Key West on the Cheap

I already posted about my favorite things to do in Key West. Now, for all the things that you can do on a budget…

1. See all the typical Key West landmarks.

The Southernmost Point. Get your picture taken with the famous monument, and grab a snow cone from the vendor that is always there on the street. Trust me, you’ll be hot enough to want one.

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Mile 0 of highway 1.

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The Sunset Celebration on Mallory Square.

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2. Shopping! Both window and otherwise.

There are plenty of touristy stores where you can find souvenirs and handy travel underwear..

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Or you can pop some tags in one of the many thrift stores…

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3. Go see the Key West Aquarium.

It’s tiny, but well worth the $15 entry fee. You can even get cheaper tickets if you pre-purchase them online.

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There’s a petting tank with stingrays and other ocean critters..

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You can feed some fish and see some pretty large sharks…

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4. Grab a cheap book for charity and do some reading in the sunshine.

On your way down the Keys, you’ll pass Baby’s Coffee…

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…stop in and grab a drink, I recommend the chai iced latte, but all the drinks are good..

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… then grab a book and give a donation. If you have any books with you that you’ve already finished, here is the perfect place to drop them so another traveler can enjoy them…

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… Then go sit by your hotel pool or the beach with your chai iced latte, read your book and work on your tan.

5. Play pool at the Green Parrot.

The Green Parrot isn’t right on Duval, which makes it more of a locals hangout. “Locals hangout” can also be translated too “full of strange Key¬† Westers who make for good entertainment via people watching.”

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I’d love to hear any other suggestions!

Top 5 Things to do in Key West

There is so much to do and see in Key West, and often with very little time, you don’t want to waste time and money while you’re there. Here are my top five touristy things that everyone who visits Key West should do…

1. Take a snorkel tour on the reef.

You can snorkel anywhere in the Keys, but you won’t beat the scenery on the reef. You’ll see so many types of plant and aquatic life. I have been a few times, but this last time was the best. I saw a nurse shark (not as scary as you’d think!), Barracuda (much scarier than the shark), Yellow Fin Tuna, Tarpon, Yellow Tail Snapper, Grouper, Blue Parrot Fish, Sheep’s head and so many more…

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It’s harder to find water that is more beautiful than what’s in the Key’s. When you’re passing along the south side of Key West, there’s a really well defined line dividing the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf. It’s pretty cool to see…

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Even cooler through one of the deck-hands expensive Costa sunglasses.. The tour costs around $45 per person, plus a tip for the staff. It’s the only thing on the list that is slightly costly, but it’s well worth the money.

2. Mallory Square

From costly to free! Mallory Square has a sunset celebration that happens every evening. The Square is right at the end of Duval Street and very easy to find. Just look for the crowd of people with random jugglers, tightrope walkers and acrobats popping up throughout them…

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“Look, Mom, I’m a lamppost.”

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The cat show is great, but also bizarre. You should also see Dr. Juice’s tumbling show. He’s been performing on Mallory since I’ve been going, which is well over a decade now. The tightrope walker is also a permanent fixture on Mallory. The rest of the performers rotate pretty regularly but they are all very good. It’s also a good place to buy souvenirs, with several artists selling locally made goods. The best conch fritters in Key West are sold there too, so order half a dozen and don’t forget a side of spicy mustard!

3. Paddle Boarding

Despite being an island, Key West only has one tiny beach. The beach itself isn’t particularly exciting, but Sunset Water Sports has a booth where you can rent all kinds of things like paddle boards, kayaks, mini sailboat things and beach chairs. The paddle boards are only $22 an hour and they’re so much fun! It’s hard at first, but once you get the hang out it, it’s pretty easy.

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Until your mother “accidentally” pushes you off…

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3. The Cuban Chugs Exhibit

I already wrote a post about it, but I think it’s worth mentioning twice. It’s really eye-opening to the hardships that other people are dealt and made me really thankful to live in the country that I do.

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5. Get some good Cuban food!

There are so many delicious places to eat in the Keys, especially Cuban places! Being only 90 miles from Cuban, I’d say it’s pretty close to the real thing. Sandy’s Cafe is one of my favorite places, but there are plenty of options and trying them all out is the best part…

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So there you have it. Those are my top five! Beyond that, the jet ski tours are a lot of fun and the ghost walks have a lot of interesting history. Really, you can do anything while you’re there and it will be great. You’re in Key West which is better than where you’d be if you weren’t on vacation!

“Cuban Chugs”

In the Key West Botanical Gardens, there’s an “exhibit” with a bunch of “Cuban Chugs.” I say “exhibit” because it doesn’t really look like an actually display of anything, more like a bunch of old boat parts sitting in a yard. It turned out to be one of the most interesting things that I’ve seen in Key West. A “Chug” is a term for the vessels used by refugees leaving Cuba.

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It’s hard to believe that some people are so desperate to leave their country that they’d risk their lives crossing 90 miles of open water in one of these things, just to get to America.

The motor below is actually¬† built from regular boat motor parts and the engine from a lawnmower, cleverly welded together…

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Many of the boats were just tarps and wood scraps that had been filled with some type of foam insulation…

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This boat actually used a tree branch as support for one of the seats. Not lumber, but a tree branch…

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Imagine sitting on this thing for an extended period of time…

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You don’t even have to pay the entrance fee for the gardens to see this exhibit (although I do recommend going into the gardens themselves), so there’s no reason you should miss out on this fascinating display…

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‘Merica’s Birthday Celebrations

The U.S. of A. is about to have another birthday which means family time, fireworks and BBQ. Here are a few events happening in the Bradenton/Sarasota/Beaches area that look like they would be pretty fun.

First there’s the Independence Day Celebration at McKechnie Field. Take in a baseball game complete with fan giveaways, fireworks and a post game concert by David Nail.

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If baseball isn’t your thing, there are extravagant (and FREE) fireworks shows at Sarasota Bay, Siesta Key, Bradenton and Palmetto. There is plenty of seating in the nearby parks, but get there early because spaces fill up fast! Unless of course you want to take your boat, or a friend’s, and have a little viewing party from the water!

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Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key really know how to throw a birthday party. First the city comes together to celebrate with a fantastic parade, followed by music, food and fireworks!

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Take your pick and enjoy the holiday! Happy birthday ‘Merica!

Bradenton Flea Market

As much as I wish Bradenton had something like the Nashville Farmers Market, we definitely do not. What we do have is good enough for me, though. The Bradenton Flea Market is the absolute best place to buy produce in town. Great prices and excellent food..

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LOOK at those tomatoes! Only $.25 each. If you tried to buy a tomato at Walmart, you’d easily pay double, AND you’d have to actually go to Walmart. I’m not sure which is worse. Also, when you buy something at a produce stand, it’s actually ripe enough to eat that day. You don’t have to leave it sitting in the kitchen for a week, waiting for it to become edible!

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Tell me what’s tastier than a ripe avocado? That’s right. Nothing.

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The actual Flea Market is only open Thursday-Sunday, but the produce stand in the front is open everyday, except for Monday. Stop in and look around. Your wallet and your tummy will appreciate it.

Latte Luna

What town, large or small, shouldn’t have a locally run coffee house with friendly staff, tasty treats and cozy atmosphere? Bradenton finally got their own a few weeks ago when Latte Luna opened up.

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It’s right on Manatee Ave in an old frame house from the 1920’s. There are plenty of comfy places to sit inside. That makes it easy to spend hours socializing and sipping coffee, tea or maybe even a milkshake.

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It is always good to support small business. Not only does the company provide jobs in your area, but all the money goes back into the local economy, and not to some big corporate office somewhere else. Latte Luna is also committed to giving back in other ways. All of the tips that they receive go to various charities, and the charity changes each month.. How great is that? So next time you are out and about, skip the Starbucks and stop in Latte Luna for your cup of joe.

Pulse: The Beat of Song and Dance

I got a text message at 7AM yesterday asking if I wanted to go see some performance at the Asolo Theatre called “Pulse: The Beat of Song and Dance.” I had definitely never heard of it before, but I thought, “Sure! Why not?!” I’m so glad that I chose to go! First, the tickets were free. Second, they ended up being box seats with a great view. Thirdly, it was opening night and the world premier!

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Beyond that though, the performances were some of the best I had ever seen! The whole show was packed with talent, humor and energy from start to finish. Here are a few of the number that I was able to record…

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The show will be at the Asolo until June 16 and I HIGHLY recommend that you go see it! I have never seen another show like it, and my video samples do not do it justice!

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Nashville Downtown Hostel

There cannot possibly be a better place to stay if you’re visiting Nashville than the Nashville Downtown Hostel. First, and MOST importantly, the place is super clean and safe. You need a key card to get anywhere inside. It can seem annoying to swipe your card at 3 different doors before you get to your room, but I would much rather that than anyone being able to come and go as they please. The kitchen and bathrooms were also very tidy all the time. The common area is huge and the best part is they have a bunch of instruments lying around for everyone to use. I heard banjos, guitars, a harmonica and piano playing during my few nights there. Here’s a sample…

The video also shows a little bit of the kitchen and common areas. Pretty nice, huh? I didn’t really get any pictures of the bedrooms or bathrooms, so you’ll just have to take my word that they’re nice. I’m not sure if the hostel can really take credit for this, but we also met some great people while we were there. We had lovely roommates from West Virginia..

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We are now Best Friends For Life and planning our next trip all together! Plus we met more people downstairs from Canada, Australia and the U.K.

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The hostel couldn’t possibly have a better location. You are literally a 2 minute walk away from the main downtown area. Also around the corner is a soda shop where you can find almost any flavor of soda. This includes Buffalo Wing Soda and Bacon Soda. The Buffalo Wing Soda just tasted like weird orange soda, but the bacon soda tasted like… well watch the video to find out…

So, whether you’re traveling on your own or with friends, stay at the Nashville Downtown Hostel. You’ll have a great of time!

Nashville Farmers Market

We found the Nashville Farmers’ Market by accident while we were driving around the city and we were not disappointed by our decision to stop. They had plenty of BEAUTIFULLY ripe fruits and vegetables..

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Local honey..

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Jams and pickled things…

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Inside, they had several small booths selling different beauty products and candles etc…

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This candle booth had candles that smelled like everything from fresh linen to fruit loops to leather. I was boring and just went with “Breeze.”

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There is also a nice cafeteria…

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…with everything from Indian food…

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… to BBQ..

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You know you are in the south when there is an entire menu section dedicated to varieties of Grits!

My favorite was probably the kettle corn place.

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I have never seen so many varieties of kettle corn! We sampled many of them, and they were all fantastic!

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Of all the food we tried in Nashville, this was probably the best. I have to recommend that you go there and buy a couple of bags. I can’t believe I never noticed the White Cheddar Jalapeno and the Dill Pickle! That’s it! Time to go back!