Last updated on January 1st, 2020 at 09:21 pm
This guest post was written by Karuna Eberl and Steve Alberts, who live on Cudjoe Key in the Lower Keys, and bring a local’s perspective to their entertaining book “Key West & the Lower Keys Travel Guide.” This is an excerpt from their book on gifts and souvenirs that are legit Keys products.
Whether you’re feeling nostalgic for Florida’s barrier-reef islands, or are headed there on vacation, these uniquely Keys items are brimming with subtropical spirit.
All are created in the spirit of community, by family-run businesses or local entrepreneurs.
In the ‘60s, a husband-and-wife team began making sandals that are now worn by people around the world. See the durable, fashionable, and comfortable shoes being handcrafted at their Old Town factory. They also make purses and the Cuban Conch Cookbook. Buy them at the factory, 107 Fitzpatrick Street, Key West, or at kinosandals.com.
Smilin’ Bob’s Fish Dip
Hungry musician-anglers turned their home recipe into a national hit, but it surely tastes best in a Keys breeze with sand in your toes. Made with wild amberjack and kingfish caught right here, this dip has long been coveted by locals and is now available in many Whole Foods, Publix, Safeways, and other supermarkets around the country. It’s crafted on Summerland Key and found most everywhere in Keys food stores, smilinbobs.com. Also available at South Florida BJ’s Warehouse locations and Whole Foods markets.
The Keys Salt Scrub
Whether you want softer skin or just to easily wash off some grease after working on the car, these scrubs are divine. Handmade in small batches, the blend of salts, coconut and essential oils are all natural, plus chemical and cruelty free. They also serve as a nice, lasting reminder of the feeling of the Keys. Find them in many stores around town as well as at thekeyssaltscrub.com. A selection is also available on Amazon for $24.95.
We aren’t sure how a classically trained Swiss chef ended up making pickles in Key West, but good fortune is not to be questioned. He is prolific, with an array from classic dills to sliced jalapeños in sweet candy brine. “Eat pickles, live forever,” is his slogan. Sounds good. Find them around town, local farmer’s and artisan’s markets, picklebaronofkeywest.com.
Key West Distilling
Rums, whiskey, gin and vodka crafted slowly and with care, just like the Key West lifestyle. Try samples, tour the distillery. 5970 Peninsular Avenue, Stock Island, kwdistilling.com. Available in Key West at Kwest Liquors, The Roost,
The Tipsy Rooster. Rumbunctious Rum also available at select Total Wine & More stores around Florida.
Key West First Legal Rum Distillery
Pick up bottles of fine local rums at the distillery, have a tour and take a mojito class. All free (except the bottles), dog friendly. 105 Simonton Street, keywestlegalrum.com. Available at select liquor stores in Monroe County and around the state, including select Total Wine & More outlets.
Named after Hemingway’s boat, this is famous rum man style, but also tastes good if you’re a lady. Distillery tours, bottles and merchandise at 210 Simonton, papaspilar.com. Also available at select Total Wine & More stores in Florida.
Key West Aloe
Nothing helps a sunburn like fresh aloe. With this knowledge they launched their wares in 1971, and today make the largest selection of aloe vera-based products in the world. Their cleansers, shaving gels, shampoos, sunburn salves, and everything else is vegan and free of animal testing, gluten, and parabens. Sold around town and at their stores, 416 Greene, 1075 Duval, keywestaloe.com.
The Keys have more species of native flowers than anywhere else in the U.S., making this honey deliciously varied, and the bees ultra healthy. It’s free of pesticides and bears vitamins, enzymes and antioxidants (most big-brand store honey is ultra-filtered and contains no pollen, meaning it technically isn’t even honey). The local buzzers produce their honey from Keys flora including mango, avocado, sea grape, and black mangrove. Find it in grocery, farmers’ markets and gift outlets or at keezbeezhoney.com.
Nellie and Joe’s Key Lime Juice
The yellow bottle you see in stores across the U.S., Europe and Asia, is actually a Key West original. It started right here, when young local Nellie presented Henry Flagler with a bouquet of flowers as he stepped off of his momentous inaugural railroad journey to Key West in 1912. The family founded the business in 1968, when they began filling long-necked beer bottles with juice in their Key West kitchen. Eventually they got so big they had to move the factory to Pompano Beach, but the juice’s heart still lives in the Keys. Available everywhere, keylimejuice.com.
Speaking of the little tart ones, Key lime products are plentiful here. Try the Key Lime Pie Bakery at 412 Greene, Key Lime Pie Co. at 511 Greene (take a pie-making class here) or Kermit’s Key Lime Shoppe (overnight a pie from here keylimeshop.com). If you’re in town, other famous pie stops include Blue Heaven at 729 Thomas Street, Pepe’s at 806 Caroline, and the Hogfish Bar on Stock Island.
Some ambitious caf-fiends ride their bicycles from Key West 15 miles up to Baby’s for a morning cup of coffee. Others just drive. The family business uses pure mountain arabica beans roasted in the Keys. For decaf, they use Swiss water process, which decaffeinates without chemicals. They also have a cool logo. Mile marker 15, oceanside, Saddlebunch Keys, babyscoffee.com.
Give a loved one a stick of deodorant, and they might take it as an insult. On the contrary, a gift of Island Deodorant shows how much you truly care for someone’s long-term health. It’s organic and free from toxic aluminum and other chemicals, and the strangest part is it actually works really well. They have a baking soda-free formula for those with senitive skin, and now plastic-free container options. Made in Key West, available at Date & Thyme or online at islanddeodorant.com.
This creative compound built out of materials recycled from the ashes of a dilapidated boatyard always draws a diverse crowd with its monthly-or-so concerts. A conglomeration of hippies, hipsters, artists, wanderers, and other free spirits congregate here to build things like houseboats and skateboards, sell their wares, fix things, do art, host kids’ camps, and even train pigeons. They are self-admittedly a bit difficult to put into a box and explain — indeed their motto is simply “Live By It” — but they are friendly and are up to date on their rabies vaccinations, so don’t hesitate to check them out and buy a cool T-shirt or hat. 6404 Front Street, Stock Island, 803 Whitehead Street, Key Wet, clothing and skateboards at coastprojects.com.
The Guerrero Project tells the story of the search for a pirate Spanish slave ship that sank here, and what finding it means to people today. It’s a compelling story, wrought with dramatic history, local treasure hunters and historians, but we particularly like it because one of the authors directed it. DVDs are available at the History of Diving Museum, and at theguerreroproject.org. Also available for viewing on Amazon Prime Video.
The best guidebook: The Lower Keys & Key West Travel Guide, published by Quixotic Books, is a guidebook that is actually fun to read. We might be partial though, because we wrote it. 🙂