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."
The Florida Keys are full of unforgettable activities for parents, kids, grandparents and extended families. And through Oct. 15, the Key West Attractions Association invites families to explore the island chain’s attractions, tours, watersports and other offerings with a value-added program that provides free admission and opportunities for kids age 12 or younger.
Whether shopping for offbeat gifts or fine art, the emporiums of Key West provide a warm welcome for some well-deserved retail therapy. Emporiums range from the pioneering Key West Aloe, Graffitti and In Touch to the Gingerbread Square Gallery, opened in the early 1970s by Richard Heyman, the nation’s first openly gay mayor.
For 15 years Jeanne Selander has overseen the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Animal Farm on Stock Island — believed to be the only facility of its kind on jailhouse property in the United States — and the care of 150 exotic creatures. Her “charges” include an ostrich, lemurs, kinkajous, bearded dragons and 17-year-old Mo the Sloth.
Traveling through the Florida Keys to Key West is a bucket-list adventure in itself. Driving the historic, 127-mile Florida Keys Overseas Highway is considered by many travelers to be the trip of a lifetime. And flying over the island chain and surrounding waters into Key West International Airport is an equally memorable experience.
Key West’s intriguing character becomes more apparent with each new exploration. Taking the time to experience the island is like savoring a plate of Cuban food, recognizing and appreciating each individual flavor. And identifying newfound favorite spots leads to even deeper enjoyment — whether staying for a few days, a season or a lifetime.
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.
What are some of the best ways to keep cool on late-summer days, while also enjoying everything Key West has to offer? Consider taking an all-male snorkel and sandbar excursion, lazing at “Fort Liz Taylor Beach,” discovering the story of Key West’s most famous LGBTQ resident, or comfortably chilling at a guesthouse pool.
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.