For the holiday-maker looking to get off the beaten track a little bit and hoping to experience something unique and laid back, the Florida Keys is a perfect escape. The Keys comprise 110 miles of islands in south Florida including Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys and the famous Key West. Travellers reach the Keys down a beautiful scenic road, which boasts 42 bridges, the ocean on both sides and arguably the best sunsets you will ever see in your life.
What to do
The Keys is really the place to go if you like the outdoors, nature and the ocean. There’s world-class deep sea fishing – hire a boat or tag along on a guided fishing tour and you might just hook a whopper.
The area boasts some of the world’s best snorkelling, sailing and diving areas, and the really adventurous can experience the thrills of a night-time deep sea shipwreck dive and then there are bars and restaurants that buzz during the summer. You can even come up close to and swim with dolphins.
Where to stay
There are a wealth of places to stay along the 110 mile stretch, including hotels, motels, resorts, cottages, apartments and beautiful bed and breakfasts shrouded in history, particularly in Key West. A huge hit with families and worth a mention is Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key Island, a tiny, secluded little place part way between Key Largo and Key West. Stay in rooms or villas and enjoy home-cooked food, a private marina, snorkelling, pools and even kiteboarding.
Where to eat
One of the best things about The Florida Keys is that the restaurant chains you will find in other parts of Florida barely exist. There are many places to eat to suit all tastes and budgets. In Key Largo, pay a visit to the Key Largo Conch House and try the sampler plate of conch fritters and cracked conch.
While in Islamorada, have dinner where the locals eat – the Green Turtle Inn – where you can enjoy live music with your freshly-cooked fish dinner. And a visit to Key West must include dinner Blue Heaven, an eccentric eatery filled with palm trees, art and some of the best Caribbean-inspired food you will ever find.
Foodies looking to improve their culinary talents can now participate in cooking lessons at Isle Cook Key West while culinary connoisseurs looking for a luxury dining experience should head for the newly-opened Spencer’s by the Sea at The Reach in Key West.
The islands are scattered down the long, sometimes narrow road that connects The Keys, so a hire car is a definite. Holiday makers from the UK will usually fly into Miami International Airport where they will pick-up their car and drive to their destination. A word of warning though – as this is the only road, it can sometimes take hours to reach your hotel or resort so be prepared to sit it out after a long plane journey. It will be well worth it!
When to go
With year-round sun and high temperatures, The Keys is a popular destination. It’s sub tropical temperatures make it a mecca for sun worshippers, even in the winter months. Temperatures can reach more than 32C in the summer and a beautiful 22C in the winter. It’s best to steer clear of a visit during hurricane season, which starts in June and lasts to the end of November.
Three things we like
- Do visit Key West, where you can have your picture taken in the southernmost city in continental USA.
- Boaters will love the salty character of the keys, and the marina bars are often great places to take in a sunset
- The sunsets and sunrises are truly some of the most spectacular you will ever get to see – and they’re right outside your front door sparkling on the ocean. Bliss.
Something we don’t like
It can take upwards of three hours during peak tourist season to drive from Miami to Key West, which can be trying after a long place journey.
Real conch (pronounced Konk) fritters – a Key West seafood speciality and arguably the best you will ever taste!
Secluded beaches dot the coast line – you could be the only people on the beach if you’re lucky.
Pay a visit to John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo. Great for scuba diving but there are also glass bottom boat tours, a 30,000 saltwater aquarium and kayaking rentals to enjoy.
High50 insider tips
- There’s a saying in The Keys – “no shirt, no shoes, no problem” – and that’s just how laid-back the culture is down here. T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops are ideal for visiting places but when you get back to your resort, kick them off and relax in the sun.
- When in Key West, pay for an evening schooner boat trip into the ocean. There will be plenty of drinks, tales of old Florida and pirates and best of all, a deep, romantic sunset to end the evening.
- This is a sub-tropical climate so you need to keep applying the sunscreen, wear a hat and drink lots of water to avoid getting bitten by the searing temperatures.
Travelling with family?
Children will love The Keys. From playing in the sea to relaxing in the hotel pool, to fishing and snorkelling and hiring jet skis, there’s so much for the kids to do and enjoy. In Key West there’s the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, home of some of the biggest and the best hauls of coins and other treasures from ship wrecks off the coast. And try to make time for a light-hearted ghost tour, guaranteed to interest everyone in the family.