Where else can you find warm ocean water, breathtaking state parks, acres of mangroves, sunsets that draw crowds and arguably the best key lime pie in the world? The Florida Keys islands are undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in the country with an abundance of adventurous, historical and yummy things to do.
It’s possible to fly right into the most talked about city of Key West, but the best way to fully experience ‘The Keys’ is a road-trip from Key Largo all the way down to southernmost point of Key West (like I did!). This way you will have the flexibility to make pitstops along the way and check off your Florida Keys bucket list.
Florida Keys Islands Bucket List: 50 Best Things to Do in Key West & Beyond
What to See, Do & Eat in Key Largo
1. ✧ Paddle board the Mangroves at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Located in Key Largo, this excitingly serene park extends three miles into the ocean and has coral reefs, seagrass swamps and mangroves within its confines. The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is home to a flurry of activities and attractions that are excellent for adults and children alike—From glass bottom boat rides to sunbathing at the beach, snorkeling and kayaking. I should also mention that it is home to the Nation’s first underwater park!
If you visit with the mind for adventure, then you should rent a kayak or paddle board and go exploring through the mangroves. There are many little water paths that meander through these dense forest like mangroves. Keep an eye out for underwater life and the gorgeous birds that call the Florida Keys park home!
2. ✦ Take a Ride on the African Queen
Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn made the African Queen steamboat famous when they starred in the 1951 movie by the same name that was filmed in Uganda.
From then on, the African Queen, docked at the Marina Del Mar marina has become home to relaxing canal cruises in Key Largo and romantic dinner cruises as well. You can even ask the Captain for a turn at the helm while underway the one and a half hour cruise. I did!
3. ✧ Spend the night at Jules Undersea Lodge
The Jules Undersea Lodge is true to its name, it really is underwater—you actually have to dive 21 feet below the surface to enter! How’s that for bucket list worthy? You can choose to stay for just a few hours or be more adventurous and stay overnight. Don’t worry though, there are all the modern amenities. Plus, you can cozy up with a book or movie and watch the fish go by through the large round windows.
4. ✧ Take a Jetpack Water Flight
5. ✧ Visit the Wild Bird Sanctuary in Key Largo
The Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary which is only a few minutes’ walk from the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park really should be on the bucket list for bird lovers. In fact, even if you are not as enthusiastic about birds, you might find a tour of this sanctuary illuminating.
There is no official charge to get in but you are politely requested to donate whatever you can; these monies all go to the care of wounded wild birds within the sanctuary (so a very good cause!). Within the aviaries you will see owls, pelicans, hawks and a wide variety of other wild birds that are majestic and unique to say the least.
WHERE TO STAY IN KEY LARGO: The 14.5 beachfront acres of Playa Largo Resort and Spa is a luxury oasis in Key Largo. There you can eat dockside, take a dip in the freshwater pool or enjoy a glass of wine by the fire pit. Or stay at the Kona Kai Resort, a hidden treasure.
WHERE TO EAT IN KEY LARGO: You won’t go hungry in Key Largo, there are plenty of great restaurants. Eat the coconut cake at Buzzards Roost, hit up Skipper’s Dockside for an outdoor lunch and the Fish House for dinner, plus don’t forget to get the key lime martini at Sundowners.
What to See, Do & Eat in Islamorada
6. ✦ Shop at the Rain Barrel Artisans Village
Ah, what would the Florida Keys be without a unique shopping experience?! The first thing you will notice about the Rain Barrel Artisans Village is the 40-foot-long lobster named Betsy that will lure you in for an unforgettable photo-op off the Overseas Highway. Once you stop, you can’t leave without at least browsing through the stalls.
The artisans in this village are experts who create sculptures, paintings, collages, jewelry, home decor and almost every other type of accessories in such creative ways that you will definitely find something worth buying.
7. ✧ Feed the Tarpon at Robbie’s Marina
In Islamorada of the Florida Keys, there is a place called Robbie’s Marina where you can feed tarpon! These bony salt-water fish have a ‘strong’ smell, but as long as you are not looking to eat them then that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. They gather by the dozens at Robbie’s Marina waiting for you to feed them fish snacks which is a pretty exhilarating thing to do considering some of these fish have mouths almost as big as a five-gallon bucket.
8. ✧ Visit the History of Diving Museum
If you are a scuba diver, then definitely don’t miss a stop at the History of Diving Museum. With contributions from more than 30 countries, the museum has the world’s largest collection of armored suits, diving helmets and other diving accessories.
9. ✦ Drink the Local Beer
You will find the Florida Keys Brewing Company’s beer all over the Keys, but why not get it straight from the source at in Islamorada? The breweries new beer garden has 20 of their own brews on tap, plus Mead and house brewed Kambucha.
Try their 10-beer sampler to find your favorite.
10. ✦ Stroll the Third Thursday Art Walk
Time your beer visit (see above) correctly and you can stroll through the Morada Way Artwalks. Every third Thursday of the month the Morada Way Arts District hosts an outdoor walk where talented artisans set up booths along the street. It’s the perfect place to pick up souvenir jewelry, handmade candles or paintings. The event happens to be right next to the Florida Keys Brewing Co., so stop in and get a beer, then do some shopping.
What to See, Do and Eat in Mid-Lower Keys
11. ✧ Get Hogfish at The Hogfish on Stock Island
12. ✦ Get the Lobster Reuben at Keys Fisheries
Make a delicious pitstop at Keys Fisheries for their famous Lobster Reuben. This sandwich is a take on the classic: slathered in Thousand Island dressing, filled with tangy sauerkraut, topped with melted Swiss and put in-between some crunchy buttered bread. The exception is that the cured pastrami is substituted with fresh lobster. Yes, please!
The sign at the order window counts how many rueben’s have been sold, proving how popular this sandwich is. It was at 288,926 when I was there. Wow! Side note: They don’t ask for your name when you order at the counter, they ask a question, like “what’s your favorite animal”—of course I said puppies.
Warning—The Lobster Reuben is huge, enough to feed two!
13. ✧ Visit the Turtle Hospital
14. ✦ Visit the Dolphin Research Center
Established in 1984, this is one of the most unique research centers in the Florida Keys, and possibly all of Florida. More than half the sea lions and bottlenose dolphins found in the Dolphin Research Center were born here, others are rescues who were deemed non-releasable by the government.
If you are keen on interacting with dolphins as they do in the movies (some of the stars from the movie Flipper were actually from here!), this is your chance. There are interactive classes that the public can participate in; believe me, you want to participate in these classes. The dolphins are friendly, mischievous and all-around fun to play with in the water.
Take note that for the Dolphin Research Center is is all about the dolphins. If they’re not interested in doing something they don’t have to do it. They never withhold food, it is all voluntary.
15. ✧ Get a Beer at No Name Pub in Big Pine Key
16. ✧ Walk the White Sand Beach at Bahia Honda State Park
17. ✦ Cruise the Seven-Mile Bridge
The 7-mile long bridge is one of the longest bridges in the world. The scenic stretch connects the Middle Keys to the lower Florida Keys and has beautiful seaside views along the way. If you are doing a road trip from Key Largo to Key West you’ll definitely be driving across it!
What to See, Do and Eat in Key West
18. ✧ Eat the 72-Hour Short Ribs at Spencer’s by the Sea
19. ✧ Listen to Live Music at the Green Parrot
20. ✦ Walk Inside the Ernest Hemingway House
Ernest Hemingway and his wife Pauline fell in love with the Florida Keys way back in 1931 (I can see why!). When he finished his semi-autobiographical novel titled: A Farewell to Arms, they decided to make this their home. It is this charming house that is now a major tourist attraction in Key West. The grand Southern exterior of the house protects his eclectic collection of furniture, art and other accessories while the grounds act as a haven for wildlife, plants and quite a number of cats.
The Hemingway influence is also big in Cuba and some other of his points of interest at on my Havana things to do list.
21. ✧ See a Show at the Red Barn Theater
22. ✧ Take the Old Town Literary Walking Tour
23. ✧ Eat Conch Fritters at BO’s Fish Wagon
24. ✦ Catch the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square
You cannot visit the ‘Home of the Sunset’ without actually taking the time to find out why they call it that and what makes the sunsets here so special. Geographically, this is the southernmost end of the United States and at the Mallory Square sunset celebration in Key West is the perfect place to sit, sip a few cocktails and enjoy one of the most stunning sunsets you will ever see.
As you watch the sun majestically sink into the Gulf of Mexico, there will be performers, artists and an assortment of food vendors assembling to ensure that you evening is one that your will not soon forget. Don’t miss Dominique’s Cat Circus!
25. ✧ See a Drag Show at Aqua Key West, 801 Bourban Bar or La Te Da
26. ✧ Stay at the Southernmost House
27. ✦ Pose at Mile Marker 0
US Highway 1 is a 2,369 mile long interstate that connects almost every city in the East Coast. In Key West this famous highway ends and begins at Mile Marker 0 and hundreds of people (myself included!) per day stop by the Mile Marker 0 sign to commemorate being at the ‘end of the road’.
28. ✧ Smoke a Key West Rolled Cigar at Rodrigues Cigars
29. ✧ Buy Some Made-in-Key-West Kino Sandals
30. ✦ Climb up the Key West Lighthouse
Not only is this a bucket list opportunity to climb up inside a lighthouse, but the 360 views from the tippy top of the Key West Lighthouse are incredible too. It is a great place to see the rooftops of local homes, including the Ernest Hemingway house.
31. ✧ Tour Harry S. Truman’s Little White House
32. ✧ Visit the Maritime Museum
33. ✦ Take a Selfie at the Southernmost Point in the Continental USA
There is a colorful concrete buoy that marks the southernmost point in the continental USA and taking a selfie in front of it is one of the most popular things to do in all the Florida Keys. There is always a long line of people waiting for their chance to snap a photo, so either go really early in the morning or cheat a little like I did and sit on the bench a few feet in front of the buoy for your picture.
34. ✧ Catch an Animal Feeding at the Aquarium
35. ✧ Walk Through the Historic Key West Cemetery
36. ✧ Visit Dry Tortugas National Park
Made of 7 islands and some of the most gorgeous coral reefs you will ever see, the Dry Tortugas National Park is a must thing to see when you head down to Key West—it’s just 70 miles west. Taking a seaplane ride there will allow you to get beautiful aerial views of the 19th-century Fort Jefferson on Garden Key; the beautiful lighthouse at Loggerhead Key as well as the Windjammer Wreck (an 1875 shipwreck) and the nesting site for many seabirds down at Bush Keys.
From snorkeling to diving, ancient sites and sunbathing, Dry Tortugas National Park is definitely bucket list worthy!
37. ✦ Stroll Duval Street
No trip to Key West would be complete without waking down the hottest road in town—Duval Street. It is filled with hopping bars (you can even do what they call the Duval Crawl—you can only guess what that means!), souvenir shops, delicious restaurants and clothing boutiques.
38. ✧ Kayak from Key Largo to Key West
If you have some time and are looking for a fun adventure, consider taking a multiple day kayak tour from Key Largo to Key West with Burnham Guides (they’re the ones that took me on a memorable kayak tour in the Eastern Shores of Virginia!).
39. ✧ Drink Where Hemingway Drank—Sloppy Joes
40. ✧ Go to Taco Tuesday’s at Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar & Grill
41. ✦ Visit the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
The magical Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory is home to over 50 species of live butterflies and 20 exotic birds (even a few flamingos!). You can take a stroll through the climate controlled habitat and witness a small tropical paradise.
42. ✧ Drink at the Key West’s first Rum Distillery
43. ✧ Chocolate covered Key Lime pie on a stick from Kermit’s.
44. ✧ Eat Key Lime Pie for Breakfast at Blue Heaven
Blue Heaven used to be an old boxing ring where Hemingway refereed, now it is known for its brunch and mile high meringue. When you are in the Florida Keys, there is absolutely nothing wrong with eating key lime pie for breakfast and this is the perfect place to do it.
45. ✧ Take a Sand Sculpting Class at Casa Marina
46. ✧ Get a Naughty Named Treat at the Better Than Sex Dessert Bar
47. ✧ Explore the Vandenburg Shipwreck
Speaking of shipwrecks, I doubt it gets any better than this: The Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg shipwreck can be found on the Southernmost end of the Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail. It is a 10 stories high underwater adventure with the deepest end, the keel, being at a whopping 140 feet below sea surface.
Densely populated with sponges, sea fans, sea whips and an amalgamation of coral species, exploring this shipwreck is definitely a noteworthy entry into any ‘Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail’ logbook.
GETTING AROUND KEY WEST: Key Lime Bike Tours gives you a great overview, stopping at almost every highlight that you’d want to hit if you were in Key West for a day. Afterwards, use the Duvall Loop Bus that has 16 stops near most of the best attractions and it is FREE! See the map here.
Also, don’t forget to grab a Key West Vacation Pass that will get you over $1,200 of discounts during your visit!
WHERE TO STAY: Choose The Marker Key West for a luxury stay steps from the best dining and walking distance to shopping, including Duval Street.
INTERESTING KEY WEST TOURS:
What to Do Everywhere in the Keys
48. ✦ Dine Alfresco
The weather in the Florida Keys is almost always perfect for outdoor dining—take advantage of it! I loved dining alfresco at The Grand Cafe right on Duval Street where from their patio you can see all the action on the liveliest road in Key West.
49. ✦ Eat Key Lime Pie—everywhere!
If there is one quintessential food in the Florida Keys it’s Key Lime Pie, so you must indulge in it—everywhere! All the locals seem to have a favorite (and so do I now!). One of the most popular is at Kermit’s or Mrs Macs, but my favorite was at Chef Michaels in Islamorada.
50. ✦ Nosh on Conch fritters
These fried balls are made with conch meat, savory batter and seasonings. You will be hard-pressed to find a local menu that doesn’t have them on it! I had some of the best ones at Sol by the Sea in Key Largo, but a few other favorites are at Louie’s Backyard and the Conch Republic Seafood Company in Key West.
If you want even more ideas, check out The Key West Bucket List book on Amazon.
From interacting with dolphins to taking a ride on the African Queen and eating your fair share of Key Lime pie, visiting the Florida Keys & Key West is without a doubt a must thing to do. The sunsets are unbelievable, the drive down is breathtakingly romantic and the beach life is straight out of the movies.
The fact that it has so many bucket list worthy attractions and activities just makes the Florida Keys even more captivating!
Essential Tips for Visiting the Florida Keys Islands
Getting There: Miami International Airport is the best airport to fly to if you plan on taking a road-trip from Key Largo to Key West. From Miami, you can drive to Key Largo (which will take you about an hour), where you can begin your road-trip. You can also fly directly to Key West International Airport. You can easily check for the best fare deals at Skyscanner, which also has the option to choose ‘cheapest month’ as the departure to find the lowest priced dates to fly to your destination. From Key West International Airport to downtown Key West, you can use a bus service, take a shuttle, a taxi, or Lyft and Uber.
Where to Stay in the Florida Keys Islands: For hotels in Key Largo, the Atlantic Bay Resort (moderate) is a great option located in Tavernier. For something on the less expensive side, try the Drift Hotel or Coconut Palm Inn. For a hotel with a little more extravagance, try Baker’s Cay Resort Key Largo, Curio Collection by Hilton. For hotels in Key West, the Avalon Bed and Breakfast (moderate) is a great choice, conveniently located on historic Duval Street. For a less expensive option, try the Caribbean House located in Downtown Key West. For a little more luxury, book a room at Oceans Edge Key West. Or search some great deals on hotels of your choice at Booking.com. If you’re looking for more of a home atmosphere (or are traveling with a group of people), head over to Airbnb that has houses, apartments and even just a room for rent in every price range.
Getting Around: Renting a car in the Florida Keys is the best to really experience the islands and RentalCars.com has some great deals. If you are not renting a car, there are plenty of options. Taxis and Lyft are available all over the Florida Keys, while Uber is mostly available only in Key West. Key West is a small city and most of the attractions can be accessed by foot, or by a Hop-On Hop-Off trolley.
I was a guest of the Florida Keys & Key West Tourism Board, but all opinions are my own.
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