9 Surprising Key West Facts: Fun & Interesting Side Of Key West

9 Surprising Key West Facts: Fun & Interesting Side Of Key West

The Overseas Highway

Key West Florida is known for its shimmering waters, ivory beaches, endless sunshine, and parties that legends are made of. It also boasts a fascinating history, quirky landmarks, and unusual people. Whether you’ve been to Key West one time or one hundred, there are always new and unusual facts to learn about this one-of-a-kind island.

If your question is how to spend your Key West vacation, Key West Boat Trips is your answer. With the best small-group boats in Key West, our second-to-none sandbar journeys will be a treasure trove of beautiful sandbars and interesting facts about the island.

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Embark on a journey to Key West, a tropical paradise brimming with fascinating and entertaining facts that every traveler should know before setting foot on this enchanting island. Join us as we delve into nine intriguing tidbits about Key West that will pique your interest.

1) Key West Was Originally Called Bone Island

Spanish settler, Ponce de Leon, discovered Key West in 1521 during his quest for the Fountain of Youth. He and his settlers originally called Key West Cayo Hueso, which loosely translates to Bone Island.

This grim name referred to the bones of hundreds of deceased Calusa Indians who had previously populated the Florida Keys. However, English speakers thought Cayo Hueso sounded like Key West, making this one of the most interesting facts about Key West.

2) Pan American Airways Got Off The Ground In Key West

An icon of the Golden Age of Air Travel, Pan American Airways, or Pan Am, dominated international airspace from 1930 to 1991. It was a golden age, indeed: Passengers dressed impeccably, drinks flowed, lobster dinners were served, and smoking was not only permitted but encouraged.

Exemplifying glamour and opulence, Pan Am’s aircraft, called “Clippers,” were the first to fly worldwide. The airline goliath also pioneered computerized reservation systems, international flights, cabin pressurization, and jumbo jets. It propelled the airplane industry into the Jet Age with the acquisition of Boeing 707s, 747s, and the first supersonic Concorde.

The airline was founded in 1927 by 28-year-old Juan “Terry” Trippe, who realized the potential of commercial flight long before any of his competitors did. Pan Am started as a passenger and air mail service. The future winged titan was based in Key West and began by making regular flights between there and Havana.

One of the fun facts about Key West is that Kelly McGinnis, an alumnus of the high-flying movie Top Gun, fittingly owns the Key West house where Pan Am tickets were sold. It’s now a bar called First Flight, and it’s Key West’s only microbrewery.

3) The Civil War Is Part Of Key West History

Although Key West is the country’s southernmost city, it shared none of the combativeness of Southern cities including Savannah, New Orleans, and Charleston during the Civil War. In fact, it remained part of the Union for the entire conflict. The Union wielded substantial force in Key West, thanks to the strategic location of Fort Zachary Taylor.

Key West Florida boasts four Naval forts:

  • Fort Zachary Taylor
  • Fort East Martello
  • West Martello Tower
  • The sprawling, 16-acre Fort Jefferson on nearby Dry Tortugas. Dry Tortugas is also famed as the starting point for the 350-mile Florida Keys Reef Tract, the third largest barrier coral reef system in the world.

4) Key West Is Home To Famous Writers

Key West is a place that captures the hearts of countless visitors, and it’s no wonder that some of them can’t resist the temptation to call it home sweet home. One of the most famous names in the literary world, Ernest Hemingway was proud to have found his creative sanctuary right here in Key West.

Ernest Hemingway, a renowned author who had a profound impact upon the literary world, lived for almost 10 years in his Key West home. Inspired by his surroundings, Hemingway penned some of his most significant work, including:

  • For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • The Snows of Kilimanjaro
  • A Farewell to Arms
  • The Green Hills of Africa

Almost as famous as Hemingway are the six-toed cats (polydactyls) that monopolize the house. You haven’t visited Key West until you’ve met these whiskered wonders. One of the most purr-fect facts about Key West is that all 60 of these adorable fuzzballs are descendants of Snow White. She was a cat gifted to Hemingway by a local mariner, Captain Stanley Dexter, in the 1930s.

The author’s Spanish Colonial house is now the Hemingway House and Museum. It’s filled with Hemingway memorabilia, including his typewriter, books, photos, and trophy mounts, and animal skins from his safaris. In 1958, the house was designated a National Historic Landmark. When you visit Key West, it’s a must-see.

Other luminaries who have had a Key West home include:

  • Harry S. Truman
  • Bettie Page
  • John James Audubon
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Calvin Klein

5) Key West Is Also Called The Conch Republic

In 1982, Key West declared secession from the United States. Calling itself the Conch (pronounced “conk”) Republic, the action was a protest against a Border Patrol roadblock and checkpoint at the entrance to the US Route 1. The impassable blockade ensnared traffic for 17 miles. As stories of the traffic jam circled the globe, visitors began canceling trips to Key West.

Although the secession was largely a symbolic act of protest, it did shed light on concerns that Key West was being treated like a foreign country. It also became an important part of Key West’s history.

Today, the Conch Republic flag flies all over the island. Key West area locals are called conchs, while those who reside there for seven years but were born elsewhere are called fresh-water conchs. It’s one of the facts about Key West that you should know when you run into one of the locals!

Friends, fans, and tourists can join the irreverent Conch Republic Independence Celebration. Held each April, the 10-day bash includes:

  • Shrimp boil
  • Sunset boat parade
  • World’s Longest Parade
  • Drag races
  • Performances of “Conch Republic – The Musical” (A show about an important part of Key West’s history – the beginnings of the Conch Republic.)

6) There Are No Locally Grown Limes In Key Lime Pie

Lime purists clutch your pearls: Key lime pie is not made with Florida limes! Key limes haven’t been commercially grown in the US since 1926 when a ferocious Category 4 hurricane tore through the Florida Keys lime crops. Key limes are now imported from Mexico or the West Indies. These limes are much rounder and smaller than the limes you’d pick up at, say, your local Walmart.

Regardless of the fruit’s origin, the pie is a Southern classic. It’s so beloved that it’s honored every year on National Key Lime Pie Day. It’s also celebrated at the five-day Key Lime Festival, with festivities including:

  • Pie Eatin’ Contest
  • Key lime rum tasting
  • Pie Drop
  • Key Lime Cocktail Sip and Stroll

7) The Key West Lighthouse May Be Haunted

The Key West Lighthouse is a historic gem that dates back to 1848. It was built to illuminate the dangerous reefs that had caused at least one shipwreck per week. Interestingly, salvaging cargo and valuables from the wrecks grew into a commercial enterprise that briefly made Key West the richest city per capita in the United States.

The lighthouse was one of the first and only to have a female keeper (Barbara Mabrity) – a rarity in that era. Mabrity took over keeper duties when her husband died of yellow fever.

The 86-foot sentinel guarded the treacherous coastline until it was deactivated in 1969. It was turned over to Monroe County and transformed into a museum. Among its other artifacts, the museum displays several revolutionary Fresnel lenses, which intensified beams of light

The lighthouse has 88 spiraling stairs. The spectacular panorama from the viewing deck makes the climb undeniably worthwhile.

Throughout Key West’s history, there have been rumors that the lighthouse may be haunted. Beset by tragedies including three hurricanes, the drowning of five of Mabrity’s six children, and the death of her husband from yellow fever, ghostly presences have been detected there. These apparitions include:

  • Barbara Mabrity – Barbara was fiercely dedicated to the lighthouse. It’s been said that her spirit remained to continue looking after it.
  • A phantom couple
  • Soldiers
  • Small children
  • Ghosts of the countless shipwrecked sailors

Luckily, all the ghosts that haunt the lighthouse appear to be friendly.

8) The Overseas Highway Is Made Of 42 Bridges

The Overseas Highway looks like it should be impossible, but it isn’t. This engineering tour de force is a scenic 113 miles of pavement that connects mainland Florida to Key West. It runs through the Keys, over the Atlantic Ocean, Florida Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico.

Also called the Highway That Goes to Sea, its distant ribbon of pavement seems to vanish into the horizon. It’s made of an astounding 42 bridges, including the Seven Mile Bridge, an iconic structure that connects Knight’s Key in the Middle Keys to Little Duck Key in the Lower Keys.

This famous bridge also had a starring role in many movies, including True Lies, License to Kill, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Mission Impossible III, and The Haunted Mansion.

9) Roosters Run Rampant On Duval Street

Stop by Duval Street and you’ll have something to crow about: the feral hens and roosters who call this free-spirited street – and other Key West areas – home. These noisy avian residents fit in perfectly with Duval Street’s hustle and bustle, and they make sure you don’t ignore them. The feathered Key West residents self-importantly strut into restaurants, usher their fuzzy babies across busy streets, beg for tasty morsels, and randomly squawk at all times of the day. And night.

One of the most interesting Key West facts is that the birds’ population dates back to the early 1800s when a Cuban revolution caused thousands of Cubans to escape to Key West. With them came cockfighting (a “sport” where two roosters fight to the death). Luckily, Key West’s government outlawed this horrific game, and the Cubans released all of the birds. They’ve been freely traipsing around ever since and maybe just as famous as the Hemingway cats!

Plan Your Trip To Key West With Our Amazing Sandbar Tours

Now that you’ve learned some fascinating facts and tidbits about Key West, you’re fully prepared to embark on your island adventure and indulge in the unforgettable experience of our sandbar tours.

Leave the world’s hustle and bustle behind as one of our friendly, knowledgeable captains ushers you to enchanted mangroves and pristine sandbars.

Play volleyball, snorkel, observe the plentiful marine life, or just soak up the sun. Schedule your tour now, and leave the real world behind.

Ready for your next adventure?