The Florida Keys are known for many things; luxury accommodations are not one of them. For the most part, people come to the keys to revel in the gorgeous scenery and laid-back, salty, and somewhat gritty lifestyle. Nevertheless, paying hundreds of dollars for a dirty motel room just never made sense. Enter Playa Largo Resort, the 100th addition to the Autograph Collection Hotels, and the first new resort built in Key Largo in 20 years.
As the (self-proclaimed) dive capital of the world, Key Largo offers some of the best scuba, snorkeling, and fishing, and is adjacent to North America’s only living coral barrier reef, so the geography is ideal. The location was previously part of the nation’s largest and most successful pineapple farm, hence the expansive land.
The resort delivers lavish accommodations and amenities, while still allowing for the toned-down island spirit of the Keys. The moment you step into the lobby with its whitewashed woods, indoor hammocks, and Brazilian music, you know that you’ve really started your vacation. The hotel sits on 14 beachfront acres with 144 luxury guest rooms and suites, 10 secluded two-story bungalows, and a three-bedroom, four-bathroom beach house with a private pool. Unsurprisingly, the rooms are spacious, high-tech and beautifully adorned, each with their own patios offering a glimpse of paradise.
Amenities are top-notch as well (but still feel casual) and include a resort pool, two fire pits, a full-service spa, a private marina with boat launch and watersports facilities, basketball and tennis courts, a 6,000-square-foot ballroom with private courtyard, and a kids’ club. Throughout the facilities, little touches, like Apple computers to work on and bookshelves with real books to peruse, exhibit the hotel’s clear attention to detail.
The restaurants here stand on their own. In other words, whether you’re staying at the resort or not, if you’re seeking a (major) step up from fried fish and nachos, Playa Lago Resort delivers in spades.
The recently opened La Marea is the first official steakhouse in the Upper Keys. The chefs pride themselves on signature steak sauces like key lime béarnaise and passion fruit beurre blanc, as well as a variety of creative crusts. These options are adventurous for certain, but die-hard steak-lovers may want to get them on the side, as the meat (like the 28-ounce dry-aged bone-in cowboy rib-eye) is the real star here. Steaks aside, the raw bar is nothing to sneeze at. Jumbo shrimp cocktail, fresh East and West Coast oysters, chilled lobster, ahi tuna poke, and king crab are all offered with a variety of sauces to bring out their natural flavors.
Breakfast features a nice selection of signature dishes such as the must-try Caribbean Crab Cake Breakfast — two eggs any style, jerk spiced crab cake, black beans, roasted tomatoes, and breakfast potatoes. The weekend brunch has got to be one of the best in the Keys. The selection includes everything one would want across the sweet and savory board, presented in a beautiful fashion.
Sol by the Sea, the Playa Largo Resort signature beachfront and seafood outpost, is all about the view and the vibe. The décor epitomizes dockside dining (although a bit more sophisticated than your typical fishing dock) with lobster buoys hung on the walls, rich wood benches, and pastel colors sprinkled throughout. The style is rustic/Bohemian, featuring live music and a warm ambience. The menu is small but well-edited — the clam and conch chowder is a memorable appetizer even in the heat; and the paella del sol with Cedar Key clams, calamari, octopus, Key West pink shrimp, chorizo, chicken, and sofrito aïoli really taps into the Caribbean-meets-Florida flavor.
Just off the Playa Largo Resort lobby lives Las Olas, a great place to grab a drink and ceviche. Inspired by the Keys’ Spanish explorers, the lively Peruvian restaurant uses nearby Florida fruits to create citrus juices for the fish. The hamachi tartare with green apple is a standout. The house-crafted cocktails like the lychee sakerinha, a coconut batida, and the signature SUN-Gria are delightful as well.
To top it all off, when you’re relaxing by the pool or on the beach, your drinks and lunch will appear as if by magic thanks to the resort’s Sand Bar. Traditional American bites like finger-licking wings and fresh cocktails are just what the doctor ordered.