By Alisha McDarris
In Key West the sun shines bright, the water is calm, the streets are lined with tourists, and it’s summer all year round. It won’t provide an escape from Austin’s summer heat, but what it will provide are palm trees, sandy beaches and plenty to do and eat, even if you’re meat-free. Considering the most popular Key’s diminutive size (you could cycle around the whole place in about an hour), it has an inordinate amount of vegan-friendly eateries. Amidst streets lined with flaming red flowering Royal Poinciana trees and kitchy gift shops are at least five restaurants that are undeniably worthy of a visit.
- The Café: The bright eclectic vibe and “Rock the Veg” T-shirts are fun and welcoming. So is the menu with a whole page of vegan and vegetarian items like a homemade veggie burger and curried “chicken” salad. For meat eaters and pescatarians there is also a generous selection of locally caught fish available. Open from 11am-10pm Monday-Saturday. www.thecafekw.com, 509 Southard Street, (305) 296-5515.
- Sugar Apple Juice Bar: The space is tiny and intended for take-out, but everything on the menu is vegan. The eatery serves freshly squeezed juice and smoothies, many, like the pineapple banana, are organic. Also available are lunch items like a tempeh Reuben, veggie Italian sausage and an FLT (fakin’ bacon, lettuce and tomato) that made PETA’s top 10 list. Be sure to check out the attached health food store while you wait. Open from 10am-4pm. www.sugarapplekeywest.com, 917 Simonton Street, (305) 292-0043.
- Help Yourself: Offering juice, breakfast, wraps and salads, this little healthy restaurant serves up vegan, raw, gluten-free and non-veg dishes, all made from scratch, natural and organic. Grab some homemade granola with fresh coconut milk, a pesto garden wrap or a tropical green smoothie and enjoy it on the patio. This café also has a market attached so you can grab a healthy snack for the beach, too. Juice bar and store open from 8am-6pm, café from 8am-4pm. www.helpyourselffoods.com,829 Fleming Street, (305) 296-7766.
- Lobos Mixed Grill: Ignore the restaurant’s motto, “It probably won’t kill you,” and grab a bite anyway. This one will be especially popular with any meat eaters in your party as the menu isn’t geared toward vegetarians, but there are several vegetarian options available here including wraps and salads. An extra bonus is that any of their burgers can be substituted for a Morningstar burger or “chicken” patty. Just make sure to nix the cheese. Open 11am-10pm Monday-Saturday. www.loboskw.com, 5 Key Lime Square, (305) 296-5303.
- Bangalore Nights at Frenchies Café: This vegetarian Indian buffet is on the back patio of Frenchies (not a vegetarian restaurant) and serves up a selection of traditional Indian dishes like mushroom vindalu, matar panir and house-made samosas, all vegan or vegetarian. Open 6pm-10pm Tuesday-Sunday. www.bangalorekeywest.com, 529 United Street, (305) 900-0295.
Of course, in between meals you’ll have to find a few activities to occupy your time. Here are a few ideas to get you on your feet and around town.
- Rent a bike and tour the island: There are bike and scooter rental shops on nearly every corner in Key West and a bicycle is by far the best way to see the Key, not to mention the best way to get from point A to point B. Parking is a pain and rather costly, but you can lock your bike nearly anywhere and see more in less time than you would on foot.
- Fort Zachary Taylor State Park: At only a few dollars’ entrance fee ($6 per car), this state park is worth the admission price, especially if you’re into history or snorkeling. It’s really the only place to snorkel right off the beach in Key West and there are snorkel rentals, a concession stand, showers and plenty of shaded picnic tables available for a picnic overlooking the blue water. You can also tour the old fort, complete with canons. www.fortzacharytaylor.com, 300 Truman Annex, (305) 295-0037.
- Key West Cemetery: For a respite from all the touristy activities, head over to this old cemetery and grab a map at the front gate. It will point you to humorous headstones and the resting places of local celebrities, complete with stories of who they were and what they did. 701 Passover Lane.
- Smathers Beach: For a day at the beach, this is the biggest and the best. The sand is soft and white, the water is clear, and if you want to do more than lounge and catch some rays, there are plenty of water sport rentals available from parasailing to jet skiing. S Roosevelt Blvd.
- The Hemingway House: For literary buffs, this is a must-see. With dozens of cats still roaming the grounds just as they did in Hemmingway’s day, it’s a looking glass into the writer’s life and times. See where he lived and wrote and during the annual Hemingway Days festival every summer, you can also see hundreds of Hemmingway look-alikes. www.hemingwayhome.com, 907 Whitehead Street, (305) 294-1136.
Don’t forget to pack the all-natural sunscreen!