Insider Secrets

Stay In The Florida Keys is prepared to welcome you to these beautiful islands in an unparalleled manner. A vacation is so tremendously important to each one of us. Everyone needs a getaway, an escape from the norm.

We will take you through your vacation plans every step of the way, designing a unique vacation experience to weave your dreams into reality. Together, we can help you create memories that will last a lifetime.

We invite you to let us share our depth of experience and local knowledge with one goal in mind: your ultimate Florida Keys experience.

We have put together a booklet of some of our favorite dining and other establishments in the area you will find of interest plus important local phone numbers, charter information in PDF form. Feel free to print and bring with you.

While a wonderful vacation begins with a captivating property perfectly matched to your needs, our staff knows how to help you create experiences to enhance each moment as you unwind and recharge in this world renowned one-of-a-kind tropical haven. Nobody cares like we do.

Perhaps you simply want time away from the usual everyday experience – at a different pace. Perhaps you seek new, fun experiences in a tropical paradise like none other. Or you may be in pursuit of a villa holiday as a luxurious, more relaxed extension of your everyday lifestyle. Whether these shimmering waters or the 100-plus islands – each with its own personality – beckon you most, an infinite pallet of experiences awaits you.

From the romantic to the practical, we are totally invested in customizing each detail to perfect your precious leisure hours.

ON AND IN THE WATER
The Florida Keys have from their earliest history been known for abundant and diverse fishing. Whether bonefishing in the waters just offshore from your private beach, engaging in exciting offshore big game fishing aboard an expertly-appointed charter vessel perhaps complete with kite fishing, or enjoying the spectacular backcountry flats of Florida Bay and the Everglades National Park – anglers of every experience level find an exhilarating experience. From the reefs to the Everglades, the Florida Keys boast the best saltwater fishing in the United States, as well as internationally known guides.

We strongly encourage anglers unfamiliar with local waters to hire a professional fishing guide to get the action going fast – and we can provide many excellent recommendations to you.

Captains for hire can be reserved for offshore sportfishing aboard your private vessel, also.

The Florida Keys – including Islamorada, often refered to as, “The Sport Fishing Capital of the World” – offer two distinctly different types of fishing.

Reef fishing revolves around an amazing variety of snapper, grouper, mackerel, amberjack, and sharks. Venturing into the Atlantic Ocean’s famed Gulf Stream, akin to a warm-water river up to 2500 feet deep or more, anglers find pelagic species such as dolphin (no, not Flipper, mahi-mahi!), wahoo, blackfin tuna, sailfish, and blue and white marlin. And then there’s oceanside and bayside sight fishing for bonefish, tarpon, permit and other prized gamefish.

In the backcountry, exquisite vistas compete with the elusive bonefish, energetic tarpon, permit, mangrove snapper, Snook, Spanish mackerel, redfish, trout, cobia, sharks and many more species.

Florida Saltwater Recreational Fishing Licenses and information are locally available at most stores catering to fishermen and many drug stores. Youth under the age of 16 are not required to have a Florida fishing license, but must carry proof of their age. The 24/7 toll-free number to immediately purchase a Florida fishing license is 1-888-FISHFLORIDA (1-888-347-4356). You will need your driver license and a credit card handy when you make this call. You can also call the above number for information on regulations, etc., or you may prefer to log onto the official website of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at myfwc.com.

Lobster season is popular in the Keys, too. The spiny lobster “sport mini-season” is usually the last Wednesday and Thursday of July, and the regular season usually runs from August 6 to March 31. Be sure to carry a Florida fishing license with a crawfish endorsement – and a measuring device. It is a good idea to review the state lobstering regulations at www.myfwc.com/marine/lobster.htm. For information about no-take areas in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, call 305-743-2427 or visit floridakeys.noaa.gov.

The Florida Keys are equally well-known for wonderful open-water SCUBA diving, SNUBA, nitrox diving, snorkeling, and underwater photography. Just three miles offshore, the only major living coral reef in the continental United States is home to an amazing array of exotic tropical marine life.

Shallow diving, deep diving, and wreck diving – through Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine and Key West – the Keys has it all.

Offshore from Key Largo is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, America’s first underwater state park – which even contains the famed submerged statue, “Christ of the Abyss.” The 178 nautical square mile park offers a glassbottom boat, SCUBA diving, snorkel tours, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, nature trails, and a Visitor Center with numerous aquariums.

Or you might explore Looe Key, which is not an island at all, but a submerged U-shaped reef with varying depths about five nautical miles offshore from Big Pine Key.

We can recommend the professional dive facilities – including diving instructors, dive guides, and SCUBA classes – to best fit your needs. Private SCUBA guides, private snorkeling guides, SCUBA instruction, and dive equipment rental are available.

These tranquil aquamarine waters are also ideally suited for guided eco-tours, private kayak tours, private canoe tours or private jet ski tours from your property’s waterfront. Kayak rentals, canoe rentals, and jet ski rentals also awaits you.

Or try parasailing, if you want to get above it all.

Maybe sailing is your bliss. The Florida Keys are just right for a champagne sunset cruise, sailing charter, sailboat rental, Hobie Cat rental, or an unforgettable sunset cruise aboard Key West’s tall ships and schooners.

Delivery or pick-up of your personal boat or jet ski, yacht rentals, and boat rentals can be arranged. Marina services are available throughout the Keys.

Windsurfing and kite surfing rank high on these calm waters, too. Windsurfing equipment rentals and windsurfing instruction await, if you want.

Be sure to swim with the dolphins. These friendly, highly intelligent and intuitive mammals may be just the company you were hoping to find! The Keys offer delightful dolphin and sea lion shows for those who don’t want to jump in just yet.

ON THE LAND AND IN THE AIR
Simply driving over the 42 bridges spanning the sparkling waters of this subtropical archipelago is a magical experience. Each island has its own subtle personality, with occasional bursts of “local color.” And there are so many things to do and see along the way.

Expect directions to be given by Mile Marker (those little green signs that dot the highway every mile). The Mile Marker system starts with MM 126 just south of Florida City on the mainland and ends at MM 0 in Key West. To see how traffic is flowing at various points, log onto www.511southflorida.com.

Golf, tennis, beach volleyball, bicycle rentals, moped rentals in Key West, restaurants galore, galleries and museums of all sorts, fitness centers and day spas, numerous parks and gardens, miniature golf, fine public libraries, unique shopping, live music at an outdoor club with a view – you name it.

Enjoy the Red Barn Theatre (and full-service bar!) in Key West’s Duval Street, Key West’s Waterfront Playhouse, Marathon Community Theatre at Mile Marker 50, and the Keys Players in the Upper Keys.

Be sure to take note of the diverse dance presentations, film events, concerts, festivals and benefit performances presented at various occasions throughout the year, as well. And, throughout the Keys, there are many ideal locations for ceremonies such as weddings, anniversaries and family reunions.

Key West International Airport (Mile Marker 0), Marathon Airport (Mile Market 50), and a small airport on Sugarloaf Key (Mile Marker 17) offer charter airplane rides. Helicopter and ultralight aircraft tours are available in the Keys, too.

Skydiving can be arranged at the Sugarloaf Key airfield. Of course, you won’t want to miss the Bat Tower just past the airport, either. It was built by entrepreneur Richter Perky in 1929, though the bats have yet to take up residence. Both Key West International Airport and Marathon Airport offer nostalgic rides for two in the open-air cockpit of a classic bi-plane with current FAA certification and modern improvements for safety, comfort and ease of communication. What an exhilarating way to view the turquoise waters of the Florida Keys!

Speaking of aviation, the primary commercial airports serving the Keys are Key West International Airport and Marathon Airport, as well as Miami International Airport and Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport.

Let us know if you plan to fly your private aircraft and would like assistance to smooth the way. Two aviation landmarks are located just north of Key West. First, on Boca Chica, Naval Air Station Key West (NAS Key West) was commissioned in 1917, after Navy research found it to have the most days of perfect flying weather anywhere in the country. A little further north, near Cudjoe Key, you may spot a white radar blimp, affectionately known as “Fat Albert,” tethered 1400 feet up. …

You will want to be sure to bring your camera too…especially if your interests lean toward watching real birds. Every year birdwatchers view with awe the amazing diversity of hawks, falcons, ospreys, herons, cranes, roseate spoonbills, mangrove cuckoos, sparrows, cardinals, hummingbirds, you name it – even Bald Eagles and Monarch butterflies – migrating to or through the Florida Keys.

You may want to explore Dry Tortugas National Park, seven islands originally named “Las Tortugas” – The Turtles – by Spaniard Ponce de Leon in 1513. Traveling about 70 miles west of Key West by ferry, catamaran or small plane, visitors can explore Fort Jefferson (America’s largest 19th century coastal fort) and then snorkel or dive in the surrounding shallow waters. Abandoned by the Army in 1874, Fort Jefferson served as a Union prison for captured Civil War deserters and held four men convicted of complicity in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. Pirate legends abound, and slaves there were said to have relied on lobster they caught for food!

Sparkling sea, lively coral reef and a long white-sand beach meet at Bahia Honda State Park, located at Mile Marker 37. This park was recently listed among the top 10 beaches in America, the top 10 state parks in America, and second most beautiful beach in the nation.

Many of the native plants and flowers found here are found in few other places in the world. The Old Bahia Honda Bridge, built by Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railroad in 1917, is one of the most photographed spots in the Keys.

Back in Key West, numerous attractions tempt kids of all ages. Duval Street. The Southernmost Point, marked by a huge red, white, green and yellow buoy at the corner of Whitehead and South Streets. Mallory Square’s daily sunset celebration. Fort Taylor. Ernest Hemingway Museum (at his home), Audubon House and Tropical Gardens, the Secret Garden, and Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory.

The birthplace of Pan Am Airlines. Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarter Museum. President Truman’s Little White House Museum (also used by Eisenhower and Kennedy), Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum, the Wrecker’s Museum located in Key West’s oldest house. The Conch Republic Cigar Factory. The Historic Seaport District (formerly known as the Bight) encompassing the harbor from Greene to Grinnell Streets, contrasting with the cruise ship dock.

Key West Ferry Terminal offers service to and from Fort Myers, Marco Island and Miami. You can tour enchanting Key West aboard the famous Conch Tour Train, the Old Town Trolley which allows free reboarding privileges – as well as by pedi-cab, moped, bicycle or your own two feet.

At Mile Marker 30, Big Pine Key and No Name Key are home to the tiny Key deer and, though unrelated, the channel between the two islands is known for hammerhead sharks. Nearby is famous No Name Pub to calm yourself if you decide to take a swim in that channel or stop to see the alligators and other native wildlife at nearby Blue Hole on Key Deer Boulevard on Big Pine Key. A former rock quarry dug during railroad construction, Blue Hole is now the largest body of fresh water in the Keys and is crucial to the endangered Key Deer.

Marathon lies just north of the Seven Mile Bridge and Pigeon Key, which is a National Historic Site complete with a small museum. The Seven Mile Bridge has been featured in many movies and is home to the Seven Mile Bridge Run each April. Tours of Pigeon Key Historic District, once an integral part of Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railroad, depart from the train car on Knights Key on special occassions and festivals. Crane Point Museum and Nature Center, located on 64 acres from the highway to the gulf at Mile Marker 50, offers a wide range of exhibits and native flora, including a touch tank for children – and trolley tours are available.

The Turtle Hospital, the only state-certified veterinary hospital in the world for sea turtles, is located at Mile Marker 48.5 and offers tours by reservation.

Just north of Marathon, Long Key State Recreation Area sports tranquil canoe rentals and the Golden Orb nature trail, named after a harmless local spider.

Islamorada, “the Sportfishing Capital of the World,” officially spans Mile Markers 72 to 90.3. Feed the tarpon at Robbie’s Marina at Mile Marker 77 – at the south end of the stunning ocean and bay vistas from the series of bridges composing Indian Key Fill.

Offshore to the east of Indian Key Fill, accessible only by boat, is historic Indian Key State Park. West of Indian Key Fill is Lignumvitae Key, also accessible only by boat. Covered by virgin forests including the rare tropical hardwood tree known as Lignum Vitae or “tree of life,” this small island is the highest point in the Keys at a towering 18 feet – beating Key West’s Solares Hill by two feet.

The Matheson House, built in 1919 of coral bedrock and inhabited by caretakers Charlotte and Russell Neidhauk in the 1950s, is now a small museum. The fascinating book, Charlotte’s Story, contains her vivid stories of latter-day pioneer life on Lignumvitae and, earlier, an island offshore from Miami.

Windley Key Fossil Reef State Park at Mile Marker 84.5, a quarry from the early 1900s which provided stone for Flagler’s railroad among other ventures, is one of the few places the coral reef can be enjoyed without getting wet.

Islamorada is home to Theatre of the Sea Marine Mammal Park, along with a captivating array of inviting restaurants, bars, boutiques, shops and galleries. World Wide Sportsman houses the sister ship to Ernest Hemingway’s fishing boat “Pilar.” According to the Coconut Telegraph (a fanciful name for the Keys rumor mill), Hemingway himself took this boat out fishing once, then about a year later commissioned a similar vessel built for himself.

The Nautilimo is a fun way to get around Islamorada – the world’s first pink Cadillac stretch limousine convertible tour boat, offering sunset cruises, eco tours and weddings.

Key Largo is the first stop south of the mainland past the 18-mile stretch through the easternmost Everglades along the scenic Overseas Highway, also known as US Highway One. Key Largo is the longest, largest and easternmost island of the Florida Keys chain. This island, made famous by Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in the classic movie “Key Largo,” is also home to a wide range of outstanding restaurants, bars, shops and services.

Key Largo features two glassbottom boats, the 70 foot “Key Largo Princess” docked at Mile Marker 100, and another at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.

The SunCruz Casino ship also hails from the dock at Mile Marker 100 – with a regularly scheduled tender transporting guests to the ship while it remains offshore during operating hours.

The “African Queen” from Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn’s famous movie is also on display at the same marina – and cruises can be arranged by reservation.

Drivers enter the Keys either via the “18-mile stretch” – or Card Sound Road past Alabama Jack’s watering hole in “downtown Card Sound,” then over panoramic Card Sound Bridge with a toll of $1.

On the southern tip of the mainland is Everglades National Park, one-and-one-half-million-acres of unique and fragile ecosystem aptly termed the “River of Grass” by legendary author and conservationist Marjorie Stoneman Douglas. The early Spaniards named it “La Laguna del Espiritu Sanctu,” the Lake of the Holy Spirit.

The Everglades is the only subtropical preserve in North America and the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles co-exist. Deep in the Everglades is the town of Flamingo, settled by renegades and plume hunters more than 100 years ago. Flamingo is now home to employees of the National Park Service. A visitor’s center is open seasonally at Flamingo, and another visitor’s center is open year-round at the Homestead entrance to the park.

Though the nearest park entrance by land lies just west of the city of Homestead, the world-renowned waters of this national park extend southward to Islamorada.

Nearby attractions include narrated airboat tours with professional guides, private airboat tours, alligator wrestling, and snake and wildlife shows and exhibits.