Key West is on the silvery ribbon of islands that trail off the southern shore of Florida. Thanks to the ever present warm temperatures and glistening seas, the islands have long been an escapist's nirvana. Eclectic and eccentric, wild and warm, blessed with some of Florida's most colorful characters and equally blessed with some of its most spectacular sea scenery, the Keys are a wonderland paradise.
Key West is a rather small island that is about 4 miles long and 2 miles wide. Whether you want to relax on the beach or spend the day shopping, Key West has plenty to offer.
Duval Street is the center of Key West life, with many hotels, guest houses, inns and bed & breakfasts, plus dozens of shops and restaurants, nestled into its tropical ambiance. Wreckers Museum is an old house and museum where you can observe and learn more about the treasures salvaged from shipwrecks. If you get thirsty stop in for a cocktail and a snack at Duval Beach Club .
The Historic Seaport is the perfect place to walk down Harborwalk and enjoy the ocean along with shops and restaurants. Watch the free daily turtle feedings at Turtle Kraals Museum . Then stop for a bite to eat at Conch Republic Seafood Company or Half Shell Raw Bar .
If you get tired of the beach head to Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory where you can observe about 60 species of butterflies. You should also go to Key West Aquarium where you can learn more about sea life. The aquarium is the perfect place to take the kids since there are interactive exhibits where you can touch marine creatures.
Key Largo is a larger island and is occasionally called the "Diving Capital of the World” since the coral reefs attract so many divers. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a protected park where you can view coral reefs and colorful sea life. The state park also offers an aquarium, museum, camping, snorkeling, diving, and boating.
Pennekamp Park is a treasure trove of local flora including wild orchids, gumbo limbo, wild cotton, strangler fig, tamarind trees, wild coffee, and mahogany trees. If you want to see endangered animals go to Key Largo Hammocks State Botanical Site where the mangrove trees grow a “hammock” which is basically a small island that attracts animals.
Billed as the 'Sportfishing Capital of the World', Islamorada's waters are home to the conch, alligator and Pickles Reefs, with a vast array of marine life. It's a destination for scuba divers and snorkelers. A scuttled ship, sunk on purpose is a great diving spot.
Those interested in Keys' geology can look at Windley Key Fossil Reef State Geologic Site , a reef that's no longer underwater. You can take a boat ride and get a historic exploration at Lignumvitae Key State Botanical Site , a virgin hardwood forest, and Indian Key State Historic Site , once the Miami area's county seat! Both are accessible on ferry trips.
You can feed tarpon off the docks at Robbie's Marina or swim with dolphins, manta rays and sea lions at Theater of the Seas .
Marathon and the Middle Keys
Some of the residents can trace their history to early 1800s settlements. Bahamians raised tropical fruit for a living; New England fishermen searched the sea for its bounty; and in 1908, Henry Flagler's Overseas Railway reached Key Vaca, where the village of Marathon grew as headquarters for the railroad's final push to Key West.
Here your adventure can include a swim with dolphins, an iguana introduction, a visit to a hardwood hammock or rain forest, or a loll on sandy beaches. Roaring jet skis and other water sports are available. Fishing is great on the reefs, the flats or in the deep.
For a close look at a sea turtle, visit the hospital that treats injured turtles. To learn something about early Indian settlements, visit the Museums of Crane Point, which encompass the Museum of Natural History of the Florida Keys and the Florida Keys Children's Museum .
Bahia Honda and the Lower Keys
Big Pine Key is the center of life in the Lower Keys. Looe Key Reef off Big Pine Key is one of the Keys' top diving spots and one of the best reefs for diving in the world. In July each year, the Sanctuary sponsors a popular music festival promoting the preservation of the Keys' coral reefs.
So popular is Bahia Honda State Park that campers reserve space months in advance to ensure a place in this waterfront paradise with its pristine beaches and warm waters.
Seafood is king, queen and courtier here in the Keys, and no wonder. Fat lobsters, succulent clams, hefty tuna, shrimp, bass, grouper, pompano, swordfish, and of course conch are all fresh and delicious. Conch has been a long-standing resident of the toasty waters around these islands.
Key West is known for its amazing seafood and there are great restaurant all around the city. A & B Lobster House naturally serves some of the best lobster around. If you want oyster head to Alonzo's Oyster Bar . The trendy Nicola Seafood has a wide selection of seafood and a romantic atmosphere.
Chefs from Europe added some intriguing touches to it all and, voila, such award-winning restaurants as Pisces , Alice's and Louie's Backyard .
Cuban cigar makers who settled here generations ago and whose descendants remain brought their distinctive cuisine with them: picadillo, ground beef and raisins; thick, strong cubano coffee; and sweet, fried banana-like plantains. Bahamians, who have created a colorful Bahamian village right in the middle of Key West, brought their akee fish and rice, their rum and their pigeon peas. Try the flavors at Blue Heaven and Caribe Soul .
If you an aficionado of Ernest Hemingway, a stop at Captain Tony's Saloon and Sloppy Joe's is required. Ernest Hemingway was said to frequent these bars.
Besides well-known restaurants scattered throughout the Keys, perhaps the most fun is stopping into some rustic little find and discovering a memorable meal you'll be discussing for many a day to come. Flamingo Seafood Bar and Grill is not well known, but services a delicious catch of the day. Gus' Grill is another laid back restaurant that serves seafood. For a party-friendly atmosphere the Alabama Jack's is the place to go.
You can taste the freshness of the seafood at Marker 88 . If you want Cuban and Spanish food Manny & Isa's can't be beat. For a romantic dinner the Atlantic's Edge provides views of the ocean and a candlelight meal.
Bahia Honda and the Lower Keys
The Dining Room is an elegant restaurant where you can dine on seafood. In the Lower Keys, you can find some well-known watering holes such as the rustic ambiance of No Name Pub .
Along the 113 miles that make up Key West, you will see small signs every mile marking the distance. Called Mile Markers, many hotels and restaurants along the way bear no other address than MM 99 or MM 88.5. Businesses may also identify themselves with the letters OS for ocean side, or BS, for bay side. Florida's Keys are also often grouped into three divisions—the Upper Keys, Middle Keys and Lower Keys, and there are plenty to see in each one.
Key Largo Largo means long in Spanish and Key Largo lives up to that name as the longest of the keys, stretching from MM 106 to MM 91. Here you'll find the Indian Key State Historic Site , which holds many local treasures. The island is also home to the Dolphin Cove Research & Education Center's Dolphin Encounter, which offers you an opportunity to swim with dolphins and watch them play. Grab a bite at Alabama Jack's . The best attraction of Key Largo is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park , the nation's first underwater park. Also stop into the Theater of the Sea . Smathers Beach The Seven-Mile Bridge connects the Middle and Lower Keys. Nearby Smathers Beach is Key West's longest, while the Curry Hammock State Park is a small wonder that attracts many visitors. For some interesting exhibits, check out the Museum of Natural History of the Florida Keys . Stop into the Barracuda Grill for dinner.
Key West Lighthouse Museum The views from the Key West Lighthouse Museum are stunning. Take a boat to Dry Tortugas National Park and do some diving, swimming or fishing. Dine at Louie's Backyard . The nearby Nancy Forrester's Secret Garden is worth a stroll, then discover the shops, restaurants and other attractions at Historic Seaport at Key West Bight .
Wrecker's Museum Take a tour of the Wrecker's Museum , a unique home built in 1829 that has some interesting features. Have lunch at Antonia's Restaurant , then stroll through Bahia Honda State Park or check out the creations at the Paradise Gallery . Tour the historical Curry Mansion , with its elegant period furniture and antiques.
Key West Aquarium City Zoo - The Gallery preserves some of the most important remnants of Haitian culture. The Audubon House & Tropical Gardens is named for the artist John James Audubon. The home and surrounding gardens are open to visitors. The Key West Aquarium is also a must-see. Dine at the Caribe Soul restaurant, then go to the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum to take in some nautical exhibits.
This is nature's wonderland. You'll find a national wildlife refuge devoted to tiny Key deer, an endangered species, and a national marine sanctuary, Looe Key, rated one of the best diving reefs in the world. You can see this Keys' version of Big Bird—great white herons, North America's largest wading bird—in a 375-square-mile refuge. Kayaks and shallow-draft boats are a favored way to tour, since the Keys are surrounded by water.
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Air Tours Island City Flying Service Incorporated ( +1 305 296 5422 )
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