Jetting out at the very southern tip of Florida are a group of islands that comprise the Florida Keys. The Keys begin about 15 miles south of Miami, and extend about 120 miles down to Key West- which is home to the southernmost point of the United States. It’s about a four-hour drive from tip to tip, but this is the kind of journey that beckons you to take your time to soak it in. From spectacular sunsets to colorful ocean vistas, you’ll want to stop along the way, just for the scenery or to take in some of the awesome Caribbean flair this group of American islands has to offer.
7. Theater of the Sea
Located in Islamorada and established in 1946, the Theatre of the Sea is one of the oldest marine mammal facilities in the world. Admission includes dolphin, sea lion, parrot and marine life shows, viewing of their numerous lagoons and marine life, access to their beach for swimming and snorkeling, as well as a bottomless boat ride. The Theater of the Sea is particularly well-known for its selection of interactive marine experiences. Adventurous guests can swim with dolphins, sea lions, sharks and stingrays. They also have other interactive programs, like painting with dolphins and sea lions.
6. Key West Shipwreck Museum
In the 19th century, nearly 100 ships would pass through the reef-heavy, treacherous waters of Key West, many of which ran into trouble and went down. Capitalizing on these shipwrecks made a number of Key West residents very wealthy indeed. This museum displays a number of artifacts gathered from these shipwrecks and has interactive tours with actors in period costumes (and character). The coolest thing about this museum? The 65’ observation tower. Not only does this give you a spectacular view over Key West, it gives a good indication of what life was like for these wreckers, staring out to sea, waiting to yell ‘Wreck Ashore’ and laying claim in the salvage.
5. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Located in Key Largo, the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is known as an undersea park. The park and the neighboring Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary comprise about 178 nautical miles of coral reefs and marine habitats, including mangrove swamps. It’s also the only living coral reef in the continental United States, and is extremely popular with snorkeling enthusiasts. There are a number of reefs to choose from, and beaches for those wishing to stay closer to shore. Glass Bottom boats and snorkeling tours run daily, depending on the season. A Visitor Centre houses a 30,000 gallon aquarium, as well as a number of exhibits to educate visitors about the Coral Reef ecosystem.
4. Bahia Honda State Park
Located at Mile Marker 37, just south of Marathon, Bahia Honda State Park is one of the Florida Keys’ hidden gems. Sandy beaches are a rarity on the Florida Keys, but the beaches at Bahia Honda State Park are stunning. Think sugary white sand and turquoise water. Whether your idea of a beach day means hanging out in your chair with your favorite beach read or paddling your way along the shoreline, there is plenty to do, including morning yoga on the beach, cycling, boat rentals and shallow waters for swimming. This is an excellent snorkeling spot, with Looe Key Reef (one of the largest in the Keys) located 12 miles offshore from Bahia Honda State Park. The waters are calm, incredibly clear and well-populated with colorful marine life. Snorkeling tours leave twice daily, depending on the season. If camping is your cup of tea, there are campsites at this State Park, for both tents and RVs.
3. Seven Mile Bridge
The Seven Mile Bridge, located near Marathon, connects the middle keys with the lower keys. This bridge was originally built as part of the Florida East Coast Railroad Extension and suffered unsustainable damage from a Hurricane. It was refurbished and then opened up to vehicular traffic. A new bridge was built alongside the old bridge in the late 1970s. Most of the old bridge still stands, and is widely used as a fishing pier. You may have seen this bridge in a number of movies; scenes were filmed here for James Bond’s License to Kill, Mission Impossible III and True Lies.
2. Sloppy Joe’s Bar
A major piece of American food and drink culture was generated from Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West. Buddies with Ernest Hemingway during his time in Key West, Joe Russell’s bar first was established during the days of prohibition and underwent a few name changes before it became Sloppy Joe’s. This is where the original Sloppy Joe sandwich originated and is still a staple on the menu. Grab a table near the open-air window, order a Sloppy Joe along with a Key West Lemonade, and enjoy the ongoing parade of people cruising up Duval Street.
1. Overseas Highway
One of the truly unique experiences in the Florida Keys is a drive down the Overseas Highway, which connects the keys from north to south. With the Atlantic Ocean on one side of the highway and the turquoise of the Gulf of Mexico on the other, a drive down this road provides a visual that you can’t find elsewhere. It’s often referred to as the Highway of the Sea, because of the sensation that you are actually driving on the water.