by Stefanie Michaels
The Florida Keys had been on my shortlist for a while. I was finally heading there, and on the shoulder period, which meant I could beat the summer crowds, and take my time exploring each unique isle in what’s called the “middle keys”.
The coolest thing about these isles is that they are linked only by the Overseas Highway (a 113-miles in length), making the journey on south and island-hopping interesting unto itself.
Each island has a different flair and personality. There is always something to do on each Key, whether you are a family, traveling solo, or engaged in coupledom.
The people of the Keys are warm and friendly. Most are mainlander expats, who initially visited on holiday, falling into the slower paced, enjoyable lifestyle that’s offered there. Visitors will really feel the laid back atmosphere that these expats help create.
There are a couple of misconceptions about the Keys.
The first, is that they are party isles. Some of them can be, but where I stayed on Duck Key was mixed with families and couples, and the atmosphere was laid back and relaxing.
Hawks Cay Resort is located in the heart of the Keys just north of Marathon Key. It’s more of a destination than just a resort, with its own Marina, so if you are into sports fishing, this is the place to hang your hat. Look for Tailwalker and Final Final boats to take you out for the day. (Don’t miss the Saltwater Experience Weekend, where anglers learn tips and techniques from the show’s hosts Captain Rich Tudor and Captain Tom Rowland, as well as other industry experts).
Resort rooms are spacious and contemporary, with some rooms facing the pool area, while others have views of the beach and fantastic sunrises for early risers.
And, yes, there are beaches in the Florida Keys—yet, another misconception.
Sombrero Beach, Bahia Honda State Park (features one of the top 10 beaches in the US), Key West Smathers Beach, Key Colony Beach (located in the Marathon district/Middle Keys) and Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park (accessed through Truman Annex on Southard Street).
Hawks Cay Resort has its own beach as well, and is also the perfect jumping off point for adventures. Within a few miles, there are sea-life experiences, shopping and restaurants.
The Turtle Hospital was one of my favorite places to visit. This is where injured and rescued sea turtles come to be rehabbed.
The Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters, where a few of my group darned wetsuits and got in the tanks with fish and other sea creatures, is both educational and family friendly.
If you’re more of the shopping-eating-land adventures kind of traveler, then don’t miss:
Shop: Michelle Lowe’s gallery, where her artistic focus is on the ocean life she experiences while snorkeling.
Bike: the Old Seven Mile Bridge better known as “Old 7,” was built over a century ago as the centerpiece of Henry Flagler’s Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad.
Eat: Lazy Days South offers fresh seafood, seafood pastas, vegetarian pastas, sandwiches, steaks and chicken and also offer to cook your catch.
Key Fisheries’ seafood is literally “fresh off the boat” and the restaurant is famed for its lobster Reuben.
This Islamorada landmark has been operating for 18 years on Lower Matecumbe Key. The Hungry Tarpon is a little bit of kitsch and a whole lot of delicious fresh catches of the day!
Hook & Cook Dinner at Alma at Hawks Cay offers fisherman the chance to fish, then cook their catch for dinner.
An icon on Marathon Key is Castaway Waterfront Restaurant and Sushi Bar. Originally built in 1951, Castaway was a popular stop for shrimp boat captains. Today, it boasts seafood, steaks, and sushi.
Hawks Cay Resort 61 Hawks Cay Boulevard Duck Key FL 33050 866-347-2675
Castaway Waterfront Restaurant and Sushi Bar 1406 Oceanview Ave?Marathon FL 33050?305-743-6247
Keys Fisheries 3502 Gulfview Ave. Marathon FL 33050 305-743-4353
Lazy Days South Marathon 725 11th Street Ocean, MM 47?Marathon FL 33050?305-289-0839
Robbie’s Marina/the Hungry Tarpon?77500 Overseas Highway, MM 77.5?Islamorada FL 33036 305-664-8070
Bikes: Overseas Outfitters 1700 Overseas Highway, MM 48 Marathon FL 33050 305-289-1670
Coral Reef Encounter at Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters 11710 Overseas Highway, MM 53 Marathon FL 33050 305-407-3262
The Turtle Hospital (Hidden Harbor Marine Environmental Project, Inc.) 2396 Overseas Highway Marathon, FL 33050 305-743-2552
For more information and travel planning: www.fla-keys.com