The Inside Scoop on the Florida Keys

Welcome to the Florida Keys' best beach, Sandspur Beach in Bahia Honda State Park.

Sure, you’ve heard about the Florida Keys. Who hasn’t? After all, they’ve been featured in movies like Key Largo, Matinee, True Lies and more. They invoke images of tropical islands and palm trees, of Margaritas and Tiki huts.

But what are they really like?

Check out this short overview to see if the Florida Keys might be your key to paradise.

Note: This blog covers the Florida Keys with the exception of Key West. The Conch Republic is a whole different planet from the rest of the Keys.

The general vibe:
Once you leave the mainland, you’re on Island time. The mood is laid back and friendly. People mostly wear things like fishing hats and shorts, not heels and ties. It’s the kind of place you’ll get the best stone crab claws you ever ate, served with an iceberg-lettuce salad and a plastic fork. Your hotel may lend you a kayak but don’t expect valet parking. If you’re looking for an outlet mall, you may be in the wrong place.

What you’ll see:
As you roll down the Overseas Highway, you’ll be treated to an abundance of murals adorning buildings, swirling with fish, dolphins, manatees, the currents of the ocean and more. The colors of the Keys tend to be bright and tropical; you’ll see vivid purple fences bordering pink structures, lime green signs screaming offers of parasailing and kayaking, and giant statues of questionable taste.

Though occasional long driveways curve through sea grapes to elegant estates and resorts, most of the dwellings and hotels are far more humble. Mom and Pop hotels — some weathered and some spanking clean with fresh paint — are the rule, as are tiny cafes and quirky shops.

You’ll cross lots of bridges, so you’ll get a good peek at the waters of the Keys. They tend to be a dreamy blue-green color, reminiscent of a robin’s egg. If they’re churned up by the wind, they take on a still-beautiful milky hue.

What you should do:

  • You should snorkel. North America’s longest living barrier reef runs parallel to the Keys, and the waters are usually clear, which means you’ll have a great view of lots sea critters as well as the colorful reef.
  • You should fish. VISIT FLORIDA’s Fishing Insiders can give you a much better overview of the area’s offerings, but suffice to say the sport fishing is spectacular by any measure.
  •  You should eat lots of seafood. It’s everywhere, it’s fresh and it’s usually good. If you find a spicy conch chowder on the menu, try it.
  • You should visit a park. The Florida Keys offer a treasure trove of parks, all affordable. Bahia Honda State Park, Curry Hammock State Park and John Pennekamp State Park are but a few of the glorious offerings.
  • You should enjoy nature and outdoor sports like biking, hiking, kite-boarding and kayaking.

What about the Beaches?
The Florida Keys are not renowned for their beaches, which is counterintuitive because the islands are surrounded by water. Several exceptions exist: Bahia Honda State Park features beautiful, award-winning Sandspur Beach, and Sombrero Beach in Marathon provides a pleasant respite.

Because as Lily Tomlin says, “For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”
 

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