“It isn’t as it used to be in the old times. Then everybody traveled by steamboat …” wrote Mark Twain in his great American novel, Life on the Mississippi. And so it was for the Kissimmee River …
THE KEYS TO PARADISE
Where U.S. Route 1 becomes the Overseas Highway, visitors are transported to paradise through a series of islands without ever leaving the states. While Key West reigns as the most well-known tourist destination south of Miami, there are a number of Keys well worth a detour along your drive to the southernmost point.
Key Largo marks your first location for water adventure at John Pennekamp State Park where visitors can scuba, snorkel, sail, or view the beauty of the living coral reef from the park’s glass bottom boats. As you continue south along U.S. 1 to Key West, you will pass through a collection of islets that make up the premier fishing destination of Islamorada. The beautiful uninhabited islands that surround Islamorada provide the perfect backdrop for backcountry flats fishing on the Gulf side or ocean reef fishing in the Atlantic. For a thrilling adventure, try your hand at tarpon feeding from the dock at Robbie’s Restaurant and Marina before heading to Marathon.
Marathon offers unique ocean to table dining, wildlife and snorkeling ecoadventures, and the largest turtle hospital in the country. Dr. Guy Harvey is an advocate for marine conservation who has dedicated his life to the research and preservation of ocean life. A visit to the Marathon Turtle Hospital provides visitors the opportunity to share in Guy’s passion for turtle conservation and learn about the many species of turtles that you can encounter in Florida’s waters. The hospital offers a behind the scenes guided tour of its rehabilitation facility and concludes with a special opportunity to feed the turtles in its care.
While in Marathon, visitors have the opportunity to ferry to the national historic landmark of Pigeon Key. Pigeon Key is a hidden gem that will transport you back to a time when Key West was only accessible by boat and railway. Pigeon Key is the epicenter of Henry Flagler’s vision to create an overseas railway from Miami to Key West. This architectural feat expanded commerce between Cuba, Latin America, and Panama and ultimately overhauled the economy and infrastructure of the Keys. Once on the island visitors can take an educational tour, snorkel, or relax on what will feel like your own private island. This cultural excursion departs from the Faro Blanco Marin, where you can grab lunch at its waterfront restaurant, the Lighthouse Grill, before setting sail for Pigeon Key. The Lighthouse Grill serves delectable Key West cuisine paired with enchanting gulf side views. Visitors can snack on conch fritters and feast on delicious fresh fish while sitting poolside as yachts dock at the Marina.
Big Pine Key
After a day on the water at Pigeon Key, head south by crossing over the famed Seven Mile Bridge to neighboring Big Pine Key and Bahia Honda State Park. Big Pine Key is home to the National Key Deer Wildlife Refuge where lucky visitors can spot protected and endangered Key deer only found in the lower Florida Keys. At Blue Hole nature trail on Big Pine Key visitors can spot a variety of wildlife including the resident American alligators from the observation deck. One of the best ways to locate a Key deer is by driving the neighboring streets around Big Hole and keeping your eyes peeled on the surrounding bushes and vegetation. The National Key Deer Refuge asks visitors not to feed the wild deer and to use extreme caution when driving through Big Pine Key. The deer have become so familiar with human contact that they will walk right up to you or your vehicle. Please enjoy visiting their habitat and follow the rules of the Wildlife Refuge to help the species flourish in its protected environment.
Bahia Honda State Park
Consistently rated one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, Bahia Honda Key is the refreshing escape to paradise you’ve been waiting for. The spectacular panoramic views of the island display the shimmering clear waters that showcase the natural beauty of the Florida Keys. Bahia Honda is a true adventurer’s playground with kayaks, snorkeling gear rentals, and boat trip excursions to the reefs all readily available through the park’s welcome center. If you are looking to immerse yourself in the nature of the island, the park offers overnight cabins situated directly on the Gulf.
From watching as the sun sets over the islands to floating over the turquoise waves, the Florida Keys has a way of reminding you to slow down and relish its natural beauty. In the Keys where it’s always “5 o’clock somewhere” and flip flops and swimsuits are essential, you can be sure that the Florida Key’s state of mind will always follow you wherever you go.