The Florida Keys – Tropical Paradise Offers Fishing, Diving, Camping and the Best Margaritas Anywhere
One of the things I like best about living in Florida is that it’s a great place for a vacation, even if you live here. It seems no matter where you live, east coast, west coast, in the Panhandle or Southern Florida just a couple of hours drive in any direction and you can be somewhere that doesn’t look like home so you feel you’ve really gotten away from it all. The panhandle is fondly referred to as the Redneck Riviera with its emerald green water and white sand beaches. The west coast is a great place to go ‘island hopping’ with Sanibel, Lovers Key and all the other little places nestled there. The east coast is great for surfing, the small wave capital is here on our own Cocoa Beach and history, St. Augustine, also on the east coast of Florida, is the nation’s oldest city, but if you really want feel like you’ve gotten away head south. Southern Florida is truly a tropical place; the tropics actually start in south central Florida and it gets more lush and green the farther south you go.
We have our own little tropical paradise known as the Florida Keys. The Keys are made up of many small islands and chains of island and are set at the tip of Florida so they lie in the Atlantic Ocean on one side and in the Gulf of Mexico on the other. Key Largo is the top and considered the first Key. Key Largo is the one made famous by the movie staring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and the song. The waters around the Keys are warm and crystal clear this attracts many divers and snorkelers which lends to Key Largo having the popular moniker of the “Diving Capital of the World”.
Islamorada is the next most popular spot to stop on your way down the island chain. Islamorada is actually made up of six different islands and has a reputation as The Sport Fishing Capital of the World. They have a fleet of extremely skilled recreational fishing captains who’ll be more than happy to go out with you for a day to see what biting. Islamorada is also famous for a place called Robbie’s Marina this is the place where they sell buckets of bait for feeding swarms of tarpon that hang out around the docks. It’s so much fun to feed them, I’ve done it. Islamorada is also famous for the opportunities they provide to swim with dolphins. They also have a History of Diving Museum there which is pretty interesting.
Another not to be missed place is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. They are known as a great place for diving and snorkeling and have the only living coral reef in the continental United States. Over a million people come from around the world to enjoy the water, trails and camping facilities offered by the park. They also have the “Christ of the Waters”, a 19 foot bronze statue people dive all around, some even dive down to touch His outstretched hands.
Marathon is considered by many to be the ‘middle’ of the Keys and the place of the world famous 7 mile bridge. Marathon, too, is a major sportsfishing destination; it is also a popular for spearfishing and they have an open lobster season during the year, Marathon is a great place to try and catch a few.
Big Pine Key is just a short distance past the famous Seven Mile Bridge where the Keys take that gentle westerly turn and is considered the start of the ‘Lower Keys’. This is the place where you can come to relax its a little less crowded and more natural than some of the other Keys. Probably one of the biggest draws to Big Pine Key is the National Key Deer Refuge, home of the adorable Key Deer, the smallest of the Virginia white-tailed deer; they are in danger of extinction and are therefore federally protected. Bahia Honda State Park is another draw to the area. You can picnic, take a swim, dive the reef, snorkel the shallows or simply relax on Sandspur Beach voted #7 on the Travel Channels top 10 Florida beaches.
Now for the Margaritas, Key West is known for margaritas and the best place to start is Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. Other well known party spots include Sloppy Joe’s, Capt. Tony’s and Hogs Breath, But for my taste I’ll choose Sloppy Joe’s with 21 different types of Margaritas to choose from. Key West is considered by some to be the crown jewel of the Keys but I don’t think that’s really fair considering its ALL good. Key West, however, is THE place to party in the Keys. Duval Street is famous for their bars and history, Mallory Square is famous as a place to enjoy the sunset and ensuing party that happens every night. The street vendors and performers are a sight to see. Every year around Halloween, Key West hosts Fantasyfest a party where people dress up and dance in the streets, its wild.
The Keys are a great place to get married, have a honeymoon or a family reunion. You can dive, snorkel, fish or just lie on a beach and relax anywhere and everywhere in the Keys. You can dance and party the night a way, shop at one of the unique, quaint shops, or have a fabulous meal at one of the outdoor cafes all while enjoying a fruity tropical drink. In this day of people vacationing closer to home we Floridians are truly blessed to have such a beautiful Caribbean-style place to come visit without ever leaving ‘home’.
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