The Florida Keys & Key West are known around the globe for their unmatched natural beauty, laid-back atmosphere and year-round warmth. But they also offer environmental, cultural and adventure activities that can’t be enjoyed anywhere EXCEPT in the island chain. Make lasting vacation memories by undertaking 10 extraordinary “only in the Keys” experiences.
Indigenous Florida Keys cuisine typically means fresh fish and seafood harvested from local waters, headlining nearly every restaurant menu. To tempt the taste buds, check out some small, off-the-grid and new-location eateries — including a Key Largo spot with “toes in the sand” sunset dining — that Keys locals favor for their flavors.
Each year bicyclists navigate the entire Florida Keys island chain, along scenic Overseas Highway and Heritage Trail routes, during the 165-mile Miami to Key West trek known as the SMART Ride. Now in its 18th year, the event has raised an astounding $12.5 million for AIDS service organizations in Florida and the Keys.
Jordan Budnik is the executive director of the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center in Tavernier, a nonprofit facility that takes in over 900 native birds in need of rehabilitation every year. Driven by a lifelong fascination with avian species, she’s passionate about advocating for wildlife and encouraging people to protect the environment.
Florida Keys restaurants range from gourmet hotspots to dockside seafood “shacks” and trendy food trucks where guests can choose from a variety of fish, seafood and other options. Many eateries along the historic Florida Keys Overseas Highway provide tasty temptations — but if diners venture into less-explored areas, the culinary possibilities become virtually endless.
Who says the fall season has to be dull and gloomy? Instead, plan an adrenaline-packed vacation in the sunny Florida Keys, and enjoy balmy temps and delightful ocean breezes while indulging in “bucket-list” adventures — like exploring the continental United States’ only living coral barrier reef, sportfishing or even skydiving above the island chain.
The Florida Keys have long been a popular choice for film producers seeking a subtropical adventure setting for their next cinematic project. Since the late 1940s, the island chain has played a role in many notable films — ranging from Bogart's "Key Largo" to James Bond classics and contemporary fare like "The Beach Bum."
Vessels intentionally sunk to create artificial reefs serve as refuges for fish, delicate corals and invertebrates — and provide fascinating sites for divers to explore. Within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which protects the waters surrounding the entire Keys, lie nine notable wrecksites that are part of the popular Florida Keys Wreck Trek.
The largest lobster in the Florida Keys is “Betsy,” a sculpture measuring 30 feet tall and 40 feet long. Of course, lobsters in local waters are far smaller (and far tastier!) than Betsy. The Keys' lobster season runs from Aug. 6 through March 31, offering plenty of time to savor the seafood sensation.
Sarah Fangman, superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, is a Minnesota native whose impressive career as a marine scientist has spanned the country. Not only has she conducted more than 600 dives in sanctuary waters, she also holds a Coast Guard 100-ton master captain’s license and is a certified submersible pilot.