malta Hatuey, and you’re all set.
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Just around the corner from Five Brothers is
perhaps my favorite spot in town, the Key West Cemetery. The main entrance you see here is at the intersection of
Margaret and Angela Streets and Passover Lane. Sure, there are a couple of other public parks on the island, but this
is by far the most tranquil area you’ll find.

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Since everything in town is pretty close to sea
level, most of the graves in the cemetery are above ground, similar to New Orleans. Since space is so precious, they’ve
taken to stacking people, as you can see on the right.

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If you didn’t eat your lunch from Five
Brothers on one of the benches outside, take it over to the cemetery. In the eastern corner, near the intersection of
Frances and Olivia Streets, you’ll fine some shaded benches.

These benches are also conveniently located
near what is perhaps one of the most frequently photographed epitaphs in the world:
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If you leave the cemetery
and hang a left on Southard Street, you’ll eventually come to Truman Annex and the entrance to href="http://www.floridastateparks.org/forttaylor/default.cfm">Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
(coincidentally, this route also takes you by The Green Parrot Bar). Ft. Zach is
home to the best beach on the island. While you probably won’t be all alone on the beach, the park is large enough that
you won’t have to scramble for a spot in the sun or in the shade of the Australian Pines.

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The park closes at
sunset, which is when it’s at its best.

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Once the sun is down, a great place to survey
the town is the top of the city parking garage, at the corner of Caroline and Grinnell Streets. The href="http://www.kwahs.com/lighthouse.htm">Lighthouse Museum and the top of the hotel La Concha are also good for a
bird’s eye view, but the garage is much quieter. There’s a rear stairwell on James Street (also the site of href="http://www.keywestirish.com/">Finnegan’s Wake, another good watering hole).

For those of you
coming to Key West to shop, I suggest Bésame Mucho, a small boutique
at 315 Petronia St. It’s a great mix of classy little imports, from soap to chocolate, linens to jazz. Truly, a breed
apart from most of the schlock shops in town.
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Lastly, a spot I don’t see nearly enough of,
but still one I suggest everyone visit, is Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden. Located at 1 Free School Lane, on Simonton
Street, between Fleming and Southard Streets, this enormous garden occupies the center of a city block and features an
incredible variety of palms, fruit trees and orchids.
Admission is $6, I believe.

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As I said,
these are the places I usually send people. Overall, my advice to anyone visiting Key West for the first time would be
to spend an evening away from Duval Street and just wander around the streets and lanes of Old Town.

[All
photos taken by Nick Vagnoni except Bésame Mucho and Ft. Zachary Taylor, taken by John Vagnoni]