Life moves at its own sun-drenched pace in the Florida Keys, a collection of tropical islands curving-off the state’s southern tip. U.S. Route 1, which connects the chain of islands, is a highway of dreams for vacationers seeking adventure, succulent seafood, quirky history and legendary diving.
If you’re family adventurers: Hawks Cay Resort
Easygoing island life (and gorgeous sunsets) await at Hawks Cay Resort, a 60-acre property on Duck Key. Fresh off a US$50-million post-Hurricane Irma renovation, it oozes family bliss with spacious villas or bunk-bed rooms. Amenities include watersports, a lush lagoon, pirate ship pool and hook-and-cook dining.
If you’re Hemingway enthusiasts: Lighthouse Court Hotel
With 10 “conch” houses covering half a block, Key West’s Lighthouse Court Hotel is centred around a refreshing pool. It’s located near the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, Lighthouse Museum and the businesses along Duval Street. The hotel’s Hemingway Suite has a gourmet kitchen and space to entertain.
If you’re water worshippers: Amoray Dive Resort
Key Largo’s Amoray Dive Resort is one of the top scuba diving destinations in the Florida Keys. Guests can wander directly from their rooms onto a 45-foot catamaran for a snorkelling or diving adventure. The resort also boasts its own beach and private pool that overlooks dreamy Florida Bay.
If you’re food fanatics: Islander Resort
Islander Resort is a 24-acre property in Islamorada that recently underwent a complete renovation. New life has been breathed into all of the guest rooms—which range from classic to oceanside townhouses—and the on-site restaurants, including the poolside Tides Beachside Bar and Grill.
Things to Do
If you’re family adventurers: The Turtle Hospital
Admission to The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, a 15-minute drive from Hawks Cay, includes tours designed to educate the entire family. It also helps fund the world’s first, state-licensed veterinary hospital for sea turtles. The facility has been rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing turtles to the wild since 1986.
If you’re Hemingway enthusiasts: Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
Visit the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West to see where one of America’s most accomplished authors lived and worked for a decade. You will learn about his life on the island, hear great anecdotes and maybe meet some of the extra-toed cats (there’s nearly 40) that live in the compound.
If you’re water worshippers: John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is the United States’ first undersea park, encompassing about 130 kilometres (or 70 nautical miles). Visitors can see natural wonders, including colourful coral reefs, snorkel among the diverse marine life, and explore the park’s mangrove habitat in a canoe or kayak.
If you’re food fanatics: History of Diving Museum
A real hidden gem in the Florida Keys, the History of Diving Museum in Islamorada houses an incredible international collection of historical diving artifacts, antiques, books, photographs and more. After a visit, be sure to stop by Robbie’s Marina of Islamorada to hand-feed tarpon fish from the docks.
Places to Eat
If you’re family adventurers: Castaway Waterfront Restaurant & Sushi Bar
Castaway Waterfront Restaurant & Sushi Bar is known for serving lionfish, a delicious white fish that is an invasive species in the region. The restaurant sponsors a lionfish exhibit at nearby Aquarium Encounters, where guests can immerse themselves in ocean life, including feeding and swimming with tropical creatures.
If you’re Hemingway enthusiasts: Blue Heaven
If mile-high key lime pie and creative breakfast dishes (think lobster Benny with lime hollandaise) speak to you, then a visit to Blue Heaven is a must. There’s also plenty of Key West history tied to this more-than-100-year-old property—Hemingway, a boxing enthusiast, used to referee matches here in the 1930s.
If you’re water worshippers: Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen
When a neon, roadside sign trumpets “World famous key lime pie,” you stop and sample. At Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen, a snug, character-rich café where the walls are plastered with licence plates, Diners eagerly tuck into the aforementioned pie and fresh seafood. Be sure to get the hogfish if it’s on the menu.
If you’re food fanatics: Chef Michael’s
The fish is so fresh at Chef Michael’s that it isn’t listed on the menu because options change with the day’s catch. How the fish is prepared is up to you: crusted with mixed nuts and served with mango sauce to lightly blackened and topped with crawfish, shrimp and a Creole cream.
[This story appears in the October 2019 edition of WestJet Magazine.]
What to Do in Miami On a Culture-Filled Holiday
If you're looking for a beach vacation with cultural depth, Miami is for you. Stay at The Julia, an artsy new hotel, eat at a food hall, get tickets to see Sensatia at the Faena Theater, explore Little Havana and watch a performance outside the New World Center.
How to Do a Digital Detox Holiday Near Fort Myers
Leave your devices at the door when you visit Sanibel and Captiva islands, just across the bridge from Fort Myers, Florida. Stay at the beachfront Island Inn, eat at Sweet Melissa's Cafe, go to Cabbage Key Restaurant, visit a wildlife refuge and search for a coveted junonia shell.