Key West Travel Guide is here to help you have a fantastic vacation while getting the most out of every vacation dollar. We LOVE our little island!
One thing really annoys us: tourist traps. Shady businesses that prey upon people on vacation.
There are five Key West tourist traps that we suggest you avoid (or, at least, enter with skepticism and awareness.)
5. T-Shirt Shops – For years, Key West had a well-documented problem with Duval Street t-shirt shops. Aggressive salesmen were fleecing customers with last minute charges, especially on “custom” iron-on shirts. Stories of customers who had paid hundreds of dollars for a few t-shirts were common. As a result, the City of Key West passed an ordinance regulating their behavior, including requiring written estimates of how much a custom t-shirt is going to cost. Regardless, those shops are still in business and not where we suggest you shop.
Solution: If you are looking for a souvenir t-shirt, avoid the shops with the zillion iron-ons and packed with trinkets. Instead, try COAST on Whitehead & Petronia Street. They offer original designs, higher quality shirts, and fair prices.
4. $5 Shops – Many of the shady t-shirt shops have tried a new line of attack – the $5 store. For some reason, an unusually haggard individual holds up a sign reading $5 at the store’s entrance. Inside you’ll find the same tacky merchandise and pushy salespeople.
3. Jewelry Stores – The Today Show’s Rossend Reports recently published an article detailing their experience shopping in a few of Key West’s tourist jewelry stores. Investigators purchased diamond stud earrings at two different stores. Both pairs turned out to be of dubious quality and vastly overpriced. While the particular Key West stores weren’t named, we suggest avoiding “duty free” jewelry stores.
Solution: Better to buy diamonds and emeralds from your reputable, hometown jeweler.
2. Shady Art Galleries – Ugh. This one kind of breaks our heart. Key West is known as an artistic inspiration. We LOVE the arts. And there ARE numerous outstanding Key West artists.
But watch out for the factory art galleries whose merchandise is often mass produced – and their salespeople a little too slick. Most of these galleries rely on warm lighting, hidden prices, a private room to view artwork, and a well-rehearsed sales pitch. Novice art buyers and the tipsy can easily be taken. We question the motives of any gallery that does not display prices. Be especially wary of salesmen mentioning appreciating value & price, offering big savings, or expressing urgency that a “limited-edition” is running out.
Solution: Here are a few reputable galleries we recommend: Lucky Street Gallery (re-opening on White Street), Key West Art Center (on Front Street), Gingerbread Square Gallery (upper Duval Street), Greene Street Gallery (on Greene Street), Salt (on Fleming Street), Gildea Gallery (on Southard Street), and 7 Artists & Friends Gallery (on Simonton Street)
1. Cosmetic Shops – The latest and most audacious tourist traps in Key West are cosmetic shops that have popped up on Duval Street. Pushy salespeople stand at the entrance handing out samples and launching into a sales pitch to anyone nearby. The face lotions are wildly expensive. One store touts diamonds as a key ingredient in face cream. Another gold. Another caviar. Salespeople make wild claims, spout quackery, and have been accused of emitting creepy vibes (women have complained to the city about being touched by the salesmen). They are unrelentingly aggressive.
One customer was charged $40,000 for beauty products. She complained to the City of Key West. Numerous others have as well. We highly suggest you avoid these stores. You’ll know them when you get near one.
Solution: Visit Besame Mucho, on Petronia Street nearby Blue Heaven). They sell high-quality products, including some cosmetics, lotions, and shampoo for men and women.