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Located off the southern tip of the Sunshine State, the Florida Keys are a strip of tropical islands stretching 113 miles (182 km) between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Connected by a chain of 42 bridges on the Overseas Highway, these thin coral isles offer unparalleled views of glistening turquoise water, diamond-dust sandbars, and lush landscapes of emerald-green palms. The islands’ calm, clear waters have earned them the reputation as a world-class destination for fishing, boating, snorkeling, and scuba diving. On the southern end of the Keys is where you’ll find Key West, a city famous for its pastel colonial architecture, Caribbean-inspired cuisine, and nightly sunset celebrations. Whether you’re staying on the Keys or taking a day trip from Miami, there’s plenty to do and see in this idyllic escape.
The tropical savanna of the Florida Keys is split into 5 main destinations from north to south—Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, the Lower Keys, and Key West. Here’s what you need to know about each spectacular location.
The closest to the Florida coast, Key Largo can be reached from Miami in just over an hour, yet it still feels like a world away. Home to tropical hardwoods, winding creeks, and a sprawling section of marine sanctuary, the key boasts some of the most stunning botanical scenery in the entire state. With numerous iconic dive sites featuring everything from coral formations to shipwrecks to an 8-and-a-half-foot (2.6-m) statue, it’s no surprise that Key Largo has earned the title of Diving Capital of the World.
Located between the wilderness of the Everglades and the sparkling blue waters of the Florida Strait, Islamorada is a breathtaking destination made up of 4 main islands and 2 offshore islands that are only accessible by boat. This “Village of Islands” is renowned for its fishing, and it just may be the only place in the world where you can catch a sailfish in the open ocean and a redfish in the backcountry all in the same day. It’s also a top spot for water sports like paddleboarding, first-class theater and music festivals, and fresh-from-the-dock seafood.
13-mile-long Marathon is a family-oriented destination located in the middle of the Florida Keys. It’s known for fantastic boating, the country’s only living coral barrier reef, and marine-based educational attractions like the Florida Keys Aquarium and the Dolphin Research Center. Marathon also has a long history of seafaring traditions, which are celebrated in the islands’ beachfront inns, tropical resorts, waterside restaurants, and annual seafood festivals.
The quietest region of the Keys, this collection of small islands is characterized by native wilderness, immaculate beaches, and rustic accommodations like campgrounds and RV parks. Little Duck Key is a favorite family stop thanks to its picnic areas and pet-friendly park, while Bahia Honda State Park has earned the accolade of One of America’s Best Beaches. You can also explore the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key, where rare white-tailed deer live among butterflies, marsh rabbits, and more than 250 kinds of birds.
The most famous of the Florida Keys destinations, Key West is a subtropical paradise where history, culture, and landscape come together to create an unabashedly romantic atmosphere. Just 105 miles (169 km) north of Havana, the island is known for its Caribbean-inspired cuisine and colorful conch houses—many of which were at one time inhabited by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, and Robert Frost, who all found inspiration in the Cuban and Bahamian heritage of the island. By day, the city boasts a plethora of activities including sightseeing, diving, watersports, and shopping. At night, Key West comes alive with world-class restaurants, sidewalk cafes, and the open-air bars on Duval Street.
During the day, take to the skies for a magnificenthelicopter flight high above Key West. Gaze out the upon the shimmering expanse of the Gulf of Mexico as you look down on historic landmarks like Fort Zachary Taylor. Come nightfall, soak in the city’s world-famous sunset during the nightly celebration in Mallory Square. Watch magicians, jugglers, tightrope walkers, and local musicians perform as the sun sinks below the horizon, lighting up the sky with dazzling shades of pink, purple, and orange.
For a more secluded sightseeing experience, head to one of the islands in the Lower Keys, where the lack of light from big hotels and bustling nightlife districts makes for optimal night sky viewing. Year-round, the region attracts both professional astronomers and amateur stargazers looking to catch glimpses of their favorite constellations.
As one of the most spectacular seaside destinations in the world, the Florida Keys have countless activities to help you get close to Mother Nature. Embark on an introductory scuba-diving adventure in Key West, swim with colorful marine life along the Great Florida Reef, or put your fishing skills to work with an excursion to the backwater flats of Key Largo. For even more heart-pounding thrills, book an action-packed adventure that combines snorkeling with adrenaline-fueled activities like parasailing and jet skiing.
For history buffs, there’s plenty to do and see, as well. Take a step back in time at the former house of author Ernest Hemingway or tour the immaculately preserved vacation home of President Harry Truman. At Key West’s Shipwreck Treasure Museum, you can dive into 400 years of shipwreck salvage and climb to the top of the lookout tower to alert fellow visitors of other wrecks off the coast.
If culture if what you’re after, immerse yourself in local art, film, theater, and food. On Islamorada, browse burgeoning boutiques and quaint galleries during the monthly Third Thursday Art Walk, or take in a live show at the ICE Amphitheater. In Key West, attend cultural festivals, comedy shows, and community theater, then treat yourself to a tour of the area’s mouthwatering Afro-Caribbean cuisine.