Key West is Not Alcohol The Theme Park, Enjoy Mornings Too, Justin and Norman Van Aken '10 Do's and Don'ts' of Key West

Reading My Key West Kitchen (Kyle Books, 2012) by father and son team, Norman Van Aken and Justin Van Aken, you cannot help but feel their passion for the place.

With that in mind, it was only natural that I would ask them to share their personal recommendations on the place. Some of you might even be there for Spring Break.

Justin sticks to advice on enjoying the real Key West while Norman covers mostly food places, bars and history.

Here's Justin and Norman Van Aken 10 do's and don'ts of Key West.

Sandy's cafe


DON'T Bother with any chain restaurants or bars. Can't anybody buy that garbage off any interstate in America?

DO Support our local businesses, please. We have many establishments around town serving great local fare unique to our little island. Sure, you've heard of Conch Chowder, but, a Mollete? 

DON'T Forget that you're in one of the oldest cities in the country, not Alcohol: The Theme Park.

DO Take in some culture! Museums, cabarets, various tours, rides, or walks; water-based un like snorkeling, paddleboarding, kayaking, and fishing; or just hang out and drink Buchis with the Bubbas! (You might have to visit to find out what that means!) 

DON'T Stay out for the late nights and sleep until noon each day, even if you're on vacation!

DO Get out and enjoy some of the mornings, too. The gentle sunlight, idyllic pace, and perfect temperatures of most mornings in Key West create the perfect setting for a long easy stroll around before the midday heat sets in, requiring (possibly sudsy) liquid refreshment -- and plenty of it.

Norman on eating out and getting around

Dress Code: Shorts are fine everywhere


More Casual: 

Hogfish Bar and GrillIt is not on Key West but on Stock Island. Hard to find place but it is like the original classic joints of Key West back in the day. Their “specials” are a good bet.

5 Brothers Grocery: 930 Southard Street. Food to Go. Breakfast on the bench outside. Bollos. 

Sandy’s Café: Food to go at a laundromat. 1026 White St. Midnight Sandwich. Café con Leche.

Blue Heaven: Petronia and Thomas Streets. Drinks or Breakfast is my preference. Crowds. 

Bad Boy Burrito: Chris Otten’s little spot on Simonton. Fish is fresh and local. 

The Half Shell Raw Bar: New owner is said to be bringing back the old FUNK. 

La Crêperie: Charming place run by 2 French women. (Across from Blue Heaven). Go.

Pepé’s: 806 Caroline St. Tiny and laid back local hangout

El Siboney: 900 Catherine. Cuban family place with authentic fare. Breakfast/Lunch.

The Banana Café: On the “upper end” of Duval. Breakfast. Charming ambience. 

The Elk’s Club. Barbeque on the sidewalk each Saturday around Noon. 1107 Whitehead St.

A Bit More Upscale (for KW):

Café Marquesa: Simonton and Fleming Sts. Chef Susan Ferry, (Great small/historic Hotel). 

Azur: Has some promise. In the Eden House Hotel. 

Antonia’s on Duval, (It has an Italian/American style and has been there 20 years). 

Louie’s Backyard: 700 Waddell. Afternoons on The Afterdeck Bar for a Cocktail.


The Green Parrot Bar: 601 Whitehead Street. Our Favorite Bar. Great live music scene.

Little Room Jazz Bar. 800 block of Duval. New. Live Music every night at 8.

Vinos: Small wine bar at 810 Duval. Good vibe. 


If you’re into Craft Beers try “The Porch” across from The Bull off Duval. Up the stairs. 

Tourist Attractions I recommend:

The Conch Train: History and a great sense of the layout of the town. 

The Lighthouse on Whitehead: What a view!

The Hemingway House 

Sharon Wells of Island City Strolls, (305) 294-8380, publishes the free "Walking and Biking Guide to Historic Key West" and gives personalized walking and biking tours of the island's gardens, architecture, history, or whatever you're interested in.

The Historic Florida Keys Preservation Board, (305) 292-6718, publishes a free pamphlet and map to several historic walking tours and leads tours of the cemetery Tuesday and Thursday at 9:30.

Writers' Walk is a one-hour guided tour on weekends of the residences of prominent Key West authors, including Hemingway, Frost, and Williams. It's sponsored by the Key West Literary Seminar, (305) 293-9291).


The Old Island Restoration Foundation publishes Pelican Path a free walking guide to Old Town's history and architecture.

Thanks to Norman and Justin Van Aken for sharing their slice of heaven.


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