One of my family’s favorite destinations is The Florida Keys. We recently made our annual trip there so I thought that I would share our experience with you. It was one of the best vacations that I’ve had in a while! We spent time relaxing, swimming, laying in the sun, fishing, kayaking, eating at some of our favorite local restaurants, and shopping.
The Florida Keys is a great way to get a Caribbean feel without leaving the United States. It’s a laid back island experience. The crystal clear water in beautiful shades of blue is mesmerizing. There is so much to see and do as well as great fresh food and seafood.
There are five main areas: Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key & The Lower Keys, and Key West. Each area is different.
My family prefers to stay in Marathon. It is located in the heart of the Florida Keys. This gives us a short drive to the Lower and Upper Keys if we want to explore those areas.
Beaches in The Keys
If you are used to big, expansive beaches, don’t expect them in the Keys. There are some beaches, but they are generally quite small and rocky. Bahia Honda State Park is just south of Marathon on the other side of 7 Mile Bridge and has a couple of great beaches that are popular with travelers from all over the world. Sombrero Beach, in Marathon, is another option for a public beach in the area.
Key West’s biggest and most popular beach is Smathers Beach. Higgs Memorial Beach Park and Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park Beach are two other options for decent beaches in Key West.
Shopping in The Keys
Don’t expect big department stores or malls in the Florida Keys. However, there are plenty of souvenir shops for t-shirts, beachwear, and more.
My favorites are the abundance of local artist shops. There are several metal work shops that have signs, metal garden statues, and home décor. The little local shops are great for original souvenirs instead of the mass produced stuff you can find anywhere. I love it so much!
While Scuba Diving and snorkeling are popular activities in the Florida Keys, Key Largo is known as the Diving Capital of the World. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo is the first undersea park in the US. It’s roughly 70 nautical square miles. Coral reefs and their associated marine life draw the most visitors to the park. Glass bottom boat tours are a great way to get views of the coral reefs, but most will snorkel or scuba dive for a better look.
Christ of the Abyss is a statue of Jesus Christ that is about 8 1/2 ft tall and located offshore in about 25 feet of water. Also located in Key Largo, Molasses Reef is one of the top dive and snorkel spots in the Keys.
The Everglades are a short drive and you can experience an airboat ride through several different vendors. We did an airboat tour during our first visit to the Keys in April 2009 when we were staying in Key Largo. It was a lot of fun and our boat captain made it even better! We got to see plenty of alligators during our ride.
Islamorada bills itself as the Sport Fishing Capital of the World. Backcountry sport fishing and saltwater fly fishing were pioneered in Islamorada. Sailfish, marlin, wahoo, dolphin (mahi-mahi), and tuna come close enough to the shore seasonally for small boat fishermen to have a chance at hooking one on a line. Tarpon and bonefish are some of the inshore species of fish that can be caught by light tackle.
There are several choices for professional offshore charter boats and captains that are tournament-grade in Islamorada. Don’t want to fish, but would love to get a look at some tarpon? Head to Robbie’s of Islamorada where you can hand feed tarpon. At Robbie’s, there are fun, local shops to purchase souvenirs, enjoy water sports, enjoy some drinks and a meal at Hungry Tarpon Restaurant. The restaurant has been one of our favorites in Islamorada.
Theatre of the Sea, established in 1946, is one of the oldest marine mammal facilities in the world. There are educational and entertaining shows and programs throughout the facility. Guests can also feel free to swim, snorkel, sunbathe, or just relax at the private lagoon-side beach.
You won’t be short on things to see and do in Marathon! Dolphin Research Center is a great way to spend part of a day. Guests will get to learn about and see dolphins, sea lions, iguanas, tortoises, and exotic birds. There are also programs for interacting with some of the dolphins. We enjoyed our dolphin experience with Talon.
We have also visited the Turtle Hospital. When an injured or sick sea turtle is found, the Turtle Hospital rescues it, rehabilitates it, and releases it back to the water if it is able. They even perform surgery on sea turtles and guests can watch through a big glass window. It’s a great educational experience.
One place that is on my list to visit is Aquarium Encounters. There are touch tanks, guided experiences, and opportunities to feed the animals and snorkel or interact with sharks, stingrays, and other marine animals. It really looks amazing!
There are several places throughout the Keys to rent kayaks if you don’t have your own and want to get out on the water. We have our own and have them equipped with small battery powered trolling motors made for salt water. Where we were staying, there was a kayak launch. We spent three days on the water in our kayaks and they were extremely windy days so it was great to have our motors to get around.
We explored the Gulf Side of Marathon in fairly shallow waters even though we motored out pretty far from shore. I got to see a big spotted eagle ray swim next to me. He was beautiful! There was a small island full of birds and an iguana. I’m glad that I was in a kayak, because there were also several jellyfish and man o’ war swimming around. Of course we saw lots of fish too and crabs and lobsters.
One evening, there was a big manatee feeding off of the sea grass at the kayak launch. He was so close that I could have touched him from shore, but I didn’t want to scare him off. I was so happy to finally see a manatee up close in the wild! We enjoyed watching him for quite a while.
If you want to learn about Key West, you can check out my blog post here!
When you are ready to experience the Florida Keys, contact myself or one of our Journey Planners at Embrace The Journey Travel to help you plan and book your trip
A special thank you to Journey Planner April for providing this blog. Learn more about April here.