Figuring Out Which Sunshine State Destination Is Perfect For You
With so many beautiful beaches in Florida, it’s hard to decide where to go. While Key West and Miami Beach are top tourist destinations, many people travelers prefer to branch out to the road—or islands—somewhat less traveled.
Just because these destinations are not quite as popular, does not mean they are any less fun—offering some of the best scenery, attractions, and outdoor activities in the Sunshine State. Any vacationer looking for fun in the sun, whether it be for an entire vacation or simply a fun day trip, should consider these islands in the Florida Keys a must-see spot for plenty of things to see and do. While it may seem hard to choose, below is some information that will give anyone with wanderlust something to think about.
*While many locations are opening up, always check ahead to learn about local COVID-19 travel restrictions and safety protocols.
Key Largo is the largest and northernmost of the Florida Keys, and is the self-proclaimed “Diving Capital of the World.” Close to the Florida Everglades, it is a popular tourist spot for those looking to experience a dazzling array of landscapes—everything from tropical hardwoods to the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States.
Things To Do In Key Largo
There’s no shortage of things to do in Key Largo. known for its eco-tourism, it boasts several state parks and underwater activities for those who want to explore both land and sea—but its water-based activities are definitely where it’s at.
Wild Water Adventures
Key Largo’s location is ideal for those who enjoy water sports. Here are just some of the fun things to see while you’re kicking it in this beautiful key.
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is a top spot for those who want to explore the beautiful underwater scenery by diving, snorkeling, and many other recreational activities. A world of underwater treasures awaits anyone who wants a glimpse of diverse marine wildlife, jaw-dropping corals, and even historic shipwrecks. Swim with the dolphins or learn more about the area’s native plants and animals at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center, or learn about boating opportunities if you’d rather stay above water.
Tip: The sanctuary does not host snorkel or dive trips; however visitors can book trips with Blue Star Operators, a program committed to safe and sustainable underwater activities whose goal is to protect and maintain the area’s diverse ecosystem. Check out the list of participating fish guide operators and dive operators here.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a unique experience for anyone visiting Key Largo. A diverse area that includes mangrove swamps and tropical areas; it is the coral reefs that are the main attraction. Scuba diving, snorkeling, canoeing, and kayaking are some of the park’s most popular activities, and visitors can also take a glass-bottom boat tour to experience the wonders of the reefs. There are also plenty of activities on land for those wishing to take a short hike or have a picnic.
- Tip: The Spirit of Pennekamp is available for glass-bottom boat tours that last approximately 2 1/2 hours. Adult: $32.00 Age 4-11: $19.00 Age 3 and Under: Free
Be sure to make a reservation ahead of time to plan your trip.
Key Largo Wrap-Up
Its myriad of water-based (both above and below), activities make Key Largo an ideal destination for those who want to enjoy the unique and diverse marine wildlife, colorful coral reefs, and hidden treasures of this spectacular key.
- Key Largo is family-friendly, with many activities geared toward entertaining those of all ages.
- There is plenty to do on land, too! Check out the History of Diving Museum, The Crane Point Museum and Nature Center, and The Hemingway Home and Museum.
- There are plenty of places to stay in Key Largo—everything from large resorts and motels to more modest B&Bs and family-owned vacation rentals.
- The restaurant scene in Key Largo is varied and vibrant, with plenty of options for waterfront dining.
Islamorada is a village of six islands located between Miami and Key West. Though a tourist destination, Islamorada is smaller than Key Largo, which may appeal to vacationers who want plenty to do without too much hustle and bustle. Known as the “Sport Fishing Capital of the World,” Islamorada is an ideal spot for those who want to experience lovely scenery, plentiful recreational activities, and a quaint, charming, small-town atmosphere.
Parks, Beaches, And Preserves
Enjoy the beauty of Islamorada at one of its many parks and beaches.
A great place for the entire family—included dogs (provided they are leashed). With 300 feet of boardwalk and six pavilions, this beach is quaint but offers the opportunity for swimming (especially good for kids, as there is little to no wave action), picnicking, and relaxing.
Plantation Hammock Preserve
A relaxing park with a great view and nature trails to explore. No dogs are permitted.
Plantation Tropical Preserve
This park is also great for families as it has a Children’s Memorial Garden, a nature trail, and a kayak launch. Pack a lunch to enjoy at one of the picnic tables. Dogs permitted, must be leashed.
Known as “The gem of Islamorada,” this large park is great for those who want it all: aquatic sports, outdoor activities, and fun, family-friendly events. Dogs are not permitted on beaches or in picnic areas.
- Park Hours: Sunrise To Sundet
- Pool Hours: M-F 8 AM-6 PM, Sat./Sun. 10 AM-5 PM
Any trip to Islamorada would be incomplete without taking advantage of the area’s many recreational fishing guides. After all, backcountry sport fishing and saltwater fly fishing were introduced here! The fishing options are incredibly diverse and can be enjoyed by the entire family.
Islamorada is a fun, family tourist destination—however, it is smaller and more laidback than many of the surrounding areas. Visitors looking for a more low-key trip can enjoy plenty of activities here without sacrificing relaxation and will be sure to enjoy the small-town atmosphere.
- Take a bite out of the area’s local cuisine with a ton of fresh, tasty options. Beer-lovers can also rejoice as Islamorada hosts the Upper Keys’ first microbrewery: the Florida Keys Brewing Company.
- Check out the Theater of the Sea for an opportunity to get up close and personal with dolphins, sea lions, alligators, and sea turtles. Admission from $65.00 and up.
- Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park is a lush tropical hideaway with beautiful views, boat tours, and kayak/boat rentals. Hours: 8 AM-5 PM M-Thurs. Fees: $2.50/person, $2/person tour fee.
- Plenty of places to stay including campgrounds, luxe resorts, and smaller motels, vacation homes, and rental properties.
There’s plenty to do for the entire family in both Key Largo and Islamorada—both locations have outdoor and marine activities that can’t be beaten, gorgeous scenery, and memorable experiences on both land and sea. For those wishing for a more laidback, small-town vibe, Islamorada is the way to go; and for those wanting a more bustling, high-energy spot, Key Largo is where it’s at. Either way, travelers will find an amazing vacation destination that showcases the best of the beautiful Florida Keys.
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