The Florida Keys are a gorgeous chain of islands that stretches south from the Sunshine State, culminating in the southernmost point of the continental United States. The best time to visit the Keys is between March and May, because winter crowds will be on the decline and the weather will still be balmy and blissful (but not too hot or buggy yet).
Winter is the most popular time of year down here because so many people head south from the colder, and sometimes frozen, reaches of the north. Whether you are planning a winter getaway or trying to avoid the crowds by visiting in the shoulder season, we have some awesome recommendations of what to see and do in the Florida Keys.
Drive Over Seven Mile Bridge
The good news about this Keys attraction is that it is almost unavoidable. If you go as far as Big Pine Key, you will drive across Seven Mile Bridge. It is one of the most iconic spots in the Keys because the bridge’s elevation provides a perspective of the region that you just will not find anywhere else.
Visit the Hemingway Home and Museum
Ernest Hemingway is one of the most famous American novelists of the 20th century, author of “The Sun Also Rises” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” He only lived for a small portion of his life in the Keys, but the Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West is the largest piece of property on the entire key (and it is still under an acre in total). For a small entrance fee, you can enjoy a guided tour of the home and learn the history of its inhabitants.
If you don’t want the guided tour, you can also walk around the property at your own pace. There are plenty of informational signs to read about the history there and there are more than 60 polydactyl (six-toed) cats living on the property that you are sure to meet.
Take a Picture at the Southernmost Point Buoy
Just down the road from the Hemingway House is the buoy marker that denotes the southernmost point in the entire continental United States. No, the buoy is not out in the water. It is perfectly safe on dry land and you can take a picture with the entire family in front of it.
You might want to hit this one early during your visit to Key West, though. When I got there in the middle of the afternoon, there was a long line up the street of people waiting just to take their picture with the buoy!
Tour the Turtle Hospital
Pollution, boat traffic and habitat loss pose serious threats to turtle populations throughout the world. On Marathon Key, the Turtle Hospital is one of the leading turtle research and rehabilitation facilities in the Keys.
The hospital has full-time and part-time residents living there. These turtles are being rehabilitated for a number of reasons. Go support a local non-profit and learn about how human activity is endangering these peaceful ocean dwellers.
Go Kayaking or Paddleboarding
There are numerous places to launch a kayak or paddleboard to enjoy a little ocean paddling while you are in the Keys. If you have your own watercraft, I highly recommend checking out Curry Hammock State Park in Marathon. There is an excellent paddle trail there that loops through a mangrove stand and is even accessible on windier days.
If you want to get out on the water on a human-powered watercraft but you didn’t bring one with you, don’t fret. If you are closer to Islamorada, check out Aquaholic Adventures. If you are down in Key West, Blue Planet Kayak offers rentals and guided tours. Plus, there are plenty of other outfitters up and down the Keys!
Charter a Fishing Boat
The Keys has some of the best fishing in the entire United States. From tarpon to barracuda, there is also a lot of variety in the ocean ecosystems surrounding the Keys. Plus, there are many channels and sandbars that can be challenging to navigate if you are inexperienced.
That is why the best thing you can do if you are visiting the Keys for the first time and want to go fishing is to charter a fishing boat with an experienced and knowledgeable captain. Doing so is a win-win for you as well because your captain will know exactly where to take you so that you catch fish instead of going home empty-handed.
There are several marinas throughout the Keys where you can inquire about chartering a fishing boat. To give you a head start, I would begin by checking out Early Bird Fishing Charters in Islamorada and then branch out from there.
Climb Aboard a Sunset Sailing Cruise
One of the best things about the Florida Keys is that you can enjoy both epic sunrises and sunsets over the water. In many cases, you can even walk from one side of the key you are staying on to the other to see both in one day.
It is hard to argue, however, that the best way to see a Keys sunset is on a sunset sailing cruise. Sunset Sail Key West is one of the leading proprietors in the Keys for this offering. Many resorts and hotels also offer regular daily cruises, depending on where you are staying.
Try the World Famous Lobster Reuben
There is no shortage of delicious seafood in the Keys, but there is nothing quite as unique as the World Famous Lobster Reuben at the Keys Fisheries. The restaurant lies in a marina-like setting and you will often see huge tarpon swimming in the waters within view of your table.
Yes, this sandwich is a Reuben in all ways but one very important one. Substitute pastrami for some freshly caught lobster (yes, it is based in a fishing marina, after all) and there you have it!
Enroll in an Introduction to Scuba Diving Course
If you have always wanted to learn how to scuba dive, now is your chance. There are several outfitters that offer an “introduction-to-Scuba” type course. These are usually all-day endeavors that start you off learning the basics in a classroom and then supervised pool environment. The second part of the day then takes you out onto the boat for a couple of dives at nearby coral reefs.
During my time in the Keys, I had several courses recommended to me, but you will need to check availability in advance. Try Key Dives in Islamorada, Florida Keys Dive Center in Plantation Key or Dive Key West down in…well, Key West!
Interact With Dolphins
If your family is more intrigued by dolphins than turtles, head down the road to the Dolphin Research Center. Visitors here can enjoy a full day seeing dolphins and sea lions up close and experiencing live behavior sessions.
They even have a number of interactive programs that include swimming with dolphins, learning fun dolphin facts, and observing scientific studies in progress. They even have DolphinCamp and Teen DolphinLab programs that are designed to introduce students to dolphins and inspire the next generation of dolphin scientists!
The Keys to Fun
The reality of visiting the Florida Keys is that there is a single road in and a single road out. Be prepared for a little bit of traffic and take any slow-downs you come across as an opportunity to roll down the windows and breathe in the salty air.
There is so much to see and do in the Florida Keys that many people find themselves going back again and again. As long as you are respectful of the environment and its full-time residents during your stay, there is no reason why we all can’t continue to enjoy this island paradise for years to come!
Take your choice of great Good Sam Parks in the keys: