What’s New in the Florida Keys & Key West for LGBTQ+ Visitors
The Florida Keys & Key West, internationally known for their longstanding heritage of diversity, are a leading LGBTQ vacation destination. The southernmost U.S. island chain continues to appeal to LGBTQ visitors with ever-evolving “only in the Keys” experiences and communities renowned for their welcoming and accepting attitude.
While countless travelers access the Keys by driving down the Florida Keys Overseas Highway from mainland Florida, flying into Key West from many major U.S. cities also is an option. Six airlines — Allegiant, American, Delta, JetBlue, Silver and United — operate more than 20 nonstop U.S. routes to Key West International Airport.
“2022 is proving to be another exciting year for the LGBTQ community in Key West and the Florida Keys,” said Pony Charvet, LGBTQ sales manager for the Keys’ Monroe County Tourist Development Council. “New events are in the planning stages, many longtime events are back this year, and Key West’s iconic rainbow crosswalks were redone to once again make the Pride corridor of Duval Street shine.”
Here’s what’s new in the Keys and Key West:
Key West International Airport (EYW) is finalizing plans for its $90-plus million terminal designed to improve the level of service for Keys travelers. Elements are to include a new concourse A with enhanced security checkpoint, concessions and baggage claim areas; a spacious departure area; and glass-enclosed jet bridges connecting planes to the facility. The target date for completion is October 2024. Visit eyw.com or call 305-809-5200.
In Key West, four signature rainbow crosswalks spanning all four corners at the intersection of Duval and Petronia streets in the heart of the LGBTQ entertainment district have been refurbished by the City of Key West. The crosswalks, featuring long bands of the six colors of the rainbow flag, are composed of preformed thermoplastic color stripes heat-treated with propane torches and permanently affixed to the pavement. Originally installed on Duval in 2015, the crosswalks are a city landmark and popular photo stop.
In the Middle Keys a 60-passenger tram has debuted to transport visitors along a 2.2-mile span of the historic Old Seven Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key. The colorful tram features a locomotive front and two 30-passenger coaches. The 2.2-mile span of the bridge, nicknamed “Old Seven” and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, reopened to cycling, walking and other pedestrian recreation in January following extensive multi-year renovations. Old Seven was originally the centerpiece of railroad magnate Henry Flagler’s Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad, which debuted in 1912 and connected the Keys with each other and mainland Florida for the first time. Pigeon Key, a tiny island nestled beneath the bridge, was once home to about 400 workers constructing the railroad. Today the island features a museum and offers opportunities to picnic and snorkel. Daily tours are available. Visit pigeonkey.net or call 305-743-5999.
In Key West, the 34-room clothing-optional all-male Equator Resort, featuring two pools and wide sundecks, loungers, and whirlpools, has enhanced its accommodations with higher quality linens and toiletries and added an in-room digital compendium accessible on property or remotely. Management also has implemented a new text-messaging option that enables guests to text the front desk staff directly with any housekeeping or concierge requests, allowing increased social distancing. Outdoor upgrades include new sun loungers located around the pool areas and sundecks. The property is located at 822 Fleming St. Visit equatorresort.com or call 305-294-7775.
The 17-room Alexander’s Guesthouse, located at 1118 Fleming St. in Key West, is slated to complete renovations of its pool and jacuzzi areas in late August 2022. Alexander’s is an LGBTQ property that also welcomes friends of the LGBTQ community that are age 21 or older. The three renovated homes that comprise the property date back to the early 1900s and retain many original touches. Visit alexanderskeywest.com or call 305-294-9919.
Key West’s world-renowned Island House Resort, an all-male clothing-optional property at 1129 Fleming St., has extended its value-added “Buy 4 Nights, Get 3 Free” offer for another year. The earning period for complimentary nights is Nov. 7, 2022, through June 11, 2023; the redemption period is set for June 12 through Sept. 28, 2023. In other news, Island House will be closed Sept. 5-12, 2023, in order to perform plumbing upgrades to the main building as well as an exciting refresh to the poolside back bar. The property features 39 rooms, suites and apartments; an onsite bar and cafe that offers 24-hour food and beverage service; a pool, Jacuzzis, saunas and a gym. Visit facebook.com/IslandHouseKW or call 305-294-6284.
Key West’s New Orleans House, located at 724 Duval St. in the center of the LGBTQ entertainment district, has upgraded linens and towels in its 14 guest rooms and is planning a 2022-24 expansion and renovation of its outdoor venues. The male-only guesthouse currently features a full-service Tiki bar, Jacuzzi, pool, gym and spacious sundeck. Renovations are to include an expanded Tiki bar with increased seating capacity, a men’s sauna and a private club. Visit neworleanshousekw.com or call 305-293-9800.
La Te Da Hotel, a 15-room all-welcome adult-only property at 1125 Duval St. in Key West, has slated September 2022 for a complete renovation of its outdoor bar and seating areas. The gay-owned and -operated property features beautifully appointed guest rooms, a pool, two full-service bars and multiple entertainment venues with live entertainment. Visit lateda.com or call 305-296-6706.
In Islamorada, Chesapeake Beach Resort is adding 13 new oceanfront villas (including two stand-alones) and a new Tiki bar, boat ramp and dock, scheduled to open this fall. The resort lobby, with a newly added gift shop, has been fully renovated. The property features 52 rooms and suites including 32 oceanfront and 20 standard rooms, each with balcony; two pools, a beach bar and sandy beach venue for weddings, events, family reunions and corporate retreats. Kayaks and fishing rods are available for rent. It’s located at 83409 Overseas Highway. Visit chesapeake-resort.com or call 305-664-4662.
Also in Islamorada, the 27-acre Cheeca Lodge & Spa is undergoing major resort enhancements, including 43 newly built luxury oceanfront suites and a new stand-alone 10,000-square-foot event center. The 550-square-foot king and double-queen suites feature floor-to-ceiling glass doors, opening to an expansive private lanai with signature open-air spa tubs. Slated to debut in September 2022, the Islamorada Ballroom, located just north of the resort’s main lodge, is promoted as the Upper Keys’ largest meeting and event venue. The ballroom is to accommodate up to 1,000 guests for receptions and 788 for banquet-style dinners. Retractable walls create three breakout rooms for smaller events and functions. Cheeca Lodge & Spa offers a total of 244 guest rooms and suites. Visit cheeca.com or call 305-664-4651.
The Key West Business Guild is planning a 20th-anniversary celebration to commemorate the island city’s famed 1.25-mile-long sea-to-sea rainbow flag, with events to take place during the guild-produced Pride festivities set for June 7-11, 2023. The massive flag was sewn in Key West in 2003 by original rainbow flag creator Gilbert Baker to mark the 25th anniversary of his original banner’s debut. Baker spent three months on the island while he and a handful of dedicated helpers sewed approximately 17,600 linear yards of fabric that weighed more than three tons. During Pride 2003, the world’s longest rainbow flag was unfurled by volunteers along the entire length of Key West’s Duval Street — and its ends were dipped simultaneously into the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean in a sea-to-sea demonstration of acceptance and pride. Specific details of the anniversary celebration have not yet been announced. Visit gaykeywestfl.com/pride/.
Blu Q Sailing Adventures, which has offered gay all-male clothing-optional snorkel and kayak, sandbar, and sunset sail tours since 1996, has updated its 2022-23 schedule. The Sandbar & Snorkel excursion is currently slated to run from May through October, with the Kayak & Snorkel experience planned from November through April. Both trips are four hours long and feature spectacular scenery with stops at serene backcountry areas and other uncrowded locales. Blu Q’s two-hour sunset sails are scheduled to operate year-round and are to include all-welcome departures on a request basis only. Visit bluqkeywest.com or call 305-923-7245.
Key West’s Island Vibe Charters, the LGBTQ–owned and –operated “all welcome” charter operation, offers private excursions to offshore sandbars and to the reef for snorkeling trips for families and groups of up to six. Its 28-foot, twin-engine Edgewater boat offers bow and stern seating. Four- to six-hour trips, priced from $680, include sandbar and snorkeling excursions. Ice, drinking water, life vests and snorkeling and beach gear are provided. Visit islandvibecharterskw.com or call 305-509-2186.
LGBT Charters’ 55-foot private yacht Bottoms Up can be chartered for up to six people for dolphin watching, kayaking and water activities or to go to a remote island off Key West. The company is owned by Joseph Schroeder, who also owns Bourbon St. Pub Entertainment Complex, New Orleans House and the 801 Bourbon Bar on Key West’s Duval Street. The vessel is based at Conch Harbor Marina at 951 Caroline St. Six-hour trips are priced from $2,500. Visit LGBTcharters.com or call 305-747-0343.
In Marathon, Crane Point Museum and Nature Center is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an attraction worthy of preservation by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The attraction’s on-site Adderly House — built in 1904 as a classic Bahamian-style home and the oldest Keys house outside of Key West — also is listed on the National Register. Also on-site at the historic attraction: a bright-red Florida East Coast Railway train car, located at the site of Marathon’s original train station; and the Crane House, built in 1954, renovated in late 2021 and the first venue outside of Key West to earn the Florida Keys Historic Foundation star designation. Visit cranepoint.net or call 305-743-9100.
In the Lower Keys, the 524-acre Bahia Honda State Park, with three beaches, has reopened its mile-long Sandspur Beach on the park’s north side after completing a full $2.96 million restoration. Its Sandspur campgrounds, a 155-car parking area and two shower towers at the day-use area also are open. Eighty total campsites — 73 sites for both RVs and tents with electricity and water and seven nonelectric tent-only sites — accommodate overnight visitors. Additionally, the park has six cabins on stilts that can be reserved up to 11 months in advance. Park amenities include pavilions, freshwater showers, restrooms, grills, picnic tables, beach wheelchairs and a mobi floating chair for in-water accessibility. Concessionaire Coral Reef Park Co. sells food, souvenirs and beachwear; rents kayaks; and operates daily snorkel trips to Looe Key Reef. Sandspur and Loggerhead beaches are located on the park’s Atlantic side and Calusa Beach is on the Bahia Honda Channel side. The park is located at 36850 Overseas Highway. Visit floridastateparks.org/BahiaHonda or call 305-872-2353.
The Tennessee Williams Museum at 513 Truman Ave. in Key West has added memorabilia about Williams’ writing, filming and premiering “The Rose Tattoo” in Key West during the 1950s. In addition, in 1981 Williams gifted use of his name to the Tennessee Williams Fine Arts Center, now the Tennessee Williams Theatre, at 5901 College Road. The exhibits are enhanced with original photos by the late local photographer Don Pinder and playbills signed by Williams among other artifacts. The openly gay playwright’s 34-year residence in Key West helped the city gain widespread literary and cultural recognition. Managed by the Key West Art and Historical Society, the museum has self-guided tours Thursdays through Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Private curator-led group tours are available for a minimum of four. Visit kwahs.org/museums/tennessee-williams/visit or call 305-204-4527.
The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory — known for its tropical gardens, hundreds of free-flying butterflies and a wide variety of small tropical birds — is home to local celebrity flamingos Rhett and Scarlett. During “Flamingle” encounters, daily from 4:30 to 5:45 p.m., guests seated in a picturesque gazebo overlooking the conservatory’s pond can enjoy interacting with Rhett and Scarlett as the pair roams freely. Located at 1316 Duval St., the conservatory is open for tours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (last admission at 4:30 p.m.). In addition, groups can preschedule after-hours twilight tours to explore the conservatory just before sunset and experience a butterfly twilight “dance.” Visit keywestbutterfly.com or call 305-296-2988.
The Aquaplex, where “reality is a drag,” has unveiled a new look at 711 Duval St. in the heart of Key West’s LBGTQ entertainment district. The property now has multiple venues including an outdoor Hawaiian-themed restaurant — Poké in the Rear — serving lunch and dinner with a full bar in the compound’s back patio area. There’s also an expanded dance floor and new lighting and sound at CLUB 504 at the Sidebar, 504 Angela St.; the Back Bar, an outdoor garden bar; and the 22&CO bar, known for its neon flamingo décor. All venues are accessible from within the complex. The Aquaplex is locally owned and staffed by a family of longtime employees and drag professionals. It’s open from noon to 2 a.m. daily, with new shows and events designed to create variety for patrons. Visit aquakeywest.com or call 305-294-0555.
Two emporiums in the 700 block of Key West’s Duval Street, the heart of the LGBTQ shopping and entertainment district, have become favorites for visitors.
LGBTQ-themed gift store In Touch, located at 706 Duval St., offers unique greeting cards, collectibles like December Diamonds, works from local artists, fun T-shirts, unique gifts and Christmas ornaments. The self-proclaimed “gayest, most fun store in Key West” has introduced a new line of collectible “Divas” as well as “Mermen” and “Mermaids” ornaments created by December Diamonds. Visit fairylarrys.com or call 305-294-1995.
Graffitti Menswear, 721 Duval St., a premier gay-owned and -operated men’s store, is celebrating its 35th anniversary. Selling casual clothing and accessories, the emporium is best known for its wide selection of trendy swimwear and underwear. The retailer is a popular first stop for newly arrived visitors seeking to expand their island-wear wardrobes. Visit graffitti-378740.square.site or call 305-295-00
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist based in Toronto with a focus on tourism, lifestyle, entertainment and community issues. He has written several travel articles and has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He’s willing to take on any assignments of interest, attend parties with free booze, listen to rants, and travel the world in search of the great unknown. He’s eager to discover the new, remember the past, and look into the future.