The slender thread of islands known as the Florida Keys stretches through the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, giving travelers a beautiful view as they coast across the Seven Mile Bridge. Offering a taste of the tropics without ever having to leave the United States, the Florida Keys include Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys, and Key West. World-class diving, sport fishing, nature and nightlife make the Keys a year-round destination for personal adventure.
Key Largo, about an hour from Miami, is the northernmost section of the island chain. The island is famous for its spectacular diving conditions and ecotourism. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the nearby Everglades National Park offer outdoor recreation, nature watching, and the underwater worlds of snorkeling and diving. The only coral barrier reef in the United States is located just east of Key Largo.
Islamorada is the place for anglers and sport fishermen. Catch sailfish, bonefish, tarpon and redfish with any number of boat charter expeditions. The Theater of the Sea Marine Mammal Park offers dolphin swimming encounters. Beachfront cafes, boutiques and galleries appeal to those who wish to stay on dry ground. Lush gardens and nature trails can be found at Long Key State Park.
Known for fishing, boating and family fun, Marathon Key is 10 miles long and famous for its seafood festivals and waterfront restaurants. Marathon has the most marinas in any of the Keys, and travelers can expect to catch billfish, tuna and tarpon in its waters. Marine education programs on the island include the Turtle Hospital, which is dedicated to the treatment of sea turtles, and the Dolphin Research Center, an education and research facility. Both facilities welcome travelers to visit and learn about the rescue, rehabilitation and release of marine animals.
On Big Pine Key, travelers can take off on snorkel and dive charters to Looe Key Reef or enjoy the white sand beaches and wildlife of Bahia Honda State Park. The National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key is home to the tiny Key Deer. Saddlebunch Key is uninhabited and made up of lagoons and mangrove islands that make for a memorable visit. The Lower Keys include Little Duck Key, Big Torch Key and Sugarloaf Key.
With its palm trees, gingerbread-trimmed homes, historic churches, nautical attractions and party-town atmosphere, Key West is the more widely known of the Florida Keys. Take a tour on the Conch Tour Train, a trolley that takes riders around town and past places of interest, providing a survey of the island and its history. Fishing charters and watersport excursions can be found by simply walking along the docks. Outdoor cafes, gourmet restaurants, and famous bars and pubs such as Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville Cafe, the Hogs Breath Saloon, and the internationally-known Sloppy Joe's offer hours of music and entertainment. The Rees Jones-designed Key West Golf Club is a challenging and beautiful 18 holes with 6,500 yards of tropical foliage and perfectly manicured greens.
Held in January, this event comprises 10 days of cooking demonstrations, wine tasting and pairing, cooking contests and special restaurant menus. Live music and local artist exhibits round out this delicious week.
The Key West Songwriter's Festival in May features a full schedule of performances by top singers and songwriters. Performances have included Rhett Akins, Matraca Berg, Gary Chapman, Sara Evans, Dean Dillon and John Frinzi.
Mild weather and balmy conditions make the Florida Keys a year-round destination for travelers. Relaxing on a beach, snorkeling in crystal clear water, or catching game fish are all great ways to chase away the chill of winter.
Florida Keys hotels include beachside inns, bed and breakfast retreats, small boutique hotels and family-friendly resorts. Many are located in close proximity to beaches and attractions. Travelers to the Florida Keys often fly into Miami International Airport (MIA) and rent a car to cruise through the Keys.