A breathtaking archipelago located closer to Cuba than Miami, the Florida Keys offers everything from scuba diving to dive bars. From rowdy nightlife and adrenaline-packed adventures to a rich history and tranquil coastlines, the Keys has it all.
But listen, if you really want to experience all the hidden gems this place has to offer, you’re going to need tips from an insider. We have them all right here, so let’s jump right in!
Just an hour from Miami, Key Largo is like being teleported into some distant paradise. If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, it will give you that tranquil space you need. Similarly, if your idea of vacation involves water, you’ll love that it’s home to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and a huge center for all kinds of water sports.
As the Keys’ first and longest island, there’s plenty of space to explore. Make sure to check out the USS Spiegel Grove wreck if you’re into snorkeling, which is a 510-foot ship once used by the US Navy.
You can’t go to the Florida Keys and not snorkel. It’s like going to Vail, Colorado in the wintertime and not snowboarding or skiing! After all, Key Largo is known as the dive capital of the world! We’ve also tried out snorkel tours in Key Largo, including half-day tours, combo tours, and even private VIP tours.
If you prefer to stay on the surface of the water, the African Queen canal cruise is one-of-a-kind. The movie of the same name exploded in popularity in 1951, and movie director John Hutson, found the original boat which had been used since the 1910s in the Belgian Congo. Since the early 80s, it’s been used for tours and cruises in Key Largo, so hop on board and enjoy the ride!
Vacationing doesn’t have to mean lounging around. Sometimes, a good bike or hike is just the ticket to letting that stress go. If that sounds like you, do check out the Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park that has 6 miles of winding trails surrounded by flora and fauna. What makes it really special is that it’s home to one of the US’s biggest West Indian hardwood hammocks.
Speaking of wildlife, if you’re into that kind of thing, you can’t miss a visit to Island Dolphin Care. This special place is known for its dolphin therapy! You may be familiar with therapy with animals like dogs or cats, but dolphins are very similar to humans and can provide them with physical, emotional, and educational help. Try out a guided tour if you can plan in advance, or stop by to watch from the balcony.
But what about the animals who need our help? There’s the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center! Located 7 miles from the center of Key Largo, this center rescues birds who’ve been harmed in any way, rehabs them, and releases them if possible. If you’d like to take a tour, you’ll get to see all kinds of interesting species of birds!
The famous Key West is actually the final key, yet potentially the most fun. From colorful homes and beautiful architecture to nonstop partying and live music, Key West is the best. It’s right next to Cuba and comes packed with history and adventure to await you.
Do you have a need for speed or just want to feel free? Then hop on a jet ski! With a Key West jet ski tour, you can zip around the clear, turquoise waters either solo or with a partner. All include expert instructors to ensure everyone stays safe and has a blast! They’re also pretty short, so you can easily fit them into a busy schedule.
A Key West sunset is unlike any other – so much so that there are even songs written about them! It’s an event celebrated with fanfare every night, no matter where you are.
What better way to enjoy a vivid citrus sunset than on the water with the person/people you love most, enjoying a delicious dinner and tasty drinks? With the a Key West sunset dinner cruises, you can have all that and more!
Some come with an open bar, buffet, dinner and live music for those looking for more of a party environment. Others offer hors d’oeuvres, champagne, and a quiet environment ideal for a romantic date night.
Want to experience just how eccentric this island can get? Then you have to do a Duval Crawl. Duval Street is Key West’s main street filled with iconic bars, souvenir shops, and all kinds of funky spots. It’s a wonderful way to meet locals and get an immersive understanding of the key’s vibe.
For the history buffs out there, we recommend doing a guided tour of the area. You’ll get to visit Fort Zachary Taylor, which overlooks the water and was essential during both the Civil War and the Spanish-American War.
Today, it’s much more calm and inviting. The tours will take you over to the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, as well as Mallory Square. The latter is full of live music acts, fire eaters, food vendors, and much more.
One way to really soak in the natural beauty of Key West is to go snorkeling. Just like with Key Largo, Key West also has some of the world’s best diving, tough the latter offers some more options.
Key West snorkel tours will combine dolphin watching, reggae and run, or even kayaking! There’s something for everyone here, no matter the age or interest.
After all that swimming, refuel with the quintessential Key Lime Pie experience that is Kermit’s. Perfectly fusing tangy with sweet and soft, it’s topped with fluffy whipped cream and the place is packed with friendly locals. What more could you want?
Let’s say that you don’t feel like driving all the way out to Key West. That’s fair. In English, Islamorada signifies “purple island”, which was supposedly dubbed as such because Spanish explorers spotted the island during one of the area’s legendary purple sunsets. Its natural beauty hasn’t declined since that day in the 1500s, and has since become known as one of the most romantic destinations in the US.
For a laidback, small-town vibe, Islamorada is the key for you. Why not start things off right by grabbing a beer at the Florida Keys Brewing Company? With over 30 brews on tap and plenty of games, this locally-owned getaway is perfect for any beer connoisseur.
Before you inevitably head to the water, we recommend first checking out the History of Diving Museum. Even if you’re not into scuba diving, you’ll surely be entertained with the vast collections of vintage underwater diving gear and various artifacts dedicated to humanity’s journeys to the bottom of the sea.
Traveling with kids or just need some peace and quiet? Check out Anne’s Beach, with its clear and shallow waters perfect for sunbathing or taking an easy dip. Have you always wanted to try paddle boarding or snorkeling? This is also the ideal location to learn the basics, as you don’t have to worry about intimidating depths or big waves.
Islamorada is the sportfishing capital of the world, so why not grab a charter and catch some of your own? These guys really know what they’re doing, and can help you find some top targets. Inshore, you’ll have the chance to snap tarpon, permit, bonefish, and snook. Nearshore reefs have snapper, grouper, amberjack, and hogfish. Offshore, you can find some massive tuna, mahi mahi, and billfish.
Maybe instead of hunting the fish, you’d like to feed them. There aren’t many places you can do so, but Robbie’s Marina has a tarpon sea pen that will let you grab a bucket of fish and feed the massive tarpons swimming around! These guys clock in at over 100 pounds on average, but are pretty cool to watch jump out of the water for their fishy treats!
Pick up some interesting souvenirs at Rain Barrel Village, which has been selling local arts and crafts for over 40 years. Ceramics, jewelry, sculptures, paintings, and more – it’s also a charming way to spend an afternoon with that special someone.
Marathon is best for the adventurer, and is known for being the busiest and most family-friendly. Whether you’re into sports, lounging around, photography, or just being in the midst of natural beauty, Marathon has everything you’re looking for.
You can’t visit Marathon without seeing The Turtle Hospital. Founded in 1986, it’s designed to rescue, rehab, and release injured sea turtles. You’ll learn all about these fascinating creatures on their educational tours perfect for adults and children, alike.
Sombrero Beach’s white sands and bright blue waters look like a postcard, and is the perfect spot to top up those vitamin D stores. It has all the facilities you need to make sure everyone has a good time. Beach soccer is big here, and is a great way to make some local friends or chat up other visitors.
Crane Point Nature Center is a whopping 63-acre oasis full of rare tropical plants. If you’d like to learn more about the city’s history, it’s one of the most educational. It even has a bird rescue center, tons of nature trails, and marine touch tanks! Don’t feel like walking? No problem! Take an engaging trolley tour instead!
Keys Cable Park is the place to go if you have a need for speed. Maybe you’ve never tried water sports before and are looking to learn from experts – you have it all right here. On the other hand, if you are experienced, you can try launching off the various ramps by means of knee-boarding, waterskiing, and cable-wakeboarding!
Grab some fresh seafood and drinks at the Brutus Seafood Market and Eatery afterward. It seems like every year this restaurant wins some kind of awards, making it a hot-spot for foodies from all around the world. We love the cute tiki-style dining with inviting staff and locals.
Big Pine and Lower Keys
Attention all nature lovers! These are the keys to visit if you want to get in touch with untouched beauty. From over 9,200 acres of land in the National Key Deer Refuge to the tropical paradise of Bahia Honda State Park, the limits for exploring new flora and fauna are endless.
If you rather camp out under the stars than hang out in a hotel, Bahia Honda is actually just the ticket for you. With close to 100 campings sites, spots to get taken quickly so make sure to plan in advance. You could do tent camping or bring an RV – they have all kinds of accommodations. Fishing, kayaking, and paddle boarding are all popular here, too.
The National Key Deer Refuge is the perfect place to “get lost”, with dozens of endangered plant and animal species. It’s very common to spot Key Deer, turtles, and even alligators. Don’t worry, though – if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.
Make sure to check out the Blue Hole sinkhole in limestone, which interestingly has freshwater that sits on the top, with seawater beginning 22 feet beneath the surface. Locals love using the observation platform to do some morning yoga, walk their dogs, go on a date, or simply get some fresh air.
Oh, and if you are looking to snap some photos, you have the perfect vantage point for getting some of the American alligator.
For some exciting shopping fun, stop by the Big Pine Key Flea Market, which offers tons of different food, household goods, clothing, and crafts. No matter what you’re looking for, you’ll probably find it here. It’s a nice way to spend a few hours and pick up something completely unique for that family member who stayed home, or browse around for a centerpiece painting for the living room.