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The Florida Keys * laid-back and mellow

Updated on February 24, 2016
Duval Street, Key West.
Duval Street, Key West. | Source
Key West Hyatt Resort and Spa
Key West Hyatt Resort and Spa | Source
Ernest Hemingway House, Key West.
Ernest Hemingway House, Key West. | Source
The southern most tip of the continental U.S. at Key West, Florida.
The southern most tip of the continental U.S. at Key West, Florida. | Source

Key West's Fantasy Halloween Parade

The Keys

The Florida keys are the place to come if you want a vacation or place to live that is even more laid-back than typical island life. Here in the keys the slogan is "Come as you are" and they mean it. There is no pretense and the lifestyle is definitely informal here on the keys. In fact, in Key West, there are drinking establishments that post signs that say "clothing is optional."

Yes, you can hang out at the local bar with absolutely no clothes on if you wish - naked, desnudo, or however you wish to say it. And nobody blinks an eye. How's that for laid-back and mellow? Just keep your eyes above the waist and looking directly into the eyes of the naked person you are speaking with and I'm sure everything will be fine.

Of course, not every place on Key West is like that, but Key West is probably the most liberal of all the keys and certainly no one walks anywhere outdoors without clothes on. Key West has probably been the most popular and famous of the keys to visit. It is the southern most inhabited key of a coral cay archipelago in the southeast United States fifteen miles south of Miami.

It is also well known for its Fantasy Halloween Parade that takes place in downtown Key West on Saturday, October 26. Yes, this Saturday, thousands upon thousands will descend upon Key West to take part in the most crazy, unusual, and masquerade parade ever seen. Those participating and dressed in Halloween costumes come to frighten, to fantasize, and to freak.

There is also a Halloween Costume Contest that is unbelievably funny. A winner is chosen each year to see which costume is the funkiest. It is Key West's version of Mardi Gras and those lined up to watch the parade and contest have as much fun as the parade participants. There are huge floats, streamers, confetti and ghoulish sights to scare the living daylights out of you.

Participants come from all over Florida, the U.S. and the world to dance down Duval Street, the main drag in Key West. (no pun intended) This is not family hour in Key West, so don't bring the kids. There is adult only trick or treating this weekend in Key West.

If you are planning to bring the kids along, skip this weekend and come another for a beautiful. lazy, hazy, relaxing time.

Of course, the beaches in Key West are beautiful with turquoise and clear waters and soft white sand. Palm trees swaying gently in the breeze provide a bit of shade and the scuba diving and snorkeling is wonderful. The colorful marine life and plants are a sight to behold.

There is the Key West Seaplane adventure that is a 35-40 minute trip to the Dry Tortuga keys that are the southern most uninhabited keys. The plane skims only 500 feet above the clear waters and stingrays, sea turtles, sharks and other fish can be seen from the plane in the shallow water. Also, there is a daily ferry that runs from Key West to the Dry Tortuga National Park and Fort Jefferson.

Continue on with the seaplane trip to The Quicksands where the water plunges to 30 ft. depths. Here is where shipwrecks have occurred since the 1500's. Famed shipwreck and treasurer hunter, Mel Fisher and his crew, found great treasures from two sunken ships, La Nuestra Senora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita from the year 1622. They sank during a hurricane forty miles off the keys.

He and his crew became multi-millionaires overnight with their treasure find in 1985 and he opened the Mel Fisher Martitime Museum, where a 77.76 carat natural emerald crystal worth a quarter of a million dollars can be viewed as well as other treasures found deep beneath the sea.

Also, not to be missed while in Key West is the Key West Aquarium which the kids and adults will love. There is also the Key West Lighthouse Museum and the Key West Museum of Art and History.

Not far from downtown and Duval Street is the Hemingway House of famed journalist and novelist Ernest Hemingway who later in life lived in Key West for a number of years. He was into big game fishing in the waters off the keys and, of course, took many trips to Cuba. He wrote many of his novels while living here. And, downtown is the famed Sloppy Joe's Bar where Hemingway frequented and also wrote here.

Hawks Cay resort in Key West, Florida.
Hawks Cay resort in Key West, Florida. | Source
The Seven Mile Bridge that connects Marathon in the middle keys to Little Duck Key in the Lower Keys.
The Seven Mile Bridge that connects Marathon in the middle keys to Little Duck Key in the Lower Keys. | Source

Getting to the Keys

Florida Keys Marathon Airport

Key West International Airport 3491 South Roosevelt Blvd. 305-809-5200

Florida Keys Express Shuttle LLC Airport Shuttle Service 305-743-7454

Florida Keys Info

The Florida key islands lie along the Florida Straits and divide the Atlantic Ocean to the east from the Gulf of Mexico to the west and define one edge of the Florida Bay. The southern tip of Key West island is only ninety miles (140km) from Cuba. The group of islands lie fifteen miles south-southwest in an arc and stretch to the uninhabited islands of the Dry Tortugas. The total land area is 137.3 square miles and they rest in Monroe County with a small portion of the keys in Miami-Dade County.

The keys are exposed portions of an ancient coral reef formed from drastic changes in sea level during the ice ages. As sea levels lowered it exposed the coral reef. Therefore, the upper keys are large coral reefs that became fossilized and exposed. The lower keys are made of sand accumulations of limestone grains produced by plants and marine organisms.

The islands are a true tropical climate, called tropical savanna, which is closer to the climate of the Caribbean Islands than the rest of Florida. In fact, the keys are the only frost free place in all of Florida. There are two seasons in the keys; the first, hot and humid from June to October and drier and cooler from November to May.

The keys were originally founded and chartered by Ponce de Leon (1513) and he originally named the islands Los Martines (The Martyrs). There he found the original inhabitants, the Calusa and Tequesta Native Americans. The term 'key' is derived from the Spanish 'cayo' which means small island. The keys were well located for trading with Cuba, the Bahamas, and the main trade route from New Orleans in the time of discovery.

Over the years Key West grew prosperous on shipwrecks and treasures, but went into decline in the late 19th century. Today, the keys are the center of major drug smuggling routes from Key West to Everglade City and there is heavy law enforcement in the keys because of this. The keys were also the first destination of Cubans who fled to South Florida during the Cuban revolution and today they are the destination of many of the boat people fleeing Cuba for asylum in the U.S.

The five major keys that have the most population and tourist destinations are:

  • Key Largo
  • Islamorada
  • Marathon (Knight Key)
  • Big Pine Key
  • Key West

One of the most popular and famous sights on the keys is the Seven Mile Bridge, actually just under seven miles long, which connects Marathon (Knight Key) in the middle keys with Little Duck Key in the lower keys and is actually part of U.S. 1 which is the highway that runs the length of the keys and all the way up the east coast to Maine.

Along with the beautiful sand beaches and turquoise and clear waters, the keys are also known for their great big game fishing and destination of boaters and sailors from all over the world. Scuba diving and snorkeling are big pastimes here also because of the tremendous views of the beautiful coral reefs the islands are composed of and because of the beautiful marine life found under the waters.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo. | Source
Key Largo sunset.
Key Largo sunset. | Source
Islamorada sunset.
Islamorada sunset. | Source

Which Florida key would you like to visit?

See results

Key Largo is the first of the upper keys and is the largest and longest island of the chain. It is thirty miles long. One of the most interesting and nicest places to see on the island is the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. It offers the best of the flora and fauna found on the keys and here one can see the coral reef and the great marine life. This is a wonderful place for snorkeling or scuba diving as the reef and the marine life are colorful and breathtaking.

Also a fun recreational event not to miss is Dolphin Cove, which offers playing with the dolphins in their own habitat. Dolphins, which are mammals, are considered the most intelligent of marine life and enjoy frolicking with humans. There is a get acquainted session on the platform at the water and then participants can slip into the water and romp with the dolphins. There is a fee, of course, and right now for $155 one can take a shallow water swim with the dolphins. For $195, one can take a structured hands on swim with the dolphins and for a whopping $670 one can shadow a dolphin trainer all day long.

It's sister event is Dolphins Plus, in which participants can take a natural swim and become totally immersed with the dolphins and their world. ($150) Participants can snorkel but can't touch the dolphins There is a structured swim program in which one can kiss the dolphins and take fin tows for $195. Dolphins Plus also offers sea lion swims for $140.

For ornithologists there is the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center and also the Dagney Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park.

Islamorada, Purple Island, is the key with the most beautiful sunsets. Named the Purple Island because of the vibrant pink to purple sunsets each night, hey are stunning, astounding and romantic. The beaches here are also beautiful and the island also offers boating, fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling and kayaking.

Marathon is the bustling and busy town of Knight Key and where the Seven Mile Bridge begins connecting the middle and lower keys. The Old Seven Mile bridge runs parallel to this one but no cars are permitted to drive it. This is the most commercial city of the keys and offers great shopping. There is also the Crane Point Museum and the famed Sombrero Beach to see and experience.

Big Pine Key, offers the key's most natural place of the islands. The wildlife refuges protect the rare and endangered animals and it has an authentic back country atmosphere. The National Key Deer Refuge was founded in 1957 and is an 84,824 acre refuge that protects the dwindling Key deer, and endangered species. This deer is the sub-species of the Virginia white-tailed deer and today boasts 750 of the deer on the island.

Other recreational pursuits available on the island are biking, kayaking, boating, and fishing. The Blue Hole is a quarry left over from the railroad days where one can see alligators, turtles and other wildlife. There are also two natural trails for hiking.

There are many keys in between these five major keys that are not as busy with tourists and offer the getaway from the mainstream of life. For a stress free environment, one of these keys may be just the place to escape the daily routine. Leave the cell phone at home and become 'lost' on a Florida key.

Visit the beautiful Florida keys

Snorkeling in the keys.
Snorkeling in the keys. | Source

© 2013 Suzette Walker


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