BEST WEEKEND GETAWAY - 2004
Readers' Choice: Key West
This barrier island is roughly thirteen miles long. With the Atlantic on one side and the Intracoastal Waterway (known here as the Indian River) on the other, it's no more than a mile wide. But the most important measurement is this: It's about 130 miles from Miami -- far enough to escape the Magic City's gravitational pull. And indeed, upon arrival you'll experience a sort of giddy weightlessness. It is, after all, a parallel but refreshingly alien universe. The island's north end is less developed than the south, which means literally miles of sand and dunes and crashing surf and not much else. Hutchinson's northernmost tip actually lies within the city limits of mainland Fort Pierce, and this little offshore enclave is the place to stay. It boasts an authentic, laid-back, beach-town atmosphere; affordable lodging; and casual dining at places like Theo Thudpukker's Raw Bar, Archie's Seabreeze, and Chris's Hurricane Grill. Summer is the recommended season for Miami exiles -- you can simply arrive, look around, pick out a motel, and hit the beach. If you insist on advance planning, the Web offers more information than you'll ever need.