The Florida Keys are an archipelago of some 1,700 islands extending from the southern tip of Florida in a loose southwestern arc between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean. Quirky Key West, the westernmost of the populated islands, lies just 94 miles from the coast of Cuba. These islands are a national treasure, and the drive along U.S. 1 ranks among the country’s most scenic. The Keys’ climate roughly parallels the tropics, with hurricane season running from June 1 to November 30. Ernest Hemingway famously lived and worked in Key West for many years, and his house is a fascinating stop.
The Florida Keys have a bounty of sensationally fresh seafood, and local chefs take full advantage of this. Favorite dining options include Pierre’s Restaurant, a more formal French choice on Islamorada occupying a plantation-style mansion facing the water, and Lazy Days South, a casual, almost divey restaurant in Marathon with memorable views and delicious fish (try the yellowtail snapper in a tequila cream sauce). On Key West, consider Café Marquesa, a warm and contemporary American bistro; Latitudes, a romantic beachside option on Sunset Key; and Nine One Five, an upscale Italian- and Spanish-influenced restaurant in a former house on Duval Street.
One of the great pleasures of visiting the Florida Keys is getting out on the water, a luminous assemblage of blues that practically demands to be enjoyed. While staying in Islamorada, we splurged on a private three-hour KeyZ charter that included memorable snorkeling and excellent birdwatching amid mangroves.
Saving Sea Turtles
One of the Florida Keys’ most wonderful attractions is the Turtle Hospital, a former motel complex in Marathon converted into a veterinary emergency room and rehabilitation facility. Although welcoming human visitors is secondary to the hospital’s function, the 90-minute tours held eight times a day are absolutely fascinating, plus the admission fees help support its important work.
One of three walking itineraries offered by Hidden Key West, the approximately two-hour Historic Homes and History of Key West tour covered an impressive amount of architectural and historical ground. Groups are limited to 10 people, but we were joined by only one other couple. Although our guide had seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of the island’s history and architecture, he never let the tour turn into a lecture. His great affection for Key West was obvious and infectious.