Did you know you can drive through paradise?
That you can escape to a destination that feels like the tropics, but you’re really just a quick flight or easy drive from home? The Florida Keys offers the perfect vacation destination with its incredible, relaxing island vibe, exciting activities and beautiful nature, and you don’t have to spend a lot of time or money getting there.
Exploring the Upper Keys: Key Largo, Islamorada and Marathon
The spectacular Florida Keys lie just off the southern tip of Florida. While much attention is paid to fabled Key West, there are many adventures and wonderful attractions awaiting in the Upper Keys including the vacation destinations of Key Largo, Islamorada and Marathon.
The northernmost and longest of the keys, Key Largo is home to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the first undersea park in the U.S., where the coral reef is one of the most popular spots to explore. Kayaking and canoeing are popular sports here, as is fishing in designated areas. To see the only living coral reef in the continental United States, you can join one of the glass-bottom boat tours. Another option is to go snorkeling or diving in this breathtaking underwater environment to see barracudas, hawksbill turtles and schools of colorful fish. You can also kayak, swim and bike at this amazing park.
Islamorada (“purple island”) gets its name from the stunning sunsets that streak across its skies. At the Theater of the Sea marine park, visitors can swim with dolphins and sea lions, meet sea turtles and watch parrot shows. Another must-see is Robbie’s Marina, where you can hand-feed tarpon right off the dock. Hikers will enjoy a stroll in Long Key State Park; climb to the top of the observation tower to get panoramic views of the area. Beyond these attractions, don’t overlook all of the fishing charters available in Islamorada. Islamorada is known as the “Sport Fishing Capital of the World” – anglers will no doubt have a blast here. At the end of the day, enjoy ultra-fresh seafood on the beach, a colorful sunset and romantic dining by tiki torches at Morada Bay Restaurant.
In Marathon, a family-oriented stretch of Florida beauty, you’ll find the iconic Seven Mile Bridge. Be sure to stop at the museum on Pigeon Key, which will give you the history of the Overseas Railway construction and the workers who lived here. In Marathon, visit the Dolphin Research Center and the Turtle Hospital, both remarkable eco-attractions perfect for families and animal lovers.
Florida’s Lower Keys: Bahia Honda and Big Pine Key
There’s nothing like the tropical island vibe of the Lower Florida Keys, including Bahia Honda State Park, Big Pine Key and, of course, famous Key West. Bahia Honda State Park offers spectacular beaches, beautiful nature trails and stunning waterfront campsites at Sandspur Beach and Campground. Take a snorkel tour to Looe Key Coral Reef, part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. On Big Pine Key, keep a careful eye out for the tiny, endangered Key deer at the National Key Deer Refuge. The only place in the world where this diminutive deer is found is here, mainly on Big Pine and No Name Keys, making its protection all the more critical.
The Journey Ends in Key West
Famous Key West marks the end of the road. Fort Zachary Taylor State Park welcomes visitors with its pristine beaches. Spend the day walking around cute Emma Street, watching bicycle rickshaws, touring the Harry Truman Little White House – whatever you do, be sure to make your way to Mallory Square for the daily sunset celebration, filled with vendors, acrobats, street musicians and card readers. For dinner, try the grilled mahi mahi at Bo’s Fish Wagon. Afterward, stroll down lively Duval Street and take in its legendary nightlife.