One favorite place nearby is Parmer’s Resort, 565 Little Torch Key. (305-872-2157, http://parmersresort.com). It’s 27 miles or 40 minutes outside Key West. During low season (September through mid-December), rooms start at $99. This is a 1950s-vintage Keys-style waterfront resort with pool, views and breakfast included.
Two other nearby choices: Sugarloaf Lodge (17001 Overseas Hwy., 305-745-3211, www.sugarloaflodge.net/Home.html) is 17 miles from Key West and offers waterfront rooms off-season starting at $120. Efficiencies at the Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge, 33000 Overseas Hwy. on Big Pine Key (305-872-2351), start at $109.
You can find summer rates lower in the motels of Marathon. These are an hour from Key West, but it’s a beautiful drive over the Seven Mile Bridge. We’ve stayed in some ordinary mom-and-pop motels in Marathon for $90 to $100 — the Blackfin Resort and Marina, 4650 Overseas Hwy., and the Kingsail, 7050 Overseas Hwy. These are not memorable; rather, they are just places to sleep while you fill your days with activities.
REASONABLY PRICED EATS
Key West is foodie heaven, with prices to match. Finding good buys in restaurants will take some planning: You may not stumble across these places when you get hungry unless you keep a map handy.
My best dining tip: Head to the historic Key West Seaport at happy hour. The boardwalk along the harbor is one of the best free activities in Key West. Folks are feeding tarpon from the docks, fishing charters are displaying their catches and all the colorful yachts and historic ships are on display, with flags snapping.
Many harbor restaurants have happy hours, but I can especially recommend Alonzo’s Oyster Bar, 700 Front St. All drinks and an extensive selection of appetizers are half-price from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and it’s easy to make a meal of it. We shared Alonzo’s sampler: four conch fritters, four Buffalo shrimp, four fish fingers and a pile of onion rings. That would be $17.30, but happy hour prices made it $8.65. We added two delicious sides of Granny Apple Cole Slaw (normally $2.10; now $1.05) and a beer and a glass of wine, and two dined for $22 including tax and tip. We sat outside overlooking the harbor in a setting that didn’t compromise on atmosphere.
Two other budget spots are nearby. Both are funky Key West and are legendary:
B.O.’s Fish Wagon (801 Caroline St.) is an open-air assemblage of driftwood, recycled sheets of tin and a 1950s Chevy truck apparently held together by bumper stickers. The Fish of the Day Sandwich is $10.50 and the fried shrimp sandwich (local Key West pink shrimp) is $9.75.
Garbo’s Grill (603 Greene St.) is sort of a permanently stationed food truck. Seating is outdoors on milk crates or coolers. The $8.75 mahi tacos and $7 Kogi Koren Beef Shortribs, however, ensure there is usually a line and a festive atmosphere.
You can get reasonably priced diner fare at Harpoon Harry’s (832 Caroline St.; $9 to $11 for sandwiches; very popular for breakfast, which is served all day).
Right on Duval Street is a small treasure : the Conch Shack, (118 Duval St., 305-295-2494), a restaurant no more than 10 feet wide that accepts only cash and serves up fresh, reasonably priced fare. Three conch fritters are $4.50; a hamburger is $5. Seating is on stools at a counter.