Places And Restaurants in the Keys
When coming to the Florida Keys most new visitors have expectations of Sun, sand and crystal clear water along with great fresh seafood. The reality can often be somewhat different. First, the Keys are a collection of small islets and islands (keys) with many surrounded by thick mangroves. Running down the center is a chain of bigger keys technically starting in Miami and running down to Key West. The road that connects those bigger islands is the Overseas Highway, U.S. Route 1. If you’re looking for beaches the Keys may fall a bit short. Most Key beaches are small pockets of sand associated with hotels or tucked away between those mangroves. There is only a handful of larger beaches.
What you will find however is a non-stop celebration of water. Lots of boating, fishing, both deep sea and on the salt flats, water sports and diving, both skin diving and scuba. If your idea of fun is a day on the water the Keys are the place to go. You’ll also discover a laid back lifestyle, that includes tiki bars, great seafood and incredible sunsets.
If you’re looking for excitement and night life in the Keys it’s called Key West. This eclectic town, as the joke goes, puts crazy on the front porch and celebrates it. Every evening a collection of jugglers, musicians, tightrope walkers, and the iconic bagpiper show up at Mallory Square to celebrate the setting Sun. The town is famous for its festivals and parades from Tennessee Williams Birthday Celebration to Hemingway Days to Celebrate another literary resident. In October it’s the towns biggest part of the year called Fantasy Fest Parade, a flamboyant moving party with floats, wild marching groups and exotic costumes. Visit Key West Calendar HERE for complete information.
The Keys Best Beaches
Besides numerous pocket beaches there are a few larger beaches in the Keys. The largest beach can be found at Key Colony east of Marathon. There’s also a nice beach at the State Park at Bahia Honda south of the Seven Mile Bridge and the main public beach in Key West.
The Best Food In The Keys
Our suggestion is to approach Keys seafood with a simple rule – “the simpler, the better”. Florida’s waters are famous for Florida lobsters (also called spiny lobster or Caribbean lobster) crab, shrimp, grouper and dolphin, and on and on. No it is not the Flipper kind of dolphin but a name for a popular fish. Because of the name issue you will probably find it more often referred to by the Hawaiian name mahi-mahi but whatever you call it, it is a beautiful mild-flavored white meat fish. Most locals have favorite hangouts often with picnic tables on docks or decks, cold beer and fresh-caught fish on the grill. Maybe they’ll throw a lobster on the grill or serve up a bucket of peel-n-eat shrimp.
One problem is you will find a lot of good places to eat but unfortunately there are probably more mediocre to bad restaurants around the Keys than there should be. In the past we had come to believe that one of the problems is the tourist character of this chain of islands. With an estimated number of visitors to just Key West exceeding 2.5 million and a local population of under twenty-five thousand it isn’t hard to see where the foundation of the economy is. Too many restaurants in the Keys are over priced with little dependence on return customers and that’s a terrible combination. Over the years we had developed our list of favorites with the majority being local places and a few with long histories and reputations.
On returning after over a decade we were hopeful that the internet had helped to fix this restaurant problem. In this modern age it is very difficult for even small restaurants to escape the comments of thousands of online reviewers. After a week of reading reviews and eating around the Keys we decided that, unfortunately, not much has changed. While you can find great seafood, still you really need to know where to look, read reviews and ask locals for advice.
Here are a few of our favorites:
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.
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.
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, it serves good, fresh Keys seafood and cold beer. Enough said.
In Marathon is Sweet Savannah’s a bakery and ice cream shop. If you are looking for a great slice of Key Lime pie – this is the place. An award winner for five years. 8919 Overseas Hwy, Marathon, FL 33050
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.
Islamorada Fish Company, like the Island Fish Company it started out by just open-air grilling fresh seafood out on the docks. A while ago it got a new neighbor, Outdoor World, that started bringing in traffic and their business exploded. Now they are all grown-up, have been taken over by Outdoor World and have over a dozen locations around the country connected to the stores. They still serve solid seafood but expect a wait.
Key West is ground zero for good restaurants in the Keys and you could spend a couple of weeks eating out and still have more to try. Like the Keys in general, some of the best food in Key West is served thru a window and enjoyed at a picnic table, so keep that in mind as you decide where to eat.
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.
When staying in the Keys there are lots of choices from major chains to small motels. A couple of our favorite upscale hotels in the Keys are Hawks Cay on Duck Key featuring two good restaurants, Sixty-One Prime and Angler and Ale. In Key West it’s the iconic Pier House Resort, Baker’s Cay Resort Key Largo and Islamorada’s famous Cheeca Lodge