If you happen to take a road trip through the Florida Keys, you’re going to want to know what the best attractions are in the region. The great thing about the Florida Keys is there’s something for everyone, whether you’re a nature lover, watersports enthusiast, foodie or you’re just in search of a relaxing holiday.
Based on how I filled my time in this pretty island chain, here’s my list of 21 things to do in the Florida Keys.
21 great things to do in the Florida Keys
Hit the beach
Although most of the beaches in the Florida Keys are man-made, many of them are lovely and offer the perfect excuse to alternate days of activities and exploring with lazy days spent soaking up the Floridan rays. My favourite sandy beach was the one at Bahia Honda State Park, a favourite picnic spot and place to explore the historical Old Bahia Honda Bridge trail. As far as I know, Calusa Beach is currently open following Hurricane Irma while Loggerhead Beach should be open by the end of June 2018. You’ll find most beaches are also privately owned by hotels and resorts. The one at The Reach resortwhere we stayed in Key West was lovely and we had a peaceful little sandy cove to enjoy at the Key Largo Bay Marriott Beach Resort too.
Feed the tarpon at Robbie’s
The first thing you’ll probably hear when you arrive at Robbie’sis the shriek of visitors as giant tarpon leap from the water in front of them. Robbie’s is the home of tarpon feeding and even if you’re not brave enough to feed these humungous fish, it’s veryentertaining watching others do it and seeing the gaping mouths of these creatures emerge from the water.
As the feeders carry buckets of tiny fish over to the waterfront, it inevitably attracts swarms of pelicans who snap at their heels – which is all very amusing. Robbie’s Marina has been in Lower Matecumbe Key, Islamorada, since the 1970s and tarpon have been lingering here ever since. We were even lucky enough to spot one of the manatees who makes a regular visit. Make time for lunch at the Hungry Tarpon restaurant for some fish tacos and cocktails and check out the quirky market stalls while you’re here.
Robbie’s Marina, 77522 Overseas Highway, Islamorada, FL 33036, 305-664-8070
Go on an eco-adventure
Home to marine parks, mangroves and the world’s third largest coral reef system, the Florida Keys is one of the best places to enjoy an eco-adventure. Big Pine Key is a great place to enjoy kayaking while you will find boat trips offered up and down the Keys. You can even find boat tours where marine biologists will guide you through the marine and sea life that thrive here.
We took an eco-tour from Robbie’s Marina which guided us through a series of sprawling red and black mangroves home to crocodiles, nurse sharks, lobsters and all sorts of marine life. The protected seagrass here is inhabited by all sorts of conch, lobsters and shellfish while a collection of islands close to Robbie’s plays home to an abundance of birdlife such as ospreys, eagles and frigate birds.
Robbie’s Marina, 77522 Overseas Highway, Islamorada, FL 33036, 305-664-8070
Go dolphin spotting
There are loads of opportunities to see dolphins in the wild in the Florida Keys. But as we learned on our trip from Key West with Fury Adventures, you may have to be patient – these playful creatures can be quite elusive
Our dolphin spotting tour ended up being quite a blustery trip and while BC was brave enough to jump into the chilly water to snorkel the backwaters, I decided to stay dry and enjoy the scenery. After a couple of hours, there had still been no sign of the much-loved flipper, until we were about to reach the harbour and saw whole pods of them frolicking around us, it was amazing. The crew at Fury Adventures are really knowledgeable about dolphin behaviour and are said to be the only company in the Keys who meet the Dolphin SMART criteria which promotes responsible dolphin spotting practices and conservation.
They also provide you with refreshments throughout the dolphin spotting trip and it’s a lovely way to enjoy the water.
Fury Adventures, 631 Greene Street, Key West, FL 33040, (888) 976-0899
Enjoy some watersports
If you’re keen to get inthe water, there are loads of places to enjoy watersports in the Florida Keys. Fury Adventures, mentioned above, provides an excursion known as the Ultimate Adventure, which is a full-day of parasailing, jet skiing, kayaking and snorkelling. Or if that’s a bit too energetic, you can book individual activities too. Alternatively, consider Barefoot Billy’s, a watersports rental company located at The Reach.
Go for dinner at Marker 88, Islamorada
If you’re able to stop for dinner in Islamorada, you can’t go wrong with Marker 88. This waterfront restaurant first opened its doors in 1967 and is now one of the best seafood (and steak) restaurants in the whole of the Florida Keys. Highlights include the calamari with chili sauce, crab cakes and broiled Florida lobster. And you must try the squidgy bread and hurricane sauce (herbs, oil and garlic) they serve here. Admittedly, the menu at Marker 88 is on the pricier side, but the portions are absolutely huge, the setting is lovely and there’s regular live entertainment too.
Marker 88, 88000 Overseas Highway, Islamorada, FL 33036, Florida (305) 852-9315
Eat the best seafood
If you don’t manage to fit in a trip to Marker 88, you will find so many places to eat seafood in the Florida Keys. Shrimp shacks and lobster restaurants can be found on almost every Key and Key West teems with places to tuck into the famed conch. The lobster here is known as spiny, rock or Florida lobster and it is generally caught for the tail meat.
You’ll find there are two lobster seasons in the Florida Keys – the ‘mini lobster season’ which falls on the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday of July, and the regular eight-month lobster season which runs from August 6thuntil March 31st. Don’t leave the Keys without trying it!
Go on a food tour of Key West
On the subject of food, The Florida Keys has a fantastic food and drink scene, especially once you reach Key West where you’ll find there are restaurant after restaurant lining the streets. Consider taking the Southernmost Food Tour with Key West Food Tours to give you a real insight in the traditional Floridian cuisine before you explore independently. You’ll walk, talk, eat and drink for three hours and it’s an absolutely brilliant way to discover the many cultures which influence the food scene here. We tried traditional Cuban cooking, visited the best taco joint, visited a historical speakeasy and tried the local conch. Check out my full review of the tour here.
Try the famous Key Lime Pie
If you join the Southernmost Food Tour, you’ll get to try Key Lime Pie, the tangy citrus dessert that’s famous across the whole of the Keys. With Key West Food Tours, you’re taken to the brilliantly Boho Blue Heaven Café in Bahama Village, who will serve tour members this sweet treat in a miniature version (there are also larger versions available) and it comes topped with a sweet and fluffy meringue. Trying the various takes on Key Lime Pie is a mustwhile you’re here. So, make time to check out the various Key Lime Pie shops that pepper the whole island chain. You’ll also find a fantastic selection of Key Lime Pie shops in Old Town Key West. Many of them get quite inventive with their own takes on the dessert too – chocolate-coated Key Lime on a stick, anyone?
Visit The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
Key West is one of the best Florida Keys for families. Not only because it’s extremely walkable, but also because it has some lovely attractions that children (and adults) will love. One such attraction is The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, a series of tropical indoor gardens where more than 20 exotic bird species and more than 50 butterfly species thrive. Before you enter the enchanting gardens, there’s a learning centre where you can fill up on all sorts of butterfly knowledge. Then once you’re inside the gardens, it’s an incredible experience as these winged creatures flutter all around you.
The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, 1316 Duval Street, Key West, FL 33040 (305) 296-2988
Visit the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum
Ernest Hemingway made the Florida Keys his home for more than a decade and was one of the many creatives who found inspiration in Key West, as he penned many of his novels here. You can now explore the life and stories of the legendary author at his former homein Key West’s Old Town. It’s a fascinating place. The majority of the rooms have been preserved in keeping with how they were when Hemingway lived here. And the beautiful grounds are worth the visit alone. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a very humorous and informative guide who will regale stories of the writer’s complex character, his numerous marriages and interesting tales about the house. You’ll also see many of the famed six-toed cats who are descendants of the writer’s cat, Snowball.
Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, 907 Whitehead Street, Key West, FL 33040 (305) 294-1136
Visit the Turtle Hospital
The Turtle Hospitalis found in Marathon in the Middle Keys and is home to the Turtle Hospital, one of the most prestigious turtle rescue and rehabilitation centres in the world. The Turtle Hospital opened in 1986 and since then, it has cared for, treated (and in many cases, re-released) many sick and injured sea turtles across five different species and provides vital education on helping protect this endangered sea creature. Visitors can book from a variety of regular educational tours and you’ll get to see the hospital facilities and rehabilitation area and even feed some of their resident turtles. It was heart-breaking to hear some of the stories of how these turtles become injured, but incredibly humbling to hear about the work they do. Tours cost $25 for adults and $12 for children aged 4-12.
The Turtle Hospital, 2396 Overseas Highway, Marathon, FL 33050 (305) 743-2552
Visit the Hurricane Monument
It’s no secret that the Florida Keys has been the victim of several hurricanes in its history. It was only last year that this beautiful archipelago was hit by Hurricane Irma. And while it has made an incredible recovery, the aftermath of these natural disasters have not been forgotten. On your way through the Keys, it’s well worth stopping by the Hurricane Monument to understand its history. This memorial, just by the Highway in Islamorada, remembers the 408 civilians and war veterans who were killed in the hurricane of 1935. It was one of the strongest hurricanes in US history.
Watch the sunset at Mallory Square
The renowned sunset celebrations have been held at Mallory Square in Key West for more than 60 years. And while it’s a number one tourist spot, it’s really worth experiencing as there’s a fantastic atmosphere and the sunset views are phenomenal.
The area fills up with all sorts of live entertainers, from acrobats and jugglers to musicians and comedians. Grab a drink from one of the waterfront bars, pick up some popcorn and don’t forget your camera – you’ll get some incredible shots as the pelicans and traditional tall ships create silhouettes across the glowing skies.
Have a waterfront dinner at Bistro 245
Bistro 245is a great place to enjoy dinner after you’ve taken in the sunset celebrations of Mallory Square. Located within the renowned Margaritaville Resort, it’s an upscale but laid-back waterfront restaurant that serves everything from pasta and steak to traditional Floridian seafood. And it’s arguably the best restaurant for views of Key West Harbor.
We thought the food was fantastic here from start to finish. The lobster quesadilla was a new experience for me (and was utterly delicious) while the shrimp and lobster fettuccine was rich, indulgent and full of flavour. The staff here persuaded us to stretch to dessert and when we tasted the Mississippi mud pie, we understood why – it was heaven.
Bistro 245, Margaritaville Key West Resort & Marina, 245 Front Street, Key West, FL 33040 (305) 294-4000
Climb the Lighthouse Tower in Key West
The Key West Lighthousehas been in the Florida Keys since 1848 and was established after the US Navy based themselves here in 1823. Interestingly, its keeper was a woman, which was unheard of in the 1800s. And since it was decommissioned by the Coast Guard in 1969, it has become a museum and visitor attraction dedicated to Key West’s maritime heritage. The Key West Lighthouse & Keeper’s Quarters stands proudly in a tranquil spot on Whitehead Street, close to the Hemingway Home & Museum. And if you’re not afraid of heights, you can take the 88 steps to the top where you’ll enjoy some stunning views. (I got about ten steps up and never got any further so BC took these photos for me!)
938 Whitehead Street, Key West, FL 33040 (305) 294-0012
Explore the Maritime History
The Florida Keys has a colourful maritime and shipwrecking history and one of the best places to explore it is in Key West. The Mel Fisher Maritime Museumdisplays all sorts of navigational artefacts, treasures and jewels retrieved from historic shipwrecks. Meanwhile, the Custom House, just behind Mallory Square, was once Key West’s customs office and provides exhibitions on key historical events, including the inquiry that took place here into the sinking of the USS Mainein Havana Harbour in 1898.
Meanwhile, the Key West Shipwreck Museumis a great attraction for families, combining role play and films to share the tales of Key West’s shipwrecking past. It features artefacts from the 1856 wrecked vessel Isaac Allerton and one of the talking points here is the 65-foot lookout tower that visitors can climb to ring the wrecker’s bell.
Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, 200 Greene Street, Key West, FL 33040 (305) 294 2633
Custom House, 281 Front Street, Key West, FL 22040 (305) 295-6616
Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum, 1 Whitehead Street, Key West, FL 33040 (305) 292-8990
Hop on the Conch Tour Train
You’ll most definitely spot the Conch Tour Trainwithin hours of arriving into Key West. And if you fancy an entertaining sightseeing tour of the island, without having to use your feet, then why not give it a go? The Conch Tour Train has been running here since the 50s and offers a 90-minute guided tour of Key West’s top landmarks and attractions. You’ll pass key landmarks such as the Key West Sculpture Garden, Ernest Hemingway Home and the Southernmost Point. It’s great for those with children and people who have limited mobility (the train has wheelchair ramps) and it picks you up from Front Street (just by Mallory Square).
Go on a romantic sunset sail in a traditional tall ship
There are a number of sunset boat excursions offered across the Florida Keys. But a trip in one of the traditional tall ships from Key West Harbour is possibly one of the most special. Our Wind & Wine Sunset Sail with Danger Chartersleft Key West Harbor at around 5pm and was a relaxing two-hour excursion of (you guessed it) free-flowing wines and canapés. Alas, I couldn’t enjoy the wine quite as much as I’d have liked (being pregnant) but the whole experience was lovely and the crew were brilliant (some of them were comedians) – and there were a few jolly passengers by the end of it!
Visit the Harry S Truman Little White House
Another key figure who made the Florida Keys his secret paradise hideaway, was Harry S Truman. In fact, it wasn’t exactly a secret in the end because America’s 33rd president set up his second ‘white house’ here in a former naval station’s command headquarters. And many of his staff would come visit him in the Keys where he conducted a large part of his presidential duties. Head to the former home and museumand you’ll get to see exactly how the house looked and hear about the life and work of who some have since dubbed the ‘man of the people’.
Visit The Southernmost Point
The Southernmost Point is an anchored concrete buoy on Whitehead Street and South Street, Key West and it was placed here in 1983 to commemorate Key West as the southernmost point of the continental United States. Come here just as the sun is about to set to capture the scenery in various lights and snap some photos of the statue of Albert Kee. Apparently, Kee was the island’s unofficial ‘conch ambassador’ up until 2003. And as you’ll see from the statue, he used to welcome visitors to the island by blowing on a conch shell – something you can still see apparently, at the annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest, held on Duval Street, every March.
Do you have any suggestions for great things to do in the Florida Keys? Feel free to leave any comments and share the post!