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The Florida Keys

The tropical American islands you can drive to. In the Keys most people are looking for Sun, turquoise waters, sand and lots of fresh seafood. There’s plenty of Sun, water and great seafood but if you’re looking for beaches, you’ve gone too far. Unlike the expectations , the Florida Keys have very little in the way of beaches.

Beaches In The Keys

Unlike the miles of white sand beaches in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and the Florida gulf coast, the Keys have very little to offer when it comes to beaches. There are a few good small beaches that include:

John Pennekamp State Park located in Key Largo is more noted for its coral reefs and mangrove coast but it does have a small sandy beach.

Key Colony Beach is located on the Atlantic side of Marathon and has one of the longest stretches of beach in the Keys. The town offers an number of beach front motels.

Bahia Honda State Park

Bahia Honda State Park in just south of Seven Mile Bridge and has one of the best beaches of all of the state parks in the Keys.

Key West Public Beach located on the Atlantic side of the island does have a good stretch f sandy beach but it would be a stretch to describe it as white sand beach.

The Keys For Fresh Seafood

Our rule regarding Keys seafood is “the simpler, the better”. Florida’s waters are famous for Florida lobsters. They’re called spiny lobster or Caribbean lobster or as the locals refer to them “bugs”. There’s also crab (in season it’s stone crab), shrimp (lots of shrimp), grouper, dolphin (Hawaiian name is mahi-mahi) and both are beautiful mild-flavored white meat fish.  Most locals have favorite hangouts often featuring picnic tables on docks or decks, cold beer and fresh-caught fish on a grill. Maybe throw in a lobster or two and a bucket of peel-n-eat shrimp.

There are more than a few good places to eat in the keys but unfortunately there are probably more mediocre and bad restaurants. In the past we had come to believe that one of the problems is the tourist character of this beautiful chain of islands. With an estimated number of Key West visitors exceeding 2.5 million and a local population of under twenty-five thousand, it isn’t hard to see why below average places survive or even thrive. Over the years we had developed our list of favorites with the majority being local places and a few with long histories and reputations.

Islamorada Fish Company, like the Island Fish Company started out by just open-air grilling fresh seafood out on the docks. A while ago the got a new neighbor, Outdoor World, that started bringing in traffic and their business exploded. Now they are all grown-up, were taken over by Outdoor World and have over a dozen locations around the country. They still serve solid seafood.

Island Fish Company in Marathon was just an open-air Tiki Hut on the water a decade or so ago. Even then they grilled up some good, fresh seafood at reasonable prices and featured live music in the evenings. We were amazed how they had grown since our last visit. You can’t do that unless you’re doing something right.

Herbie’s in Marathon has been in business forever and is a favorite with locals. There have been new owners for a few years but everyone says they’re doing a good job of keeping up the reputation. And don’t get put off by the outside appearance.

Hurricane Hole is just north across the bridge going out of Key West on Stock Island. This is a typical Keys place on a marina with lots of outdoor tables. The food is fresh and good and the prices very friendly.

Hurricane Hole bar & grill Key west
Hurricane Hole

Conch Republic Seafood Company in Key West is a good choice for seafood and at a good price. While it is a favorite with the tourists and the waterfront location offers good scenery it is still a solid choice.  Tip: The happy hour buy one get one beer tokens don’t have to be used on the same day.

Ship Wreck Bar & Grill in Key Largo is a little off the beaten path but worth the look. Again this place is a solid favorite with locals and while a little unrefined serves good, fresh Keys seafood and cold beer. Enough said.

a bar in Key West

Lorilei’s in Islamorada is another institution in the Keys and a favorite for watching sunsets.

Sid & Roxy’s Green Turtle Inn located in Islamorada has been a Keys institution forever. Sid and Roxy bought the place in 1947 and the current owners work hard at keeping up the reputation. The originator of Key Lime pie.

The Keys also have their share of attractions. First and foremost is charter fishing, boating*, snorkeling and diving. There are literally hundreds of charters, drift fishing boats and reef excursions to pick from.

In addition there are a number of dolphin encounter options in the Florida Keys.

Islamorada’s The Dolphin Encounter.

The Theater of the Sea marine park and Botanical Garden dolphin shows and encounters.

Key West Wild Dolphin Encounter

In Grassy Key is the Dolphin Research Center, a nonprofit education and research facility. Home to a family of dolphins and sea lions,

The Key West Aquarium – a small be really interesting facility right on Mallory Square.

Celebrate Sunset At Mallory Square – ever day tourists, locals and a fair amount of eccentrics gather on the pier at Mallory Square to celebrate the setting Sun. A daily event with a real carnival atmosphere.

In addition to the Sunset festivities there are a number of other things you will discover in Key West. First is key lime pie, a delicacy invented in the keys. Be sure to take a bottle of key lime juice and a recipe with you when you leave. The city is home to a large Cuban population that brought their cigar making skills with them. There are a number of hand-rolled Cuban cigar makers in Key West.

Key West Sunset

Key West also has a number of worthy historical attractions and a few less so. John J. Audubon lived here for a number of years and his home is maintained as a museum along with Ernest Hemingway’s house and Harry Truman’s Winter White House, all open to the public. Mel Fishers Maritime Museum, the Shipwreck Treasure Museum and believe it or not a Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum.

In addition to the festivities there are a number of other things you will find Key West famous for. First is key lime pie, a delicacy invented in the keys. Be sure to take a bottle of key lime juice and a recipe with you when you leave. The city is home to a large Cuban population that brought their cigar making skills with them. There are a number of hand-rolled Cuban cigar makers in Key West. It is also famous for leather sandals (flip flops) and the oldest manufacturer is Kino located right downtown. Their leather sandals sell for $10 to $20. I’ve rarely gone to Key West without taking home a pair or two.

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