Who knew that a string of islands could have such quirky and unique charm – and some of the most amazing sunsets you have ever seen. Whether you are looking for a place for excitement that never stops (à la Las Vegas), adventure, a relaxing time on the beach, or a combination of all of it, the Florida Keys is the perfect spot for your next warm-weather vacation. There is nowhere like it on Earth.
Discover what nature gave the Florida Keys
The Florida Keys is known for its ecotourism because the natural setting offers some of the best beaches, national parks, thriving natural ecosystems, marine life, and weather you could ask for. Of course, the sunsets are also to die for.
For something a little less involved, you can take in the incredible sunsets and natural settings on one of the many boat tours offered. In some areas, there are even glass boats so you can enjoy the underwater marine life.
There are plenty of areas in The Keys that offer hands on adventures with scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, hiking, and so many other water sports. Discovered in 1513, Dry Tortugas National Park was originally named “Las Tortugas” (“the turtles”) because of the large population of sea turtles in the area. Less than 1% of the park’s area is on dry ground making this the perfect location for swimming, snorkeling, and diving. If you can’t get enough turtles at Dry Tortugas, be sure to check out The Turtle Hospital where they rescue and rehabilitate injured sea turtles so they can release them back into their natural habitat. At 70 nautical square miles, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo is the first underwater park in the U.S. and is designated as a preservation area the living coral reef within the park. From hammocks on the beach, to kayaking through the mangroves, to snorkeling through the park, there is no shortage of ways to enjoy the unique ecosystem – and as a bonus, you can explore actual shipwrecks from centuries ago. With more on shore activities, Bahia Honda State Park has palm-lined beaches and clear waters that make it a perfect setting for snorkeling.
It’s worth noting that Key Largo, which has the world’s largest artificial reef, is the Dive Capital of the World. While you might see some great dive photos from other places, some of the most famous captures are from this area in the Keys.
Mix luxury into your eco adventures with a stay at the newly renovated The Reach Key West, Curio Collection by Hilton or the Baker’s Cay Resort Key Largo, Curio Collection by Hilton. With the feeling of being tucked away, you are actually quite close to some of the Florida Keys best snorkeling spots!
The Keys have so much history built into them, you can feel like an explorer discovering new things. Fort Jefferson, the largest 19th Century Fort in the US is located at Dry Tortugas National Park. There is also Fort Zachary Taylor, which was built between 1845 and 1866. Located in the Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, this is an explorer’s dream as Civil War era armaments are still being uncovered in the area. Like Dry Tortugas, there is also an amazing beach and plenty of opportunity for snorkeling, biking, and hiking.
If you prefer something a little more private, the Casa Marina Key West, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, offers access to the only private beach in Key West. With everything you need on site, you may just never leave the resort grounds.
Weird and wonderful history
The Florida Keys is truly unique in that it is chock full of quirky historical landmarks and wild and unbelievable tales that give the area such personality. While the beaches in Florida might be what you go to Florida for, you will want to stay for the weird and wonderful history that is woven through each of the islands.
Famous writers, artists, presidents, and historical figures have called The Keys home. Luckily, through some of the historical landmarks you can get a glimpse into how they lived their lives. Take a walk through Ernest Hemingway’s Home and learn about how the locals influenced his writing over the years. Oddly, while only Ernest Hemingway’s legacy lives on at the house, dozens of six-toed cats thought to be descendants of his own cats live on the property. Get that presidential feeling at Harry S. Truman’s Little White House. Since Truman used the property from 1946 through 1952, 5 other sitting US presidents have used the property. At some point, Thomas Edison and Edward Hayden even had lengthy stays there – and now you can walk through the property as it has been restored as a museum.
If you just can’t get enough of walking through people’s houses, then be sure to visit Audubon House & Tropical Gardens. Built in the 1840s by Captain John Geiger, Audubon house was inhabited by the Geiger family for four generations – nearly 110 years before it was restored in the 1960s and reopened as a museum.
The Key West Lighthouse & Keeper’s Quarters were in operation from 1848 (after the original one crumbled during a hurricane shortly before) until 1969. Walk up the 88 steps that one of the first female light keepers walked. Barbara Mabrity spent 32 years as the head lighthouse keeper. And she started a legacy of lighthouse keepers for 70 years through multiple Mabrity descendents. The photos and items in the Keeper’s Quarters tells the stories of the lighthouse keepers throughout time.
For something a little extra quirky (and morbidly funny?), Key West Cemetery is known for the unusual gravestones for the approximately 100,000 residents who were buried there (there are only 25,000 living residents in Key West…). Built in 1847 after the original cemetery was destroyed by flooding, it’s like catching a glimpse of the local humour with some reading things like “Jesus Christ, these people are horrible,” “I always dreamed of owning a small place in Key West,” or “I told you I was sick.” Extra weird? A secret burial place was created for Elena Milagro Hoyos after her family found out Count Carl Von Cosel stole her body from the cemetery and preserved it for seven years in his bed.
Party something something
On top of the beautiful natural setting and the incredible history of The Keys, there is always a party you can take in if you want a little excitement.
The Florida Keys are famous for the incredible sunsets and Mallory Square in Key West is one of the best places to take it all in. With nightly entertainment, sunsets in Mallory Square are a celebration each night. And before you hit up Mallory Square for the evening, check out Duval Street for shopping and dining among some of the most popular tourist attractions – like the Southernmost Point marker. At night, Duval Street comes alive with a number of bars and lounges to choose from. If you happen to be around in October, Fantasy Fest is an outrageous multi-day party. Not to be outdone, the Annual Key West Lobsterfest kicks off Lobster Season in August in the Duval Street area.
Sloppy Joe’s on Duval opened officially the day Prohibition was repealed in 1933. When Hemingway (AKA “Papa”) wasn’t out fishing, writing, or spending time at his home in The Keys, he spent a lot of time at Sloppy Joe’s. The bar’s owner Joe Russell was a good friend of his and chartered boats for Hemingway’s fishing trips – and he was also a rumrunner during prohibition. Sloppy Joe’s and Hemingway will forever be linked by history, but also during the annual Hemingway Days in July when they hold the Annual Papa Look-a-Like Contest.
After a night out on the town, take in the tropical gardens and relax by the beautiful pool, sipping a hair-of-the-dog cocktail at the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Hotel Grand Key – Key West.
Weird and wonderful, charming and quirky, whatever words you use to describe the Florida Keys, all you need to know is there is really no place on Earth quite like it.