You'll find all kinds of unique gifts and souvenirs in Key West, from coconut postcards to Key lime pies. On Duval Street, T-shirt shops outnumber almost any other business. If you must get a wearable memento, be careful of unscrupulous salespeople. Despite efforts to curtail the practice, many shops have been known to rip off unwitting shoppers. It pays to check the prices and the exchange rate before signing any sales slips. You are entitled to a written estimate of any T-shirt work before you pay for it.
At Mallory Square, you'll find the Clinton Street Market, an overly air-conditioned mall of kiosks and stalls designed for the many cruise-ship passengers who never venture beyond this super-commercial zone. There are some coffee and candy shops, and some high-priced hats and shoes. There's also a free and clean restroom.
Once the main industry of Key West, cigar making is enjoying renewed success at the handful of factories that survived the slow years. Stroll through Cigar Alley (while on Greene St., go 2 blocks west and you'll hit Cigar Alley, also known as Pirate's Alley), where you will find viejitos (little old men) rolling fat stogies just as they used to do in their homeland across the Florida Straits. Stop at the Conch Republic Cigar Factory, 512 Greene St. (tel. 305/295-9036; www.conch-cigars.com), for an excellent selection of imported and locally rolled smokes, including the famous El Hemingway. Remember, buying or selling Cuban-made cigars is illegal. Shops advertising "Cuban cigars" are usually referring to domestic cigars made from tobacco grown from seeds that were brought from Cuba decades ago. To be fair, though, many premium cigars today are grown from Cuban seed tobacco -- only it is grown in Latin America and the Caribbean, not Cuba.
If you're looking for local or Caribbean art, you'll find nearly a dozen galleries and shops clustered on Duval Street between Catherine and Fleming streets. There are also some excellent shops scattered on the side streets. One worth seeking out is the Haitian Art Co., 1100 Truman Ave. (tel. 305/296-8932; www.haitian-art-co.com), where you can browse through room upon room of original paintings from well-known and obscure Haitian artists, in a range of prices from a few dollars to a few thousand. Also check out Cuba, Cuba! at 814 Duval St. (tel. 305/295-9442; www.cubacubastore.com), where you'll see paintings, sculpture, and photos by Cuban artists, as well as books and art from the island.
From sweet to spicy, Peppers of Key West, 602 Greene St. (tel. 305/295-9333; www.peppersofkeywest.com), is a hot-sauce-lover's heaven, with hundreds of variations, from mild to brutally spicy. Grab a seat at the tasting bar and be prepared to let your taste buds sizzle. Tip: Bring beer, and they'll let you taste some of their secret sauces!
Literature and music buffs will appreciate the many bookshops and record stores on the island. Key West Island Bookstore, 513 Fleming St. (tel. 305/294-2904), carries new, used, and rare books, and specializes in fiction by residents of the Keys, including Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Shel Silverstein, Ann Beattie, Richard Wilbur, and John Hersey. The bookstore is open daily from 10am to 9pm.
For anything else, from bed linens to candlesticks to clothing, go to downtown's oldest and most renowned department store, Fast Buck Freddie's, 500 Duval St. (tel. 305/294-2007). For the same merchandise at reduced prices, try Half Buck Freddie's, 726 Caroline St. (tel. 305/294-2007), where you can shop for out-of-season bargains and "rejects" from the main store.
Also check out KW Light Gallery, 534 Fleming St. (tel. 305/294-0566; www.kwlightgallery.com), for high-quality contemporary photography as well as historic images and other artwork relating to the Keys or to the concept of light and its varied interpretations. The gallery is open Thursday through Tuesday from 10am to 6pm (10am-4pm in summer). Owner/photographer/painter Sharon Wells also gives historic tours of Key West so inquire while you're inside for the inside scoop.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.