A road trip across the Florida Keys is a prize in and of itself: a 113-mile drive through islands that has some of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful scenery you'll ever see is a reward in and of itself. But, hidden among the topaz seas, diving pelicans, and lush mangroves, there is a treasure trove of attractions that are educational, historical, or just plain entertaining to explore.
From top to bottom, here's a list of the greatest things to do in the Florida Keys, organized by category.
1. Key Largo
In a nutshell, it's an underwater park. John Pennekamp is a well-known author. Corral Reef State Park is the first underwater park in the United States... and the first location you should go if you ever find yourself in the Florida Keys! This aquatic attraction may be explored in a variety of ways, including kayaking through the mangroves, snorkeling or scuba diving, and taking a glass-bottom boat trip through the water.
Another enjoyable way to see Key Largo is to take a canal cruise on the African Queen. Take a 90-minute sightseeing trip onboard the renowned vessel—yes, it's the same one made famous by the 1951 film starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn—and enjoy the views of the coast as you sail away from Marina del Mar. There are also dinner cruises offered.
Located in a family-owned attraction, Theater of the Sea blends the excitement of a marine park with the warmth and intimacy of a family attraction. Visit the sea lion show, hold a parrot, and take a bottomless boat ride to get your fill of fun. The park's animal contact activities, which include swimming with dolphins, are certain to be a hit with visitors. (Did you catch what we did there?)
Despite the fact that your vacation may just last a few days or weeks, the history of the Florida Keys goes back hundreds of years. Visit the Keys History and Discovery Center, which is situated on the grounds of the Islander Resort, to get up to speed on the region's history. In addition to changing exhibitions, the museum's permanent collection of pictures and memorabilia depicts Native American life, shipwrecks, and other aspects of the region's history via photographs, models, and relics, among other things.
Do you have a soft spot for dolphins? At the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key, near Marathon, you may take a deep dive into the world of aquatic animals. Attend dolphin and sea lion performances, talk to trainers, and cool down in the playground. Dolphin Camp and Fantasy Dolphin Day are both excellent options for high-level entertainment for your tween or teen, allowing them to live out all of their childhood fantasies of swimming with dolphins in the wild.
4. Big Pine Key
Secluded Located on Big Pine Key, Bahia Honda State Park has more than 150 kinds of unique flora and animals, many of which are endemic to the area. However, its three pristine beaches aren't only for birdwatchers; they're also a wonderful location for shelling, geocaching, snorkeling, and other low-key activities like swimming. Camping is also popular in the park, with options ranging from basic campsites to luxurious glamping cabins and all in between.
In the Florida Keys, there is no lack of opportunities for animal encounters. The National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key, on the other hand, is home to one of the most bizarre creatures on the planet. Walking through the preserve, biking through it, or kayaking through it, keep your eyes open for these magnificent animals, which are only found in the lower Florida Keys and stand no more than 32 inches tall.
5. The Key West
By paying a visit to the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, you can show your appreciation for one of the city's most famous inhabitants. During your walk around the grounds and petting the six-toed cats, who are descended from the writer's personal pets, you may picture the Nobel Prize laureate working on manuscripts when he was living in the home during the most productive decade of his career, the 1930s. Take home a memento from the bookshop or gift shop that will act as your own personal inspiration.
Even though it is situated on Duval Street, the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is about as far removed from the excesses of the world-famous street as it is possible to go. This glass-enclosed conservatory, which is surrounded by butterflies and birds, is a great spot to spend a few hours whether you're seeking family-friendly entertainment or simply a quiet place to get some rest.
Key West's weekly sunset celebration takes place in Mallory Square, which becomes even more exciting as the sun goes down. For your amusement and, presumably, for your generous tips, jugglers, tightrope walkers, sword swallowers, buskers, and other colorful characters put on a family-friendly performance in exchange for your support.
Yes, it is a tourist trap. However, no trip to Key West would be complete without stopping for a picture op at the world's most southern point. The large buoy marker marks the location of the lowest point on the map of the United States' continental territory.
6. Dry Tortugas
Dry Tortugas National Park comes along just when you thought the Florida Keys were as isolated as they could possibly get. Accessible only by boat or aircraft, this group of islands located 70 miles west of Key West is inaccessible by land. Even if you don't have your own vehicle, you can still visit the park's historic Fort Jefferson, snorkel, dive, or swim in the pristine seas, take in the magnificent birding, and camp under the stars by taking a trip on the Yankee Freedom boat from Key West to Garden Key.