Our Top Things To Do in the Florida Keys

Our family kicked off the new year in a way we never have before; leaving all of our traditions behind from black-eyed peas to college football and made so many memories together traveling to the Florida Keys!

It’s actually the busy season in the Keys as many people are wanting to leave behind the cold, wet days of winter and find a little sunshine and fun!  That is exactly what we did and I do believe we have discovered a new tradition for our New Year; every year!

After the lovely few days away I thought it would be fun to share a few highlights of our trip with a list of Our Top Things to do in the Florida Keys.  These are completely teenager friendly as we are not partiers at all, but out more to enjoy sights and culture when we travel.

Top Things to do While Visiting the Florida Keys

1. You can’t drive to Key West without travel the highway that runs parallel with the Historic Seven-Mile Bridge.  Seven-Mile Bridge, when it was finished in 1912, was the longest bridge of its kind.  It connected the middle Keys to the lower Keys as a railroad line until the 1930s when it was refurbished for auto traffic.  Now it is closed, but portions are open for pedestrians and bicyclists.  If you like history it’s a neat little stop as you travel through.

7 mile bridge

Not all of the bridge is accessible at this time, but there is a massive project getting ready to begin to restore the entire length of the bridge.  I find that very exciting!

seven mile bridge

I apologize for the blurry pics…. we were driving while I was trying to shoot.

The broken railings?  They were made from the railway trackage when the bridge was converted from a railroad bridge to an auto bridge in the 1930s.

7 mile bridge 2

2.  The Ernest Hemingway Home.  If you ever took a high school or college lit class, you read Ernest Hemingway at some point.  Visiting his main residence in the 1930s was a really awesome way to visualize his life.  From the studio where he wrote his best-selling novels to stories that brought the man to life, the Hemingway Home was a fabulous treat.

Ernest Hemingway Home

Built in 1851, Ernest Hemingway acquired this well-built island home in 1931 while he was married to Pauline Pfeiffer, A French Vogue editor, for $8000.

Hemingway Dining RoomHemingway Portrait

Hemingway Chandelier

Pauline hated this chandelier and had it removed & stored in the attic while living in the house.  I can’t even imagine…

The tour guide we had was absolutly fantastic and truly brought the colorful life of Hemingway to us in an entirely new way!

Hemingway Porch

James Bond turned in his “License to Kill” at the Hemingway house in the 1988 movie of the same name.

Hemingway Office

The room above the garage where Hemingway wrote some of his most famous works including “To Have & To Have Not”.

Heminway House 2

This fountain and “flower bed” was built by the original builder/owner, Asa Tift, to resemble an old confederate ironclad boat.

3. Key Lime Pie from Blue Heaven restaurant.  If Blue Heaven is packed (or closed getting ready for a New Year’s Eve bash), just head across the street to Andy’s Cabana which is owned by the same family.

Andys Cabana

And they have THE Key Lime Pie.

Blue Heaven Key Lime Pie

4. Take a sunset cruise from the Port of Key West.  We chose the Jolly II Rover and are so glad that we did!  With a fun crew and beautiful views, it was the perfect evening to a fabulously fun day!

Jolly II Rover

raising the sails

Madeline helping raise the sails!  Such a neat experience!

You’ll discover on this cruise that you are closer to Cuba than you are the nearest Walmart.  I thought that was just a really cool fact.

cruisinsunset sail

On the Jolly II Rover you may also have the adventure of firing a cannon at other passing ships!

Ahoy mates

And the sunset?

Breathtaking, amazing, and unforgettable.

Florida Keys Sunset

5. Visit the Southernmost point.  If you want to get technical it is really not the southernmost point, but unless you wan to be arrested for trespassing on a military installation this will have to suffice.

southernmost point

Lines form early to have your picture made here, so plan to arrive super early, or do like we did and go after sunset; no waiting necessary.

6. Take in the island real estate.  I love the houses and historic buildings found in both Key West and Key Largo.

key west real estate 2Key West real estate

Enjoy the sightseeing and don’t catch island fever…. It can be costly!

island real estate 3

7.  “Sail away to Key Largo” with a ride the African Queen.

The African Queen is not a replica; this is the real deal built in 1912 and used in the 1951 movie The African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Kathryn Hepburn.

The African Queen

With the history behind the boat, as well as the legend, this evening cruise was a true highlight of our stay.

African Queen Steam Engine

Enjoy your own Boggey & Bacall … Or is it Bogart and Hepburn moment?

Take your pick, but a cruise on the African Queen is a step back in time allowing you to have your own romantic moment.

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African Queen Sunset

8. Hit the water in Key Largo at John Pennecamp State Park in a canoe.  Canoeing is a lot of fun and the perfect activity for everyone in the family.  The park also offers camping, snorkeling, swimming, and various other water-sports.

Kayaking

kayaking2

9. Don’t forget to hit the beach.  Seriously.  The whole purpose of a vacation is to get away from your environment and relax.  Take time for this.

On the beach

If not for you, do it for your family.

on the beach 2

 I loved the naturally preserved beaches at John Pennecamp State park, but I also loved the man-made sandy beaches of the resorts.

And as you can see, my teenagers had a blast!

buried in sand

In no way is this a list of all the things to do in the Florida Keys.  With this being our first trip and only having a few days to kick back, these highlights were what we enjoyed most!  When we return this year after Christmas we will have a whole new list of activities planned.

Just a few tips to getting around Key West.  First, if you are wanting to hit up historic Key West, find you a good parking space (legally) on the street and leave your car for the day.  You might want to brush up on your parallel parking skills before you go.  Walking about town is honestly the most logical way to go.  Key West is extremely pedestrian friendly. Make reservations if you have a specific, but popular hot spot you want to visit.  Lines for dinner can be quite long, especially when mile high Key Lime pie is involved.  Also, book your cruises early.  We purchased our tickets a few weeks in advance and the tickets were texted to me on my phone.  Quite convenient indeed, and we didn’t have to  risk being turned away at the dock.  Key Largo does involve more driving as the area is not so compact.  The drive all the way to Key West can be a long one. The speed limit is 45-55 and there is a lot of traffic.  Drive safely and go with the flow.

It’ll make the trip much more enjoyable!

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Real Estate Love: Palm Beach, Florida

I am so behind.
Everyone is sharing their lovely autumn posts and I am trying to finish up my summer vacation series.
This is it.  
I promise to move on to the beauty and excitement of autumn, but I just had to share a glimpse of some beautiful homes we saw while in Palm Beach.  
Palm Beach is definitely the home of the rich, and I was obviously a tourist with a camera.

I absolutely fell in love with this gorgeous place on 450-452 Brazilian Avenue. Unit 452 was for sale when we visited, and I had planned to share interior pictures of the property via Zillow Real Estate Blog, but it has been removed from market since our trip.
I do know this about the home …. it is a five bedroom, 5 1/2 bath, 5200+ square foot residence.  It is a full three-story home complete with an elevator, 2-car garage, and an in-ground pool.  It sold in 2007 to it’s current owners for just over 5 million dollars!  
It is stunning for sure and I had Audley drive past this grand home at least four times while we were visiting.  I loved it that much!

I love the Pineapple at the entryway …. a traditional symbol of hospitality.
Most of the homes we saw right on the ocean had the flat roof style which I am sure is easier to maintain during the stormy season.

This South Ocean Blvd home while a bit older was right on the ocean.  I happen to like this modern style of architecture, although it doesn’t appeal to everyone.  
Here is another house with the flat roof style. I loved the columns on either side of the front door, the bay windows, plantation “shutter” garage doors, and the simple landscaping.  Together it says so much and gives off an elegant vibe.
This one was also on South Ocean Blvd. We caught a glimpse of it while strolling along the beach and it was just stunning in the sunset.  It was actually under construction.  If it looks this lovely unfinished I am sure it will be just amazing when completed!
Mar-A-Lago gates closed for the season

And one last home that I couldn’t get enough of was this beauty, although it was closed up for the season. As I mentioned in my last post, Palm Beach is most popular in the fall and winter months.  I must have looked like such a stalker standing on the side of the road trying to shoot a couple of pictures of this beautiful place.
This beautiful 17-acre estate is Mar-A Lago (Spanish for sea to lake), built in the 1920’s by Marjorie Merriweather Post (think Post cereal) is just across form the ocean with Lake Worth behind it. Her husband at the time was Mr. E.F. Hutton. This magnificent estate boasts 58 bedrooms and 33 bathrooms and 3 bomb shelters (added I’m sure during the Cold War & Cuban Missile Crises).
A young Marjorie Merriweather Post …  via hillwoodmuseum.org

The Red Cross International Ball in Palm Beach was began by Marjorie Merriweather Post in the late 1950’s. After serving at American Red Cross stations during World War I and donating thousands of dollars over the course of several years, she established the first International Red Cross Ball in 1957. And for the last 50 years, the Ball accomplished its powerful goal of underscoring the American Red Cross’ humanitarian efforts.  Since her death the ball has continued to be held at Mar-A-Lago alternating with the Breakers just up the road.

When Ms. Post died in 1972 she left the estate to the US government to be used as a retreat for Presidents and visiting dignitaries, but instead it is now owned by Donald Trump (who purchased it in 1985) and referred to as the Mar-A-Lago Club.
 It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1980.

A view of the entire estate from the rear via homemaxinternational.com
Can you see the stunning chandelier in the front window?
Entryway to Mar-A-Lago via Wikipedia
I found these interior shots of Mar-A-Lago from Ms. Post’s time in residence.  It has always been a grand home.
Master Bedroom via OldLongIsland.com
Children’s Room via OldLongIsland.com
Master Bathroom via OldLongIsland.com
The Library via OldLongIslnd.com

The Living Room via OldLongIsland.com
For interior shots of the Mar-A-Lago now, you can check out this photo gallery on it’s website.  Most grand indeed.
 There is no way I could begin to describe and share all the stunning and unique properties in the area, but I hope you enjoyed this little bit of real estate in the Palm Beach area.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Palm Beach

On my seven day 3000+ mile adventure with Audley over the summer I truly loved our time in Baton Rouge, touring Oak Alley Plantation, stopping over for dinner in New Orleans, and our few hours at Battlefield Memorial Park in Mobile, but my favorite stop (while Audley worked) was beautiful Palm Beach, Florida.
From the iconic palm tree line boulevards, the gorgeous Atlantic ocean, shopping Worth Avenue (often referred to as the Rodeo Drive of the Atlantic coast), beautiful estates, rich and delicious food to high-end antique shopping, Palm Beach was everything I always heard it to be and I totally fell in love with it all!
It was also the most ideal place to stop and relax for a couple of days (before picking up our teenagers from my parents and heading back to South Carolina).

We stayed at the Embassy Suites in West Palm with a corner suite on the top floor.  Our room was spacious with separate sleeping/living rooms, a small little kitchenette complete with cabinets, a sink, microwave and refrigerator, and a large bathroom.  The staff was amazing, especially considering we arrived at 3:30 in the morning!  The valet could have easily stayed out of sight, but he unloaded our truck and carried everything up to the room for us.  It was much appreciated after our ten hour drive from Mobile.  Each evening in the bar area (located in the lobby) the Embassy hosts a reception for its guests.  This is just perfect for those of us who enjoy a later dinner reservation while traveling.

Early afternoon in the bar and lobby area.  Besides a reception in the early evening here, breakfast is served every morning.
Our spacious living room
King size suite with over-sized closet

We actually enjoyed a day and a half of complete relaxation to sight-see and chill in Palm Beach, which ended as we took a couple of Audley’s associates to lunch on Sunday and then he headed out to the job-site while I slept in on Monday!  There is no way I can begin to give you all of the details of our wonderful stay in Palm Beach, but I can show you.

I hope you enjoy the view!

Beautiful Royal Palm Way which leads straight to the ocean from downtown.
Glimpse of the Atlantic from one of Palm beaches public access areas.
Peaceful evening walk along the beach … It was so picturesque and perfect!
It is very rare to actually catch my hubby relaxing because he works so much, so I am definitely sharing this moment with everyone!

The best part about visiting Palm Beach during June is we discovered it to be rather vacant.  The more touristy Panama City, Daytona, and the beaches of Destin are a huge draw, leaving this beautiful spot open for those who aren’t into party beaches. This meant that our Sunday afternoon was spent taking pictures of what we wanted and not having to worry about photo-bombs or working around crowds.  Personally, I loved it!

The Memorial Fountain and Park (in historic Palm Beach)  was designed by famed architect and creator of the Mediterranean Style, Addison Mizner The fountain and park were built in 1929 to commemorate the sacrifices of the town’s early pioneers.
I loved the Spanish style architecture of the Palm Beach area…. it’s not Audley’s favorite, but something about it just really appeals to me.
The Fountainhead rests on the backs of four horses emerging from the water, each representing the directions of the compass. The fountain is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is a locally designated landmark.

We fell in love with Charley Crab on the ocean (where we dined both Saturday night & then again on Sunday afternoon).  They are actually a chain owned by the Landry’s company, but you wouldn’t know it by the atmosphere and their ability to spoil and accommodate their guests!

The house special was Scallops encrusted with crab and topped with a house made Dynamite sauce.  Audley enjoyed it so much he asked them to make him some oysters the same way and they were more than happy to oblige him.
My special ordered dinner of grilled sea bass, steamed green beans and rice…. all extremely fresh and cooked to order.

The weather was perfect for strolling along the shore after dinner out each evening and we definitely needed a walk after the delicious meals we enjoyed.

The love of my life …. actually relaxing again!

One of my favorite ways to relax was a little shopping without my teenagers and their input.  Lily Pulitzer is one of my favorite style icons and one thing I am truly looking forward to is buying a Lily dress when I reach my personal/physical goals.

Exploring the hometown of Lily Pulitzer & shopping her iconic styles was so much fun!

Don’t you just love all of the color?!
So simple, yet makes a huge statement!

We also enjoyed shopping the four blocks that comprise the famed Worth Avenue in such notable shops as Island Company, Neiman Marcus,  Tiffany & Co., Ralph Lauren, & Saks Fifth Avenue.  I was just window shopping though, despite the amazing shoe sale Saks was having!

{Next summer when we return I will be prepared for the shoe sale!}

Before leaving Palm Beach we also hit up a few antique shops on Antique Row.
From simple shops to grand and elegant you will find antiques of every style and in every price range.  It was an impressive area to visit.

Talk about a unique chandelier!

Cedric Dupont Antiques was definitely one of my favorite stops we made.  High-end does not begin to describe this beautiful store filled to the brim with European (mostly French) antiques.  After we were buzzed in (not just anyone can walk through the door) the gentleman managing the business gave us a run-down of the history of the Dupont antique business and how he acquires his pieces.  As high-end as it was, the owner as well as the manager were extremely personable and so enjoyable to talk with.

These aren’t reproductions, but the real deal.
The prices were the real deal as well.

Palm Beach is honestly a dream get-away in the summer months.  From what I understand summers are always like that and the fall, winters and springs are the busy season.  I would have loved to have more time to explore and enjoy the beautiful area, but when your are tagging along while the hubby works you enjoy what you have!  I do hope next summer will allow us the time to return again.  I could totally make this an annual trip.

I eluded to loving the architecture of the area, and so I have just one more vacation post where I wanted to share just a little glimpse of the real-estate eye-candy we were able to enjoy.  Hope you’ll stop back by and check it out!

Becky-Jack’s Food Shack

Off the beaten path where the Mermaids swim in Weeki Wachee, you will find a quaint little restaurant that will capture your heart as well as your stomach.  
With specials of the day written on a brown paper bag, mismatched placemats, old Trivial Pursuit cards for conversation at the table and condiments stored in an old cardboard beer box, most people wouldn’t give BeckyJack’s Food Shack a second glance.  
{It is totally their loss.}
Audley and I heard about BeckyJack’s through word of mouth.  To me that is one of the best opinions you can get about a place.
We walked through the door into a restaurant that could’t seat more than twenty at any given time and were greeted by the owner who obviously knew we were not locals (who frequent this little place).  He began to explain all of the specials and cooking methods, and even showed us the local favorite “YOU CATCH IT, WE COOK IT”! 
 With it’s casual & eclectic decor, I knew this was going to be my kind of place.
We had two other waitresses who shared their favorite dishes, filled our drink orders (and never let them empty), and answered every question we had.
All dishes and their tasty sauces from “shack” sauce to tarter sauce are made on site daily.  They also serve a fabulous 5-bean salad as one of their sides that I noticed several other patrons enjoying.  The menu itself is quite simple, consisting of burgers, seafood, and wings.  The freshly caught, battered, and flash fried white fish is what they are known for.  The fish is breaded in corn flakes, almonds and then flash fried.  
With all of our options laid out before us, Audley and I placed our orders.  Now I know we have adopted a serious lifestyle change, but it was well tossing aside for this one meal.  
Audley ordered fantastic fish tacos with tarter sauce, fresh, crispy lettuce, pico de gallo and jalapeños.
Served on colorful FiestaWare, the tacos were almost too pretty to eat.  
I stepped totally out of the box and ordered a crispy fish ruben sandwich.
Served on grilled multi-grain bread spread with “shack” sauce on one side and tarter sauce on the other, then topped with a tangy coleslaw, this was quite possibly the best fish sandwich I have ever put in my mouth!
It was “oh, so crispy” and perfectly cooked.  
Served with a side of the delicious 5-bean salad, lunch was almost more than I could eat!
And despite the fact I couldn’t have possibly consumed one more bite, Audley ordered a double chocolate cheesecake to finish up our meal.
With impeccable service and fabulous flavors, this little unassuming spot has earned my respect more than many five-star restaurants I have dined in.  I wouldn’t change a thing about our time spent here.
Audley’s company will be working just outside of Tampa for the next six months, so I know we will be back down visiting.  When we do, I can assure you that we will visit BeckyJack’s again and if you ever make your way on down, be sure to stop in!

Sharing for Foodie Friday this week because we all need a good place to eat!