As much as I love to travel, there is one spot in the world that calls me back again and again…the Florida Keys. Sure, that’s technically more than one place, but considering that they’re all connected, and only between 45 minutes and three hours away from me in Miami – well, you see where I’m going with this, right? I know all about How to Spend a Weekend in the Florida Keys because I’ve been heading down south to the Keys ever since I was a kid. As an adult, I try to get down to the Keys as often as possible. Sometimes it’s to Key Largo for a few hours while Chris and I are fishing with our buddy Cory. My parents have a timeshare in Key Largo, right on Jewfish Creek, which is our favorite fishing spot in all of South Florida. Angeline and I often run down there for the day to hang out on the pier or have lunch at Gilbert’s Resort when they’re at the timeshare. Of course, my favorite part of the Florida Keys is Key West, but I don’t always have the time or room in the budget for a trip all the way down there.
Fun in the Keys isn’t limited to Key West, so I thought I’d share some of the other things to do. Winter is high season for South Florida and I am sure that some of you are checking out reasons to make your way down to the Keys to get away from the snow and ice!
How to Spend a Weekend in the Florida Keys
Reasons to Stop in Key Largo
Did you know that Key Largo is the Dive Capital of the World? Well, that’s what the city claims, anyway. People trek from all over South Florida for fresh seafood dinners, fishing boat charters, snorkeling and scuba diving trips, and to buy fireworks from Phantom Fireworks for the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve.
I’ve been going to John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park since I was a kid, and it’s an absolute must when driving through Key Largo. John Pennecamp was the first undersea park in the US, and combined with the adjacent Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, cover about 178 nautical square miles of coral reefs, sea grass beds and mangrove swamps. The main attraction of John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park is the coral reef, which is the only living coral reef in the continental United States. Located at MM 102.5, you can rent kayaks and boats, go snorkeling and scuba diving, take a Glass Bottom Boat Tour – there’s even a small FREE aquarium at the welcome center, and I like to take Angeline here when we are visiting my parent’s timeshare across the street. There is a park entrance fee of $2 for pedestrians and bicyclists, or $8 per vehicle with a limit of 8 passengers.
On a recent trip to Key Largo, I was introduced to a pizza joint that I’ve driven past a hundred times but never actually stopped to investigate. The Tower of Pizza in Key Largo near MM 100 is a must while you’re in the Florida Keys! Their pizza and pasta are freshly made daily, and they have a fantastic assortment of bottled beers and sodas. It’s apparently a local favorite, because it was jam packed when we stopped in for a late lunch!
Where to Stop in Islamorada
While Key Largo is famous for diving, Islamorada has been called the Sportsfishing Capital of the World, and one look at the many charter boats sitting in the marina reinforce that title! You can find a fishing boat charter for your time in Islamorada here.
Islamorada’s Theater of the Sea was established in 1946 and is one of the oldest marine mammal centers in the world. They have both rescued animals and animals born at the center, and provide an up close and personal marine mammal experience that is entertaining AND educational. It’s a great spot to take the kids and is relatively inexpensive.
General admission is $21.95 for ages 3-10 and $31.95 for ages 11 and over, plus tax. General admission to the park includes dolphin, sea lion, parrot and guided marine life shows, access to the lagoon side beach, and a 5-minute bottomless boat ride around the dolphin lagoon.
There’s also the History of Diving Museum in Islamorada, at MM 83. The History of Diving Museum has one of the world’s largest international collection of diving helmets and artifacts!
My very favorite thing to do in Islamorada is to stop at Robbie’s to feed the tarpon! For just $3, you’ll be handed a bucket of fish and led out to the pier, where you can feed the gigantic Tarpon that hang out around the pier.
I love Robbie’s Tarpon Feeding because it’s such an inexpensive activity and is just so different from activities offered anywhere else! Of course there is also a restaurant with great food and a few shops selling local arts and crafts, but the Tarpon always steal the show at Robbie’s. Just keep an eye out for the pelicans, they like to steal fish right out of your hand!
Marathon is More Than the Seven Mile Bridge
If you have a fear of bridges, you may want to skip this next suggestion: The Seven Mile Bridge! While there’s nothing to actually DO on the Seven Mile Bridge, it’s a picturesque drive, with the ocean stretching out on both sides as far as the eye can see.
Though, to be honest, the Seven Mile Bridge isn’t the only place you’ll find these scenic views. If you love the water, the entire drive through the Keys will suit you just fine!
Marathon is, in my humble opinion, an underrated Key. Not only is Marathon home to the beginning of the Seven Mile Bridge, but it’s also a great fishing spot, and tons of boaters enjoy spending time in the shallow waters.
Marathon is also home to The Turtle Hospital at MM 48.5, a non-profit organization that rescues and rehabilitates sea turtles, as well as does research with the University of Georgia College of Vet Medicine into the causes of fibropapilloma, the only known disease affecting wild animals on a global basis. The Turtle Hospital is open to the public for Guided Educational Experiences 7 days a week. You can call 305-743-2552 to make a reservation.
The Dolphin Research Center is also located in Marathon. The Dolphin Research Center houses Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions, with many animals either coming from other facilities or rescues. They also rescue, rehabilitate and release back into the wild Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins, whales and the endangered Manatee. Admission fees to the center are $20 for children up to 12 and $25 for adults. You can click here to begin planning your day to the Dolphin Research Center.
The Florida Keys Aquarium Center is also located in Marathon, and is a great place to experience feeding sharks and a tide pool touch tank, as well as swimming in the coral reef and hang out with the local animals in a stingray or iguana encounter!
Bahia Honda State Park and Beach in Big Pine Key
The Florida Keys are home to many state parks, and as you drive down US1, you’ll see pull-offs and park entrance signs along the way. One of the most visited of these parks is Bahia Honda State Park and Beach, located at MM 37 in Big Pine Key. Bahia Honda is actually an award-winning beach, and the park is over 500 acres. My parents love to stop at Bahia Honda while out boating the Keys, but many actually drive down and spend the day or the weekend.
You can also rent kayaks at Bahia Honda, or embark on a snorkeling tour to the fabulous nearby Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary!
If you are making it all the way down to Key West, you have so many options for things to do!
Things to do in Key West
Key West is a small island, but densely populated. There are bars and restaurants, water sports, gardens, museums, tons of tourist shops, night clubs and live music, as well as boat charters, day trips to the Dry Tortugas, snorkeling and sunset cruises…I could go on and on! If you’re heading down with the kids, check out this 5 Things to Do in Key West post I did a while ago for some great family-friendly ideas.
There are two things that you must eat while in Key West, the Key Lime Colada at the Casa Marina pool bar and a slice of Key Lime pie – from pretty much anywhere. I prefer the Blonde Giraffe, but I’ve never actually had a bad slice of Key Lime pie while in Key West, so you’re safe no matter where you go!
There are museums all over in Key West, and some of them are free! The Oldest House in Key West is a free-entrance museum and really cool if you’re into the history of Florida.
A few other museums located in Key West are :
Of course, you could just spend a day lounging on the beach, which Key West has plenty of! I can think of worse ways to spend a sunny day, what about you?
There are quite a few beaches in Key West, but I’d have to say that the nicest public beach is Higg’s Beach at the end of Reynolds. There are public bathrooms, plenty of beach space, a restaurant right on the beach, and you can usually find people to play volleyball with!
While in Key West, I highly recommend getting out on the water. There are so many different charter companies that offer half and full day excursions on sail boats and catamarans, with many including snorkeling and/or kayaking. There is a marine wildlife preserve just a few miles off the coast of Key West, with a sponge bed that makes for great snorkeling. The kayaking is a lot of fun – especially if you are on a Danger Charters tour, with Wendy as your guide! They’ll take you through the mangroves, point out different wildlife and ensure that you get your fill of the Key West wildlife before you make your way back to the boat.
There are many sunset cruises in Key West, with options ranging from sailboats to catamarans, full dinner and open bar, to appetizers and all you can drink beer – some charters even have a small band performing on deck!
This is a really fun way to watch the sunset, though you’ll miss the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square, which is a Key West tradition.
The Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square
The Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square happens every weekend! You’ll find local artisans selling their wares along the pier and local performance artists putting on shows for the crowd. Be sure to bring a few dollars in cash so that you can tip the performers if you watch their show – they work for tips!
Mallory Square is THE place to watch the sunset in Key West. As much as I have traveled, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sunset quite as beautiful as the ones I’ve seen in Key West over the years.
If you’ve made it all the way down to Key West, don’t forget to stop and have your photo taken at the Southernmost Point!
Have you ever been to the Florida Keys? What would you recommend for someone planning their first trip?