6 Reasons To Cross The Florida Keys Off Your Bucket List
WOW. March went by in a crazy whirlwind of unexpected stuff here. Long story short (for now, until my Crazy-March-Overview post next week!) but we finally made it to Joel's new contract job here in Sweetwater TX. The past few days have been.... not exactly pleasant while "settling in" ..... but hopefully by the end of the week we will be a little more settled and things will start getting back to the new "normal" here in good ole' Texas! ANYWAYS! I have a GREAT GUEST POST for you!!! I met Carissa from theMRSingLink on one of the blogger Facebook group I'm in! She has a super cute lifestyle blog AND is a photographer AND designer!!! Make sure you go check out her blog and follow her on social media! I hope you enjoy her post about the Florida Keys!!
A native-born Floridian, local traveler, lover of food, DIY and my goofy husband (that some would swear we are siblings) – my name is Carissa Link, and I'm a Lifestyle blogger of the sorts, and author of theMRSingLink. If I'm not delving into the works of my blog, you can usually find me out kayak fishing, or at the dog park with my two furry children.
Every year, my husband and I take a road trip down to the Florida Keys. Yikes, I know, road trip – that's a hike from anywhere, even if you live in Florida. A decent 7-8 hour drive from where we live in Orlando. But, it's basically a straight shot the whole way, and as always in the end – completely and utterly worth it.
In March this year we spent a solid 7 days in Marathon, or the Middle Keys, an area we had yet to explore in our ventures of the Florida Keys. We rented a duplex right on the canal, and being that both the Atlantic and the Gulf waters are within literally about a mile across, getting to either side was cakewalk.
Mind you, no matter how far south you are in relation to being in the US, you are still much closer to the Bahamas (300 miles), and Cuba (90 miles) than you think. The Florida Keys is as close to paradise as it gets within the US, and no passport is needed. Key West itself receives over 9 million visitors each year, and is one of the top 'Spring Break' locations for travel.
But we had already done the whole Key West thing once before. No doubt it was an experience of a lifetime, but we wanted to see more than that this time around. And I'm going to show you why the Keys needs to become your travel destination, and 6 reasons to cross the Florida Keys off your bucket list.
6 Reasons To Cross The Florida Keys Off Your Bucket List
1. Their sunsets and desolate beaches
The Keys are made up of mainly rock, so when you think of pristine, white sand beaches, you won't exactly find that across the entire Florida Keys. There are only a few surrounding the island's mainland, and they're very quite special. Not many know about them, because a lot of them are actually found in the state parks. So the beaches are kept, and highly maintained in order to continue their pristine nature.
Beaches such as the ones at Bahia Honda, John Pennekamp, and Curry State Park are some of the most popular. Campers are welcome, these parks are dog-friendly, and there are so many activities to do such as snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding, kite surfing, and jet skiing.
One of the main attractions, and what is considered ritual, are the amazing sunsets. Being that they are almost visual from any spot in the Keys, there is almost nothing more surreal to witness ending each day. You will notice locals and tourists gather in certain parts to take pictures almost every evening.
Another unique quality of the Keys that goes far unnoticed is night sky after sunset. The Keys is located so far south, away from light pollution, which provides a clear, almost pitch black atmosphere after the sun goes down. My husband and I made the effort to find an unlit area to park away from the main road of US 1, and we were amazed by the starry night sky. We were able to see stars we never knew existed – even the Milky Way.
2. The tourist hot spot
So we went to Key West during one of our days. From Marathon, the drive was around an hour – not bad considering you're looking at a 2 hour drive from Key Largo (upper Keys area). Key West is simply the tourist hot spot – there's no better way to put it. Not that they are the only spot for tourists, but if you're looking for the upbeat, up-all-night, bar hopping, shopping strip, tourist hot spot – this is your place to be.
The bars in Key West stay open late – I mean, late-late, like 4 o'clock in the morning late. And they're all plopped along one main street called Duval, basically like a strip of bars, restaurants, shops – you name it. It's both fun to walk during the day, and at night. And the style – well, think of it mostly in terms of any downtown bar hop, with a little added tropical Bahamian pizzazz.
But during the day, Duval acts heavily as a shopping strip. At the north end of Duval lies an abundance of tours and touristy establishments, such as a small aquarium, a pirate treasure museum, the conch train (a historical Key West Island tour) and many art galleries throughout. This is because the north end of Duval is also the port for cruise ships – so, you're looking at thousands of people that come off the cruise ships just to tour Key West and shop along Duval for the day.
Side note: Key West has a state park called Fort Zachary, that contains a small beach and a fort built back in the 1800s during the Civil and Spanish-American war. This is a great place for watching the cruise ships come in. And it is one beautiful sight!
My husband and I got married in Key West, so this trip it was our one year anniversary ritual to go back to the beach on Key West where our ceremony was held (Smathers Beach), and eat dinner at the restaurant our reception resided (The Rum Barrel). Upon our new Key West ritual, we also stopped at a bar called the Flying Monkey, which features some of the best frozen cocktails.
3. The most amazing food, and key lime pie
I don't think I can rave enough about the key lime pie – it just isn't possible. If you're not a key lime fan as it is, then I am deeply sorry. But this pie is what the Florida Keys is known for – that and the freshest seafood you'll ever have. Some restaurants will even cook what you catch, giving you a discounted price on your dinner altogether. How cool is that?
But let's talk about the key lime pie. I can't name one restaurant that doesn't have it – there are some that sell only that, too! By far, during our stay in Marathon, the best key lime pie we have come across was at a restaurant called The Island Fish Co., which features regular key lime pie (yaya!), but also what we can't stop raving about – the deep fried key lime pie (holy moly!). It's basically a piece of key lime pie and deep fried churro together. This is a must try when you make your way down to the Keys, and it's the only place I know who has it. And I'm not ashamed to admit it – my husband and I have made much of a point to get our pie in at breakfast, or even sometimes first before ordering our dinner! Who cares - you're on vacation!
Granted, out of the many seafood places on every corner (where you won't be disappointed with the most amazing, freshest seafood), there's still that one place that comes to my mind when you mix the Florida Keys and food. My husband and I always make a trip to Key West in order to have some of the best pizza we ever had. And I've been to Italy – but this little joint still peaks above all – that's saying something.
It's located in the heart of Duval – you can't miss it – as it is stationed in a train trolley, and that's where they get the name Key West Trolley Brick Oven Pizza. They're known for their individual Sicilian thick crusted square pieces. We always end up getting 6-8 slices to go – it's that good.
4. The best fishing
The Florida Keys is home to some of the best fishing in the world! Need I say more? And an edible catch is expected almost all year round. The Atlantic side is known for some of the best sport fishing, and the inner curve of the Gulf is known for it's game fish for recreational anglers.
Whether you're fishing from bridges, kayaks or boats – you're surrounded by waters sweeping with some of the best eating fish you'll find in Florida Key's restaurants.
We brought our new Hobie Kayaks this trip. They allowed us to get into areas a boat can't, such as the shallower waters and mangrove areas. Though we didn't catch much other than a shark, a few puffer fish and some small barracuda, it was still amazing to discover new spots in our pedal kayaks.
5. The dog-friendly atmosphere and outdoor activities
Most of the Keys is exceptionally pet friendly. Every state park allows you bring your dogs, except for on the beach themselves. Many restaurants flaunt that they are dog-friendly, and with enough research we even found dog-friendly beaches to visit, such as Anne's Beach and Sombrero Beach. Though we couldn't bring our two precious pups everywhere with us this trip, they did manage to experience plenty of dog beach time. Not only is the Florida Keys known for their clear blue waters, but they have some of the most unique outdoor activities.
Kayaking is almost a ritual, as the parks offer shallow and calm areas to cruise, small islands off the shore to explore (as displayed in the image below), as well as exploring the mangroves and its tunnels they offer for some of the most captivating scenic adventures.
The snorkeling, for one thing, is one of the highlights when visiting the keys, as you won't find reefs anywhere else just steps away from the beach. State parks such as Bahia Honda and Curry State park have some of the easiest access to shallow water snorkeling. But there are also many charters that will take you out to locations for snorkeling shipwrecks and heavily reefed areas off shore.
We noticed other popular activities during our stay in Marathon – such as plane and helicopter rides over the keys, skydiving, wind or kite surfing, jet skiing, paddle boarding, deep sea diving, lobstering, spearfishing, shark, turtle and dolphin encounters/rehab tour facilities, parasailing, or taking a catamaran cruise. And if laying low is your thing, there's plenty of that, too, with hiking trails, boutique shopping, or propping up a chair by the water. No matter what it is, there's something for everyone.
6. The paradise feel without the price
Granted, the Bahamas or a trip to Maui would be divine, but if there is anyone like my husband and I – we try to take a trip every quarter of the year. And we try to take one big trip each year. We're not the 'living the rich life' couple by any means, either, so we are always figuring out ways to get the most out of our wants without the hefty price. And with the Florida Keys, you're getting more bang for your buck!
To get anywhere in the tropics, you have to fly there – that alone is a major chunk out of the budget. A flight to Key West can be as low as $149 round-trip. But the difference is the Keys is also accessible by car, so if you're a road trip buff – this is your kind of trip.
Staying in the Keys is also very affordable, as there are plenty of means for lodging – such as an RV, camping, renting a duplex or condo, and staying in a hotel or bed and breakfast. With typical extreme areas where prices are higher (such as in the heart of Key West or waterfront properties), there are affordable places along the outskirts as low as under $200/night in many areas.
As with anywhere, the Keys has a low season, which offers lower pricing during that time. Low season is considered from August through December. Since the Florida Keys hardly experiences temperatures below the 70s, going during low season is a prime time for those looking for more affordable rates. But the good news is – there's always tropical weather in the Keys no matter what time of year you go!
Need I say more? Whether you've heard in the grapevine that the Keys is a place for 'youngsters' on spring break, or is moreover a place for those dedicated entirely to fishing – you aren't wrong, but you aren't right, either. The Florida Keys has morphed into becoming a sister vacation destination to the Bahamas – with so many family friendly activities and a tropical paradise atmosphere.
It's only a matter of roughly 10 years until my husband and I can cough up paying off our current house, to finding a home on one of the islands to call our own – that's how much we adore the Florida Keys. So if you're ever contemplating vacation whereabouts, your honeymoon, or places to cross off your bucket list – make it the Florida Keys!