By Sue Cocking, Guy Harvey Outpost staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org [Lakeport, FL.–] It won’t be too long before scores of pontoon boats lit up like the Fourth of …
The Florida Keys: A Tropical Atmosphere
BY FAY SPLETT – Active Living Magazine
The Florida Keys: a tropical atmosphere that’s sure to appeal to fishing and diving enthusiasts, sun worshipers, seafood lovers, and eco-minded travelers.
Stretching 125 miles along the southernmost tip of Florida, the Keys are only 90 miles off the coast of Cuba; hence the appealing tropical climate. Considered a safe travel destination, it’s easy to reach from mainland USA by car, and offers a wide variety of activities and sights to see for travelers of all ages and lifestyles. Divided roughly into three main areas, each has its own character and appeal. The Upper Keys are peppered with dive shops, fishing charters, country clubs, and condos. Islamorada Key is touted as being the “sports fishing capital of the world.”
The Middle Keys features some of the loveliest stretches of the Keys and is home to Marathon, a small laid-back, quaint area with its own turtle hospital. The Lower Keys are green and quiet until you reach the colorful town of Key West with its glorious sunsets, culture, history, and nightlife. When making your way through the upper, middle and lower islands, it’s a good idea to break up the trip with an overnight or two in each area. In the Upper Keys, try the Islander Resort of Islamorada, a Guy Harvey eco-friendly outpost resort, featuring beaches, boating, fishing and diving amenities, and programs. The resort is also pet-friendly and offers in-room kitchenettes. Also on the property is the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center curated by local Keys historian and author Brad Bertelli. He can entertain you for hours with his stories of the Keys and its history.
For dining, experience local seafood and cuisine right on a beautiful sand beach at sunset at the Morada Bay Beach Café & Bar. For lunch try The Hungry Tarpon at Robbie’s Marina. You can grab a bucket of baitfish and feed giant tarpons from the dock. The Keys boasts the third-largest barrier coral reef in the world. There are hundreds of charter boats and backcountry guides available to take you into the warm Gulf Stream waters that host marlin and other big game fish. Go fishing with one of their top charter boat skippers, Captain Skip Bradeen. He has guided anglers in Keys waters for over 50 years. Fishing charters come fully equipped with crew that help newbies bait hooks and take fish off lines. On shore, the crew will clean and fillet the catches, which several local restaurants like the Lazy Days Restaurant will cook for you.
Try a leisurely kayaking excursion into the mangrove tunnels with naturalist guide Bill Keogh of Big Pine Kayak Adventures or any of the many on and off water activities available in the Keys. Throughout the Keys, you will find an abundance of fresh seafood restaurants and unique local cuisine. Check out a local favorite, the Hogfish Bar & Grill, which serves up fresh local seafood right off the docks, including the Keys delicacy hogfish, a diver-caught fish with a light flavorful taste. And let’s not forget dessert! Key Lime pie, a sweet and tangy pie made from local limes, is not to be missed and can be found on almost every menu.
Restaurants compete heatedly for the “best” version. One of the contenders for that title is the pie at Blue Heaven, home to the most “heavenly” breakfast in Key West, housed in a colorful blue building in the historic Bahama Village neighborhood. The funky beach town of Key West is unlike any town you’ve seen. Chickens roam freely among the streets of sherbet-colored buildings, sunsets are a daily celebration, and the local residents called “Conches” playfully host festivals and events highlighting their local history and laissez-faire attitude.
A great way to get acquainted with Key West’s colorful characters, history and unique attractions is aboard the Old Town Trolley Tours. You can hop on and off at various stops across Key West, including the home of the literary legend Ernest Hemingway. Surrounded by his unique six-toed cats, Hemingway wrote many of his greatest works from Key West.
Where to stay in Key West? Try out the new boutique lifestyle hotel, The Gates Hotel Key West, located at the entry point of the island. The Gates boasts one of the best hotel pool scenes, featuring great cocktails and live local music. Sunset is a ritual observed by anyone travelling to Key West. There is something soul-touching about watching the daily color show of nature when sun meets sea. Join the masses congregating in Mallory Square to soak up the colors of the setting sun, and mingle with the street performers, fortune tellers and eclectic food carts. Restaurants and bars all vie for real estate to position themselves with a view west for the magnificent sunsets.
Stop in for dinner at the old cigar warehouse, which houses the El Meson de Pepe, a family owned and operated Cuban restaurant, or enjoy some of Key West’s best seafood at the Half Shell Raw Bar, located at Key West’s famous historic seaport. On the water is another great way to experience Key West. Recline on the bow of a graceful 34-foot sloop owned by Sunset Sails for a sunset cruise, or join in the mock sea battle, armed with a water gun, during Key West’s famous Annual Conch Republic Independence Celebration held each April.
Remember, there’s more to the Florida Keys than the spectacular scuba diving and fishing. You’ll want to immerse yourself in the area’s arts and culture, walk the wild outdoors, and get acquainted with the green travel initiatives here in America’s Caribbean.