The Florida Keys
You may be surprised to learn that there are approximately 1,700 islands that make up the Florida Keys and that this archipelago extends over 198 square miles. If you plan to drive to Key West from the Orlando area, you can bank on approximately 393 miles (632 km). There are many beautiful and unique places to stop along your drive down to Key West but here I will highlight the most popular areas, all of which offer fresh seafood restaurants and spectacular, photo-worthy pitstops and adventures.
“Your First Key in Paradise” When driving to Key West, Key Largo (named so because it’s the largest of the islands) is called the Dive Capital of the World. Here you will find the world’s second-largest (and the only living coral reef system in the US) artificial reef and a beautiful state park. Hike, fish, snorkel, and kayak until you’ve got the Beach Boys Kokomo song playing repeatedly in your head.
This lovely area is called the Village of Islands and encompasses 6 of the Florida Keys known for their coral reefs. Head to The Theater of the Sea to experience dolphin encounters. Or to the History of Diving Museum. There are several state parks, one of them has a tropical forest! Or spend your day on jet skis, parasailing or relaxing on a sunset cruise. Fishing is the favorite pastime here and some restaurants will even cook your catch!
Marathon is a city spread out across 13 islands known for wonderful beaches (Sombrero Beach and Coco Plum Beach, for example, where Loggerhead turtles nest) and a barrier reef. There is a state park complete with a sandy shoreline and mangrove creek. Take an eco-tour and capture stunning photographs. Don’t miss the Dolphin Research Center to enjoy interactive demonstrations or the bird-rescue center and natural history museum.
The most famous of all the islands is known for its sunsets and broad-minded lifestyle. Key West, aka The Conch Republic, attracts visitors from around the globe and is especially attractive to artists and creative types due to its Bohemian carefree atmosphere. In fact, several famous writers including Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, and Robert Frost have all called this beautiful island home.
Key West is the southernmost point in the continental US and is marked by a famous concrete buoy, a fun landmark for family photo bragging rights. Key West is also famous for watersports, a lively nightlife, and its pastel, seriously charming conch-style architecture. Take a stroll down the main drag, Duval Street, and enjoy cozy cafes, bars (including Hemingway’s fave, Sloppy Joe’s), shops and more. You can also go to Hemingway’s Home and Museum… and remember to be on the lookout for local 6-toed cats! The lifestyle in Key West is famously free and there are events, including some annual events, that are adult only. Plan your vacation to the Florida Keys and make warm, sunny family memories to last a lifetime.