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Despite the island's connection to the mainland in 1938 via an extension of U.S. Highway 1, the progressive and intoxicating culture of Key West has evolved in relative isolation. The utopian philosophy of "One Human Family" has always attracted the brave and the eccentric, the persecuted and the liberal.
In a sanctuary that poses no social sanctions on those who deviate from supposed societal norms, transvestites stroll the aisles of Publix supermarkets without incident. While this has fostered a welcoming atmosphere for hairy, overweight men (and women) in leather thongs, it's the very cheetah prints, fluorescents, and bad highlights that lend an unparalleled charm to the southernmost city in the United States.
Beauty or beast, you are welcome in Key West. It's rare and special, welcoming and irresistible.
Did you know that?
Key West is still as raunchy as ever! While there is currently no gay nightlife anchor as large as the Copa, the shenanigans of the Keys live on with rowdy happy hours at the Island House (www.islandhousekeywest.com), skinny-dipping cruises, gratuitous self-exposure at the themed Sunday tea dances at La Te Da hotel's By George piano bar, and escapist events such as Fantasy Fest (www.fantasyfest.net).
Hop on a catamaran to the Dry Tortugas. Often called North America's most inaccessible national park, 68 nautical miles due west of Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park comprises seven small islands -- a remote refuge for diverse marine life, centered around Fort Jefferson, a living piece of American history, and a pocket of utter seclusion.
Miami's mystique has hypnotized the world since the art deco movement made its way to the subtropics in the 1930s. A paragon of fashion, glamour, and evolving avant-garde, Miami presented a worldly style unknown to most parts of the United States in tandem with a fledgling progressive beach culture. From the hype of "streamline moderne" to the trends of the present day, the Miami the world reveres in fact stands as a two-square-mile section of a small island known as Miami Beach.
Did you know that?
Miami claims to be home to the oldest building in the Western Hemisphere. At nearly 900 years old, the Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux was an active part of church life in Segovia, Spain, for centuries until it was disassembled and shipped to the United States, then reassembled in Miami Beach in the 1950s.
Check out Art Basel Miami. Following in the footsteps of its Swiss counterpart, Art Basel Miami stands arguably as the most prestigious art show in the United States since its inception in 2002. Held six months after the show in Basel, the global congregation of top designers, architects, 200+ gallery owners, and 2,000 artists from all continents draws scores of celebrities and spawns fabu high-profile parties.
Part One | Part Two