By Kyle Teal
Avoiding other tourists in Key West is like avoiding water in a swimming pool. Unless you're hog-tied in your hotel room, running into a fellow sunscreen-doused visitor is a sure thing.
But why not ditch your "mainlander" appearance and adopt a local's disguise for a weekend? Checklist: sandals, a bicycle, an angst-free attitude and a desire to steer clear of the drunken herds of Duval Street.
Begin your day with a mimosa and a hot breakfast from Blue Heaven. Tucked away in the culturally rich Bahama Village neighborhood, the property once hosted boxing matches refereed by Ernest Hemingway. Now, it serves gourmet meals all day, amid tropical foliage and free-roaming chickens. Expect to hear a live reggae band or soft acoustic guitar while you chomp on shrimp grits or Vermont white sharp cheddar omelets.
It's first-come, first-serve for breakfast, so show up early and enjoy the band, or take a walk around the neighborhood, because it's not unusual to wait an hour for a table.
729 Thomas St; 305-296-8666
If that doesn't tide you over 'til dinner, grab a bowl of conch chowder, a meaty Cuban sandwich or platanos maduros from El Siboney for lunch. Wash it down with a mean café con leche.
900 Catherine St; 305-296-4184.
For decadent dining, go for tapas at Santiago's Bodega, deep in the heart of residential Bahama Village. Salads are enormous and tapas plates are small. A taste-bud-rocking-dish: the prosciutto-wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese. Reservations recommended
207 Petronia St; 305-296-7691
Hit the Green Parrot, an open-air saloon bustling with shady locals and harmonica-heavy jam bands. If you've spent time in ocean water, avoid washing your hair before hitting the sauce. Your tangled, salty locks will make you a distant cousin to the Key Wester perched on a neighboring bar stool.
Popular shot: root beer barrels, or root beer schnapps dropped in a glass of beer, chugged like a true islander. Credit cards and whiny attitudes prohibited.
601 Whitehead St; 305-294-6133
Venture to the end of Southard Street to experience a structure instrumental in the Civil War and the Spanish American War, Fort Zachary Taylor.
While other tourists fight the hordes for a decent view of the sunset at Mallory Square, you can enjoy a front row seat to a quieter show if you travel farther down the street to Fort Zach Taylor Park's beach. Lofty Australian pines wave to the turquoise sea, and the only thing obstructing your view is an occasional sailboat.
The East Martello Museum and Gallery offers a bounty of bizarre sculptures and Key West history within its storied brick walls. The impressive site will teach you how shipwrecking, cigar rolling, turtling and other profitable industries once made the island the wealthiest city in the state.
3501 S. Roosevelt Blvd; 305-296-3913
A spellbinding, Victorian maze in which you won't mind losing yourself, the Curry Mansion Inn makes for charming, cushy lodging in Old Town Key West.
Rooms range from $240 to $365 per night during tourist season and $195 to $285 the rest of the year.
511 Caroline St; 305-294-5349
Artist and vagabond John Forte, a Blue Heaven fixture. Photo: Kyle Teal