Top 10 Things to do while visiting the Florida Keys!
Paradise. Cocktails, sunshine, turquoise waters and Jimmy Buffet playing on the radio. Pretty much sums up what it’s like to vacation in Keys. This archipelago island chain sits off the southern edge of Florida, is known for it’s laid back, quirky, carefree attitude. It has appealed to everyone from US Presidents to literary greats like Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams. But there is way more to experience than just another Margarita. Check out our must see list below!
1. Road Tripping Through the Keys
For most people flying into the Key West airport, a nonstop flight isn’t usually an option. (And if it is, not a cheap one.) Many connections are made through various Florida cities where you also have an option to take the Key West Shuttle. But with so many fun activities spread out throughout the Keys and not just in Key West, if you have the time, I suggest making it a road trip!
The trip is easily made from Miami, Fort Lauderdale (Fort Myers too depending on how much time you have) with so many fun stops to be made along the way. We like to make Key Largo our first stop on the way out, and Miami Beach the last on the way back. Even though you’re on the move you can choose to spend as much time as you like on each Key, getting a good sense of how different and unique they really are!
Our road trip was a Friday - Tuesday which was plenty of time to do and see a lot. You won’t be at a loss for activities or relaxation though if you have even more time to spend.
2. Eat the Best Key Lime Pie You'll Ever Try - Key Largo
We decided we were up for the challenge....try as many slices of Key Lime Pie along the Florida Keys as humanly possible! And we found the BEST. You're welcome!
Now our panel of judges came in never having tried Key Lime Pie, but one bite and we realized our mission was not going to be a hardship! And lucky for us, it's served on just about every menu you will come across.
Drum-roll please......The Blue Ribbon winner goes to..... Mrs. Macs Kitchen in Key Largo! We tried many different varieties, but this traditional slice won our hearts. It has a perfect, buttery graham cracker crust with a creamy, custard-y filling with just the right amount of lime.
Our delectable bites were taken early on in our taste test and it really stuck with us! How do they get it to be so rich and creamy?! Luckily for us Mrs. Macs has TWO locations, so we were able to hit it again on our way back up the Keys and solidified our votes. (PS. The rest of their menu is tasty too!) Their pie comes by the pie or slice, and can be wrapped to go...making them perfect to take back to your hotel...or car.
Original Mrs. Mac's Kitchen
99336 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, FL 33037
Mrs. Mac's Kitchen II
99020 Overseas Highway, Key Largo, FL 33037
11am-10pm; closed Sunday
3. Feeding the Tarpon - Islamorada
Remember feeding fish and ducks as a kid? This is NOT that experience! Located at Robbie’s Marina on Islamorada, a ton of tarpon fish are hanging out in the clear shallow water, waiting for you to dangle some bait. (All the while dodging hungry and sneaky pelican’s on the dock!) Neither of these animals would be classified as small, and both will chase you down for those tasty snacks. The tarpon are mostly between 5’ and 8’ long, and will breach the water to grab those treats if you hold on. (Seriously! Even if you aren’t brave enough to feed them it’s a spectacle just to watch!)
According to the marina, Robbie’s began feeding a tarpon (they named Scarface) in 1976, when they saw him floundering with a broken jaw. They brought in emergency care and helped to nurse him back to health. (Also how he got his name!) Once recovered they set Scarface free, but he kept coming back for a snack, and sometimes would bring friends. These days there are a bunch of ‘locals’ who continue to visit daily.
In addition to fueling the fish frenzy, Robbie’s also runs various boat tours/rentals that add to the stop if you have some time as well as some cute stalls selling souvenirs. Totally worth a stop when you’re en route to Key West.
Admission to the Dock $2; Bucket of Fish $3
4. Snorkeling at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park & the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary - Key Largo
This state park is located on Key Largo and was the first underwater state park registered in the US in 1972. While the park does also encompass a beach, the real draw is the spectacular coral reef. (along with Flower Garden Banks in Texas, they are the only two living coral reef formations in the continental US.)
The Molasses Reef is one of the most beautiful in the world. With waters ranging in depths from 20-25ft, you can swim past large coral, tropical fish and maybe even catch a glimpse of a sea turtle. If you want to see more than sealife...there is also a famous sunken statue, Christ the Abyss. It stands at 9.5’ in 27’ water in the middle of a breathtaking reef. Make sure you have that underwater camera handy! If you aren’t too keen on jumping on in the water, there are also many glass bottom boat tours offered by local tour companies.
We booked with, Keys Diver, and they offer a variety of tours. Note all tours are weather dependent, but they will give a full refund if needed.
5. Enjoy a delicious and quirky Brunch - Key West
Hands down our favorite breakfast joint in Key West. If you love a good meal and a fun atmosphere you've got to add Blue Heaven to your itinerary. Fun and playful dishes are served here at one of the most interesting, quirky and fun outdoor spaces. Chickens and cats roam free, and the the whimsical decor is sure to make you smile. This place is no secret, it gets CROWDED. (Good food does that.) There may be a wait when you visit, but we used our wait time to visit the near by Hemingway House. There is also a lovely little bar where you can kill while waiting for your table.
Blue Heaven is also open for lunch and dinner...but I've got a thing for brunch! I’m still dreaming of that banana bread...
Open 7 days a week. Breakfast 8am-2pm; Lunch 12pm-3:30pm; 5pm-10ish. Check their website for holiday closures.
Take a look at the Menu!
6. Visit Ernst Hemingway's House - Key West
Key West is filled with history, and one of the most enjoyable stops you can make is at the Hemingway House. The house itself was erected in 1851, the home was purchased by Hemingway in 1931. He lived here until 1940, thought he held the title until his death in . The house is still filled with furniture and possessions from the family, even descendants of their unique six toed cats remain living on the property. One of the most interesting features is the backyard's in ground pool. Laborers had to dig through solid coral and in the 1930's was quite the feat (and the only pool within 100 miles). You are allowed to wander the grounds on your own, or join a free 30 minute guided tour.
Admission - $14/adult; $6/children under 12; children under 5 are free (cash only)
Open 365 days; 9am-5pm
7. Marvel at the Unique Local Wildlife
The animals in the Keys are just as unique as the locals! From Key Deer to roaming roosters, the Keys are home to an abundance of wildlife species. Look at the trees as you stroll, and see if you spot any lizards (some aren't too hard to spot!) Herons, Egrets, White Ibis and Double Crested Cormorants call these islands home. Sea turtles can be spotted in the seas along with dolphin. Key Deer are primary found on Big Pine and No Name Keys. They are much smaller than deer you are probably used to, and in the past 40 years have come back from near extinction. See how many you can spot!
Key West has roosters that have spread through out the island, descendants from cock-fighting rings, made illegal in in 1970. Often referred to as Gypsy Chickens, they are often spotted on most streets.
Remember the 6 toed cats from the Hemingway House? These poly-dactyl felines have lived on the Hemingway estate since the 1930's, when a ship captain gifted a white 6-toed cat toe Mr. Hemingway. The cats living on the grounds today are descendants, with about half actually having 6-toes, while they all carry the trait enabling them to parent future six-toed kittens. Today’s cats are fed and cared for by museum staff and can be seen wandering the grounds on your next visit.
Another fun stop is the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. The perfect opportunity mellow out is a stroll through the Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. Located on Duval Street, you can wander through the landscaped greenhouse while 60 different species of butterflies from around the world flutter past. There are also a range of tropical plants, a waterfall and various birds to marvel at. There is also a small learning center to give you an up close look of the life cycle of these beautiful insects. Look online or in various shops for coupons for a few dollars off admission
8. Run the Key West Half Marathon
Every January, about 4,000 runners (and their cheer-leading squads) head to Key West to take a beautiful 13.1 mile running tour of Key West. The Key West Half has been voted "winter's best race" because for most of the runners, that means escaping the winter cold to run and enjoy a little time in paradise. The course takes you past all of the major tourist spots, down Duval Street, through Mallory Square, out to the Southern Most point and back past the Little White house, with a finish just out side the famous Half Shell Raw Bar.
The course is fairly flat and sunny, with beautiful views the whole way. Whether it's your 20th half or your first (or if you're just standing on the sidelines with a cow bell and a witty sign) this is a race not to be missed! If a half marathon is too far for you, they also run a 5k! Best to book early to insure prime lodging accommodations.
Every January; Runners usually recieve a race shirt, medal and post race snack
9. Get Active!
Sure you can relax and enjoy a cocktail all day long, but don't miss out on the fun activities available on the Keys. Give stand up paddle boarding a try, kayak in the bay, take a cycling tour or rent a bike to get around. Plus there is always parasailing and jet-skiing if you really want a thrill!
10. Head to the Dry Tortugas National Park
The Dry Tortugas are a small group of islands, located in the Gulf of Mexico at the end of the Florida Keys, almost 70 miles west of Key West. It is accessible only by boat or seaplane, and makes for a great day trip. The park is famous for Fort Jefferson, picturesque views, fantastic snorkeling opportunities and for the varied species of birds that visit the area. Less than 1% of the park is dry land, so getting in the water is a must for any visit. The park is part of the US National park system, and allows camping if you want wild overnight adventure.
- Take the Ferry - Ferry rides last about two and a half hours, each way. Admission to the park is included in the ticket price, as well as breakfast and lunch. Visitors spend about five hours on Garden Key.
- Take flight on a Seaplane - Flight take about twenty-five minutes and prices vary depending on length of stay.
- Take a Boat - You can charter a private boat or take your own. If you're on your own, you must first check in at Fort Jefferson to obtain a free permit and instructions on where you can drop anchor.
Need help planning your visit to the Florida Keys? Drop us a line and we will be happy to book your adventure!
Go Exploring Travel - Top 10 Activites in the Florida Keys