Key West is out there, way out there
Before there were tons of places for gays and lesbians to feel free to be themselves, there was Key West. For some time, it was the only U.S. city to court the gay tourist, and those tourists now come in droves. What’s not to love? Beautiful scenery, excellent weather, and a devil-may-care lifestyle that’s one drink away from hedonism. At the edge of the country, you can let it all hang out—literally.
The residents of Key West hold dear the island’s two biggest assets: nature and history. Before you even see the water, you’ll stand in awe of the lush greens surrounding the restored old wooden homes and the tropical trees and flowers flourishing in every possible corner. When you see chickens running free in the street and the polydactyl cats (with extra toes) lounging at the famous Ernest Hemingway House, you’ll start to get to the notion that things are different here. And those aren’t the only cocks and pussies just hanging.
Two main events highlight the carefree, clothing-optional spirit of Key West. For the gays, the Bone Island Bare It All Weekends take place in July and December. (Cayo Hueso, or Bone Key, was Key West’s original name, but now it just lends itself to not-so-vague puns.) You don’t have to be naked, but you probably should trim the hedges ahead of time in case the mood catches you. Speaking of bushes, the ladies head to Womenfest in September, which ups the class a little with film, live music, and comedy. But still, the ho-ha’s and ta-ta’s come out to play—this is Key West, after all. Also, many guesthouses have year-round policies encouraging you to put nothing between you and the sun. You don’t have to, but if you do, remember to apply sunscreen everywhere. Yes, everywhere.
As you can imagine, the Key boasts tons of options for watersports (not that kind). However you choose to enjoy the water, make sure you check out the coral reef (the only living reef off the mainland). On land, walking or biking make perfect daytime activities, and the stunning Key West sunset is a must-see, especially from Mallory Square. The street performers there keep the crowd entertained with or without the glorious sun. From antique shopping to theater to cafes to bars and clubs, Duval Street earns the reputation for the everything-gay place. You’ll eat, drink, and dance yourself into giddy fervor. Then watch the sunrise, sleep a bit, and do it all over again.
The party in Key West never dies down; even the off-season is likely to be wilder than you’ll see at home. So if your clothes are starting to feel itchy and you need to get away, Key West should be high on your list. Pack light. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in Key West, you don’t need it.
Photos by JoeSwickFoto and Jim Werner and courtesy of Equator Resort