Islamorada is a small village spread over an archipelago of six islands, and it’s known as the sport fishing capital of the world. If it has fins and swims, no matter how large, people come to catch it, eat it, and mount it as a trophy. Naturally, seafood is huge but there’s more to do than just fishing. Natural wilderness and ocean areas are open to the public, and art and culture are essential parts of the local scene.
What to Do
When in the Keys it’s best to do things the Conch way, and they are avid proponents of traveling by boat, so you should be too. For an experience unique to Islamorada, catch a boat and head to Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park. You can only get there by boat. Take a tour of a preserved Florida Keys home from the early 1900s, go boating, or take a guided walk in a virgin hardwood hammock, one of the few left in the state.
Music and art can be a reviving diversion after a day of swimming, diving, and sightseeing, and Islamorada’s Morada Way Arts & Cultural District has a reputation for bringing quality music, art, and culture programs to the community. The organization’s popular Third Thursday’s Art Walks are an enriching event for every age group, and are held the third Thursday of every month and include art from artists around South Florida as well as live music performances spread throughout the Art Walk’s route.
Don’t Miss: Set aside some quiet time and take a picnic to Anne's Beach. The water is warm and perfect for swimming year round, and a boardwalk leads visitors through mangroves to a sandy picnic area that includes covered picnic pavilions.
Where to Eat
If you believe that vacations should be fun, relaxing, and never break the bank, Lorelei Cabana Bar is what you seek. It’s a favorite spot for sunset watching on the bay, so be sure to reserve a table in advance. But what brings people back for repeats is the live music, good, inexpensive food, and refreshing drinks. Try the conch chowder, coconut shrimp, and fresh fish specials.
Marathon’s Islands are a boater’s paradise and offer almost any kind of boating diversion you can imagine, from deep-sea fishing to kayaking, flats fishing, and relaxing tours of the water. If that’s too tame, try your hand at jet-ski tours, parasailing, paddle boarding or fishing from the sandbars. Pristine beaches, turtle hospitals, and archeological sites will please kids, history buffs, and eco-tourists and make Marathon a popular Middle Keys destination.
What to Do
When the Turtle Hospital was founded 1986, it was the first wild turtle hospital in the world and continues to specialize in rescuing and rehabilitating sick sea turtles, which are a vulnerable, endangered species. When possible, the turtles are cured or rehabilitated and returned to the sea, and more than 1,400 loggerheads, hawksbills, and leatherback sea turtles have been saved since the hospital was founded. Guests can tour the facilities and meet the unique patients.
Step back in time and get a glimpse of what the Keys must have been like for the first pre-historic inhabitants. Crane Point is a 63.5-acre environmental and archaeological site that includes a Museum of Natural History of the Florida Keys, the Marathon Wild Bird Center, a kid’s museum, and the historic Adderley House. You can stroll through a vibrant hardwood hammock forest and view rare, prehistoric Indian artifacts that were once part of an ancient Bahamian village.
Don’t Miss: Be sure to head for the Seven-Mile Bridge for unbelievable photo ops, and then duck underneath for a private picnic on minuscule Pigeon Key, which lies underneath the Bridge and is a good place to take a break.
Where to Eat
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially when you dine at the Wooden Spoon. A throwback to diners from the 1950s, this place serves the best breakfast in Marathon. The biscuits are homemade, the pancakes are huge and fluffy, they have scrapple just like in Pennsylvania, and the prices are low.
Big Pine Key & The Lower Keys
Floridians and residents of the Florida Keys go to great lengths to distinguish each part of the Keys based on the local history, geography, and natural flora and fauna. It’s quite common for people to refer to Big Pine Key & The Lower Keys collectively as “The Natural Keys” because there is so much unspoiled natural beauty, wildlife, and water-based things to see, do, and enjoy.
Big Pine Key & The Lower Keys are quieter than some of the Keys to the north and south, and it’s where nature lovers go to catch a glimpse of wild Key deer and stay at small, family run B&Bs and resorts. One thing is sure about Big Pine Key & The Lower Keys—you will fall in love with the sunsets and beaches. And it doesn’t take long to turn into a true water baby. You can sign up for one of the dozens of scuba diving or snorkeling packages available, explore shipwrecks and beautiful coral reefs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, or just do nothing; that’s always an option.
What to Do
You can’t go to Big Pine Key & The Lower Keys and not visit Bahia Honda State Park and Beach. The deserted, dreamy, soft white sand beaches at Bahia Honda are the stuff dreams and movies are made of, really. Most people never tire of the changing scenery, but if you can’t sit still, you can go fishing, rent a kayak, go snorkeling, and lots more.
If you prefer weird and wonderful for a good cause, then don’t miss the annual Underwater Music Festival that’s held at Looe Key Reef every July. Most people go to the Florida Keys for sun and fun, and little do they realize this part of Florida is home to the third largest living coral reef in the world. As you dive or snorkel, you can listen to a radio playlist while local “musicians” play water guitars and instruments, but more importantly, you will be helping keep this priceless natural treasure safe from destructive forces. This wacky concert was first started 25 years ago to raise awareness about the fragile coral reefs, and the concerts help with coral preservation efforts.
Don’t Miss: Remember how much you loved the movie Bambi and wanted to hug or pet him? Well, you can’t hug the native Key Deer at the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key & The Lower Keys, but they are friendly and will walk right up to you. This nature preserve covers more than 5,000 acres and is home to the endangered Key Deer, which is found nowhere else in the world. These small deer stand only about three feet tall and are an offshoot of the American white tail deer. They share their refuge with a broad range of other native and endangered species that include white herons, marsh rabbits, and a variety of animals that include reptiles and fish.
Don’t Miss: When you go to Big Pine Key & The Lower Keys you can say goodbye to tourists and hello to a collection of small islands, some inhabited and some not, that include Sugarloaf Key, Big Coppitt Key, Summerland Key, and the Big Torch and Little Torch Keys. Astronomers and stargazers from around the world come to Big Pine Key & The Lower Keys just to gaze at the incredible star-filled skies at night. Remote and unblemished by the intrusion of city lights, the skies here are alive with southern constellations, bright stars, comets, and other planetary bodies you can’t see in the skies of the south elsewhere.
Where to Eat
Like the other parts of the Florida Keys, you can’t throw a seashell without hitting a great seafood restaurant, and although Square Grouper Bar and Grill doesn’t just serve fish, they serve so much good food you won’t notice. Locals, newbies, and returning visitors go for the great vibe and attentive service but stay for the home smoked fish, the buttermilk fried chicken, the oyster Po’ Boys, and the Voodoo shrimp. If you’re in the mood for slurpelicious raw oysters and killer cocktails, then head upstairs to My New Joint, the hip, mid-century cocktail and raw bar.