Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Key West doesn't drop a ball at midnight. Instead revelers can choose between a conch shell, a pirate wench, or a drag performer in a giant high heel.

Key West has long been known for its quirky flair, so it should come as no surprise that its New Year's celebration is appropriately off-key. There are three things you can watch drop come midnight: a conch shell, a pirate wench, and a drag performer in a life-size shoe. But before you have to make such tough choices, enjoy the annual Daschund Walk, and several other free and zany activities. Here's our list for where to go and what to see.

1. Historic Key West Cemetery

Thoughtfully maintained by the Historic Florida Keys Foundation, this cemetery—founded in 1847 after a hurricane washed out an older cemetery the previous year—does not have any free tours running on New Year's Eve, but the Foundation's website features an incredibly detailed map (complete with mini-bios of the noteworthy interred) and a guide to common gravestone symbols for your own perusal.

2. Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center

Sponsored by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (which begins south of Miami and stretches to the Dry Tortugas), the Eco-Discovery Center helps visitors of all ages interpret the rich ecosystem of South Florida—on land and on sea. It features a 2,500-gallon Living Reef exhibit as well as a mock-up of Aquarius, the only undersea research laboratory in the world.

3. Key West Wildlife Center

Located inside the Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park, the Key West Wildlife Center is a bird-lover's dream. The center tends to injured native wildlife, with a particular focus on birds. A paved nature walk through the park passes by two aviaries as well as a freshwater pond. It's the perfect place to spot wildlife.

4. Key West Garden Club

A former Civil War-era fort converted into a lush and free public garden, the Key West Garden Club features palms, waterfalls, at least one gazebo, and seaside views. Members of the nonprofit club donate the plants and maintain the gardens, which include blooming orchids, bromeliads, and water lilies.

5. White Street Pier

Locals joke that this extra-long pier (its runs 1,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean) is an "unfinished road to Cuba." A popular fishing spot, visitors can see schools of fish flit about beneath the surface of the water. It's also a wonderful place to catch the sunrise or sunset. Both dogs and bikes are welcome.

6. Old Island Restoration Foundation Self-Guided Walking Tour

Set up by the nonprofit Old Island Restoration Foundation, the Pelican Path Self-Guided Tour of Key West provides an architecturally minded trip through historic Key West. The walk takes between one to two hours, and is full of delightful gems like the Otto House, where artist Eugene Otto "owned the notorious Robert, the haunted doll"—apparently the inspiration for the horror franchise Chucky.

7. Key West Dachshund Walk

Every New Year's Eve, Key West dachshunds (or rather, their owners) celebrate with a parade through town. No registration is required to join in, though donations of dog and cat food are encouraged for the Community Pet Pantry. It begins at noon on the courthouse steps. "Costumes and dachshund wanna-be's encouraged."

8. Sloppy Joe's Dropping of the Conch Shell

Although Sloppy Joe's charges a small cover to enter on New Year's Eve, their iconic 23rd-annual conch drop is visible from the street.

9. Schooner Wharf's "Lowering of the Pirate Wench"

The Schooner Wharf Bar doesn't charge a cover on New Year's Eve, so visitors can see their annual "lowering of the pirate wench" without breaking the bank. Cannon blasts accompany the pirate's drop from the tall ship America 2.0, and live music continues until 4 a.m.

10. Bourbon Street Pub Shoe Drop

Though VIP tickets to the balcony level of the Bourbon Street Pub's annual New Year's Eve Shoe Drop runs around $150 (it includes an open bar), the ground floor is free and open to the public. Drag performer Sushi reclines in a giant high heel for her 19th consecutive New Year's Eve drop.

11. Fireworks on Blackwater Sound

Ring in the New Year with fireworks over Blackwater Sound. It's free to view from anywhere with a bayside view, but the organizers suggest several area venues.

Molly McArdle is a native Washingtonian and a writer based in Brooklyn. You can find her on both Twitter and Instagram at @mollitudo.

Key West doesn't drop a ball at midnight. Instead revelers can choose between a conch shell, a pirate wench, or a drag performer in a giant high heel.

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