From special animal encounters to meeting sea turtles in their own hospital, the Florida Keys & Key West offer family-friendly activities to captivate visitors of all ages. Families can explore unique aquariums; lush botanical gardens; nurturing facilities for dolphins and wild birds; or a wildlife refuge that protects tiny indigenous Key deer.
Erin Allison has been executive director of the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center Inc. since June 2023. Though just 26 years old, she is a dedicated Keys nonprofit leader who’s big on achievable goals. They include broadening the organization’s local outreach through education and by holding public releases of rehabilitated wild birds.
Viewing a sea turtle release, and seeing the rehabilitated creature return to the Florida Keys waters where it belongs, can make you cry. There’s something about watching a turtle slip into its saltwater habitat and swim joyfully away that touches the heart and inspires a powerful sense of oneness with the natural order.
In the Florida Keys, it’s common for locals and savvy visitors to greet the news of some particularly offbeat happening by grinning and murmuring, “Only in the Keys.” The four-word phrase is a standard response by people hearing about everything from a costume contest for pets to mermaids attending a local music festival.
We do things differently in the Florida Keys. Maybe it’s because the island chain attracts individualists — fans of the eccentric. But whatever the reason, our activities and celebrations tend to have an offbeat twist that’s pure “Keys.” And nothing illustrates it better than the way we recently commemorated Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day.
Help celebrate the 20th “birthday” of the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory Saturday, Jan. 21, with a family fun day and free admission to the renowned attraction. But if you can’t be there in January, don’t worry — the conservatory is open year-round for daily explorations, guided twilight tours and small-group “flamingle” encounters.
The community of Marathon boasts a warm family-friendly flair and a variety of cozy inns, waterfront resorts, marinas and casual dining emporiums. The Middle Keys area also features plentiful creative spaces, natural attractions, scenic parks, trails, sightseeing spots and historic sites that make for an appealing blend of heritage, culture and nature.
A unique refuge on the grounds of the Sheriff’s Office detention center near Key West shelters some surprising creatures: about 150 domestic and exotic animals from 45 species, ranging from armadillos to Kramer the emu. Benefiting both the animals and inmates who help care for them, the facility welcomes visitors twice each month.
Encouraging actions that support the environment is a vital element of the Florida Keys’ commitment to protecting the island chain’s natural resources. And from Big Pine Key to Key West, visitors can find a wide variety of positive environmental activities and attractions that illustrate how to share that commitment — while making lasting memories.
Florida Keys visitors can discover a place embracing sustainability and the preservation of environmental wonders, filled with hammocks and rainforest areas, sandy beaches and on-the-water relaxation, and unique opportunities for world-class bird watching. Whether on land or water, the Keys’ natural world provides the rejuvenation that comes from time spent outdoors.