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.
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.
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.
Captain Samantha “Sam” Zeher operates KeyZ Charters, an eco-tour operation specializing in wildlife tours out of Islamorada’s popular Robbie’s Marina. Offerings include sightseeing excursions with birdwatching and sunset viewing and Islamorada–area island trips that explore Indian Key, Lignumvitae Key and Alligator Lighthouse — each with a history dating back to the 1800s.
Captain Coleen Fitzsimmons recently launched Island Vibe Charters to introduce small groups and families to the Florida Keys waters and fascinating ecosystem during reef snorkeling and sandbar excursions. Coleen, who has two children with her wife, is passionate about sharing the Keys world, unique way of life and environmental wonders with charter passengers.
Stretching from the west end of the Seven Mile Bridge to Stock Island, the Lower Keys are home to two national wildlife refuges including one protecting Key deer, a state park and part of a national marine sanctuary. The region’s focus on the environment has earned it the title of the Natural Keys.
The islands of Marathon in the Middle Keys appeal to multigenerational families and recreational boaters with facilities including cozy inns, luxury resorts, waterside vacation homes, RV parks, marinas and plenty of dining and natural attractions. Highlights include the world-renowned Turtle Hospital, Crane Point Hammock, historic Pigeon Key and the iconic Seven Mile Bridge.
Islamorada, heralded for its angling diversity, features the Florida Keys' largest fleet of offshore charter and shallow-water “backcountry” boats. The area also offers eco-tours, reef diving and snorkeling, watersports such as stand-up paddling and kiteboarding, tennis facilities, bicycle trails, historic hikes, enticing galleries and beautiful vistas of the Atlantic Ocean and Florida Bay.
The Florida Keys island chain offers scores of opportunities to reconnect through shared experiences and memory-making adventures like kayaking or exploring the coral reef. One of the Keys’ most popular action-packed adventures, and one that typically inspires good storytelling, is fishing — whether in deep blue water, along the reef or in the backcountry.