Amidst the rowdy hordes of spring-break revelers, tacky t-shirt stands and shops spilling flamingo kitsch, wary sun-seekers may despair: where is the colorful, whimsical Key West of old?! But step away from the mobs on Duvall Street, the wet t-shirt contests and "clothing optional" bars and tacky sunset scene of Mallory Square-- where the shadow of an enormous Carnival Cruise ship looms-- and the palm-lined alleys and side-streets reveal the other side to Key West's Old Town: white clapboard Victorian houses framed by fuchsia bougainvillea blossoms, Gypsy roosters clucking and crowing alongside the city's famous fat lounging cats, art galleries and Cuban coffee shops, friendly and eccentric locals.
The best dining in Key West-- hands down-- is Cafe Sole, located off the beaten path on Southard and Francis Streets. Chef John Correa learned his magic in Provence and Bordeaux, and superb dishes-- like Hog Snapper smother in a red pepper hollandaise sauce-- reflect his culinary training. For the island's best brunch, head to Blue Heaven in Bahama Village, where you can devour blueberry pancakes and lobster benedict in a flowering, friendly backyard-- full of whimsy and good cheer.
Shopping? Don't despair on Duvall. A few steps away on Petronia Street, Besame Mucho is one of the world's most pleasant boutiques. The fragrant interior is full of fine jewelry, exquisite Provencal soaps, Kiehl's products, luscious gourmet candies and beautiful Moroccan shoes. Indeed, as the slogan goes: "shop here once and life will be a joy forever.”
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