Jewels in the Water – Florida Keys
Strung out like a pearl necklace south of Miami, the Florida Keys consist of five distinct regions, all of which seem like a million miles away from big-city life. And that’s exactly what makes them so special.
Head south on the Overseas Highway, the Atlantic on your left and the Gulf on your right, and you’ll first come upon Key Largo, made famous by the old Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall film. Currently, Key Largo is in the midst of a hotel building boom, featuring such new properties as the Playa Largo Resort, showcasing oceanfront luxury, a spa and several gourmet restaurants.
The second region on the chain is Islamorada, the “Sportfishing Capital of the World.” These laid-back, natural islands are renowned for great backcountry and deep-sea fishing (and diving) excursions, funky dockside restaurants, romantic settings and a vibrant arts community with very cool galleries and a monthly Morada Way ArtWalk. Don’t miss the opportunity to swim with the dolphins at Theater of the Sea. Islamorada also boasts the historic Cheeca Lodge, a longtime favorite of kings, potentates and presidents.
At the heart of the Keys, Marathon features wonderful boating and fishing experiences as well as attractions such as the Dolphin Research Center, Aquarium Encounters and the Turtle Hospital. Its many seafood festivals and waterside restaurants serve fish that were swimming in the ocean just an hour or two earlier. There’s also the five-acre Pigeon Key, so historic that it has eight buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.
Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys are characterized by lush tropical landscapes and the white-sand beaches (and camping) of Bahia Honda State Park, considered among the best in America. Don’t be surprised if you come upon the elusive Key deer, as the area is home to two national wildlife refuges (including one for Key deer), a national marine sanctuary, quaint B&Bs and interesting restaurants. Offshore, snorkel or dive at the wreck of the Adolphus Busch, Sr.
At the end of the road sits the eclectic, historic, fascinating, funky, island town of Key West. Stay at a charming B&B in an historic gingerbread house; munch on Key Lime Pie while cruising around in the open-air Conch Tour Train; shop Duval Street by day or boogie down it at night—when just about every doorway is emitting the sounds of great music or the aromas of amazing culinary creations. Visit historic sites such as the homes of Ernest Hemingway, John Jay Audubon, President Harry Truman or Fort Zachary Taylor.