That means you can be awash in palm trees, tropical cocktails with a little umbrella inside, and Buffet background music within an hour or two. (This is the stuff that makes the rest of the country super jelly. We don't blame them.) We've rounded up the best places to eat, drink, spot Key deer, and pick up nautical treasures in Key Largo, Marathon, Islamorada, and Big Pine Key. FYI: We excluded Key West because that's a whole different trip (and guide!). So pack up your bikinis, lather on the sunscreen, and crank the Buffet Pandora station — just don't forget this key to The Keys.
Shipwreck’s Bar and Grill may look like an offbeat kind of dive, but let’s be honest; Everyone knows the best local food comes from unconventional spots. Located right along the path to the Upper Keys, it’s a must-stop just for its fish dip served with onion, sesame crackers. and chopped green peppers, washed down with a cold brew...all for about two bucks. Welcome to the Keys.
Shipwreck’s Bar and Grill, 45 Garden Cove Drive in Key Largo, 305-453-3153.
Screeeecchhhh! That’s the sound of your brakes blowing out when you see a giant lobster statue on the side of the street. Big Betsy, as she’s called, is a massive crustacean at the entrance of the Rain Barrel Artisan Village, a haven of artist studios, galleries, and mom-and-pop shops where you can scoop up medicinal soaps and crystals, mango ketchup, ceramics, and dolphin music CDs. This little hippie heaven is totally worth the stop, however much it’s going to cost you to get those brakes checked out.
The Rain Barrel Artisan Village, 86700 Overseas Highway on Islamorada; 305-852-3085.
You don’t have to catch a plane to Brazil to experience Jesus; you just have to snorkel though Key Largo. That’s right folks, John Pennekamp, America’s first undersea state park, has it’s very own 4,000 pound savior statue — and it’s all underwater! The park offers glassbottom boat, scuba, and snorkeling tours, kayak rentals, and superb spots to fish, swim, and camp. It’s no wonder Florida considers it its most popular state park. It’s a must-see for the nature lovers — but mostly everyone goes to catch sight of that giant, breathtaking Jesus.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, 102601 Overseas Highway on Key Largo (Mile Marker 102.5); 305-451-6300.
Photos (clockwise from left): Florida Keys News Bureau, Rain Barrel Artisan Village, Shipwreck’s Bar and Grill
For the Naturist
A tiki hut, a breezy deck, and coral architecture — this spot (and all of the Keys, really) is so ahead of the eco-trend. For over twenty years, Snapper’s in Key Largo has been a favorite waterfront-dining destination for turtles — their nickname for loyal customers.
Snapper’s Waterfront Restaurant, 139 Seaside Avenue Key Largo (mile marker 94.5) ; 305-852-5956.
You know you're in for a Keys experience when the FAQ page of a B&B's site asks, “Are you a clothing optional resort?” At Deer Run Bed & Breakfast the answer is no, but there are some surprising facts about this vegan inn. Everything here is animal-free; there's no fishing, plenty of famous Key deer roaming about, and the space prides itself on its environmental attitude. If you're an animal lover or just going on a meat-free cleanse, this is one of the only spots in the Keys to avoid conch, lobster, fish, or just about any ocean critters that can be served on a plate. Get a massage while becoming one with nature. Plus the view is killer — um, we mean, peaceful.
Deer Run Bed & Breakfast, 1997 Long Beach Drive on Big Pine Key (mile marker 33); 305-872-2015.
We've all heard of the mystical Key deer, but to really witness the elusive and adorable species, we've got the secret: a visit to Big Pine! Home of the National Key Deer Refuge, this is the spot to finally get a glimpse of the tiny spotted deer, no taller than three feet — and feel a world away from any modern worries.
National Key Deer Refuge, North end of Key Deer Boulevard on Pine Key Avenue for best viewing, 305-872-0774.
Photos (clockwise from left): Deer Run Bed And Breakfast, Snapper’s Waterfront Restaurant, Exposing Florida Photography
You know an institution in the Keys is good by the amount of motorcycles parked outside, and Alabama Jack’s always has at least a dozen. This institution is 100% worthy of a visit for a bite and a beer. Get the conch fritters, cozy up for some people watching (particularly good when there’s a live band), and keep an eye on the water for some critter spottings. You never know what alligators or fishies could be lurking under the dock.
Alabama Jack, 58000 Card Sound Road on Key Largo; (305) 248-8741.
You've had it just about up to here with texts, calls, and emails demanding to be answered. Face it — you need to disconnect, set up a campground, and sing kumbaya. Bahia Honda State Park is a great place to unwind on a budget, for campers or just beach combers. Camp out in a lodge, an RV, or a good ol’ fashion tent, or for a day trip, they offer plenty of kayaks, bicycles, fishing, snorkeling, and outdoor activities. You'll forget about all those emails piling up (eek!).
Bahia Honda State Park, 36850 Overseas Highway on Bahia Honda Key (Mile Marker 37); 305-872-3210.
Grab your tambourines, fire batons, and drums; we’re heading to a bonfire and Full Moon Party at Morada Bay Beach. If you’ve ever wanted to howl at the moon, celebrate ancient rituals, and party-hardy all night, this is where it’s at. Get your freak on.
Full Moon Party at Morada Bay Beach Café, 81600 Overseas Highway on Islamorada (mile marker 81.6); 305-664-0604.
Photos (clockwise from left): Alabama Jack, Morada Bay Beach Café, Florida State Parks