FLORIDA KEYS — Winter in the Florida Keys is sunny, breezy and typically offers the warmest winter weather in the continental United States. The 125-mile-long island chain is particularly popular with visitors for its wide-open spaces, on-the-water activities and picturesque scenery framed by warm turquoise waters.
The year 2022 is to be especially memorable, marked by several historic highlights.
In mid-January, the famed Old Seven Mile Bridge in the Middle Keys is scheduled to reopen as a fresh air “linear park” after a closure of more than four years for reconstruction and renovations.
Also in January, Everglades National Park, much of it located in the Florida Keys & Key West’s Monroe County, is to kick off a year of activities leading up to the famed park’s 75th anniversary on Dec. 6. And the island city of Key West is gearing up to celebrate the 200th anniversary of its first settlement in 1822. Here’s what’s new in the Keys:
Ready to cycle, walk, run, rollerblade and fish on the famed Old Seven Mile Bridge again? In Marathon in the Middle Keys, the 2.2-mile section of the Old Seven Mile Bridge that parallels the famed Florida Keys Overseas Highway is scheduled to reopen in January after an approximately $78 million renovation that began in 2017. The landmark structure is the gateway to historic Pigeon Key, a tiny island nestled beneath it, and a “linear park” offering recreation and prime sunset viewing. Restoration work included structural steel and spalling and bridge joint system repairs, new pedestrian and bicycle handrails, and other physical improvements and enhancements. Parking is available for 35 vehicles, although vehicular traffic on the bridge is not allowed. “Old Seven” was built as part of railroad magnate Henry Flagler’s Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad that was completed in January 1912. The newer Seven Mile Bridge (actually 6.79 miles long) stretching beside the historic span is to celebrate its 40th birthday in May 2022 as one of the world’s longest segmental bridges.
Key West International Airport (EYW) is adding a new $80 million terminal targeted for completion in October 2024, with a new concourse to include enhanced security checkpoint, concessions and baggage claim areas; a spacious departure area; and glass-enclosed jet bridges that connect planes to the facility and feature virtual walk-throughs of Key West. Groundbreaking for the project is scheduled in 2022. Face coverings remain mandated at the airport. Visit eyw.com or call 305-809-5200.
Allegiant has added nonstop twice-weekly service to Key West International Airport (EYW) from Indianapolis International Airport (IND), North Carolina’s Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) and Florida’s St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport (PIE). “Key West is one of the most sought-after destinations in the U.S. right now,” said Drew Wells, Allegiant senior vice president of revenue and network planning. “We expect it to be an even bigger draw for leisure travelers seeking a vacation spot for warm winter getaways.” In addition, Allegiantadded twice-weekly nonstop service to Key West on Airbus A319 planes from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky, Nashville and Pittsburgh international airports in June. Visit eyw.com or call 305-809-5200 or visit allegiantair.com or call 702-505-8888.
FlixBus, a European company with bus and rail services in 36 countries, offers a convenient new car-free option, six days per week, for travel to the Keys from Miami and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood international airports. The 56-passenger, single-level motorcoaches are equipped with free Wi-Fi, an on-board entertainment portal, power outlets, reclining seats with spacious legroom, luggage space and a restroom. Passengers can travel from the two airports to the Keys with stops at Islamorada, Marathon and Key West. Stops in Key Largo and Big Pine Key also are planned. Tickets are priced from $7.99 per person. Visit flixbus.com or the company’s app, available free at the Apple App Store or Google Play.
Everglades National Park is planning its 75th anniversary, slated to kick off in January with a monthly Everglades Iron Ranger Challenge series and other events throughout the year — all leading up to the anniversary on Dec. 6, 2022, of the park’s founding. A new 24-unit Flamingo Lodge & Restaurant, located in the park’s Flamingo area on mainland Monroe County about a 40-minute drive from the park's entrance, and a new Flamingo Visitor Center are scheduled to open in spring 2022. Both the lodge and restaurant are being built from modified and enhanced shipping containers, above the ground on cement pillars and connected by a boardwalk. Concessionaire Flamingo Everglades Adventures, a subsidiary of Guest Services Inc., is to unveil the lodge with one- and two-bedroom units. In addition,186-square-foot eco-tents for “glamping,” erected on platforms with a queen or two double beds, and 42-foot houseboats (for a maximum four adults and two children), are available for overnight stays. Ninety-minute Flamingo Bay Boat Tours are offered multiple times daily, with one route taking passengers to explore the backcountry and one focused on the bayside. Prices are $40 per adult, $20 for children ages 5 to 12 and free for younger children. Visit flamingoeverglades.com or call 855-708-2207.
In Key West, residents and businesses are planning activities throughout 2022 to highlight the 200th anniversary of the island’s first permanent settlement in 1822. Planned activities include “Commemorating 200 Years of Settlement” March 19-30, encompassing the bicentennial of the date March 25, 1822, when Lt. Matthew C. Perry erected the American flag at Key West. Attractions include the creation and dedication of a time capsule to be placed beneath the American flag at Mallory Square and opened in 50 years; talks and events highlighting the island city’s history; a parade; a celebration of baseball, one of Key West’s most-loved sports; a history–themed VIP party and a Heritage Festival with stage performances, eco-friendly silent drone fireworks and festivities set for Saturday, March 26. Other activities celebrating Key West history, culture and community are to be ongoing. Visit keywest200th.com.
The Custom House Museum, operated by the Key West Art & Historical Society, is to unveil “Key West 200” celebrating the 200th anniversary of the first permanent settlement of Key West in 1822. Running Jan. 21 through Dec. 11, 2022, the exhibit is to highlight Key West’s people, culture and community. Artifacts are to include sponge-fishing equipment, cigar roller tables and tools, 19th-century homewares, clothing, artwork and photographs, Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad memorabilia, Ernest Hemingway’s boxing gloves, Native American tools, Key West Hand Print dresses and U.S. Navy ship models. Key West 200 is to chronicle history by decade and showcase glimpses of Key West life through development, immigration, industries, culture and education. The exhibit is to be staged across the Custom House Museum’s two full galleries and foyer at 281 Front St. Visit kwahs.org or call 305-295-6616.
An expansion at Grassy Flats Resort & Beach Club, celebrating two years on the Middle Keys’ Grassy Key at mile marker 58, is to be completed by Feb. 1, 2022, and features 28 new oceanfront guest rooms and a new second pool. The oceanfront Humidor House includes four king suites with four-poster mahogany beds and private balconies. The Wrecker’s House offers two queens, a king and three king suites with private wraparound balconies. An enhanced and expanded Barrel & Bale venue, with 152 seats and a rooftop bar, is scheduled to open in late spring. Visit grassyflats.com or call 305-998-4590.
On Sugarloaf Key at Sugarloaf Key/Key West KOA Holiday campground, 44 new vacation suites in two accommodations buildings are planned at the full Lower Keys campground that recently reopened after extensive upgrades and renovations. The RV campground resort’s amenities include a pool, air-conditioned café, pub offering live music, private beach, marina and watersports rentals. Planned new vacation suites, targeted for completion in late 2022, are to range from 453 to 784 square feet and feature private balconies. Four of the units are to offer wheelchair accessibility. The Lower Keys campground is located at 251 State Road 939. Visit koa.com/campgrounds/sugarloaf-key/ or call 800-562-7731 or 305-745-3549.
In Key West, Mellow Ventures Backcountry Outfitters plans to unveil three off-the-grid vessels for overnight accommodations by spring. The new "outposts" are to be built on 50-foot catamaran hulls. One is a fully restored former cigar-maker’s cottage. The all-inclusive, customized Backcountry Eco Vacations are to include on-the-water stays, experiences and healthy meals and feature three tiers: the Eco Outpost with a Tiki boat dockside, Eco Sailing with catamaran dockside, and Eco Adventure with the Sugar Shack 2.0, with overnight trips to the Marquesas Keys. The backcountry charter company has locations at 1605 N. Roosevelt Blvd. and at 201 William St. In addition, the expanded and renovated Mellow Café & Gastropub on North Roosevelt Boulevard is to reopen in late December with added outdoor picnic-table seating for up to 60. It serves vegan fare, artisan tacos, exotic meats and craft beer. Visit mellowkw.com/eco-vacations or call 305-745-3874.
The 186-unit Margaritaville Beach House Key West, formerly the Barbary Beach House Key West, opened in mid-November as Key West’s only Margaritaville resort. Accommodations include standard rooms and one- and two-bedroom and mobility-access suites. The property features a Tin Cup Chalice Bar & Chill full-service restaurant, lagoon-style pool, 24-hour fitness center, provision shop and family-friendly activities. Its 4,000 total square feet of meeting space includes the Coconut Telegraph business center and five indoor and outdoor venues and an open-air Tiki space for events of up to 80 people. Amenities include complimentary welcome frozen cocktails, daily poolside refreshments such as fruit smoothies and popsicles, concierge service, lounging hammocks, complimentary airport pickup and drop off, shuttle service to downtown and nonmotorized watersports. The resort, which allows dogs under 30 pounds for a fee, is located at 2001 S. Roosevelt Blvd. across from Smathers Beach and about a mile from Key West International Airport. Visit MargaritavilleBeachHouseKeyWest.com or call 866-237-5022.
Keys Attractions and Tours
Ever been on a hiking excursion to hunt down exotic fruits? Beginning Jan. 8 on Big Pine Key, the 2-acre fruit farm Grimal Grove — billed as the first and only breadfruit grove in the continental United States — offers 90-minute guided tropical fruit excursions showcasing species of subtropical and tropical fruits, trees and plants. “Our new fruit hunting excursions allow visitors to have a fun, fanciful and unique culinary experience,” said Patrick Garvey, owner-director of Grimal Grove. “I started the tours to integrate Keys culture and adventure with the growing of food.” Participants can sample sweet and sour exotic fruits including breadfruit and learn the story of 1950s-era hermit Adolf Grimal, a recluse who designed Old Grimal Estate at 258 Cunningham Lane. Visit grimalgrove.com or call or text 305-923-6663 to book a tour.
Key West's 8,200-square-foot Hemingway Rum Co. Distillery at 201 Simonton St. plans to unveil a 2,400-square-foot center for hosting events in January 2022. The distillery also offers private "Papa's Cocktail Classes" with a tour, tasting, mixology class and cocktail glass for a maximum of 12 participants Tuesdays through Sundays beginning at 5 p.m. Formerly a tobacco warehouse, the venue houses the Papa's Pilar Rum production facility, an experience center, tasting room and trading post. A 350-gallon still produces up to 80 gallons of rum daily from molasses, yeast and water. Reservations are required for the experience. Visit papaspilar.com or call 305-414-8754.
At Islamorada’s offshore Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park, ranger-led tours of the island park are available at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Fridays through Sundays through April 30. Visitors can learn aboutLignumvitae Key’s virgin tropical hardwood hammock and 65 species of rare native trees and shrubs. The foundation of the Matheson house, the island’s showpiece, built in 1919 by wealthy Miami chemist William J. Matheson, has been restored. The 5-acre cultural site once featured landscaping by famed botanist David Fairchild and includes the house, a rainwater cistern and hurricane shelter. The park’s main outermost “T” visitors' dock also was rebuilt. Visitors can take a self-guided tour at the park, which is accessible by private charter and from nearby marinas including Robbie’s Marina. It’s closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Visit Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park | Florida State Parks or call 305-664-2540.
In Islamorada, the nonprofit organization Florida Bay Forever Save Our Waters Inc. has unveiled its new home, the Florida Bay Eco-Center, formerly Islamorada’s historic Russell Cottage, at Green Turtle Hammock Nature Preserve, an 11-acre conservation area owned by the Village of Islamorada with nature trails, a kayak launch and direct access to Florida Bay. Florida Bay Forever is planning future educational programming at the center, which also has a gift shop. The organization hopes to establish the site as a gateway to Everglades National Park, billed as “the largest wilderness area east of the Rockies,” said Emma Haydocy, Florida Bay Forever executive director. It’s open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit floridabayforever.org or call 305-563-7970.
Grateful Diver, a lifestyle brand that supports the Key West–based nonprofit Reef Relief — dedicated to preserving and protecting the coral reef ecosystem through education and outreach in the Florida Keys — is selling its branded merchandise at Key West retailers Sea, Key West, a watersports company, and Conch Republic Seafood Co., a Key West restaurant at 631 Greene St. Grateful Diver apparel and accessories feature a lightning bolt on a red dive flag, designed in the 1990s by Grateful Dead band co-founder and drummer Bill Kruetzmann. Visit thegratefuldiver.com.
Keys Group Activities
Salute to the Sol Yoga offers new customized party and group event yoga in Key West. Known for virtual, private and Sunday yoga classes on the event lawn at The Perry Hotel & Marina Key West, Salute to the Sol's team of certified personal instructors delivers customized vinyasa sessions for all levels. The addition of group yoga for wedding weekend, bachelor or bachelorette party, corporate or team-building events rounds out Salute to the Sol’s services, which are available to book and offered at a variety of locations. Visit salutetothesol.com/ or call 407-496-5868.
The Looe Key Reef Resort and Dive Center, located on Ramrod Key in the Lower Keys, has been purchased by Key West businessman Adam Veitenheimer, who is planning renovations to the open-air outdoor restaurant, its Tiki bar and other upgrades in 2022. The resort is known among divers for its overnight accommodations and a dive center offering trips to nearby Looe Key. It's the only dive operator to offer trips to the 210-foot Adolphus Busch, intentionally sunk in 1997 as part of the Florida Keys Wreck Trek. The center was first established in the early 1950s and is located at 27340 Overseas Highway (mile marker 27.5). Visit looekeyreefresort.com or call 305-872-2215.
World Travel Awards (WTA) recently named Key West “North America’s Leading Beach Destination 2021.” WTA was established in 1993 to acknowledge, reward and celebrate excellence across all sectors of the tourism industry. Award votes were cast by travel industry professionals and the public. The island city of Key West ranked ahead of Cape Cod, Massachusetts; Clearwater Beach, Florida; Laguna Beach, California; Maui, Hawaii; Miami Beach, Florida; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Palm Beach, Florida; San Diego, California; Santa Monica, California; Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada; and Waikiki Beach, Hawaii. Visit worldtravelawards.com.
Everglades National Park is planning its 75th anniversary, slated to kick off in January with events throughout the year. Image: Amie Nielsen
The 2-acre fruit farm Grimal Grove is billed as the first and only breadfruit grove in the continental United States.
Grateful Diver's lifestyle brand supports the Key West-based nonprofit Reef Relief, dedicated to preserving and protecting the coral reef system in the Florida Keys.
Looe Key Dive Center offers diving and snorkeling trips to nearby Looe Key Reef, home of the annual Underwater Music Festival.