The Florida Keys have been on my bucket list ever since I first set foot in Florida last year with a getaway to Fort Lauderdale and Miami – although it has the reputation of being downright bizarre (see Seth Meyer’s “Fake or Florida segment”), the state also boasts incredible beaches and year-round sunshine that are undeniably attractive.
So whether you’re visiting as a snowbird or as a first-timer, here are eight things to do in the Florida Keys that you absolutely can’t skip.
Cruise over the John Pennekamp Coral Reef
I had to chance to join a glass bottom boat tour of the John Pennekamp coral reef, home to the legendary Christ of the Deep statue and the first underwater national park in the United States. The ride took me through the thick mangrove forests of the lagoon before it arrived at the pièce de résistance, the beautiful corals – which, thanks to the deep glass bottom, were just a few feet away.
If you can snorkel or dive in the park, go for it! If it was this beautiful over water I can’t imagine what it must be like down there, surrounded by rainbow-coloured fishes and corals.
Visit the Ernest Hemingway House
What a enigmatic man, that Hemingway! His house in Key West is absolutely fascinating and I’m not saying that just because there are over 50 cats on the property (since he and I both have well-documented affection for cats I feel like we would have been kindred spirits, aside from the multiple marriages and suicidal tendencies). It was such a wonderful experience to set foot in his writing den and play with his polydactyl cats. I am very happy with my copy of To Have and Have Not, that I bought in the shop inside his house next to the office where he penned it. Talk about coming full circle!
Eat your weight in Key Lime pie
Whether you get it with meringue or whipped cream, as a chocolate-dipped popsicle, as a milkshake or even deep-fried (yes, you read that right), the Key Lime pie is a must in these parts. I must confess to having eaten the god-sent dessert at least twice a day for the duration of my stay… for research purposes, of course! Where shouldn’t you miss the pie, you ask?
Visit the Sea Turtle Hospital
This was one of my favourite things to do in the Florida Keys. As an animal lover and animal rights defender, I always enjoy visiting places that are first and foremost dedicated to their wellbeing and not cold hard cash. Through an engaging and informative program about our figurative footprint in the ocean, the non-profit hospital educates the public to think twice about our actions and their repercussions.
But not only that! The Turtle Hospital rescues injured sea turtles everywhere around the Keys, be it because they ingested hooks, because they damaged their shell in a boat collision, or because they got caught in fishing nets. They’ve rescued and rehabilitated over 1000 sea turtles since their opening in 1989!
Good to know: they frequently release rehabilitated turtles back into the sea. Dates are always announced on their website, so if you time your visit right you might be able to take part in that touching, memorable event!
Feed tarpons at Robbie’s Marina
Guys, I was legit scared about feeding the tarpons. As you know I am scared of pretty much everything and that includes, of course, fish the size of my legs (yeah, these bastards can weigh up to a whopping 8 feet long / 280 pounds) that jump out of the water to catch their snack. As a grown woman on assignment, I sucked it up and fed the ‘damn tarpons – although I can’t guarantee I didn’t let out a scream or two.
Board the original African Queen
Despite the fact that I have never seen the movie I am well aware of just how big an icon the African Queen is, i.e. the 1951 film starring the illustrious Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. The ship used in the movie no longer cruises down Congolese rivers; instead, it has been lovingly restored (with steam engine and all!) and sits in the Port Largo marina.
Taste the local cuisine at Marker 88
You can trust chef Bobby Stoky of Marker 88 to cook you the best meal you’ll have in the Florida Keys. His menu consists of dishes he ate as a child and that are intrinsically part of the Keys cuisine. In other words, lots of flavourful and expertly-executed fish and seafood.I opted for the coconut battered shrimp and the mahi Martinique, an intriguing French-Florida fusion dish that almost had me licking the plate clean.
The beachside restaurant is definitely one of the can’t-miss things to do in the Florida Keys. Likewise for their bar, where you can order their popular watermelon mojito. Bonus point for Kyle Chandler, who was dining there after a day of shooting on the nearby set of Bloodine (which is a riveting series with wanderlust-inducing cinematography, by the way).
Visit the Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
What species of butterfly can you name besides the monarch? Don’t worry, I would not have been able to answer this prior to my visit at the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory. Their tropical greenhouse is home to over 600 species of butterflies. Including the notably elusive blue morpho butterfly and the 11-inch wide Owl butterfly! A fun place to visit if you enjoy macro photography and wildlife!
Day trips from Key West
- Glass-bottom boat tour with sunset option
- Sunset champagne and appetizers cruise
- Mangrove kayak eco tour
- Backcountry schooner snorkeling eco-tour
- Dry Tortugas National Park by catamaran
- Shark and wildlife catamaran tour