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Waterside Key West resort has been welcoming visitors for nearly 40 years.  • By John O’Mara • From the December 2013 edition of Jacksonville Magazine
It can get downright cold in Northeast Florida in December. In fact, it’s even been known to snow at Christmastime. Sure, the last time was more than 20 years ago. But it does happen. Perhaps the one place in Florida where one can almost guarantee a mild climate this time of year is Key West, a rocky island outpost some 500 miles from Jacksonville (and only 90 miles from Cuba).

Count Key West among the state’s many iconic vacation destinations, a literal end-of-the-line kind of place where travelers can’t help but feel a sense of escape from wherever it is they call home. Wordsmiths including Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and Jimmy Buffett have done their part in making the Keys a haven for countless bohemian artsy-fartsy types, in addition to restless wanderers who consider “home” to be wherever the sun sets that day.

For many, sunsets in the Conch Republic are best enjoyed from Mallory Square, a nightly gathering spot for thousands who drift here as if pushed down Duval Street by an unseen tide. Just a shell’s throw from the square is the Pier House Resort and Caribbean Spa, a landmark lodging tucked tight up against the Gulf of Mexico. While only about eight square miles in size, Key West is a city where it’s best to park the car and leave it alone for the length of one’s stay. Knowing that, Pier House earns top marks for location.

Guests can practically jump out of their rooms and into the Gulf, though it’s probably best to casually wade into the water while using the resort’s private sandy beach. Attractions like Mel Fisher’s Maritime Museum, Truman Annex and Key West Aquarium are a short walk away. The Hemingway House, a must-visit site in the historic district, and Fort Zachary Taylor are several blocks away, so a rented scooter or bike might be the best transportation option. Popular watering holes and restaurants including Conch Republic Seafood, Sloppy Joe’s and El Meson de Pepe are also minutes away by foot.

The Pier House pulls off the tropical vibe with lush gardens and spindly palms surrounding its heated outdoor pool. It also offers a discreet “top-optional” sunning area, so be mindful of that if booking a trip with the kids. The resort features three bars, a private dock that is available for charter boat pick-ups, and the spa and fitness center offer all the requisite services one expects in an upscale property. Room rates start around $200 per night; however, expect rates to climb during peak weeks and on weekends.

Pier House Resort and Caribbean Spa is a sponsor of Jacksonville Magazine’s sixth annual Great Wedding Giveaway.

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