Photo: Bill Perry/Shutterstock

Green Guide to Key West

Key West National Parks
by Brad Whipple Feb 22, 2008

Perhaps the color most closely associated with Key West, Florida is blue. The clear skies and clean waters produce a consistently beautiful setting, ripe for outdoor activity. A visitor commenting on the glory of the environment on any given day can expect to hear “just another day in paradise. . .” from any local listener. The ranks of people who appreciate the value of sustaining this splendor are growing, and if the recent city-wide initiative to join the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign is any indicator, the new color associated with Key West will be green.

The city itself is involved in efforts to bolster its recycling program and implement and enforce reasonable water restrictions, among other things. The Keep Key West Clean & Green Committee has developed significant momentum, and as businesses and other organizations in town pick up the banner, eco-conscious tourists will have an easier time minimizing the impact of their visit.


The Hyatt Key West and The Banyan Resort are two lodging facilities which have recently received Green Certification from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. They utilize a range of methods to achieve this status, including switching to green cleaning products, installing high efficiency air cleaners, putting high efficiency lighting on automatic timers, and installing low-flow water fixtures. The Banyon in particular, has made considerable progress in its push to green. The building, a restored wrecker’s home, is an historic landmark. Management has made extensive efforts to preserve its lush gardens, introduced xeriscaping on the property, and installed solar panels. In addition, the resort has attempted to facilitate the recycling process within the property for staff and guest alike, including posting recycling instructions in every suite.

Both of these hotels are located right downtown, so it’s an easy walk to Duval Street, shops and restaurants, water activities, and nightlife.


Those who want to explore the island will need a little more mobility. Bicycles are available for rent by several outfits, and they can even bring the bikes right to your front door. Bicycles are a great option because the entire island is only eight square miles – you could get around the whole thing in a couple of hours if you wanted to. If you’re not that comfortable with riding, electric cars are recommended. These are also readily available from a handful of operations, and can be useful if you have youngsters who might tire quickly on a bike, or if you want to do some shopping. Be aware that parking can sometimes be a troublesome issue, especially if you’re there during the height of the season or the weekend of a big event like Powerboat Races. If you don’t want to be bothered with renting at all, consider taking a pedicab as opposed to a regular taxi. You can take in more of the sights and sounds of the street and engage in some informative and entertaining chatter with your driver as she pedal-powers you wherever you want to go. A tip: ride the Conch Tour Train before you rent your transportation. You’ll learn some cool background stories and get the general lay of the land, plus the trolleys run on propane.

Landmarks, Culture, Events

Make Fort Zachary Taylor one of the stops on your trip. It’s only a couple of bucks to get in and the money supports the maintenance of the state park. Tour the fort and learn the amazing history of this obscure military outpost. It’s a great place to entertain the kids or find a secluded, romantic spot. They have changing rooms on site, and vendors for lunch or snacks. The park also hosts art exhibits, plays, and concerts on different occasions.

The Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Gardens offers another opportunity to learn and have fun with a sustainable cause. The 7.5 acre Gardens acts in part as a wildlife refuge, dedicated to the care of local and endemic species of plants and animals (many of which are becoming increasingly rare and endangered) as well as taking part in research and educational programs on the grounds. They maintain two of the last remaining fresh water ponds in the Keys and act as a vital migratory stopping point for neo-tropical birds from as far as South America. See a short film and take the tour. The Gardens is full of life, from orchids to turtles and butterflies to iguanas, and the Gardens strives to cultivate this life that has been or is currently threatened in the Florida Keys.

Wind down the day or crank up the night at the Mallory Square Sunset Celebration. The sun disappearing behind the Gulf of Mexico provides the backdrop for this tapestry of tight-rope-walking dogs, Maori fire dancers, escape artists, local musicians, and eccentric magicians working all over the pier. Local artists and craftspeople display original works, from jewelry to paintings to coconut postcards. There’s no admission charge; the performers play for tips. They and the vendors pay for the privilege of the location, and that fee benefits the agenda of the Historical Preservation Committee.

If you happen to be in Key West on the third Thursday of any month, take advantage of another free cultural attraction. Traffic is shut down on White Street for the Night on White Gallery Walk. All the art galleries are open late and serve coffee, wine, and refreshments.


The best place to eat on the island boasts the simplest name. The Cafe is located on Southard Street, just a half-block off Duval. The not-exclusively-vegetarian establishment offers a diverse and delicious menu in a really cool vibe.

Around the corner on Simonton Street is the Sugar Apple. It’s a health food store that also features a vegetarian juice and sandwich bar serving both cold and hot food.

If you subscribe to the “when in Rome…” theory, make sure to help the city on its green mission when you’re in Key West.

Bradford Whipple has been a commercial fisherman for over twelve years and has seasonal sites in Florida, Oregon, and Alaska. Check out his travel blog on Matador or at

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