Florida Keys Visitors Guide [y]
The Florida Keys extend more than a hundred miles and are connected to the mainland by a 113-mile overseas highway. A tropical paradise with golden sands and turquoise ocean, the Florida Keys seem a million miles from the stress of the big city. From Bogart and Bacall’s Key Largo to Hemingway’s Key West, the 100-mile chain of islands connected by the Overseas Highway, as US Highway 1 is called, carries you across 48 bridges, over numerous islands, and into a world that’s as close to the tropics as you will get without leaving the country. Unless of course, you recognize the “Conch Republic” as an independent nation.
The Florida Keys have always been famous for great weather, beautiful beaches, fantastic diving, and world-class fishing. Whether you fish, dive or just want to relax, a Florida Keys vacation has something for everyone. Grab the suntan lotion and come on down.
Though Key West is the most famous and popular destination, there are several other very popular Florida Keys vacation spots each offer it’s own unique personality. The Florida Keys is actually an archipelago of more than 1700 islands and are home of some of the oldest coral reef in North America.
When visiting the Keys be sure to stop by the visitor center of the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key for tips on spotting the adorable dog-sized Key deer that populate the Lower Keys. See and feed residents of the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, the world’s only licensed veterinary facility for sea turtles, or visit the pelicans at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center in Tavernier. At the Key West Aquarium, pet a nurse shark and hold sea stars, giant hermit crabs, and squishy sea cucumbers.
The Florida Keys offer a fantastic variety of restaurants, but with the bounty of fresh seafood available it’s not surprising that the cuisine of the Keys is largely built around the catch of the day.
(Pronounced “konk”) this large mollusk with a flaring pink shell was once so common in the Keys it gave its name to the locals. Although none is actually harvested in Florida today, conch steaks, conch fritters, conch chowder, and conch salad, made with shellfish imported from the Bahamas, remain an essential part of Florida Keys cuisine.
Stone Crab Claws
One of our most popular shellfish due to it sweet, yummy flesh…In season from October 15 thru May 15, stone crab claws come in three sizes: medium, large, and jumbo. The latter look most impressive and command the highest price.
Also known as a spiny lobster. Recognizable by its enormous antennae and lack of claws, the spiny lobster has a wide tail filled with crisp, sweet, pearl-white meat, and is easier to eat than Maine lobster. In season August thru April.
Catch Of The Day
Usually Yellowtail, Snapper, Grouper, Yellowfin Tuna or Dolphin… don’t worry it’s not Flipper. This is the fish, not the mammal, also known as mahi-mahi.
Key West Pink Shrimp
Simply the best! In season during our cooler months.
Key Lime Pie
Our most famous dessert! Made from a small, yellow, bracingly tart fruit… key limes.
Key Largo is located just an hour south of Miami, Florida, Key Largo, Florida is perfect for scuba diving, enjoying the Florida Sunshine, taking part in deep-sea fishing, renting a boat, parasailing, or just taking a quiet stroll along the seashore, Key Largo has it all.
The first and most northern island of the Florida Keys, Key Largo is called by many “The Scuba Diving Capital of World” boasting the world’s largest artificial reef, the USS Spiegel Grove, and one of North America’s largest fish covered natural coral formations. Key Largo is also home to two state parks, a national park, and a national marine preserve. You can swim with dolphins, deep-sea and close shore fishing, glass-bottom boat tours, kayaking and more.
Islamorada is one of several islands that are located between the Everglades National Park to the north and America’s only coral barrier reef and the Florida Straits to the south. Islamorada is south of Key Largo and about a two-hour drive south of Miami. Islamorada is made up of six islands which include Plantation Key, Windley Key, Upper Matecumbe Key, Lower Matecumbe Key and the offshore islands of Indian Key and Lignumvitae Key.
Offering both deepwater sportfishing and backcountry fishing where there is a bounty of bonefish, permit, tarpon, snook and redfish that can be caught in while swimming in a few just inches of water, Islamorada is an anglers paradise.
Boasting the title of The Sport Fishing Capital of the World, Islamorada is home to some of Florida’s finest charter fishing services.
For sport divers, the waters of The Village of Islands has a massive population of tropical marine life, high profile coral heads with broad ledges that shelter huge congregates of French grunt and goatfish. Friendly green moray eels swim along the spur-and-groove channels and the reclusive nurse sharks lurk beneath the overhangs. Islamorada is home to a wide variety of shallow coral reefs, mini walls, shipwrecks, and the Aquarius, an underwater habitat for scientific research.
History of Diving Museum
The History of Diving Museum is located in beautiful Islamorada, Florida. Featuring 14 galleries of diving equipment, artifacts, books, historic videos, and hands-on exhibits, the museum explores the story of man’s quest to explore under the sea. Open seven days a week, 10am – 5pm. Dive in. Address: 82990 Overseas Highway | Islamorada, FL | 33036. Telephone: 1 305 664-9737
Indian Key State Historic Site
Guided tours are available at the Indian Key State Historic Site. Visitors can see the grown-over ruins from an 1830’s invasion to its community, and learn about the other instances that occurred there to shape Florida’s history. It is accessible only by private boats and charters. Address: P.O. Box 1052 | Islamorada, FL | 33036. Telephone: 1 305 664-4815
San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park
Snorkeling and scuba diving are two of the more popular activities at this park. Divers have the opportunity to swim amongst the ruins of a Spanish treasure ship, seven replica cannons and an information plaque explaining the significance of the area.
Address: P.O. Box 1052 | Islamorada, FL | 33036. Telephone: 1 305 664-2540
Somewhere in Time
This museum features a collection of shipwreck remnants such as treasure coins and other artifacts. In addition, a gift shop sells hand-crafted jewelry, swords, muskets and more. Address: Mile Marker 82 | Islamorada, FL. Telephone: 1 305 664-9699
Theater of the Sea
Theater of the Sea has been open to entertaining guests since 1946. Several entertaining and educational shows are included in the admission fee. Visitors can also participate in many special programs such as swimming with dolphins, sea lions or rays. Adventure and snorkel cruises can also be arranged through Theater of the Sea. Address: 84721 Overseas Highway | Islamorada, FL | 33036. Telephone: 1 305 664-2431
Duck Key is where fishing, snorkeling, and diving year-round are a way of life. Duck Key is located at mile marker 61 in the upper end of the Lower Keys where the Florida Keys begin their turn toward the west. Boasting a laid back lifestyle, Duck Key is where fishing, snorkeling, and diving year-round are a way of life.
Duck Key’s European/West Indies heritage is displayed in the grand canals that cross the island and are traversed by ornate bridges. The natural island of Duck Key is actually a group of five islands, yacht Club Island, Center Island, Harbour Island, Plantation Island, and Indies Island with only one road connects Duck Key to the main highway U.S.1.
Scuba dive Duck Key and find up to 30 different dive spots located off Duck Key including the Florida Keys’ coral reef which is constantly growing new colonies of polyps on top of the skeletons of older ones. These coral formations can be seen just under the water’s surface.
Duck Key is home to some of the best deep-sea fishing around where you can cast for Sailfish, Mahi Mahi, Tuna, Wahoo, Shark, Marlin, Goliath, Gag, Red, and Black Grouper, Cobia, Amberjack, King Mackerel, and Shark Fishing.
Marathon is a ten-mile long key that is home to world-class fishing, diving and reflects the old-Keys lifestyle that has made the Florida Keys famous. Marathon is located in the middle of the chain of islands that make up the Florida Keys island. Marathon is a ten-mile long key that is home to world-class fishing, diving and reflects the old-Keys lifestyle that has made the Florida Keys famous.
Marathon includes Boot Key, Knight Key, Hog Key, Vaca Key, Stirrup Key, Crawl and Little Crawl Key, East and West Sister’s Island, Deer Key and Fat Deer Key, Long Pine Key and Grassy Key. Marathon was named by the railroad workers who were working night and day to complete the Overseas Railway.
Marathon’s natural environment can be enjoyed by the entire family. Outdoor activities like sailing, fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling, and beautiful beaches make Marathon the perfect vacation spot. Vacations also mean great dining experiences and Marathon offers fresh local seafood offered by restaurants located right on the water along with a variety of other wonderful dining opportunities.
Marathon offers a wide variety of accommodations including private homes, condominiums, small motels, and tropical resorts.
Dolphin Research Center
The Dolphin Research Center is a non-profit research center dedicated to teaching, learning, caring and educating about marine mammals and the marine environment. The Center houses a family of dolphins and California sea lions. Get up close and personal with a dolphin in the ” Be Touched by a Dolphin Program.” Telephone: 1 305 289-0002
Big Pine Key
Big Pine Key, at mile marker 33, is part of the Lower Keys where you can get away from the crowds and enjoy the peace and quiet that can be the Keys. Big Pine Key is also a shopping center of the Lower Keys but is only a trip down a side road away from a quiet piece of the Keys.
The Lower Keys start where the island chain takes a graceful westerly turn toward Key West just after the Seven Mile Bridge. Big Pine Key and all of the Lower Keys are known as the quiet part of the Keys with small resorts, “Mom and Pop” restaurants, and unspoiled natural wonders.
Big Pine Key offers snorkeling and diving over the Looe Key coral reef and deep-sea fishing adventures in the backcountry or challenges the deep blue waters beyond the reef. If you want to escape from overcrowded tourist attractions, Big Pine Key and here sister islands of the Lower Keys are the place for you.
National Key Deer Refuge
Hundreds of tiny Key Deer roam free in the National Key Deer Refuge. Visitors can observe and photograph the deer from various trails throughout the park. Environmental education is also provided to guests. Address: P.O. Box 430510 | Big Pine Key, FL | 33043-0510. Telephone: 1 305 872-2239
Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary
Five nautical miles south of Big Pine Key, Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary has many underwater diving and snorkeling attractions, including the remains of the 1744 shipwreck, H.M.S. Looe. 7000 years of coral growth is visible to visitors.
Address: Looe Key | Big Pine Key, FL. Telephone: 1 305 292-0311
Key West is best known as the home of Ernest Hemingway and his favorite haunt, Sloppy Joe’s Bar. Key West is also home to fabulous mansions crested in the classic Key West gingerbread style, open-air bars that beckons walker byes and the world’s most famous and beautiful sunsets at Mallory Dock. Key West vacationers can spend the day scuba diving or snorkeling along the reefs or investigate a sunken wreck. Deep-sea fishing abounds as do sailing charters and boat rentals.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Seventy miles west of Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park offers tropical islands and coral reefs. Along with the natural beauty and wildlife attractions, the park presents Fort Jefferson, the largest American coastal fort of the 19th century.
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
Situated in Key West, Florida, is the mansion and home of renowned American author and Nobel Prize winner, Ernest Hemingway. Tour the mansion and the gardens. See the house where he wrote most of his acclaimed works. Hemingway, a cat lover, reputedly had more than fifty cats whose descendants remain in residence, on the grounds today. Address: 907 Whitehead St. | Key West, FL | 33040
Key West Aquarium
Experience the sea creatures of the Keys, with a wide variety of fish including grouper, moray eels, barracuda, tropical fish, tarpon, sharks, parrotfish and much more. Pet a live shark. Daily at 11am, 1pm, 3pm, and 4:30pm enjoy tours and shark feedings.
Address: 1 Whitehead Street | Key West, FL | 33040
Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden
Located in the historic district of Key West is this mini rain forest. Open daily, there is a small admission to tour the garden.
Address: 1 Free School Lane | Key West, FL | 33040
Diving Florida Keys
Each island has its own special flavor. Key Largo is known as the “Diving Capital of the World” while Islamorada is called the “Sport Fishing Capital”. Marathon, a more developed midpoint metropolis, is considered the “Heart of the Keys”. Big Pine Key has tall evergreen trees and fresh water, making it the ideal home for the diminutive Key deer. And Key West is the oldest city and the “Southernmost”, with eclectic architecture, and the most concentrated collection of art and artists, museums, theaters and writers.
Diving varies from key to key. Some keys offer great shallow diving while others sport wreck dives at deeper depths. The average dive for the Florida Keys though is about 25 – 30′. That means plenty of bottom time and plenty of marine life to spot.
Snorkeling and diving the reef off the Keys is an unforgettable experience. Corals such as stag- and elkhorn, brain, tree and sea fans and more than 600 varieties of fish create a living landscape.
Wreck-diving has become increasingly popular in recent years — and for good reason. Artificial reefs provide perfect night dive sites and give the natural reef a much-needed rest. Though many of the Keys shipwrecks are historically significant (e.g. Spanish galleons and Civil War wrecks), others have been created by people interested in protecting the survival of the natural reef.
Commercial dive operators require scuba certification cards and logbooks to verify experience levels for the diver’s safety. Scuba instruction at all levels from open water through instruction certification is available at many dive operations. Underwater photography skills are taught for still and video cameras and equipment can be rented or purchased. In fact, travel light and rent all your dive gear on location.
The enchantment of these tropical isles is accessible by land, sea or air. Airline travelers can disembark at Miami, Marathon or Key West.
Location: Key Largo to Key West, Florida
Activities: Boating, diving, fishing, water sports.
Florida Keys Dive Shops (north to south)
- Cap’n Slate’s Atlantis Dive Center, Inc.: Mile Marker 106.5, Phone: 305-451-3020
- Conch Republic Divers Inc.: Mile Marker 90.3, Phone: 305-852-1655
- Tavernier Dive Center: Mile Marker 90.7, Phone: 305-852-4007
- Tilden’s Scuba Center: Mile Marker 61, Phone 305-289-4931
- Captain Hook’s Marina & Dive Center: Mile Marker: 53, Phone: 305-743-2444
Big Pine Key
- Underseas Inc.: Mile Marker 30.5, Phone: 305-872-2700
- Subtropic Dive Center: MileMarker: 2, Phone: 305-296-9914
Florida Keys Hotels and camping: (north to south)
- Howard Johnson Resort: Mile Marker 102, Phone: 305 451-1400
- Calusa Camp Resort: Phone: 305-451-0232
- Island Bay Resort: MileMarker: 92.5, Phone: 305-852-4087
- Big Pine Resort Motel: Mile Marker 30.5, Phone: 305-872-9090
- Ramada Inn Marathon Florida Keys: 13351 Overseas Highway, Phone: 305-743-8550
Sugar Loaf Key
- KOA Resort Campground: Mile Marker 20, Phone: 1-800-562-7731
- Jabour’s Camp & Lodge: 223 Elizabeth St., Key West, Phone:305-294-5723
- Key West Youth Hostel: 718 South Street, Key West, Phone: 305-296-5719
- Angelina Guest House 302 Angela Street, Phone: 305-294-4480