Where are the Florida Keys? What is the Best Key To Visit in the Florida Keys?? How do you get to the Keys?
The best way to answer “Where are the Florida Keys” is to say Mother Nature carved out some 1700 land masses in a hundred-mile stretch. The islands created a protrusion southwest from the bottom of the Florida peninsula. These islands are what we now call “The Florida Keys”.
There are 43 of these islands connected by bridges. We consider these accessible islands the mainland of the Keys. On these 43 islands, we have built cities like Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key, Key West and dozens more.
See the Florida Keys Map below for more specific locations with mile markers. The Map of the Florida Keys shows relative distances between the Keys.
A Brief History of the Florida Keys
Historically, these islands were inhabited by the Calusa Indians possibly as far back as 3000 BC. As the 16th century approached, the French and Spanish began the exploration of the Caribbean and the Florida peninsula. They found the Calusa throughout southwest Florida with well-organized societies and a strong hierarchy.
Tribes inhabited the region from Sarasota to the Florida Keys with village leaders and a king to solidify governing. Explorers considered the Calusa fierce fighters and foes so formidable that many areas were not explored until several decades later because of the Calusa hostility.
Eventually, the Spanish influence brought more and more challenges for the Calusa including constant war and disease.
By the 1700s few Calusa were left in Florida. Today, you still see remnants of the Spanish attempt at dominance in some architecture, language, and heritage in the Florida Keys and south Florida.
The rumors about the Keys and pirates are just that. Yes, there were a few that shipwrecked here or came to find food, fresh water and shelter. Most stories about pirates, Florida islands and treasure are legends tourists love.
Most of the Keys were relatively free from the “privateers” operating for various governments in the Caribbean. These privateers were commissioned by countries to find ships of their enemies and pirate the cargo and sometimes the whole ship. Pirates and other mariners of the time knew the shallow reefs around the islands were dangerous to ships traveling near the Keys.
You can find more about Florida history here.
How do you travel to the Florida Keys?
A first-time traveler to the Florida Keys, you will soon find out there is only one road in and the same single road out! US Route 1 in Homestead, Florida going south is your only option. You have an 18-mile stretch of limited access 4-lane highway that takes you straight to Key Largo, the first and largest of the Florida Keys.
Keep in mind US 1 runs north all the way along the east coast of the United States to Maine, the most northern state.
New visitors should understand that just about every location in the Keys is designated by mile markers along the side of the road. In Key Largo, your first mile marker (MM) will be about MM106. That means you have 106 miles to MM0 in Key West.
From Key Largo to Key West, exceptional food can be found with some of nature’s best fish just off the islands’ shores. In every restaurant, you can find grouper, mahi, hogfish, and yellowtail snapper fresh off the fishing boats.
In July each year, the lobster season brings thousands of people to search for these “bugs” in the shallows around the Keys. Many lobsters end up on the menus throughout the Keys. First-time visitors to the Florida Keys must try the spiny lobster.
If you choose to fly to the Florida Keys, Key West has a busy International Airport. Marathon has a small regional airport.
You can also travel from Ft. Myers Beach and Marco Island on the Key West Express. You leave in the morning and arrive for lunch in Key West.
Thinking About a Florida Keys Getaway?
The Keys are now the playground of Florida (and much of the world). The islands offer world-class fishing, the best reefs in the northern hemisphere for diving, resorts renowned for their hospitality, beaches everywhere, entertainment, and some of the most famous restaurants and bars in the world. Cruise ships arrive daily in Key West dumping thousands of world travelers for the day, and expanding the international allure of the island.
Great restaurants and bars abound. Places like Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill in Key Largo along with the Opal Reefhouse’s fabulous sunset bar, Breezer’s Tiki Bar. On down the road, in Islamorada, you will find the brand new Tiki Bar at the Post Card Inn (completely renovated after Hurricane Irma).
In a few more miles at mile marker 77.5 you will find Robbie’s Marina. Robbie’s is less of a Marina and more of a collection of shops surrounding docks full of people feeding hungry Tarpon! By the time you get to Marathon, Florida, around mile marker 53, you will be hungry. Try TJ’s Tiki Bar at Tranquility Bay. You will be dining right on the beach!
At mile marker 47 be prepared for one of the most scenic rides in the country for the next 7 miles on the Seven Mile Bridge. As you travel you will see the original Flagler East Coast Railway bridge structure built in 1912 running parallel to the road in some spots. The current structure was built during the period 1978-1982. The beauty of the ocean is south and the beauty of Florida Bay is on your north. The horizons are gorgeous!
Beginning around mile marker 35 you will start seeing signs to watch out for the KEY DEER. They are a deer species about the size of a large dog that are protected all around Big Pine Key. It doesn’t take but a few miles to spot one along the highway. The Key deer are protected by law since the species is indigenous to these islands.
You have about 30 miles to Key West. Your anticipation levels will heighten no matter how many times you have been here, you always look forward to your return!
And why not? You can see Mallory Square and the sunset celebration, Sloppy Joe’s, Captain Tony’s, Half Shell Raw Bar, Schooner Wharf, Hog’s Breath Saloon, Key West Aquarium, Hemingway House, and a ton of events scheduled every year………it would take a book to list all of the attractions. You will find most of them described here on FloridaTravel.blog. Relax here in the Conch Republic at 0-mile marker and have a cocktail at sunset!
What are the Best Florida Keys to Visit?
We outlined above some of the more prominent stops in your travel to the Florida Keys. To answer what is the best Florida Keys to visit is like asking a kid in a candy store what is his favorite candy – they all are!
Each Florida Key (island) has its own characteristics. They are all surrounded by water. From there you must choose based on your preferences. You may be a diver. If so, Key Largo has some of the most popular reefs in the northern hemisphere.
If you love fishing, Islamorada is the sportfishing capital of the world. Fabulous inshore fishing in Florida Bay and offshore are gamefish like sailfish, mahi, snapper, and even swordfish and marlin.
Of course, if you just want the best all-around experience in the Florida Keys, Key West has it all. Great beaches, good fishing, famous bars and restaurants, almost 24-hour-a-day parties, water sports of every kind, and resorts that cater to your every need. Key West is the most popular place to vacation in the Florida Keys.
As you can see, deciding what are the best Florida Keys to visit depends on your goals for a Florida Keys vacation.
What Are the Best Beaches in the Florida Keys?
The best beaches in the Florida Keys are actually at some of the Florida State Parks in the Florida Keys. Bahia Honda State Park about 20 miles north of Key West is a great place for families. In fact, my family learned much about sea life in the shallow reefs there.
John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo is a great place to learn scuba diving and relax on their beach. Long Key State Park is another option.
Key West beaches include Smathers Beach, the largest, Higgs Beach, and our favorite, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park Beach.
Many resorts along the Atlantic coast have their own private beaches like the Post Card Inn in Islamorada, Casa Marina Hotel in Key West, and Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key north of Marathon.
What is the Best Time to Visit the Florida Keys
The best time to visit the Florida Keys for most people is probably when it is cold up north. However, the crowds are at their peak from January through May.
We travel to the Keys year-round since we live in Florida. Many people go when various seasons and events are in full force. Events like the super boat races in Marathon and Key West. Big-money fishing tournaments in Islamorada and Key West attract thousands.
Annually, in July hoards of people travel to the Florida Keys for lobster season. They head out in the shallows of Florida Bay and try their hand at snorkeling for spiny lobsters.
From June through September, the temperatures reach the low 90s, but the breezes on the islands temper the heat.
Where are the Florida Keys and What Do You Do in the Florida Keys?
So, where are the Florida Keys? Hopefully, you have an idea of where they are and how to travel the Florida Keys, and what to expect when you arrive.
For a complete travel log from Key Largo to Key West, visit here.