08 Mar 19 Things to Do in the Florida Keys That Will Make you Fall in Love with the Islands
The Florida Keys are one of our favorite places—over the years, we have spent many a day exploring this tropical slice of Florida. While there are so many adventures we have yet to try in the Keys, we wanted to share our personal favorites with you.
This list includes all of our favorite experiences that have made us fall in love with the Florida Keys over and over again. There’s something about the breeze from the ocean, the heavy warm air and the laid back quirkiness of the islands that keeps us coming back for more year after year. A few of the adventures that didn’t make the list and that we still want to try out in the Florida Keys are exploring on a scooter, jet skiing, fly boarding, a seaplane or helicopter tour and skydiving—here’s to hoping that our future visits can start checking these off the list, as well! With that, here are our favorite things to do in the Florida Keys:
1. Snorkeling (or Diving!)
The Florida Keys are home to the only living coral barrier reef in North America—the reef also happens to be the 3rd largest of its kind in the world. Starting near Key Biscayne in Miami, the reef runs 221 miles all the way down to the Dry Tortugas, which are located 70 miles west of Key West. The reef is easily accessible from the entire eastern coast of the islands so opportunities for diving and snorkeling are abundant. We don’t have our diving certification yet, but we’ve snorkeled in Key West, Key Largo and Islamorada, both on guided tours and with our Florida family in their boat. Our two favorite spots so far have been Alligator Reef near Islamorada and Christ of the Abyss in Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park; although, I’m sure I could keep adding spots to the list the more we explore!
Flying behind a boat with a parachute above you is the ultimate tropical adventure. There are plenty of companies that offer a chance to go parasailing in the Keys, but our favorite is Fury in Key West. We found them to have some of the cheapest prices and the views you can get of Key West are fantastic!
One of our favorite adventures of all time is kayaking, and the entirety of the Florida Keys is perfect for a spin on the water. You can paddle through the dense and windy mangroves, out in the open ocean, or in one of the many calm bays that dot the islands. We’ve done most of our kayaking around the Key Largo area, but there are great spots to paddle throughout the Keys. To up your adventure level, opt for a transparent kayak or a moonlight paddle—both options are high on our list to try out the next time we return to the Keys!
4. The Turtle Hospital
Located in Marathon, one of the largest islands in the Florida Keys, is a turtle rehabilitation center. The Turtle Hospital was the first hospital of its kind and has been helping sick and injured sea turtles heal and then be released back into the wild. Take a tour to learn about the history of the facility and the work that they do—you’ll even get a peak at the permanent residents (turtles that can no longer survive in the wild due to an injury) and the turtles that are recovering.
5. Sunset Cruise
There are plenty of companies that will take you out on the water for the day, but our favorite boating excursion was the sunset sail on the Schooner Jolly II Rover. It’s BYOB and snacks, but you will have a peaceful ride sailing through the water, searching for wildlife such as dolphins, a chance to fire a cannon, and gorgeous views of the famous Key West sunset. They also offer day tours and stargazing tours—both of which are still on our list to check out. If you prefer to get wild and crazy, you can sign up for a sunset cruise with a company like Fury—you will hop on a party boat with drinks, music and all around debauchery until you reach shore. Either way, hopping on a boat for sunset is a must.
6. Day Trip to Dry Tortugas
Taking a day trip to the Dry Tortugas National Park is an adventure that has been on my list for years. I remember staring at photos of the tiny island that was located 70 miles away from Key West and dreaming about when we could finally visit. Well, we finally made our way there and it was every bit as amazing as I was expecting. The turquoise water is never ending, the history of the old military fort is incredibly interesting and the birds are sure to brighten up your day. Hop on a boat or seaplane for a day tour to explore one of the most remote National Parks in the United States, or if you feel like really getting away from it all, head out to the island on a multi-day camping excursion.
7. Jet Boat Tour
If speed is your jam, then a ride around Key West in a jet boat is the perfect adventure. You’ll race around the island at speeds that will make your eyes water, but you will also slow down for a bit of sightseeing and a few stories about the southernmost point in the continental U.S.
8. Ft. Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Ft. Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is home to one of our favorite beaches in the Florida Keys. The beach isn’t exactly filled with white sugar sand, but that’s one of the reasons we love it—the water was sparkling clear and the beach is made up of tiny pebbles. While water shoes are a good idea if you want to go for a dip, it’s beauty will make up for the lack of soft sugary sand. When you are done exploring the beaches, make your way to the old military fort for a history lesson or a Civil War reenactment.
9. Glass Bottom Boat
If you would rather stay dry than jump into the ocean, a glass bottom boat is the perfect adventure to get a glimpse of the coral reefs and marine life that surround the Florida Keys. Way back in high school, I hopped on the Key Largo Princess Glass Bottom Boat and spent a fun morning on the water. We sped out to the nearby reefs and then descended to the bottom deck where we sat peering into life below the surface with our feet dangling over the glass on the bottom of the boat. While I’d prefer snorkeling to a glass bottom boat, it was still a fun adventure and is definitely a unique experience if you’ve never tried it before.
10. Spend a Day at the Beach
While the Florida Keys doesn’t necessarily have the best beaches in the Caribbean, there are plenty of white sand stretches that will make you feel like you are in paradise, which let’s face it, you pretty much are! Many hotels offer groomed beaches for a relaxing day in the sun, several state parks are home to some beautiful stretches of sand, and there are numerous hidden and public beaches where you can go for a dip in the warm waters. Even though we don’t typically search for beaches in the Keys, we have found several that have become our favorites, such as the beaches at Bahia Honda and Fort Zachary Taylor State Parks, the beaches out on the secluded Dry Tortugas National Park, and the busy but always beautiful Smathers Beach.
11. Bahia Honda State Park
For views of the iconic and historic Bahia Honda Rail Bridge, head to Bahia Honda State Park located just over an hour north of Key West. While you may go for views of the bridge, be sure to stay for everything else the park has to offer. Gorgeous beaches, snorkeling tours and camping are the other top reasons to visit our favorite State Park in Florida. If you do decide to camp here, be prepared to make your plans way in advance. The coveted campsites and cabins are often snagged the day reservations become available 11 months out. Some campsites are first come first serve and cannot be reserved in advance, so you can try your luck by simply showing up and hoping there is a site available. You can also check sporadically for sites that open up due to a cancellation, which is how we lucked out with a cabin reservation over Micah’s birthday several years ago!
12. Old 7 Mile Bridge
Head to the Old 7 Mile Bridge where you can take a walk on a piece of history. This small road was once a railroad that was later turned into a small two-lane bridge for cars. The small island located a few miles from where the bridge leaves Marathon is called Pigeon Key—it was home to the construction workers when the bridge was being built and now serves as a museum and a time capsule of history. You can either walk or take a boat to the island where you can join a tour to learn the history of the bridge and Henry Flagler’s railroad that once brought life to the Keys. Portions of the bridge are currently undergoing renovations and repairs, so be sure to check for any closures before heading out on a walk.
13. Indulge in Key Lime Pie
Perhaps one of my favorite desserts of all time, key lime pie, is the signature dessert of the Florida Keys. While you can pretty much throw a stone and find a slice of the tart dessert, not all pies are created equal. If you like real meringue, head to Sundowners in Key Largo or Blonde Giraffe in Tavernier for some of the best key lime pie around. Blue Heaven also serves up a tasty slice with meringue, and Kermit’s Key West is one of the most popular Key Lime Pie shops in town although they substitute the meringue for whipped cream.
14. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Located in Key Largo, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was established in the early 1960’s—the park is 25 miles long and it extends 3 miles into the ocean. The park protects a portion of the only living coral barrier reef in North America and offers fantastic opportunities for diving and snorkeling. It happens to be one of our favorite spots to snorkel and kayak in the Keys. The mangrove swamps create a fascinating maze that you can navigate by kayak—just make sure to bring a map so you don’t get lost!
15. Eat Fresh Seafood
Fresh seafood is plentiful in the Florida Keys—it’s not hard to find fresh fish that was caught earlier that morning out on the ocean. From shrimp, to conch, to fish such as Mahi Mahi, Hogfish or Snapper, the opportunities are not scarce. Some of our favorite spots for a laid back experience and fresh fish are Hogfish Bar and Grill and B.O.’s Fish Wagon in Key West, Keys Fisheries in Marathon and Snappers in Key Largo. If you aren’t a seafood lover, don’t worry—there is still plenty of good food around. Some of our favorite restaurants located throughout the islands are Blue Heaven, Fogarty’s, Sloppy Joe’s, Hog’s Breath Saloon, Islamorada Fish Company, Lorelei Restaurant and Cabana Bar, Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen and Tarpon Creek Bar and Grill.
16. Explore History at a Museum
From pirates, to authors, to presidents and even a haunted doll—Key West’s history is definitely varied and extremely interesting. Hemingway was once a regular in Key West, and his home is now a museum. Learn about shipwrecks and pirates at the Key West Shipwreck Museum and the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum. Visit the East Martello museum for a glimpse at the famous Robert the Doll, better known as the haunted doll who likes to mess with cameras. Or, head to the Little White House for a dose of presidential history—Harry S. Truman was a regular visitor here and it is one of the only museums we have yet to visit in Key West.
17. SUP Adventure
Micah had the chance to go for a stand up paddle boarding excursion while on a job in Key West, but I’ve yet to go on a SUP adventure in the Keys. He took a board for a spin around the waters of the Casa Marina Resort, but there are plenty of other opportunities throughout the islands for an exhilarating SUP experience, as well. The top two adventures on my list to try out are PaddleYoga at Lazy Dog Paddle Yoga and the night tour with LED lights under the board at Ibis Bay Paddle Sports in Key West.
18. Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square
No trip to Key West is complete without at least experiencing the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square. Every evening, crowds gather alongside the ocean at Mallory Square to watch the sun drop below the horizon. Street performers line the plaza, pop up shops sell art and trinkets, food is cooking, and drinks are flowing—it’s where the party gets started each night and worth experiencing at least once no matter how anticlimactic and crowded it may actually be. It’s a right of passage and an iconic Key West experience—plus, who can argue with a golden sunset over the ocean?
19. Bar Hop on Duval Street
The nightlife throughout the Florida Keys is fairly laid back, that is until you hit Key West. Key West’s nightlife is centered on Duval Street and the surrounding area, and you are in for a crazy party most any night of the week. From live music and wild energy to low key local bars, you are sure to find something that fits your personality.
What did we miss? What are your favorite adventures to do in the Florida Keys?