Exploring The Florida Keys on Vacation and Why This Should Be Your Next Beach Destination

When the destination of Florida was tossed around for our family trip this year, admittedly, I had some serious hesitations. Normally, we try to go to some place that’s more of a “destination” or out of the country. But with the pandemic making international travel a bit more hectic and chaotic than what we were willing to risk, we decided on making the trip to the Florida Keys. As it turns out, the Florida Keys are so far from what I could have ever imagined being attached to our Sunshine State. The Florida Keys contain over 800 islands, but are most known for the main islands of Key West, the Lower Keys, Marathon, Islamorada, and Key Largo which span over 100 miles from end to end, primary connected by Highway 1. The Florida Keys feel like a completely different tropical country, even though the chain of islands is only an hour drive from Miami. Can’t wait to share the rest of the trip with you.

Key West

The trip’s plan was to spend the week staying in Key West and Islamorada, spending the days on the water, snorkeling, SCUBA diving, and of course drinking our way from end of the Keys to the other. After landing in Fort Lauderdale a few hours before my wife’s parents arrived, so we hung out at Dania Beach, getting our first experience in the incredibly warm water from what we were used to. But once they landed, we were off to Key West, where we stayed right off the infamous, and popular Duvall street. Right away, I was blown away with the town, feeling like if you dropped the historic town of Charleston somewhere on a palm tree covered Caribbean Island. And with little time to relax by the hotel’s pool, we were off to Duvall street for a night of rum tastings, seafood dinner, and live music to kick this trip off right.

Our few days in Key West were highlighted with morning runs around town to the Southernmost Point, to the beach piers, and dodging rouge chickens that filled the palm tree covered streets. Going through Southpoint Divers shop, we went SCUBA diving on a reef that was a 40 minute boat ride to the west, called dry rocks. Though the reef was at a shallow depth and the visibility was only 20-30 feet at some parts, it was still unique experience diving in a new ocean. The fish were beautiful and the coral was lively and plentiful. And just as our day underwater was filled with fish, so were our plates at dinner. And the time in Key West came to an end with a day enjoying the finer things in town via a rented golf cart that we got to cruise around in. We bounced from sop to shop, enjoying key lime pie, and all the classic beach bars and breweries around the harbor like the Waterfront Brewery and the Green Parrot Bar. 

On the way to our next destination, Islamorada, some 80 miles back on Highway 1, we made a pit stop at the Bahia Honda State Park. A beautiful beach park just West of the infamous Seven Mile Bridge, were we hung out in the ocean under the incredibly strong Florida sun all afternoon. Though it wasn’t the crystal clear tropical water we’d seen elsewhere on the island, the water temperatures felt almost 90 degrees and the backdrop of decrepit Bahia Honda Bridge that crossed the two keys. After an incredible day, we were off to our final destination of Islamorada for the last few days, where we were staying at La Jolla Beach Resort, right on the water, but more importantly, across from the brewery.

Islamorada

The following day was the best SCUBA diving on the trip. We drove east to Tavernier Key to go diving with Florida Keys Dive Center where they took us to Paradise dive site after a 20 minute boat ride. This was one of the best moments of my life. As we descended to depth, we came upon what was described as an amphitheater of gorgeous sea life. A kaleidoscope of colorful schools of fish covered the semi-circle arch of coral. In the center of this amphitheater, is a sandy bottom where us divers could lay on the bottom and watch as this world swam around us. But that wasn’t the highlight of the dive in that crystal clear water of the Keys, because what came next blew my mind. A shark swam into view, and for the next 45 minutes, I got to swim with sharks!

Granted, they were all the gentle Nurse sharks, but swimming alongside a large creature like that, and watching how effortlessly they can move through water. It was truly astounding. But Like all amazing dives they have to come to an end. But the excitement wasn’t over for this trip. As I mentioned, our place was right on the gulf side of the key, so each morning, we could go out on kayaks and paddle around the mangroves and beautiful homes on the water. But what I recall most about our place in Islamorada were the incredible sunsets that we got to watch from the dock and of course the manatee! A friendly neighborhood manatee showed up one morning to drink from a hose that was pouring off the dock, and it just hung out swimming around us for nearly an hour. Truly out of this world getting to swim with such a large, and friendly sea creature.

The last days on the keys were spent trying to find great snorkeling spots, checking out the historical diving museum, or checking out the local breweries. And of Course, I cannot forget going Parasailing for the first time! Growing up at the Jersey shore, I always saw this but wasn’t too interested. But going up on the sail down in Florida Keys over the turquoise blue water was a sight I’ll never forget. It was sad to see leave a place that we had fallen in love with over the course of a long week. Having only stayed on two of the Keys, I can’t wait to go back again to see more of the chain of island. Even more so, I can’t wait to go diving at one of the many deeper shipwrecks off the coast of the Florida Keys. But it really was an amazing trip with Courtney and her parents, doing our best to explore as much as possible on the islands. 

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