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The Key to the Florida Keys

Updated: Aug 1, 2022

In December of 2021, we took a quick trip down to the Florida Keys for the Holiday Season. The Keys are a series of islands off the southern tip of the Florida coastline, with a single freeway spanning over 100 miles of land. The climate is temperate most time of the year, and with emerald green waters and swaying palm trees, the Florida Keys an ideal vacation destination within the United States with a Caribbean island feel.

While the most well-known is Key West, the southernmost island and the closest spot in the US to Cuba, Key Largo and Marathon are the most commercialized, with numerous hotel options. We stayed in Key Largo, which is situated in the northern section of the Florida Keys but is a large island located roughly equidistant to downtown Miami and Key West. From Key Largo, we were able to access all of the top destinations within a 2 hours drive.

Where to Stay : We stayed at the Amoray Dive Resort in Key Largo, a popular resort for scuba diving and snorkeling, and while neither I nor my family knows how to scuba dive, we still appreciated the amenities of this resort. They offered free kayaks and bicycles to hotel guests, which we used to explore the island, had direct beach access with wonderful sunset views, and had scuba diving lessons and certification for those interested.

Sunset at Amoray Dive Resort

Key West: Downtown Key West is about a two hour drive from Key Largo, but is well worth the trip. The Florida Stories free mobile app has a great audio walking tour of the downtown area, taking you to all the popular sites along Duval Street and explaining the history of the island.

Duval Street is the heart of downtown Key West, with lots of bustling souvenir shops and restaurants. Conch fritters are a delicacy of the island, but my daughter was unfortunately disappointed by their bland taste and texture.

Conch fritters at Key West's famous "Conch Shack"

You can't go to Key West without taking a picture of the infamous "Southernmost Point of the Continental US" monument, though watch out for the long lines of tourists waiting to take their picture as well.

Southernmost point of the United States "marker"

Key West has a beautiful lighthouse located a few blocks from the southernmost point, built in 1848 to help military and commercial vessels navigate the shallow, reef-laden waters off the Florida Keys. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1969 by the US Coast guard, and now serves as a museum.

Key West Lighthouse

You can't visit Key West and not stop at Fort Zachary Taylor Beach, hailed as one of the best beached in the Keys. Its warm waters and beginner-friendly off-shore snorkeling are worth the visit.

Fort Zachary Beach

The best spot for sunset in Key West is Mallory Square. Here they have a Sunset Celebration every evening with local vendors and street performers entertaining the crowds of tourists as they wait for the sun to set.


A couple of pictures of sunset at Mallory Square


Sombrero Beach: Sombrero Beach is the most popular free beach in the Keys. Known for its white-sand beaches and swaying palm trees, this beach fills up fast on a warm day. It is located about an hour south of Key Largo in Marathon Key and has about a mile of white sandy beaches to walk along. Supposedly there are small friendly fish that swim around the rocks near the beach, but we were unable to see them with our snorkeling gear.


Sombrero Beach

John Pennekamp State Park: John Pennekamp State Park is located in the heart of Key Largo and was less than a mile away from our resort. It has kayaks and paddleboards for hourly rental as well as snorkeling boat tours. We rented a double kayak and spent an hour kayaking through the mangroves. It was absolutely beautiful as the waters were calm and the trails were easy to follow. The water was clear enough to spot schools of fish swimming beneath us and we could see the mossy rocks that covered the ocean floor. The beach at John Pennekamp is known for a Spanish shipwreck located about a hundred feet off the shore of the beach. Marked by a buoy, it is a popular attraction to swim up to and can be viewed underwater with a snorkel. My daughter decided to swim up to it and was surprised to see a plaque underwater next to the shipwreck reading "Mock Spanish Shipwreck," as we had originally been told this was a genuine historic wreck.

Kayaking at John Pennekamp State Park

Places to Eat: Being a primarily vegetarian family, it was sometimes hard to find a place to eat as seafood is the primary cuisine in the Keys.

Hideout in Key Largo is a laid-back diner perfect for eggs and pancake breakfast.

We couldnt get enough of Pinecrest Bakery in Key Largo, a Cuban cafe with great Cuban coffee and pastries. Fortunately, we found Pinecrest Bakery at a number of locations near Miami, where we got our daily sugar fix with their extra sweet cafe con leche.

We saw great sunset views at Lorelei's, rated one of the best restaurants in the keys for sunsets. Lorelei's is a popular beachside restaurant in Islamorada with seating on their patio or on the beach and live music every night. The wait time can be long but the sunset view on a clear evening makes it worth it. Reservations are hard to come by, and this restaurant starts getting filled by 4pm for dinner!

Cotton candy skies at Lorelai's at sunset.

Jimmy Johnson's Big Chill is in Key Largo and has great American food served on their beachside patio, with a tiki bar and a lively atmosphere. This restaurant also offers exquisite sunset views and is easier to find a table, when compared to Lorelai's.

Sunset at Jimmy Johnsons Big Chill

All in all, the Florida Keys is an excellent place to spend a tropical vacation without having to pay $$$ or worry about travel restrictions to visit the Tropics. Consider this travel destination for your next vacation.

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