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A trip to this island chain may trigger the infamous Keys Disease: the desire to never leave. From laid-back Key Largo to historic Key West, our guide makes crystal clear why literary buffs and daredevils alike are flocking to this tropical paradise. Let the fun begin!
By Amanda Gleason
Hawks Cay Resort Home to four bottlenose dolphins, this family-friendly resort in Duck Key offers on-site, instructor-led interactions with the mild-mannered mammals.
Marquesa Hotel Sample herb-dusted black grouper at the cozy café inside this serene Key West hotel, which welcomes guests ages 14 and older only.
Kona Kai Resort Eye more than 250 species of flowers and tropical plants on a guided tour of the botanic gardens at this intimate Key Largo spread, which abuts Everglades National Park‘s ocean side.
Encounter other sea creatures during a…
Ambulances around here don’t just carry people; they carry marine animals. That’s right: The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, which rescues sick and injured sea turtles and helps hatchlings make it safely to sea, routinely uses emergency vehicles in its life-saving missions. On a guided tour of the facility (offered daily), you’ll learn how hospital staff care for the endangered species, as well as meet residents like Ocean Diver, a 330-pound green sea turtle, and Rainbow Runner, a 7-pound Kemp’s ridley (the rarest turtle species in the world). You may even get to watch a recuperated patient return to its environs during a beach release. It’s all part of the organization’s mission, says manager Bette Zirkelbach. “We’re growing the turtle army here.”
The African Queen Cruise around Key Largo on the steamboat used in the classic 1951 flick, which starred Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Swim alongside angelfish, stingrays, and sea cucumbers on a snorkeling or scuba excursion at the country’s first undersea park, located in Key Largo.
Get above it all with a…
James Bond won’t have a thing on you once you’ve taken a ride with Jet Pack Adventures in Key West. This fun-loving outfit offers the chance to soar, 007-style, over the Atlantic with the help of a water-propelled jet pack. The ride begins aboard a shuttle boat, which transports you to a 50-foot catamaran about two miles offshore. Before launching, instructors teach the basics of flight and steering. “Every move should be slight, since even small amounts of force will turn you,” says Patrick Haney, an instructor. So how do you get air? The pack is connected to a floating pump that drives seawater through a hose, propelling you skyward. Just remember this advice: The more relaxed you are, the smoother the ride—and the less salt water you’ll swallow.
Be sure to eat a meal at…
Blue Heaven Kick off the day with banana bread and pineapple pancakes at this casual restaurant in Key West, where you may be joined on the patio by some of the island’s wandering chickens.
El Siboney The red wine sangria at this Cuban eatery in Key West pairs perfectly with the ropa vieja—a dish made of shredded beef braised in a tangy, tomato-based sauce.
Sloppy Joe’s A former favorite of Ernest Hemingway, this rousing bar in Key West houses some of the author’s fishing poles and snow skis, as well as a photo wall festooned with snapshots taken throughout his life.
Entertain your inner Picasso with an…
Famed sunsets, glistening waters—it’s hard not to feel inspired in Key West. Maybe that’s why this tiny island has such a thriving arts scene. The perfect place to begin your creative quest? The Studios of Key West. Housed in a former armory, this 6-year-old nonprofit provides space for local artists whose mediums range from watercolor to yarn. But they aren’t the only ones at work. Each month, guests can participate in activities like painting classes and sculpture lessons. If shopping is more your style, plan your visit during the winter show (December 20–January 11), when the space overflows with acrylic paintings, stone carvings, and more—all for purchase. “We like to help visitors connect with the creative energy and people that make Key West such a special place,” says Elena Devers, the deputy director. Mission accomplished.
Set your sights on…
History of Diving Museum Eye hundreds of nautical artifacts (including a 675-pound steel diving suit named Iron Mike) at this maze-like museum in Islamorada.
Robbie’s of Islamorada Book an offshore fishing trip at this lively marina, or grab a $3 bucket of bait to feed the toothless tarpons that loiter dockside, waiting to snag snacks from your hand.
Hands On Wear your art on your sleeve when you visit this tiny shop, home to an eclectic selection of silk scarves and beaded jewelry.
Intrigued by hemingway? then don’t miss this…
Key West has long been a haven for writers: Former residents include Tennessee Williams, Shel Silverstein, and, most fam-ously, Ernest Hemingway. From 1931 to 1939, the Nobel Prize winner hung his hat in a graceful, two-story Spanish Colonial (still the city’s single largest residence). Today, guests can wander the same hallways Papa once did—and eye his typewriter and walnut desk—on a 30-minute guided tour, offered daily. But don’t be surprised if the home’s current residents make an appearance. Nearly 50 six-toed felines—some descendants of Hemingway’s own polydactyl kitty—are often seen sunbathing by the pool and lounging among banana trees in the one-acre garden. So it’s true: Cats do have fine lives.
Getting There Fly into Key West International Airport (EYW), about four miles east of downtown.
Getting Out During Sculpture Key West, held December 1–March 23, more than 20 contemporary creations will be on display in Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.
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