The 125-mile island chain that makes up the Florida Keys starts at mainland Florida just south of Miami and reaches out over the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. The Florida Keys’ five regions include Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine and the Lower Keys, and Key West. Each has its own vibe, but all offer the beauty of the water, plus lovely flora and fauna. All are a part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The Keys are home to the continental United States' only living-coral barrier reef, and marine life is abundant the length of the Keys about five miles offshore. Needless to say, this is a scuba diver’s paradise.
Highlights of the Keys include Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the first underwater preserve in the U.S. and home to 55 varieties of corals and more than 600 species of fish. You can snorkel, scuba and take a glass-bottom boat to the coral reef.
Islamorada is the Sport-Fishing Capital of the World. Anglers can find sailfish, marlin, dolphin (the fish, not the mammal), kingfish and more. Marathon’s attractions include the Dolphin Research Center, one of five places in the Keys where you can swim with the dolphins.
Key West’s historic 100-year-old gingerbread mansions and relaxed lifestyle are just part of the island’s appeal. It’s a writers and artists mecca, and you’ll find numerous galleries to explore. The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is a must see, as is experiencing at least once the nightly Mallory Square Dock "sunset celebration" with arts and crafts exhibitors, street performers and more. Shopping in the Keys offers a variety of stores from souvenir and gift shops to local artwork and home décor.
Since commercial fishing is the second-largest industry in the Keys, it should come as no surprise that seafood is the way to go in terms of dining. Big local treats include the Key West pink shrimp, the mollusk conch and stone crabs. Cuban food is also big here, as well as a variety of international dishes. No visit to the Keys would be complete without finishing a meal with Key lime pie.
Which part of the Florida Keys you are visiting will decide which airport is best to fly into. Miami International Airport is the closest for the Upper Keys (about one hour). At the end of the Keys is the Key West International Airport. The Florida Keys Marathon Airport in the middle of the Keys offers regional flights.
The Keys are linked to mainland Florida by U.S. 1, the Overseas Highway. The drive is about 3.5 hours from the mainland to Key West. Directions to anything along the highway are designated by “Mile Makers.” Fun ways of getting around in Key West can be via Old Town Trolley, moped, Conch Cruiser, bicycle, two and four-seater electric cars or simply on foot. There are also traditional taxis and city buses.
The Florida Keys are the only frost-free place in Florida. Average temperature in Key West in January and February is mid 60s° to 75° F, while the summer months average low to high 80s° F. Water temperature averages in the mid 80s° F.