What’s New in the Florida Keys & Key West for Spring 2023
FLORIDA KEYS — The Florida Keys & Key West are celebrating a bicentennial, or 200th anniversary, in 2023 with heritage activities throughout Monroe County. Events commemorate the Florida Territorial Legislature’s establishment of Monroe County July 3, 1823.
In Marathon on May 19, the public is invited to a gathering that honors past and present local officials who helped guide Monroe County on the Old Seven Mile Bridge. Attractions are to include live music and dancing, local artists painting on-site, catered tidbits by the Marathon High School culinary class and a sunset toast with vodka distilled from breadfruit grown at the Lower Keys’ Grimal Grove.
On June 10, a Sea to Table dinner highlighting Florida Keys Seafood and the talents of chefs and the area's longstanding fishing industry is to take place at Bud N’ Mary’s Marina at 79851 Overseas Highway in Islamorada. A rooftop sunset reception is set for 6:30 p.m., while the dinner is to begin at 7:30 p.m. in the property’s spacious Boat Barn.
The following Saturday, June 17, Keys residents and visitors can enjoy a picnic from noon to 3 p.m. at Rowell’s Waterfront Park, located at 104550 Overseas Highway in Key Largo. Participants can anticipate live music by the Mangrove Swamp Band and others, traditional picnic fare and cupcakes, and activities such as swimming and sailing.
In the Lower Keys on July 3 — Bicentennial Day — plans call for themed festivities, traditional fireworks and creation of the world’s largest Key lime pie at Big Pine Community Park.
Keys museum exhibits, art showcases and festivals are themed to celebrate the island chain’s historic anniversary and vibrant heritage.
Among what’s new in the Keys:
At Everglades National Park, the all-new 24-unit Flamingo Lodge & Restaurant is slated to officially open this fall. The lodge is to offer 24 units with kitchenettes including studios and one- and two-bedroom suites fronting Florida Bay. The park’s fully renovated pink Guy Bradley Visitor Center — with interactive exhibits, a gift shop and expansive views overlooking Florida Bay — also is scheduled to open in fall. The park is the continental United States’ third-largest national park at 2,400 square miles. It celebrated its 75th anniversary in December 2022 in Monroe County’s Flamingo area, a 50-minute drive from the park’s entrance in Homestead, Florida. Bird species found in the park include the roseate spoonbill, white pelican, reddish egret and painted bunting. Visit nps.gov/ever or flamingoeverglades.com/flamingo-lodge-restaurant or call 855-708-2207.
In Islamorada, the 12-acre Sun Outdoors Islamorada is scheduled to open in May at 87395 Old Highway oceanside. The resort features 82 full hookup RV sites with amenities including pergolas, outdoor kitchens, patio furniture, three marinas, pool, kayak and watersport offerings, clubhouse, organized events, private waterfront cabanas, camp store, workout center, Tiki hut and complimentary Wi-Fi and private vacation homes. Sun Outdoors also operates the Sun Outdoors Key Largo and Sun Outdoors Marathon properties. All three resorts are pet friendly. On-site are 48 pastel-hued vacation homes for sale. Visit soislamorada.com/or sunoutdoors.com or call 888-886-2477 or 786-841-0030.
In Islamorada, Chesapeake Beach Resort has unveiled additional new villas (with two remaining to open), a new boat ramp and a new dock. The property currently offers 52 units with balconies, 11 villas with outdoor paved patios, two pools, a beach bar cart and a beach venue for weddings, events, family reunions and corporate retreats of up to 100. Villas, each with a kitchenette, include an 830-square-foot ocean king villa, a 700-square-foot one-bedroom ocean view, a 650-square-foot two-bedroom, 520-square-foot king and ADA-king efficiencies, and 320-square-foot standard king units. Kayaks and fishing rods can be rented on-site. Visit chesapeake-resort.com or call 305-664-4662.
On Duck Key, Hawks Cay Resort offers a new scuba partnership through Marathon-based Better Than Most Scuba, offering snorkeling, SDI and PADI dive certification, lobstering and spearfishing courses and excursions for resort guests. With its Coast Guard–certified vessel Diane Marie — stocked with water, fresh fruit and reef-safe sunscreen — the scuba operator takes a maximum 15 divers on each trip. The 60-acre Middle Keys resort has 177 guest rooms, 250 two- and three-bedroom villas and 20,000 square feet of oceanfront meeting and event space. Visit hawkscay.com or call 888-395-5539 or btmscuba.com or call 305-432-1214.
Two new Florida Keys “Aqua Lodges” with waterfront two-bedroom, one-bath tiny house–style accommodations have been added in Marathon, and a central Keys reservation line and booking website are now operational. An additional 38 Aqua Lodges are available for overnight stays at marinas in Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key and Key West. Each 350-square-foot lodge has a full kitchen, flat screen TV and air conditioning and accommodates four adults and two children. Visit keyslodging.com or call 888-976-0794.
In Key West, Mellow Ventures Backcountry Outfitters plans to unveil a catamaran cottage for overnight accommodations this spring. The new “Outpost,” a fully restored former cigar-maker's cottage that accommodates overnight parties of up to six, is built on 50-foot catamaran hulls. All-inclusive, customized Backcountry Eco Vacations include on-the-water stays, experiences and healthy meals, and feature three tiers: the Eco Outpost with a Tiki boat dockside, Eco Sailing with a dockside catamaran and Eco Adventure with overnight trips from the Dry Tortugas to Everglades National Park. The backcountry charter company has locations at 1605 N. Roosevelt Blvd. and at 201 William St. Its Mellow Café & Gastropub on North Roosevelt Boulevard has expanded outdoor 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.
In Key West, 519-room The Keys Collection’s four properties — The Gates Hotel, Hilton Garden Inn Key West, 24 North Hotel and Fairfield Inn & Suites — offer lively monthly programming featuring “puppy yoga” classes and Paint & Sip Nights with local artist Lance Berry. The Collection’s “Na Ma Sit & Stay Yoga” is held the second Sunday of each month at 9:30 a.m. at the Sunset Green Event Lawn. Admission is complimentary; a $10 donation per person is suggested with all proceeds donated to Florida Keys SPCA. The Paint & Sip Night is offered the second Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. at Republica Bar & Lounge at 24 North. Reservations are required; a $40 admission per person includes a complimentary cocktail. The hotels collectively feature six bars, four pools and five dining options. Meeting and event space includes Sunset Green Event Lawn, an outdoor green landscaped area with more than 12,000 square feet and space for 1,200 guests. Visit thekeyscollection.com or call 786-644-1600.
In Marathon, the Pigeon Key Visitor Center and Pigeon Key train depot have moved to a new location at 1090 Overseas Highway bayside at the Historic Seven Mile Marina property. Pigeon Key Express train tours depart daily at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. with check-in at least 10 minutes prior to departure. Lying beneath the historic Old Seven Mile Bridge, the tiny island of Pigeon Key was a work camp for laborers constructing the bridge in the early 1900s and now features restored buildings and a museum. Guided tours of Pigeon Key, which can be booked online, begin at the yellow picnic tables on the south side of the bridge tender’s building by the umbrellas. The Historic Florida Keys Foundation recently designated two ceramic star awards to Monroe County Project Management for preservation and restoration of the Pigeon Key Honeymoon Cottage (its construction began in 1942), and commissary buildings (whose construction first started in 1913). Visitpigeonkey.net or call 305-743-5999.
In Key West’s Truman Waterfront Park, the state-of-the-art family-friendly Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center, with contemporary new exhibits that highlight Florida Keys mangrove habitats and allow interaction with life-size mangrove branches, is open to the public Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. A freestanding main exhibit focuses on the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, while other exhibits include a colorful light-filled aquarium showcasing coral restoration, the Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail and an interactive paddleboard experience through mangroves. Additional opening days are to be announced. The center is located at 35 Quay Road. Visit floridakeys.noaa.gov/eco_discovery.html or call 305-809-4750.
In Key West, Pride of Key West, operated by Fury Water Adventures, carries on a glass-bottom boat tradition that marks its 70th anniversary this year. In 1953 the Fireball, the island’s first commercial glass-bottom boat, began operating from a dock at the foot of Duval Street on the Gulf of Mexico. Today the dock is home to Pride of Key West, a contemporary window on the undersea world that continues the city’s seven-decade glass-bottom boat tradition. The 60-foot air-conditioned glass-bottom catamaran carries passengers on narrated eco-excursions to view the continental United States’ only coral barrier reef and colorful marine life such as subtropical fish, rays and sea turtles. Visit furycat.com/key-west/glass-bottom-boats or call 888-976-0899.
A new “Florida Keys 200” podcast, a 30-episode series showcasing the continental United States’ southernmost island chain from the early 1800s to the present, is slated to launch globally in March on more than 25 platforms including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Spotify. Two episodes per week are scheduled, with the podcast’s last episode to air Monday, July 3, commemorating the Florida Territorial Legislature’s establishment of Monroe County July 3, 1823. Produced by Armchair Productions, episodes feature Keys personalities including historians, wildlife experts, colorful locals, environmentalists, entrepreneurs and adventurers. Host Elizabeth Harryman Lasley has hosted shows on KABC Radio and Southern California Public Radio station KPCC and is immediate past-president of the Society of American Travel Writers. Visit fla-keys.com or armchair-productions.com
The Key West Business Guild is planning a 20th anniversary celebration to commemorate the island city’s famed 1.25-mile-long sea-to-sea rainbow flag, billed as the world’s longest rainbow flag, with events to take place during the guild-produced Pride festivities set for June 7-11, 2023. The flag was sewn in Key West in 2003 by rainbow flag creator Gilbert Baker to mark the 25th anniversary of his original banner’s debut. To highlight Pride 2003, it was unfurled by several thousand volunteers along the entire length of the island’s Duval Street, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, with its ends dipped simultaneously into the two bodies of water in a sea-to-sea demonstration of diversity and pride. Visit gaykeywestfl.com/pride/ or call 305-294-4603.
The Lower Keys’ Grimal Grove, billed as the first and only breadfruit grove in the continental United States, has launched Mutiny Island Vodka – Grimal Grove Reserve, the only spirit distilled from Keys breadfruit grown at Grimal Grove. It’s crafted in partnership with St. Croix–based Mutiny Island Reserve Vodka and is available at stores in Key Largo, Islamorada, Summerland Key and Key West. Future plans include distilling the spirit in the Keys. Grimal Grove also offers 90-minute guided “fruit excursions” showcasing species of subtropical fruits, trees and plants. Visitors can sample breadfruit and other fruits, attend plant clinics and learn about 1950s-era hermit Adolf Grimal, a recluse who designed Old Grimal Estate at 258 Cunningham Lane on Big Pine Key. It’s open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon for guided and self-guided tours. Visit grimalgrove.com or call or text 305-923-6663 to book a tour.
Tripadvisor has named Key West among the 10 most popular domestic visitor destinations in its 2023 Travelers’ Choice Best of the Best awards. Key West ranks seventh on the roster of the United States’ domestic destinations. “Key West offers a laid-back and warm embrace to its visitors — an atmosphere and a welcome that continue to draw people from around the U.S. and the world to share that experience," said Stacey Mitchell, director of the Florida Keys tourism council. Key West was cited for its refreshingly slow pace, history as a haven for U.S. presidents and literary legends Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, exceptional diving and the kid-friendly Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center. The Travelers' Choice Best of the Best awards are the highest honors bestowed by Tripadvisor, billed as the world’s largest travel guidance platform. Award winners are selected annually based on millions of reviews and opinions collected from travelers around the world. Visit tripadvisor.com/TravelersChoice-Destinations-cPopular-g191.
The renovated Guy Bradley Visitor Center in the Flamingo section of Everglades National Park is set to reopen in fall 2023, along with the new Flamingo Lodge and Restaurant. Photo: JoNell Modys
A new central reservation line and booking website are now operational for Aqua Lodge tiny-house-style houseboat accommodations I the Keys. Photo: JoNell Modys
The glass bottom boat tradition celebrates 70 years in Key West in 2023. In 1953 the Fireball was the first to operate from the dock at the foot of Duval Street, and today Fury Water Adventures' Pride of Key West continues the tradition.
Grimal Grove Reserve vodka, the only spirit distilled from Florida Keys breadfruit, is now available at Keys liquor store.