THE FLORIDA KEYS

Key West

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Sunday, January 15, 2006

ATTRACTIONS AND DISTRACTIONS

* Be the southernmost tourist by standing at the large wide-striped buoy on Fleming and Whitehead streets, which marks the Southernmost Point in the continental U.S. (snap a photo, it's the thing to do). Go any more south and you'll end up in Cuba, 90 miles away.

* When evening looms, the freaks, uh, the street performers come out for the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square (305-292-7700, www.sunsetcele bration.org). The pier transforms into a virtual circus, including a neo-Houdini (chains, straitjacket, upside-down) and Dominique the Catman and his troupe of trained house cats.

* Come darkness, the revelry migrates to boisterous Duval Street, which becomes an open-air frat party, complete with bottomless cocktails, loud bands and a clothing-optional rooftop bar (the Garden of Eden, above the Bull and Whistle, 224 Duval St., 305-296-4565) where the peepers outnumber the pantsless.

* The Key West City Cemetery, a sprawling 1847 graveyard, has its fair share of historical names and monuments, but for some gallows humor, seek out the more irreverent sites. Pick up a map at the sexton's office at the main entry off Margaret Street and Passover Lane.

* Learn about the queen conch at the Key West Conch Baby Farm (631 Greene St., 305-296-3551, www.conchrepublicseafood.com; free), an aquarium filled with tanks of conchs the nonprofit hopes to raise and release into the wild.

* At the Key West Historic Memorial Sculpture Garden in Mallory Square (www.historictours.com/ keywest/SculptureGarden/index.htm; free), count heads -- the 36 busts depict the city's most notable personalities, including Ernest Hemingway and Harry S Truman.

* Get your culture/history/fish fix in the historic Clinton Square area, which includes the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum and the Audubon House. Grab a map at the Chamber of Commerce (402 Wall St., 305-294-2587, www.keywestchamber.org).

* To cover more ground, hop aboard the Conch Tour Train (305-294-5161, www.conchtourtrain.com; $25), which wends its way around the town's top attractions, including Sloppy Joe's Bar. Purchase tickets in Mallory Square.

* Papa slept here . . . at the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum (907 Whitehead St., 305-294-1136, www.hemingwayhome.com; $11). He also wrote some of his masterworks at the historic 19th-century house; keep an eye out for the six-toed cats, descendants of the author's polydactyl pet.

* Fort Zachary Taylor State Park (end of Southard Street past Truman Annex, 305-292-6713, www.floridastate parks.org; from $1.50) offers tours of a Civil War fort and one of KW's nicest beaches. You can also snorkel, kayak, fish, bird-watch and hike.

* See how tastes have changed at the Turtle Kraals Museum (200 Margaret St., 305-294-0209, www.seaturtlemuseum.org; free), a former turtle cannery that now nurses ailing or vulnerable turtles.


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