Sure, you could linger in a hammock for three days straight while visiting the Florida Keys (and there’s nothing wrong with that). But you’d miss out on activities you couldn’t do anywhere else—at least not with these views.
1. Paddle Through the Mangroves
Mangrove islands are home to thousands of species of fish, birds, and delicate critters. For the best view, rent a kayak (or borrow one from your hotel; many keep them on property). Even better, go on a tour. Our pick is Big Pine Kayak Adventures, where 30-year Keys resident Bill Keogh guides visitors through hidden passageways among the trees, accompanied by his dog, Scupper. (If you’re really adventurous, go on a nighttime tour or a full-moon trip held three times a month.) $50 for a three-hour daytime tour. 1791 Bogie Drive, Big Pine Key; keyskayaktours.com or 305/872-7474
2. Snorkel Alongside the Country’s Only Living Coral Reef
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park offers daily snorkeling trips (no experience required). In two-and-a-half hours, you’ll see parrot fish, brain and staghorn coral, lobsters, and more. $30 adults, $25 ages 18 and under, $9 gear rental. 102601 Overseas Highway, Key Largo; pennekamppark.com or 305/451-6300
3. Visit a Motel Pool Full of Sea Turtles
Located in a former 1940s-era motel, The Turtle Hospital is a haven for injured and sick turtles. Take a 90-minute tour for a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into saving these majestic creatures. Proceeds from the tour directly benefit the program, which has saved more than 1,200 sea turtles in its 26 years. $15 adults, $7.50 ages 4-12. 2396 Overseas Highway, Marathon; turtlehospital.org or 305/743-2552
4. Shop for Artisan Souvenirs
The Morada Way Arts and Cultural District is made up of a group of art galleries featuring art from The Keys and all over the world. The best time to go is the third Thursday of the month, when locals gather at sunset for an art-filled street party (81549 Old Highway, MM 81.5, Islamorada; moradawayarts.org). Also check out Bluewater Potters, run by Corky and Kim Wagner. 102991 Overseas Highway, Key Largo; bluewaterpotters.com or 305/453-1920
5. Tour a Museum Devoted to Diving
The History of Diving Museum in Islamorada is a quirky spot with one of the largest collections of diving memorabilia anywhere, including a stunning display of 50 rare helmets from around the world. $12 adults, $6 ages 6-12, free for ages 5 and under. 82990 Overseas Highway, Islamorada; divingmuseum.org or 305/664-9737
6. Fly Through the Air at 22 MPH
The Jet Lev Flyer is a $100,000 contraption that lets users fly through the air with a powered pack strapped to their backs. There are only a handful of locations in the South to try it. One is at Hawks Cay (Sundance Jet Lev, $249-$349; experience.hawkscay.com or 305/743-0145) and another is in Key West (Jetpack Adventures, $249; jetpackadventures.com or 305/294-2000).
7. Take Yoga Classes at a Bowling Alley
You read that right. Islamorada’s Fish Bowl has 12 lanes, an arcade, and a yoga studio that hosts teachers from around the world. Strike! Or is that namaste? 83230 Overseas Highway, Islamorada; keysfishbowl.com or 305/664-9357
8. Snap a Photo at the Southernmost Spot in the United States
Yes, it is a tourist rite of passage to have your photo taken in front of this famous buoy, but it’s worth it because the line is manageable. Plus it’s close to other points of interest, like the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservancy one block away (1316 Duval Street, Key West; keywestbutterfly.com). (Note: The true southernmost geographical spot in the continental United States is located at the Truman Annex, but it’s not open to the public.)
9. Toast the Sunset with a Rum Runner
Rum Runners are another Keys original. Legend has it, the Holiday Isle Resort Tiki Bar—now known as the Postcard Inn—was trying to get rid of excess inventory, so they dumped in light and dark rum, banana and blackberry liqueur, and more. For a truly authentic experience, watch the sunset and try a Rum Runner where it all began, at the Postcard Inn bar. 84001 Overseas Highway, Islamorada; holidayisle.com or 305/664-2321
10. Enjoy Nearly Deserted Beaches
While The Keys aren’t known for their endless beaches, the ones they have are spectacular. Bahia Honda State Park’s turquoise water stays warm year-round, making it an ideal place to wade and watch shorebirds. Snorkeling gear, kayaks, and canoes are also available for rent, and on-site campgrounds let you spend the night under the stars (36850 Overseas Highway, Big Pine Key; floridastateparks.org/bahiahonda). Thirty-eight miles north of Bahia Honda is the spectacular Anne’s Beach. Take the time to pull over, dip your feet in the water, and stroll on its secluded boardwalk. And pack a picnic lunch—its pavilions offer some of the best, inexpensive views around. Anne’s Beach, MM 73.5, Lower Matecumbe Key; Islamorada.
11. Feed 200-Pound Tarpons for a Few Bucks!
Visit Robbie’s of Islamorada and buy a $3 bucket of bait fish to feed friendly, 200-pound tarpons ($1/person fee). It’s just as fun to watch landlubbers shriek in delight! Robbie’s of Islamorada, 77522 Overseas Highway, Islamorada; robbies.com