The southernmost city in the USA, about two hours' drive south of Miami, is Key West. America's tropical island, it's a grown-up's amusement park, and is infamous for the escapades of past inhabitants.
We loved its literary history -- the balmy climate, plentiful rum and relaxed atmosphere has endeared it to writers such as Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and Ernest Hemingway.
Full of raucous bars, historic clapboard homes and derivative meals of lobster, conch, and clams, Key West is out to have a good time.
Not flashy in the least, the four traditional clapboard houses on the corner of Fleming and Symington Streets that make up the Marquesa Hotel look like a pretty well-kept secret. To the contrary, however, the Marquesa has been voted one of the best 500 hotels in the world, and the best in Florida.
Beautifully restored, with honey-toned hardwood floors, curated art selections and all the southern comforts you can imagine, each of the suites has its own porch looking over one of the property's two pools (one heated, one cool) which are surrounded by a beautifully landscaped garden of multi-hued orchids. It's hard to believe that the serene property sits only a block away from bawdy Duval Street, which makes it central to the action, but a private and tranquil hideaway.
If you're looking for the beautiful home you wished you had, quiet and classic coastal style, and personal and warm attentiveness, then you'll love relaxing in the beautiful garden or well-appointed rooms of the quiet Marquesa.
Although there is an array of good food in Key West, a favorite breakfast spot is the cheerful Banana Café, an airy French bistro from where you can sit by the window and watch the world pass as you devour Eggs Benedict or Strawberry Cheesecake crepes.
Bagatelle is seldom busy, which is surprising as between 4:00pm and 6:00pm the best of their innovative appetizers (think pint-sized portions of creamy lobster mac & cheese, pork belly and fish tacos) and craft cocktail selection that combines local flavors in new and interesting ways, are all half price.
The porch offers an elevated and shady position from which to watch passing revellers on Duval Street and plot your next stop.
If you're looking for street food and want to indulge in the Keys' penchant for clams, lobster and conch, you can't do better than stop by DJ's Clam Shack, a literal shack once featured on Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. The lobster roll is a treat: fresh, creamy lobster spills out of a sweet brioche loaf. Order the large portion to avoid disappointment, and eat with sweet potato fries and their homemade slaw.
Hemingway Home: If you're a fan of Papa, his house is a worthwhile visit. Now presented more as a museum of his life than staged as it was when the famous inhabitant wrote 70% of his best work from it, drank at Sloppy Joe's down the road, and built the only swimming pool in the area, it's a fantastically curated resource.
Unexpectedly fascinating, the Little White House, once home to the Naval Commander of the area, has hosted President Truman (for 175 days during office), as well as many presidents since then. Chelsea Clinton still comes back to it on holiday, as do various other first-family members.
The house is preserved as it was during the 1970s when decorated for the first lady, and a tour around the house offers insight into Truman's presidency and the role of the Keys in presidential life.
The scene for a nightly sunset party, Mallory Square is a large, red-bricked area that runs alongside the marina. Although the mobile cocktail stands are expensive, and performers draw a crowd larger than they perhaps deserve, it's a vibey place to people watch and see the sun go down.
Sarah Laurence is a writer, educator and entrepreneur. See more at www.sarahevelyn.co.za.