From Key Largo, the northernmost of the Florida Keys, to Key West, the southernmost point of the U.S., the 125-mile island chain that makes up The Keys is a spectacular chain of tropical islands that promises heavenly warm breezes and pristine turquoise waters.
Naturally, it’s a haven for every kind of water sport imaginable. Deep-sea fishing is just one of those sports, and Key West’s own long-ago resident, iconic author Ernest Hemingway, not only participated in but also wrote about fishing adventures in several of his novels, perhaps most notably, The Old Man and the Sea.
And for those who have a passion for literature and history, Key West is especially full of interesting places to explore.
“Forever linked with literary legend Ernest Hemingway, who lived and wrote in Key West throughout the 1930s, the Florida Keys are the perfect destination for attendees to reawaken their creativity, re-prioritize meaningful goals and rejuvenate their spirits in a calm and serene atmosphere,” said Jack Meier, group sales manager for the Florida Keys & Key West tourism council.
To be sure, there are plenty of places to pay homage to Hemingway, and one place to get up-close-and-personal to the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner is The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, where Ernest lived with his second wife, Pauline. Groups can hold events in this Spanish Colonial villa where Hemingway lived and wrote some of his most famous works. The grounds are available for up to 100 people, and private house tours including a peek into his writing studio can be arranged as part of the event.
“We’ve had catered events where we’ve hired a Hemingway lookalike and given out pearls and fedoras for guests to get into the spirit,” said Darlene Plisko, general manager of the DMC, Hello! Florida. Guests can’t miss the dozens of six-toed cats roaming the property, believed to be descendants of Hemingway’s first cat, Snowball.
At the Custom House, now a museum run by the Key West Art & Historical Society, an art exhibit focusing on Hemingway’s life and impact on Key West is on permanent loan. Depicting Hemingway: Guy Harvey Sketches ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ features 59 original pen-and-ink drawings by the renowned marine wildlife artist and conservationist.
“We can host up to 200 for a cocktail party on our spectacular wraparound porch, the first floor of the house and the grounds. The building is called the ‘Crown Jewel of Key West’ because its style of architecture, usually found in the north, is so unique to the area. It’s such a historically significant building to hold an event, and especially beautiful at sunset,” said the Society’s executive director, Michael Gieda.
Nearby, Key West’s Harry S. Truman Little White House, Florida’s only presidential museum, is also used for functions. The late U.S. president spent more than six months at this tropical retreat during his 1945-1953 administration. The grounds can accommodate groups as large as 400 people, while smaller groups can utilize the president’s own dining room, living room and south porch for dinners. Private museum tours can be included.
Artist John James Audubon made his mark drawing tropical birds of The Keys and the Dry Tortugas. At the Audubon House & Tropical Gardens, across from Mallory Square in the heart of Old Town Key West, Audubon’s first edition works and lithographs are on display. The Audubon House was once home to a sea captain who made his fortune finding the spoils of shipwrecks.
The antiques-filled home is surrounded by lush gardens with rare tropical palms, orchids and other colorful flora. The back deck of this historic home provides a breathtaking setting for up to 100 guests, and the gardens can host up to 250 for a cocktail party or 150 for a seated dinner.
Unique Hotel Experiences
Hotels in The Keys offer some unique activities for groups, as well.
“In the Florida Keys and Key West, there’s no cookie-cutter approach,” said Meier of the Florida Keys & Key West tourism council. “Each of our properties has its own unique assets and attributes. It’s a matter of fitting the right group with the best property. We tell planners, ‘Let’s find the right fit.’”