FLORIDA KEYS — A subtropical winter in the Florida Keys & Key West — the scenic 125-mile-long island chain at the southern tip of the Florida peninsula — typically offers the warmest weather in the continental United States.
The year 2024 brings newly refreshed and expanded resorts, a fun way to explore sustainability throughout the Keys with a new Florida Keys Eco-Experience Trail pass, an expanded wild bird center in Marathon and a planned marine mammal facility in Islamorada. Also notable are new dining options at three Keys hotels and a new Lower Keys brewery.
Among what’s new:
Airline seat capacity is increasing into Key West International Airport (EYW) and the facility is currently undergoing a major Concourse A expansion. The expansion is set for completion in the first quarter of 2025, with a planned eighth gate slated to open by early 2026. United Airlines is to begin daily nonstop flights Dec. 21 to EYW on 126-seat Boeing 737-700 aircraft from Chicago O’Hare, Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental and Washington D.C.’s Dulles international airports, replacing its 70-seat Embraer 170 aircraft on those three routes. JetBlue Airways has resumed its seasonal service from Boston to EYW with daily nonstop service on 140-seat Airbus A220-300 planes through April 30, 2024. Planned new airport venues include a First Call Beach Bar at baggage claim, Chili’s restaurant, Farm 2 Air Market and Southern Point bar for the seating area at gates 5 and 6. Visit eyw.com or call 305-809-5200.
At Everglades National Park, the all-new restaurant at the 24-unit Flamingo Lodge and Restaurant is scheduled to open by late December. The stand-alone 75-seat restaurant — with casual fare including burritos, wraps, sandwiches, soups, salads and desserts such as Key lime pie, catch-and-cook options and signature 20-ounce smoothies — is open to all park visitors; reservations are not accepted. Breakfast is served 7-10 a.m., with lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The lodge, with studios and one- and two-bedroom suites with kitchenettes and balconies overlooking Florida Bay, has rates of $259 to $399 per night, plus tax, through May with a 14-day maximum stay. The park's newly renovated pink Guy Bradley Visitor Center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and features a Florida National Parks Association bookstore, interactive nature and art exhibits, and expansive views overlooking Florida Bay. The 2,400-square-mile Everglades National Park is the continental United States' third-largest national park. As of Jan. 1, the park entrance fee for vehicles and vessels is $35 for a seven-day pass. Visit flamingoeverglades.com/dining/ and flamingoeverglades.com/flamingo-lodge-restaurant or call 855-708-2207.
The 125-unit Faro Blanco Resort & Yacht Club, located at 1996 Overseas Highway at Marathon's iconic 1950s-era lighthouse, is undergoing a conversion to become Faro Blanco Resort & Yacht Club, Curio Collection by Hilton, in 2024. The enhanced property is to include over 40,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, an all-new spa and fitness center, one- and two-story bungalows, a new multi-level pool deck with bar and infinity pool, and two-story poolside cabanas. Adjacent to the resort is the 74-slip Faro Blanco Marina. Visit faroblancoresort.com or call 305-743-1234.
In the Lower Keys, the waterfront Sun Outdoors Sugarloaf Key, located along a 7-acre saltwater lake surrounded by mangroves, has opened as the Keys’ fourth Sun Outdoors RV resort. It features 73 full hookup 20-, 30- and 50-amp RV sites with patio, complimentary Wi-Fi and outdoor picnic tables; a heated pool, boardwalk, Tiki bar with firepit; and custom Airstream food truck with snacks and beverages for purchase. An additional 20 vacation cottages with patios and complimentary Wi-Fi are available. Amenities include rentals of kayaks, paddleboards and “AquaBanas” or giant water inflatables. The property is located at 3000 Johnson Road. Visit sunoutdoors.com/florida/sun-outdoors-sugarloaf-key or call 305-745-1079.
The legendary 311-room Casa Marina Key West, Curio Collection by Hilton, has unveiled its grand renovation with all new guest rooms — including 63 suites, many featuring oceanfront balconies and walkout beachside lanais — a new lobby Canary Bar, vibrant décor, enhanced food and beverage venues and a new 5,000-square-foot oceanfront event lawn. Indoor event space, with 11,000 total square feet and nine areas accommodating from 10 to 500 people, includes the 3,100-square-foot historic Flagler's Ballroom, a 2,600-square-foot Grand Ballroom and a 5,000-square-foot Keys Ballroom. Two outdoor piers for watersports are fully renovated, and offerings include jet-ski tours, paddleboard and kayak rentals, and snorkeling trips on a luxury catamaran. The Casa Marina is located at 1500 Reynolds St. Visit casamarinaresort.com or call 305-296-3535.
In Key West, the La Concha Key West hotel at 430 Duval St. is undergoing renovations and a conversion to a Marriott property with 160 rooms and 14 suites. First-phase renovations are slated for completion by the third quarter of 2024. Undergoing transformation are the property’s lobby, bar and restaurant, pool and fitness center. In addition, the spa area is being converted into premium rooftop suites. New food and libation offerings are to include Tropicado with classic crafted cocktails, Cuban cuisine at Perla and the El Dom Coffee Shop. Design elements are coastal inspired with furniture of rattan, natural wood and stone, and a color palette theme of bluish pink with accents of green and blue. The property originally opened in 1926 as a luxury hotel with marble floors, private baths and ocean views. Visit laconchakeywest.com or call 305-296-2991.
In Key West, the new two-bedroom, one-bath floating The Outpost can be booked for an "off-the-grid" experience as a private "conch cottage" in backcountry waters off Key West. The Outpost includes front and back decks, a back sitting or game room and fully equipped kitchen and topside seating area. Paddleboards and snorkel gear are provided, and kayak and eco-tours can be booked. The floating cottage can sleep four with a minimum two-night stay. The Outpost also can be booked for sunset, half- or full-day excursions. Visit mellowkw.com/eco-vacations or call 305-745-3874.
Also in Key West, The Capitana, an Opal Collection boutique waterfront hotel, offers three all-new beachside cabanas available for daily reservations. The six-person cabanas each feature a 43-inch TV, mini refrigerator filled with complimentary soft drinks and water, and options to order food and beverages delivered directly to the cabana. The 75-room resort is located at 2401 N. Roosevelt Blvd. Visit thecapitanakeywest.com or call 305-296-6925 or 866-384-2997.
The Monroe County Tourist Development Council is launching a Florida Keys Eco-Experience Trail pass in December, featuring nearly 50 free geo-tagged, bookable experiences such as visiting Keys eco-attractions, taking a backcountry kayak tour or exploring the island chain’s wildlife refuges and state parks. Activities promote engagement with the Keys' sustainability initiatives. Trail participants can discover unique nature tours, wildlife centers and refuges, coral restoration opportunities and fishing, diving and snorkeling in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The mobile-exclusive digital Florida Keys Eco-Experience pass features offers, added values and Keys-branded prizes. Visit fla-keys.com/experience.
In Key West, Reef Relief's Plastic Free Key West program helps motivate businesses to voluntarily commit to reducing or eliminating single-use plastics through sustainable replacement strategies. Tier 1 businesses, including Purple Heron Charters, are committed to reduce utilization of one single-use item. Tier 2 participants — including Boat House Bar & Grill, Doing Work Coffee, Irish Kevin's, Hyatt Centric Key West Resort & Spa, Kimpton Key West and Koffie House — pledge to reduce use of two items. Tier 3 operations, including S/V Argo Navis and Date & Thyme, are committed to reducing all single-use plastics. A resolution supporting Plastic Free Key West to stem plastic pollution in waters surrounding the Keys was adopted by the Key West City Commission in early 2023. Visit reefrelief.org/plastic-free-key-west/ or call 305-294-3100.
In Islamorada, the Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder rescue group is targeting a spring 2024 opening of The Protect Center Whale & Dolphin Hospital as South Florida's only teaching veterinary hospital treating injured whales, bottlenose dolphins and other marine mammals. Located at 82748 Overseas Highway bayside, the new facility is to include a 40-foot-diameter pool for long-term marine mammal rehabilitation, an educational classroom and a 3,000-square-foot marine wildlife conservation–themed museum. Its on-site Sustain Gift Shop is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. An affiliated experiential learning facility, The Connect Center, is located at 31 Corrine Place in Key Largo. Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder has cared for more than 700 injured, sick and stranded marine mammals in the Keys. Visit connecttoprotect.org/hospital or call 305-453-4321.
In Marathon, the 63.5-acre Crane Point Museum & Nature Trails is scheduled to unveil its all-new home for the Marathon Wild Bird Center by late January, with educational bird enclosures, a shaded outdoor seating area, and a hospital and rehabilitation facility for treatment of sick and injured rescued wild birds. The facility can shelter more than 40 nonreleasable birds and continues to treat about 750 birds annually. Since 1995 the hospital has rehabilitated more than 25,000 wild birds of different species and released them back into their natural habitat. Crane Point, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is located at 5550 Overseas Highway (mile marker 50.5). Visit cranepoint.net or call 305-743-9100 or 305-743-3900.
Keys Food and Drink
The 24-acre,199-unit Isla Bella Beach Resort in Marathon has unveiled its 55-seat Sushi Cabana, an al fresco sushi restaurant located adjacent to the resort's Yellowfin pool. It features traditional sushi and sashimi offerings such as hamachi, king crab, chirashi rice bowls, handcrafted sushi and seaweed and cucumber salad. The resort has four food and beverage venues. Isla Bella is located at 1 Knights Key Blvd. (mile marker 47). Visit islabellabeachresort.com or call 305-481-9451.
In Marathon, the new 80-seat oceanfront eatery The Rhum House at Grassy Flats Resort & Beach Club offers local seafood, steaks, shareable small plates, craft cocktails, wine and beer. Breakfast is served on the Palm Deck, a new rooftop lounge with views of Hawks Channel and ocean flats. A main dining room, open 5-9 p.m. daily, is nautically decorated with salvaged mahogany, brass, bronze and local artwork. Signature fare include seafood specials, Cuban coffee–rubbed meats such bone-in strip steak and bison tenderloin sourced from sustainable farms. Grassy Flats is situated at 58182 Overseas Highway (mile marker 58). Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 305-998-4590.
Cayo Hueso Brewing, a new brewery and tasting room with 12 drafts on tap, has opened on Stock Island at 5635 1st Ave. behind Roostica Wood-Fire Pizzeria. Customers can order food from Roostica for delivery to the brewery. The brewery's interior and exterior walls feature murals by local artists including depictions of Ernest Hemingway and Key West roosters. Its tasting room is open 4-9:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays and 2-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The brewery's crafted libations are carried at 28 Lower Keys venues. Visit cayohuesobrewing.com or call 305-209-0599.
Mike Goldberg, co-founder of the Florida Keys reef restoration organization I.CARE, has been named a Top 10 CNN Hero. Islamorada-based I.CARE is partnered with the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation in its mission to restore and preserve the Keys’ reef system. Goldberg, who owns Key Dives in Islamorada, was lauded by CNN for recruiting “an army of recreational divers to help heal our oceans by transplanting coral and restoring our dying reefs.” Visit icareaboutcoral.org.
The Florida Keys Traveler podcast, produced by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council to showcase the county’s 2023 bicentennial and unique history, has been named among 15 Best Florida Podcasts by content reader feedspot.com. Florida podcasts were ranked by traffic, social media followers and freshness. To listen to the 30-episode documentary podcast, visit fla-keys.com/podcast/.
In the Lower Keys, the waterfront Sun Outdoors Sugarloaf Key, located along a 7-acre saltwater lake surrounded by mangroves, has opened as the Keys’ fourth Sun Outdoors RV resort.