The Florida Keys are meant to be experienced alfresco. Unique attractions like the Turtle Hospital teach visitors about the delicate ecology that surrounds the area, and give them a chance to see these amazing animals up close. Public parks are another place where both locals and visitors like to while the days away; if you can add an extra day to your visit, make sure to book a trip to Dry Tortugas National Park for a look at the history of the area.
Bahia Honda State Park
36850 Overseas Hwy., Big Pine Key, FL 33043 | (305) 872-2353
Popular with locals, Family-friendly
Between its gorgeous beaches and dazzling sunsets, Bahia Honda State Park offers all of what the Florida Keys are known for in one, 500-acre park. But don’t expect to just lounge on the beach all day (no matter how tempting it might be). It would be a shame to visit and miss out on the many activities on offer, whether it’s an afternoon of fishing from the shore, some early-morning bird-watching (an onsite Sand and Sea Nature Center will give you the lowdown on the local plant and animal life), or a snorkeling tour from Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary. A campsite and rental cabins make it a wonderful overnight excursion.
Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
1316 Duval St., Key West, FL 33040 | (305) 296-2988
Popular with locals, Family-friendly
You’ll find more than 50 species of butterflies and 20 kinds of exotic birds under the glass dome greenhouse that is the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory. Filled with lots of flowering trees and tropical plants, the building’s customized weather system simulates a tropical climate, creating the perfect environment for all its inhabitants. The adjacent Victorian building is home to a Learning Center with a live caterpillar display, gift shop, and gallery full of original artwork.
Dry Tortugas National Park
70 Miles West of Key West, Key West, FL 33040 | (305) 242-7700
If you’ve got enough time for a day trip, hop the ferry to the Dry Tortugas National Park; the seven islands, 70 miles west of Key West, are like a trip back in time to the earliest days of the Keys. Fort Jefferson National Monument, which was designated by FDR, is evocative of the Civil War—and quite spooky to explore (Samuel Mudd was jailed here for his supposed part in Lincoln’s offing). There’s plenty of nature to explore, too; there are bird sanctuaries teeming with sooty terns and frigates on Bush and Long Keys, and more waterprone types can snorkel in the coral reefs just 10 feet from shore.
Hemingway Home and Museum
907 Whitehead St., Key West, FL 33040 | (305) 294-1136
Great value, Popular with locals
A visit to Ernest Hemingway’s tropical hideaway is a Key West must for a reason. To make the most of the experience, it’s best to take the official tour: they start every 10 to 15 minutes, are led by a passionate (and boisterous) group of local literature lovers, and last about 30 minutes. If you don’t have a half-hour to spare, you must at least make time to see Papa Hemingway’s famous family of six-toed cats—there are about 40 to 50 of them—and his sons’ room, where photos of the author on exotic vacations to Africa, Paris, and Cuba help to better contextualize his literary works.
History of Diving Museum
82990 Overseas Hwy., Islamorada, FL 33036 | (305) 664-9737
Deep-sea diving is a way of life in the Keys, so much so that there’s an entire museum dedicated to its history. But visitors don’t have to have ever strapped on a wetsuit or breathing apparatus to find something of interest here. In a way, it’s more of a history museum that documents mankind’s longtime love affair with the sea. Though the museum opened in 2005, its collection is the result of more than 40 years of personal collecting. Today, it has one of the world’s largest collections of diving helmets, armored suits, diving accessories, photographs, books, films, and another memorabilia from more than 30 countries.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
102601 Overseas Hwy., Key Largo, FL 33037 | (305) 451-6300
Great value, Family-friendly
Opened in 1963, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is America’s first undersea park—and remains a sight to behold. Within its 70 nautical miles, visitors can explore a vast collection of gorgeous coral reefs, mangrove swamps, and seagrass beds via kayak, canoe, paddleboard, or glass-bottomed boat. There are also opportunities for scuba diving and snorkeling, which give guests an up-close view of the more than 250 species of tropical fish that call this vast park home.
Key West Art & Historical Society
281 Front St., Key West, FL 33040 | (305) 295-6616
Overlooking Mallory Square, the Key West Art & Historical Society, located within the circa-1891 Custom House, is one of the Florida Keys’ oldest nonprofit organizations. Its mission is simple: to preserve the area’s many historic structures, artifacts, and artworks. Its collection is extraordinary: included among its permanent collection are 15 of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tennessee Williams’ paintings.
Red Barn Theatre
319 Duval St., Key West, FL 33040 | (305) 296-9911
Popular with locals
Locally beloved and nationally renowned, this improbably first-rate theater has been a cultural cornerstone in Key West for more than 30 years. Shel Silverstein, Terrence McNally and Tennessee Williams are among those who have played a part in the theater’s history. Richard Wilbur, the former U.S. Poet Laureate, worked with the theater to produce a series of Molière translations.
77522 Overseas Hwy., Islamorada, FL 33036 | (877) 664-8498
Great value, Popular with locals, Family-friendly
A popular spot with locals and visitors alike, Robbie’s Marina is a boat rental and tour company and the starting point for a number of water-based activities, including deep-sea fishing, kayaking, and snorkeling. Robbie’s is also home to souvenir shops, local craft stalls, and the Hungry Tarpon restaurant, which is known for its fresh seafood as well as a school of enormous—and, yes, hungry—tarpons waiting below the dock to be hand-fed by visitors ($3 will buy you a bucket of bait)
The Turtle Hospital
2396 Overseas Hwy., Marathon, FL 33050 | (305) 743-2552
Though white-sand beaches and all the Key lime pie you can stuff into your suitcase are part of any Florida Keys adventure, the archipelago is also home to a number of animal conservation groups and sanctuaries. Since 1986, the Turtle Hospital in Marathon has been helping to rehabilitate injured sea turtles in order to return them to their natural habitat. As part of the organization’s mission to educate people about these adorable little reptiles, they open their doors to the public on a daily basis. Guests will get the chance to peek behind the scenes of the hospital’s operation, meet some of the animals that are in the hospital’s care, and feed a few of its permanent residents.
In The Middle Keys: In the Middle Keys, KeysCaribbean Luxury Resort Villas and Marinas has the Village at Hawks Cay Villas on Duck Key, Indigo Reef Resort Villas & Marina and the Coral Lagoon Resort Villas & Marina vacation rentals in Marathon
In The Lower Keys: In the Lower Keys, KeysCaribbean Luxury Resort Villas and Marinas has the Coral Hammock Resort Villas and Kings Point Marina & Condominiums vacation rentals