Unlock an adventure: 15 things to do in the Florida Keys

September 14, 2015                 4m read time
Kirsten Akens


From Key Largo to Key West, it’s easy to fill sunny days with outdoor sports, and star-studded nights with food, drink, and downtime anywhere along this 110-mile-long island playground. Average daytime temperatures in Key West sit at 81.9 degrees—perfect for water activities. Even in the late evenings, temperatures rarely dip below a mild 73. Starting out from Miami, you can drive the length of the Overseas Highway in about four hours, but why rush when there are so many ocean views to ogle, land to explore, and fruity drinks to sip.

Guido Galletti’s Statue of the Christ of the Deep in Florida's John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park Lawrence Cruciana

Guido Galletti’s Statue of the Christ of the Deep in Florida's John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park

Lawrence Cruciana

Christ of the Deep in the John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park

Diving

Thanks to its National Marine Sanctuary status, Key Largo is known as the “Scuba Diving Capital of the World.” Since 1975, the area has been protected from both spearfishing and coral collection. Slip into your scuba gear and explore underwater preservation areas, including the WWII Benwood shipwreck and Italian sculptor Guido Galletti’s "Christ of the Deep" (aka "Christ of the Abyss"), a 9-foot-tall bronze statue donated to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park 50 years ago.

Side Trip: Taste the goods at Key Largo Chocolates, the only chocolatier in the Keys. Pick up handmade Key lime-flavored white or dark chocolate shells to bring a taste of the Keys to all your friends and family back home (and make them jealous of your experience).

Boat in the water near Islander Resort in Islamorada, Florida Satoshi Kina

Boat in the water near Islander Resort in Islamorada, Florida

Satoshi Kina

 

Fishing

A quick drive south on the Overseas Highway takes you from the Diving Capital to Islamorada, the “Sport Fishing Capital of the World.” It’s here where the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Florida Bay converge, as do anglers from all over the world for a chance to snag just about every fish possible in the Northern hemisphere, with species and weights ranging from one-pound mackerels to 700-pound swordfish.

Prep yourself ahead of time by watching episodes of “Saltwater Experience” with captains Tom Rowland and Rich Tudor (one of the top competitive inshore saltwater fishing teams). If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of them filming at their home base of Hawks Cay Resort a little farther south along the Keys on the secluded island of Duck Key.

Side Trip: View some of the most original and whimsical fish, turtle, and tropical art in the Keys at the Michelle Nicole Lowe Art Gallery in Islamorada.

Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys cubm

Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys

cubm

Florida Key's Seven Mile Bridge

Running and Biking

In the centrally located town of Marathon (just minutes south of Duck Key), run or bike across the water. Each April, runners race across the Seven Mile Bridge, which connects the town's south end to the Lower Keys, in the aptly named 7 Mile Bridge Run (2016 will be its 35th year). If you can’t make it in April, we recommend biking across the adjacent Old Seven Mile Bridge for stunning sunset views and an infusion of Keys history: it was built between 1908 and 1912 to carry trains on the first land route from Miami to Key West. Round trip is only 4.4 miles. If you’re interested in more biking, jump onto the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, which runs more than 70 miles from Key Largo to Key West and incorporates 22 more historic railroad bridges.

Side Trip: Take a tour of Marathon’s nonprofit Turtle Hospital, for an up-close look at rescued sea turtles. As often as possible, the facility releases rehabbed turtles back into the wild.

A school of snapper fish swimming through Elkhorn Coral in Key Largo, Florida Off Axis Production

A school of snapper fish swimming through Elkhorn Coral in Key Largo, Florida

Off Axis Production

A school of snapper swim through elkhorn coral in Key Largo

Snorkeling and SCUBA

As you continue south to the less developed Lower Keys, you’ll find the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary just south of Big Pine Key. Clear water, more than 150 fish species, and about 50 species of coral can be seen here, making this spot ideal for snorkeling and diving. You might even catch sight of sharks, turtles, rays, and moray eels amid this complete reef ecosystem.

Side Trip: Visit the National Key Deer Refuge, home to the current 800-some population of endangered white-tailed deer subspecies.

 

Stand Up Paddleboard Yoga

SUP Yoga may be less of a novelty these days, but when the folks of Lazy Dog Paddle Shack started playing with downward facing dog, warrior, and crow poses on a board in the waters of Cow Key Channel seven years ago, they were some of the only ones doing so in the Keys. Today, the Key West company offers seven classes a week, plus full moon paddle and meditation sessions; welcomes newbies in both yoga and SUP; and conducts PaddleYoga teacher trainings.

Side Trip: Wander through the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Old Town Key West, where the famed author lived and wrote for more than 10 years, and where approximately 50 polydactyl cats live (many descendants of Hemingway’s own six-toed cat named Snow White). For real fans, Hemingway Days, including a “Papa” look-alike contest, take place in Key West each year in late July.

Kayaker in Florida Phil Reid

Kayaker in Florida

Phil Reid

 

Kayaking

You could do short half- or full-day kayak trips most anywhere in the Keys, but what’s really special about the area is the opportunity to paddle long-distance on 1) the Florida Bay/Gulf of Mexico side, 2) the Atlantic Ocean side, or 3) a little bit of both, by circumnavigating creeks and channels. Camping your way along each night is a great to way to keep an outdoors vibe, but make sure to reserve campsites ahead of time as some of the areas (such as Bahia Honda State Park) are popular. 

Conch fritters with Key lime mustard in the Florida Keys Steve Grant

Conch fritters with Key lime mustard in the Florida Keys

Steve Grant

 

Conch fritters with Key lime mustard

Eat & Drink

The ultimate (and easily found) Keys experience is the cook-your-catch dinner—choose blackened, grilled, fried, or panko-crusted at most places. But there are many other seafood delicacies to be tasted as well. Check out the conch fritters or sautéed alligator tail at the 64-year-old Castaway Waterfront Restaurant and Sushi Bar in Marathon, or the mahi mahi tacos at The Hungry Tarpon at Robbie’s Marina in Islamorada (where you can also feed the tarpon—just make sure to hold tight to your camera or they might chomp it down too).

In Key West, visit the first legal rum distillery, which, back in 1903, was home to a Coca-Cola bottling facility. Taste their basic white, a raw and unfiltered rum, or one flavored with Key limes, vanilla, or mojito mint. Speaking of Key lime—it’s required when you head this direction to try a slice at every place you eat. All those outdoor activities you’re doing will counteract any added calories. We promise.

For more ideas on what to do, visit the Florida Keys & Key West website (fla-keys.com).

Kirsten Akens

Kirsten is an award-winning journalist, editor, photographer and practicing yogi based in Colorado. A lover of books, balasana, baked goods, blogging, and Boston terriers, she also has an unnatural affection for alliteration.

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