KEY WEST

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Books - Passover Lane and An­gela Street; 305-292-6718. The His­toric Flor­ida Keys Foun­da­tion of­fers walk­ing tours of the ceme­tery twice a week, Tues­day and Thurs­days, at 9:30 a.m. for $15 per per­son. For in­for­ma­tion and reser­va­tions, call 305-292-6718 or email hfk

West Martello Tower & Botan­i­cal Gar­den

When you visit the West Martello Tower, home of the Key West Gar­den Club’s Botan­i­cal Gar­den, you feel like you’ve stum­bled on a lost ru­ined city in a jun­gle.

Si­t­u­ated on the At­lantic Ocean about a mile from the South­ern­most Point, West Martello Tower is a Civil War-era fort that was never fin­ished. Be­gun in 1863, con­struc­tion ended in 1873. The tower was used to quar­ter troops dur­ing the Span­ish Amer­i­can War and housed ra­dio sta­tions dur­ing World Wars I and II.

By 1949, the un­used tum­bled down ruin was con­sid­ered an eye­sore and many wanted it torn down. A con­gress­man fought to save it and the Key West Gar­den Club took over the site as their botanic gar­den.

In ad­di­tion to the pic­turesque ru­ins, the gar­den has an­other ma­jor as­set: It over­looks the At­lantic. Vis­i­tors are re­warded with ocean views at var­i­ous points with a par­tic­u­larly spec­tac­u­lar view from a pretty white gazebo at the top of a hill — a pop­u­lar wed­ding site.

The gar­dens were once shaded by a huge stran­gler fig that en­twined the ru­ins, but the tree blew over in Hur­ri­cane Irma in Septem­ber 2017. (Its root­ball weighed 25 tons!)

We were amazed to visit in sum­mer 2018 and see the gar­dens look­ing spec­tac­u­lar. It’s not as shady as in the past, but it was full of bloom­ing or­chids and new land­scap­ing. I was par­tic­u­larly im­pressed with the flower-filled but­ter­fly gar­den, which was all aflut­ter.

1100 At­lantic Blvd.; 305-294-3210, key­west­gar­den­club.com. Open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week.

White Street Pier

Ad­ja­cent to the West Martello Tower & Botan­i­cal Gar­den is what has been dubbed the “un­fin­ished road to Ha­vana,” a very large con­crete pier that stretches 1,000 feet into the At­lantic Ocean.

The pier is a pop­u­lar fish­ing spot for lo­cals, and vis­i­tors are en­ter­tained watch­ing fish­er­men reel in their catches. Look­ing into the very clear wa­ter, you see schools of col­or­ful reef fish nib­bling around the rocks along the pier. On a July morn­ing, we saw dozens of lob­sters amid the rocks along the pier and a spot­ted ray swam close by.

The view from the pier is beau­ti­ful with its range of blue hues. It’s also a stun­ning place for a qui­eter Key West sun­set.

Just south of the White Street Fish­ing Pier and ad­ja­cent to the Wal­dorf As­to­ria’s Casa Ma­rina Re­sort, is Higgs Beach. This free beach of­fers shade from a grove of palm trees and a num­ber of pic­nic ta­bles as well as a dog park and free park­ing.

Be­tween the pier and the West Martello Tower, there is a large in­ter­est­ing memo­rial mark­ing the site of a ceme­tery where 294 en­slaved African men, women and chil­dren are buried. The Africans were res­cued from three slave ships off the coast in 1860 and brought to Key West. Hav­ing en­dured in­hu­mane con­di­tions on board, many died af­ter the res­cue. Those who sur­vived were shipped to Liberia.

White Street Pier is at White Street and At­lantic Boule­vard.

Key West Wildlife Cen­ter

While tak­ing in the pier and Martello Tow­ers, fam­i­lies and an­i­mal lovers might like to stop at the Key West Wildlife Cen­ter. The cen­ter is in­side an 8-acre park that has a fresh­wa­ter pond that at­tracts a good num­ber of wild birds.

The wildlife cen­ter has an aviary and re­hab flight area where it nur­tures in­jured hawks, pel­i­cans, osprey, heron, egrets and other birds back to health.

A large chicken aviary is home to dozens of Key West’s in­fa­mous gypsy chick­ens. To get rid of nui­sance chick­ens, res­i­dents can bor­row a trap from the wildlife cen­ter and bring the cap­tured fowl here. The chick­ens are trucked to or­ganic farms in Cen­tral Flor­ida monthly, where they are prized for their eggs and for their help with pest con­trol. (They eat bugs.)

1801 White St.; 305-292-1008, key­west­wildlife­cen­ter.org. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week.

Key West Ceme­tery

The Key West Ceme­tery is at the cen­ter of the is­land, half­way be­tween the His­toric Key West Sea­port and West Martello Tower. It has sev­eral en­trances, but you should make a point to start at the north­west cor­ner at Passover Lane and An­gela Street be­cause a small of­fice there has ex­cel­lent free walk­ing tour guides.

With a walk­ing tour guide in hand, the ceme­tery re­veals fascinating sto­ries of Key West and its peo­ple.

The ceme­tery was founded in 1847 af­ter a ter­ri­ble hur­ri­cane in Oc­to­ber 1846 washed away the old ceme­tery, scat­ter­ing the dead through­out a for­est. As a re­sult, the old­est grave­stones in the ceme­tery are ac­tu­ally older than the ceme­tery it­self. They date to 1829 and 1843 and were moved here af­ter the hur­ri­cane.

A prom­i­nent mon­u­ment is to the U.S.S. Maine, which was blown up in Ha­vana Har­bor in 1898, killing 260 Amer­i­can sol­diers. Two dozen of those dead are buried here along with other vet­er­ans of the Span­ish-Amer­i­can War. The area is pro­tected by an iron fence and gate brought from Wash­ing­ton D.C.

The Flor­ida Keys Eco-Dis­cov­ery Cen­ter

Be­sides be­ing free, there are two things that are spe­cial about this at­trac­tion: its aquar­ium tank and its free park­ing.

The cen­ter, op­er­ated by the Flor­ida Keys Na­tional Ma­rine Sanc­tu­ary and other en­vi­ron­men­tal agen­cies, of­fers ed­u­ca­tional ex­hibits with the high­light be­ing the Mote Ma­rine Lab­o­ra­tory Liv­ing Reef ex­hibit, a 2,500-gal­lon reef tank with liv­ing corals and trop­i­cal fish. There’s a short film that gets good re­views.

My fa­vorite: The tank with the beau­ti­ful lion fish, a non-na­tive fish that is plagu­ing coral reefs in the Keys.

The cen­ter is very near the U.S. Coast Guard Cut­ter Ing­ham Mar­itime Mu­seum & Na­tional His­toric Land­mark. ($10 for adults.)

35 E. Quay Road. It’s at the end of Southard Street in the Tru­man An­nex, across the street from Fort Zachary Tay­lor His­toric State Park. Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tues­day – Satur­day (Closed on Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas).

The His­toric Key West Sea­port

Many Key West vis­i­tors miss see­ing ar­eas that aren’t di­rectly on Du­val Street or Mal­lory Square.

Here’s an ex­am­ple: One of the most scenic strolls in Key West — and a top free­bie — is the har­bor walk along Key West Bight, also known as the His­toric Key West Sea­port.

From pic­turesque schooners to hun­gry tar­pon to his­toric ex­hibits to the best happy hour spe­cials in town, the Key West Sea­port has plenty to of­fer.

Fort Zachary Tay­lor His­toric State Park

It’s not free but so cheap. Ad­mis­sion is only $7 per ve­hi­cle and given that you must pay for park­ing ev­ery­where in Key West, this makes Fort Zachary Tay­lor vir­tu­ally free. If you walk or bike in, it’s $2.50 per per­son.

The park is fab­u­lous for three rea­sons: First, while a lit­tle rocky, its beach is the best in Key West and is a fa­vorite for snor­kel­ing, with liv­ing coral and trop­i­cal fish.

Sec­ond, its Civil War fort is well pre­served, has a fascinating his­tory and dis­plays the largest cache of Civil War-era sea­coast can­nons in the U.S.

Third, once you pay your ad­mis­sion, you can show your re­ceipt and come back for no ex­tra charge to see the sun­set from the fort’s prop­erty, with easy park­ing and lots of room to spread out along the shore.

Guided tours of the fort are given daily at noon and there’s a brochure to aid in self-guided tours.

Here’s an­other bar­gain-hunter tip: The fort’s beach­front Cayo Hueso Café of­fers rea­son­ably priced sand­wiches, snacks and cold bev­er­ages served on a shaded pa­tio over­look­ing the beach.

601 Howard Eng­land Way; 305-292-6713, flori­das­tateparks.org/park/Fort-Tay­lor. The park is open from 8 a.m. un­til sun­down daily. The fort closes at 5 p.m.

More bud­get-friendly tips

We vis­ited all these places on bikes, which made for a care­free way to tour con­gested Key West with its lack of park­ing. We brought our own bikes on a bike rack. But you can rent bikes at a num­ber of lo­ca­tions in Key West (and many ho­tels and B&Bs pro­vide bikes.) Bikes rent for $10 to $15 a day per per­son.

Flori­daRam­bler.com gives tips on get­aways to the nat­u­ral and au­then­tic Flor­ida.

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