Florida Keys Attractions
To the south of Miami are the Florida Keys (from the Spanish cayo, "islet, reef"), a chain of coral islands of varying size which extends for more than 110 miles/180km between the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico.
Until a devastating hurricane in 1935 they were linked by a rail line extending to Key West, from which there were boats to Havana (Cuba). The boldly engineered Overseas Highway (US 1) now runs over 42 bridges and numerous artificial causeways to the south-eastern tip of the United States. The little islands of Sands Key, Elliot Key, Cotton Key and Old Rhodes Key, lying off Biscayne Bay, are now part of the Biscayne National Underwater Park, established in 1980. Off Key Largo (pop. 11,000) are the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary, the only living coral reef in the continental United States. The rich underwater life and a number of wrecks attract large numbers of snorkellers and scuba divers. Islamorada claims to be the "sport fishing capital of the world". On Grassy Key is the Dolphin Research Center, where the TV series "Flipper" was filmed. Marathon (pop. 10,000) is the second largest town on the Keys. The new Seven Miles Bridge (1982) leads to the Bahia Honda State Recreational Area, with a beautiful bathing beach. On Big Pine Key is the National Key Deer Refuge, home to the last few hundred of the shy, miniature (only 2ft/60cm high) roe-deer of the Keys.In the early days, pirates used the Keys as a temporary base during their pillaging runs. However, much of this activity stopped after 1822 when the U.S. Navy began to patrol the waters and built a base in Key West.The coral reef to the east of the Keys is the only one found in the continental United States. It played a large role in the area's early economic development. When ships crashed into the shallow reefs, locals would salvage the cargo and resell it. This practice, known as "wrecking", was one of the first industries to bring prosperity to the region. Other important regional economic ventures were sponge fishing and cigar manufacturing.
Indian Key State Historic Site, Long Key, Florida
Indian Key is a small, 10-acre island noted in Florida's history for its strategic location during the "wrecking" boom of the early 1800's and for the botanical gardens planted here. Businessman Jacob Housman bought the island in 1831 and turned it into the center of his business of salvaging cargo from shipwrecks. Due to his antagonistic relationship with the people and government of Key West, Housman had the Legislative Council establish Indian Key as the seat of Dade County in 1836. Today there is an observation tower, a boat dock, a shelter and trails for visitors. Popular activities include canoeing, kayaking, boating, and fishing. Accessible only by private boat or charter boats.
Key Largo, Florida
Off Key Largo (pop. 11,000) are the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary, the only living coral reef in the continental United States. The rich underwater life and a number of wrecks attract large numbers of snorkellers and scuba divers.The longest of the Florida Keys, it introduces the Keys lifestyle through its many marinas, tackle shops and diving opportunities.
Maritime Museum of the Florida Keys
Maritime Museum of the Florida Keys is located inside the reproduction of a 15th century castle. Displays include artifacts and relics salvaged from some of the ill-fated Spanish Galleons that sank in the area. Vicious hurricanes and shallow coral reefs destroyed several Spanish fleets in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Maritime Museum of the Florida Keys has gold coins, ceramic urns, weaponry such as one of the oldest pieces ever found, the Haskins Capitana Medallion.
Grassy Key - Dolphin Research Center
The Dolphin Research Center allows visitors to learn about Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions. Experience the different "dolphinalities" during narrated sessions. Each session highlights a different aspect of their lives - no two sessions are alike! Educational presentations as well as watching the trainers interact with the dolphins are other highlights of the Dolphin Research Center.
Address: 58901 Overseas Highway, Grassy Key, FL 33050-6019, United States
Opening hours: 9am-4:30pm
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), Memorial Day - USA (last Monday, May), American Independance Day (Jul 4), Labor Day - USA (1st Monday, Sep), Thanksgiving - USA (4th Thursday, Nov), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25)
Entrance fee in USD: Adult $19.50, Senior over 55 $16.50, Child 12 & under $13.50, Child 3 & under FREE
Disability Access: Partial facilities for persons with disabilities.
Facilities: Gift shop
Marathon is the commercial and sport fishing center of the Middle Keys. Settlements on the island can be traced back to the 1800's.In 1908, Henry Flagler's overseas railway reached the village of Marathon and became the headquarters of the railroad's final Key West extension.
Crane Point Museum & Nature Center
Remnants of pirate ships and a 600 year old dugout canoe are just a few of the items on display at the Crane Point Museum. The museum also features wildlife models of marine life, birds, and other animals in the natural settings. The Children's Activity area is set up on a 17th C galleon complete with pirate clothes and treasure as well as a touch tank along the deck railing.
Sugarloaf Key, Florida
Sugarloaf Key was named for the sugarloaf pineapples that once grew in the area. The town is home to Bat Tower, an island landmark and monument that was built in 1929 to house bats. They were supposed to feed on the mosquitoes, but once released the bats flew away.
Big Pine Key, Florida
Located between Marathon and Key West, Big Pine Key is home to Key deer. This miniature species reaches the size of a large dog when full grown.Many divers experience the coral reefs and undersea inhabitants at nearby Looe Key.
National Key Deer Refuge
Islamorada is a fishing resort that is spread over several islands. Its name comes from the Spanish, due to its purplish appearance from a distance they called it the purple isle (isla morada).
Theater of the Sea
Located within a 17-acre tropical forest, the Theater of the Sea contains a series of salt-water pools housing a variety of marine animals. There are dolphins, sea lions, sharks, sea turtles, rays and an array of tropical fish, some of which perform in ongoing shows. The facility offers educational and recreational programs whereby visitors can swim among with dolphins, sea lions or rays. There's also the chance to shadow the staff in the "Trainer for a Day" activity. The Theater of the Sea first opened its doors to the public in 1946, making it the second oldest marine park in the world.
Address: 84721 Overseas Highway, Islamorada, FL 33036-3410, United States
Opening hours: 9:30am-5pm
Entrance fee in USD: Adult $26.95, Child 10 & under $19.45, Child 2 & under FREE
Disability Access: Partial facilities for persons with disabilities.
Facilities: Gift shop, Restaurant or food service
Typical Visit: 2 hours 50 minutes
Kon Tiki Resort
Kon Tiki Resort began as a fishing camp and now offers an abundance of water activities in the private lagoon or freshwater pool. The various activities at Kon Tiki includes swimming, fishing, diving, snorkeling and boating. Abundant wildlife is found along the waterfront.
Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park
Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park is home to one of the last stands of virgin tropical hardwood hammock. The tiny island was purchased in 1919 by William Matheson, a chemist from Miami, who used it as his getaway destination. Little has changed on Lignumvitae Key and the Matheson House now serves as the visitor centre.
Somewhere in Time
Somewhere In Time is a Spanish treasure museum featuring artifacts, including coins and jewels, from shipwrecks that date from the 1600 to 1800's. Other items on display are out of print books, weapons, armour and religious artifacts.