Stretching out 120 miles from Miami to the southernmost tip of Florida, the Florida Keys are arguable the best vacation destination in the contiguous United States. The “Keys” are known for the “old Florida” vibe, shimmering tropical beaches, fishing, boating, snorkeling, and scuba diving. The southernmost city of Key West is famous for Duval Street’s many bars, walking tours, Mallory Square’s nightly Sunset Celebration, and the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. Florida Keys photos are postcard-perfect and some of the most viewed and cherished in the country.
Here are ten iconic photos that will make you want to pack your bags and go!
1. The Famous Sunsets
The sunsets on the Florida Keys are legendary for their explosion of colors. Two of the best spots to catch them are at the pier at the Bayside Grille (pictured above) in Key Largo and on Mallory Square dock in Key West. An upscale and intimate way to see a great sunset is to combine it with a sail with Danger Charters’ Wind & Wine Sunset Sail.
2. The Underwater Park
The first undersea park in the United States, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park extends 3 miles into the Atlantic Ocean and is approximately 25 miles in length. The coral reef is considered one the most beautiful and diverse in the world, teeming with healthy marine life such as parrotfish, stingrays, lobster, barracuda, jellyfish, trumpet fish, and other varieties of fish. The underwater life can be viewed by snorkeling, scuba diving, or in a glass-bottomed boat.
3. The Fresh Seafood
From casual but fresh finger food like conch fritters to more fine dining on lobster and crab, the Keys offers eating experiences to suit every appetite and budget. Not to be missed is The Stoned Crab (pictured above) where you can see the catch of the day delivered to their dock in the morning and order it as a delectable entre in the evening.
4. Fort Zachary Taylor Park
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park has Key West’s best beach as well as activities for nature lovers, like shaded bike paths, wooded nature trails, and fishing off the jetty. Bring your own food or grab something from the on-site café to eat on the picnic tables. Tours of the fort are also available.
5. The Most Beautiful Beach
If you love tropical beaches, head to the most beautiful beach in the Keys – arguably the most beautiful within the contiguous United States – Sandspur Beach. This award-winning beach is located within Bahia Honda State Park, on Big Pine Key. The crystal-clear, impossibly iridescent sea-foam green water is bath-water warm. As if that would not be fabulous enough, when I was about chest-deep, a stingray glided gracefully past me, no more than a foot away!
6. The Turtle Hospital
With a motto of “Rehab, rescue, release,” the Turtle Hospital is a non-profit veterinary hospital for sick or injured turtles. The eco-tour is excellent, taking visitors through the educational process and then a guided tour to meet turtles in various stages of recovery. To date, over 1500 turtles have been treated and released, with the public invited to come to the release sites and celebrate each victory.
7. The Architecture
In Key West Old Town, in particular, the architecture is a big attraction, and focus of the Conch Train Tour. A mixture of Cuban, Bahamian, fishermen, and New England cultures have produced a diverse style of architecture including conch houses, shotgun houses, Victorian, gingerbread, and plantation. Key West’s antique housing is deservedly recognized as a national treasure.
8. The Water Sports
In addition to snorkeling and scuba diving (#2), the Keys offer plenty of other watersports. Deep-sea fishing, kayaking through the mangroves, parasailing, and stand-up paddleboarding are also popular. If you prefer to be more of a spectator than a participant, head to Anne’s Beach in Islamorada to watch the daredevil kiteboarders perform aerial stunts.
9. The Longest Pier
The longest pier in the Keys is located at the Cheeca Lodge on Islamorada in the Upper Keys. This 525-foot pier is frequently used for world-class fishing but is also nice for a stroll in the tropical breeze.
10. The Unique Resorts
The laid-back charm is a characteristic that the Keys tourism has taken steps to protect. You won’t find many high-rises, formula hotels or chain restaurants in the Keys but you’ll find lots of fantastic alternative resorts to stay. If you like a bohemian retro vibe but with modern amenities, then Ibis Bay – Key West’s original 1956 beachfront resort is for you. Prepare to be greeted by the friendly talking macaw as you enter the vibrant, quirky lobby, and it just gets better from there. The cottages are adorned with recovered coral rock and the interiors are bright, retro, and cheerful, using materials like old photos, sarongs for bed covers, and tropical shirts as artwork. Each room has a private terrace with palm-strung hammocks overlooking the bay.
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Disclosure: The author was honored to be the guest of Florida Keys Tourism during her stay in the Keys, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own.
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.