Deer Run B&B Review: A Vegan Bed and Breakfast in the Florida Keys

I turned 30 in March. In August, my mom will turn 60. Two momentous birthdays in a single year required a special celebration: a mom-daughter vacation!

I asked my mom where she wanted to go, and after throwing around a few ideas, she was pretty decisive: the Florida Keys. She hadn’t been since her honeymoon 37 years ago, and I’d never been at all. I didn’t know much about the Keys beyond what I’d heard about Key West, but I was excited to explore both it and the less popular keys. And when we discovered that there was an all-vegan bed and breakfast on Big Pine Key, well, that sealed the deal. To the Keys!

Mom and me in Key West

Blurry Facebook photo of mom and me in Key West!

Deer Run Vegan B&B on Big Pine Key

Big Pine Key is 33 miles north of Key West, more than halfway down the stretch of 43 connected islands that make up the Keys. Besides hosting the only population of the diminutive Key Deer in the entire world (!), it also hosts a fabulous vegan B&B. Mom and I spent five nights at Deer Run Bed and Breakfast, enjoying the B&B’s private beach, astonishingly large and delicious breakfasts, and the occasional game of Scrabble when the weather didn’t cooperate.

 

 

 

Nothing like some RBG on the beach. 👌🏼👑 🌴

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Proprietors Jen and Harry have created a true vegan oasis in the Keys. Mom and I shared the Eden room, which might not be oceanfront but does have a private, secluded garden. The entire beach and yard is a wildlife-friendly habitat, and I loved having surprisingly good wildlife-watching right outside our screened-in porch. The redwing blackbird who was making a home for his family greeted us loudly every morning, the tiny lizards scurried through the trees, and I caught a glimpse of a shy resident iguana high-tailing it away from me when I walked around the corner one afternoon. The aforementioned endangered Key Deer (which grow only to about waist-height) roamed freely over the beach, and I couldn’t get enough of their tiny selves.

 

 

I'm pretty curious about you too, little one.

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Not only are Jen and Harry true-blue animal advocates (they’re both involved in all sorts of vegan and animal-friendly causes in the Keys), but they’re also environmentalists. To that end, Deer Run is kitted out to be super eco-friendly, with composting toilets, water-recycling systems, and compost bins for guests’ plant refuse. They also supply bulk shampoo, conditioner, soap, and body wash — no tiny plastic bottles here.

Out on the beach, Harry and Jen are working to restore and replant mangrove trees. They form a natural barrier against erosion but have typically been ripped out to make way for development and long stretches of sandy beaches.

 

View for the next five days.

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It’s good for the soul to stay in a place where the owners share your values and don’t compromise on them. Deer Run is that place.

Delicious vegan breakfasts at Deer Run

Deer Run is also the place to go if you want massive vegan breakfasts that feature multiple courses and take you at least an hour to eat. This is not an exaggeration, and I have to admit that I didn’t finish my breakfast even once during the five days we were there. (Don’t worry, plates and aluminum foil are at the ready so you can save your leftovers for later.)

At first, I wasn’t thrilled when I realized that the 8:30 breakfast call meant I’d have to get up early during my vacation. But it was totally worth it. It meant that Mom and I made the most of our days, and we started with super hearty breakfasts that kept us going. Plus, there’s copious coffee and tea if you need a caffeine kick!

Breakfasts typically included a baked good to start, followed by an incredible fruit smoothie, and then a ginormous main dish with fruit and another side. For example, one day we had almond scones, tropical smoothies, toasted oat waffles, and slices of cantaloupe. Another breakfast featured a to-die-for mocha muffin, a southwestern frittata, roasted potatoes, and a pineapple spear. And we had the absolute best vegan bacon I’ve ever tasted on our last day — I’m salivating just thinking about it!

Words not good enough? Check out the visuals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

See? I wasn’t joking about the ginormous breakfasts. You will leave full!

I can’t recommend this place highly enough. If you want a relaxing vacation where you’re immersed in gorgeous nature with wildlife all around, go. It’s pricy, but it’s worth it.

IF YOU GO…

  • Be sure to visit nearby Bahia Honda Beach, located just a five-minute drive away. After driving past the entrance kiosk, turn left to hang out on a world-famous beach, or turn right for a chance to walk out on a portion of the old Key Highway system, which extends over the absurdly blue water and offers great views (photo below!).
  • Borrow a bike from Deer Run and take a ride to one of the nature trails on the island, or just cruise around enjoying the sun.
  • Order a custom-made key lime pie from Jen. It’s the only (!) vegan key lime pie in the Keys, and she’ll deliver it to you in a picnic basket with silverware, plates, and coconut whipped cream for your dining pleasure. Mom and I split one and finished it in two days. #noregrets
  • Be aware that the B&B attracts plenty of non-vegan guests, so you might have to field the standard “curious omnivore” questions. Think of it as an opportunity to educate and inspire!
  • Ask to meet the cats (if you’re not allergic, of course)! They’re sweet and super friendly but don’t interact with guests unless their presence is requested.

View from Bahia Honda

Pretty sure that’s a photo of paradise right there. ;)

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Weekend Trip: Watkins Glen + Corning, New York, and the Ginger Cat B+B

Last March, Steven and I headed to New York State for a little getaway in advance of my 29th birthday — and I never shared the details. Shame! It was a fantastic weekend trip loaded with some of my favorite things, thanks to Steven’s careful planning.

I knew the general gist of our trip (a vegan B&B in New York State’s Finger Lakes region; a trip to the Pyrex exhibit at the Corning Museum of Glass) in advance, but not the details. And the details made this trip amazing.

Vegan Treats Bakery in Bethlehem, PA

We headed up to New York on a Friday evening, leaving after work and breaking up the six-ish hour drive with a stop at a store that’s been on my vegan bucket list for years: Vegan Treats. I think of it as the vegan baked goods mecca: if you’re a sugar-loving vegan, you need to visit at some point. (Or at the very least, try out its wares at select restaurants and VegFests on the east coast.)

Vegan Treats bakery in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

If you visit, don’t let the unassuming location on a residential street fool you; this place is well worth a visit. Vegan Treats smells like an old-timey ice cream shop, and it’s chock-full of beautifully decorated delights. I could barely contain my excitement as I ogled the dozens of impeccably decorated sweeties.

I thought we were stopping to stock up on a few snacks for the weekend, but no: Steven had a surprise waiting for me. Check out my birthday cake:

Yes, that is a reproduction of my favorite Pyrex pattern (Butterprint) in cake form! The amazing artists at VT hand-painted this beauty at Steven’s request. It was almost too pretty to eat! (Rest assured, eat it we did — later.)

Cake (and additional treats) in hand, we set off for our final destination.

The Ginger Cat B&B in Watkins Glen, NY

The Ginger Cat is an all-vegan B&B, and it’s a gem of a place. It even won a VegNews award a few years ago, and rightfully so. Owner Gita has created a cozy, homey vegan sanctuary for visitors to the Empire State. She’s the perfect host, willing to take guests’ leads on whether they prefer solitude or camaraderie. We arrived late at night and let ourselves in, grateful for a warm bed in a quiet house.

Pig and pamphlets at the Ginger Cat B&B in Watkins Glen, NY

During our two-night stay, we enjoyed chatting with Gita, a dedicated vegan who seems to be a go-to source in Watkins Glen for establishments looking to provide vegan offerings. If you need a recommendation for food, wine, or anything, she’s got you covered. On Saturday night, we cut into the Pyrex cake and made sure to share a piece with Gita, who thoughtfully offered up some locally made vegan ice cream (!) for topping. The mint chocolate chip was amazing and paired beautifully with my vanilla amandine cake.  I’ll admit that I was a little skeptical when I realized that it wasn’t chocolate, but the vanilla amandine won me over at first bite. It’s a mature flavor, not overly sweet, but nuanced, and the cake had a layer of vanilla frosting to set it off. The texture was really special, too — almost like a sponge or an Angel food cake, with a little bit of a crust at the edges The whole cake was covered with vanilla fondant, and although I know some folks can’t stand the stuff, I personally love its chewy sweetness.

Back to the Ginger Cat! Of course, the second B in B&B stands for breakfast, and we breakfasted like royalty. I’ve never been to a B&B; it was SO nice to wake up and smell breakfast cooking! Gita cooked up a feast each morning. From soy-sauce braised kale with cashews to tender scones to a savory quiche to waffles with lots of maple syrup, we had lots to choose from each day, all washed down by freshly made coffee (her tea collection was also impressive).

Note that although Gita has a few friendly kitties living in the house, they stay in the residential area, not in the B&B section. Steven has a fairly sensitive cat allergy, but he wasn’t bothered by them. If you do want to meet the kitties, just ask — Gita will be happy to introduce you.

Corning Museum of Glass + Pyrex Exhibit

Steven chose this particular weekend for a reason: it was the last chance we’d get to see a Pyrex retrospective at the Corning Museum of Glass. My love of vintage Pyrex is undying and well-documented, and I loved this opportunity to learn more about the brand’s history and to see its evolution throughout the past century.

Although not particularly expansive, the Pyrex exhibit was exhaustive: it included examples of just about every Pyrex pattern available at any time in the brand’s history, along with a comprehensive history of the brand’s founding and evolution. We had the exhibit to ourselves when we visited, and it was fantastic to take in the beautiful patterns in peace.

Even though this particular exhibit was temporary, the Corning Museum of Glass is well-worth a visit regardless. I didn’t quite know what to expect, and I was blown away by the sheer size of the museum: multiple levels house a breathtaking display of glasswork throughout the ages, from ancient Rome to the Islamic world and right up to contemporary designers. Honestly, you could spend an entire day here learning about how glass has been made throughout the centuries and ogling the gorgeous work.

But CMOG really won a place in my heart as one of my favorite American museums because of the demonstrations. You can watch firsthand as a master glassworker creates a one-of-a-kind piece of artwork from start to finish. (And, if you’re lucky, you might be the lucky audience member who gets to take it home!) The museum offers four different demo sessions (hot glass, flameworking, optical fiber, and glassbreaking) and runs each one a few times a day. Attendance is included in the price of your admission ticket. We attended a hot glass and a flameworking demo, and I was super thrilled that both featured bad-ass lady glassworkers! The museum also offers classes in glassmaking, but those cost extra and probably need to be scheduled in advance.

City of Corning, NY

After your visit to the Museum of Glass, take a little time to wander around Corning! This sweet small town is perfect for walking — make sure you stop at the Corningware, Corelle & More Factory Outlet store for discounts on kitchen goods! You can also goofily pose with this absurd giant Pyrex measuring cup. Because why not.

Pyrex measuring cup in Corning, New York

Veraisons Restaurant

Trust me on this one: If you are in the area and want a nice evening out, make reservations at Veraisons Restaurant. The Finger Lakes are home to a robust wine scene, and Veraisons is the eatery attached to Glenora Cellars. You’ll have a gorgeous view of the vineyard as you sip locally made wine and nosh on — wait for it — a gourmet vegan cheese board.

Remember when I said that the purveyor of the Ginger Cat has some kind of uncanny influence on businesses in the area? Well, she’s made her mark here too, and the chef(s) at Veraisons offer a rotating selection of house-made vegan cheeses. The board comes with three cheeses (the menu currently lists brie, a rarebit-style soft white cheddar, and a mozzarella, although it was slightly different when we were there), along with grapes, bread, and a few other nibbles. We were blown away with how delicious and unique these cheeses were, and how wonderful it was to see “vegan cheese board” on a menu alongside a local (dairy) cheese sampler. I’m clearly the worst blogger in the world, because I neglected to photograph it, but TRUST ME ON THIS: it is worth your while (and your dollars).

This surprising creativity carried over into the rest of the menu too. Vegan options are clearly marked and abundant, from “fish” tacos to eggplant parm to braised chickpeas. Prices are on par with similar upscale-ish restaurants, and you’ll be voting with your dollar to encourage more vegan options at Veraisons.

Farm Sanctuary

Our single regret on this short visit to Watkins Glen was that we couldn’t visit Farm Sanctuary — it was too early in the season! But don’t worry, we’ll return — and we’ll make sure we can visit this beautiful place while we’re there.

BONUS STOP IN SCRANTON!

Steven had one last birthday surprise in store for me during our drive back to Maryland from Watkins Glen: a stop in Scranton, PA. Why? Here you go:

Scranton sign from The Office

To see the original Scranton sign from The Office, duh! The sign has a permanent home in the Mall at Scranton, which you might know as the Steamtown Mall if you’re a fan of the show. Frankly, it’s a depressing place — one of those malls that’s failing to thrive, with more stores shuttered than open. A metaphor for dying industrial towns over the country, perhaps? Anyway, if you’re driving through and want a photo with a sign, it’s not a big detour. But don’t expect much entertainment at the mall!

IF YOU GO…

  • …to the Ginger Cat B&B, ask owner Gita for recommendations for vegan eats in the area. Lots of veg-friendly visitors come to Watkins Glen to visit Farm Sanctuary, and local businesses seem more than willing to accommodate them. Gita will be in the know about the most up-to-date options!
  • …to the Corning Museum of Glass, check out the scheduled demos as soon as you arrive and plan your visit around them. I highly recommend attending at least one, if not more!
  • …to the general Watkins Glen/Finger Lakes region, check that Farm Sanctuary is open so you can schedule a visit. Going in the late spring will also be better if you intend to visit any of the local parks. (We didn’t have time for this, but these hikes look gorgeous!)

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Vegan options for a weekend trip to Watkins Glen and Corning, New York

 

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