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.
The largest shipwreck available for sport diving in the Lower Keys remains a popular stop on the Florida Keys Wreck Trek for divers, and a relatively easy introduction to wreck diving for novices. The 210-foot-long Adolphus Busch, sunk intentionally in 1998, lies between Looe Key and American Shoal, southwest of Big Pine Key.
Fritzie Estimond is a welcoming presence at the Key West Business Guild’s LGBTQ Visitor Center — and the guiding spirit behind the guild’s annual events. What does she like best about Key West? The “small community” feel, the acceptance that allows people to be their authentic selves, and what she cheerfully calls “the weird.”
In the 1970s and early 80s, Key West was a freewheeling seaport town whose residents included fishing guides, hobbyist pot smugglers, treasure hunters seeking 17th-century shipwrecks and some of America’s leading renegade writers. That fascinating era is memorialized in “Home at the End of the World,” a book lovingly curated by Rita Troxel.
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.
A popular Florida Keys boating and family destination, Marathon and the Middle Keys consist of small islands with names as colorful as their nightly sunsets. They include Boot, Knights, Hog, Vaca, Stirrup, Crawl and Little Crawl keys — plus Pigeon Key, East and West Sister’s Island, Deer, Fat Deer, Long Pine and Grassy keys.
Great news — Fantasy Fest is a go for 2021! Revelers can enjoy over 50 costume contests, masquerades, parties and performances during the high-energy annual event, though traditional large-crowd highlights aren’t taking place to protect against potential coronavirus spread. This year's popular masking and costuming festival entertains partygoers from Oct. 22 through Oct. 31.
Visitors to the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden might spot scarecrows peering out from among the 15-acre habitat’s plants and trees during a lighthearted exhibit of recycled art creations. The “Scarecrows in the Forest” exhibition features figures crafted from natural and recycled materials by local artists, students and other community members.