No place on the planet has a fiercer reputation for providing fun, relaxation and a preternaturally laid-back environment like the Florida Keys. The islands (“keys,” from the Spanish “cayo”) vary in size, with the largest, Key West, also the most populous one. Key West is the center of government and commerce, too. (For more about Key West, see below.)
Here’s an alphabetical romp through the area.
A: Atlantic Ocean
Many of the best beaches in The Keys are on the Atlantic side. Boaters on the eastern U.S. can plot a course running parallel to the coast, traveling down the Atlantic to the Keys and around to the Gulf of Mexico.
For those who imbibe, there’s a rich abundance of taverns strategically located throughout the Keys, accommodating every taste and affinity, from tiki to tacky — and beyond. Some are pretty famous, too. As always, make sure there’s a designated non-drinking driver among the revelers, of course; safety first!
C: Conch Republic
Pronounced “conk” and named after the big shells you hold to your ear to “hear” the ocean, The Conch Republic is a fanciful nickname for the area, declared in response to a U.S. Border Patrol blockade at Florida City (just north of the Keys) on April 23 1982, in search of migrants attempting to illegally enter the United States. It’s since become an excuse for an annual “independence” celebration.
D: Dry Tortugas
The Everglades is a national park just north of the Keys with a unique and unparalleled landscape, and an important habitat for many rare and endangered species, including the manatee, American crocodile and Florida panther. It’s a great place to stop on the way north after your visit to the Keys.
The Gulf of Mexico is on the west side of the Keys. Some visitors favor its white sand beaches and relatively placid waves to the more active waters of the Atlantic.
Novelist and war correspondent Ernest Hemingway kept a home in Key West, now open as a tourist attraction. Many of the cats that occupy its grounds are descendants of the author’s pets. The town holds a yearly Hemingway lookalike contest at his supposedly favorite hangout.
I: Indian Key
Indian Key, a tiny bit of land in the upper Keys has an interesting history. In 1836, the small island was named the county seat of Dade (now Miami-Dade) County, but it became part of Monroe county in 1844 when the county seat moved to Miami. Accessible only by boat, visitors come to this key to swim, sunbathe and hike.
K: Key West
Key West is where it’s all happening if you crave a bit of hustle and bustle along with local island flavor. It’s got diverse nightlife and fine dining, traditional tourist attractions and more. It’s also the southernmost city in the United States, a mere 90 miles from Cuba.
L: Key Largo
Key Largo is the most northern of the Florida Keys, and the title of a great movie. Its name is derived from the Spanish “Cayo Largo” (long key). Because of its relative close proximity to Miami, it’s a favorite getaway for divers and day trippers.
M: Mallory Square
Nature is resplendent in the Keys. Its land, plants, fish and animals add up to a unique and beguiling environment, with manmade elements taking a backseat. Swimming, fishing, diving and water-skiing are all possible because of the ocean and Gulf. Hiking is also a popular activity, exploring the historic natural settings.
O: Overseas Highway
P: Pigeon Key
Pigeon Key, originally known as “Cayo Paloma,” was named for the flocks of white-crowned pigeons that roosted there. In more modern times, it was one of the sites used for the TV show, Flipper. Now, it’s a popular tourist destination and summer camp.
S: Seven Mile Bridge
Constructed from 1909 to 1912 for the Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway, it was adapted for automobile traffic in 1938, three years after the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 wiped out part of the railroad. It’s now being rebuilt and refurbished.
Legend has it that pirates used to park their ill-gotten gains in the nooks and crannies of the Keys. Plus, gold transported in scores of sunken Spanish galleons has been thought to rest in the area’s waters.
There’s something about the air, the breezes and the total sub-tropical ambiance that says, ”Relax!” Though there are plenty of serious people doing responsible work, and engaging in commerce on a daily basis, the business of the Keys is pleasure. People visit to recharge and unwind.
Here’s a little secret: sure, the best part of any vacation is the vacation itself, but the next best aspect is planning it. The anticipation and excitement created by arranging and booking your getaway relieves stress, excites the pleasure centers of the brain and creates a powerful sense of wellbeing. It’s easier than you think. For example, in The Keys, The Hammocks, a Bluegreen resort in Marathon, has everything you need to chill out. And it’s situated in just the right location to let you to shoot down to Key West to party hearty, or stay in your own villa and relax.
Water, water everywhere. The Keys are exceptional in that they’re surrounded by two major bodies of water, the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Because of this, the recreational opportunities afforded by sea and shore are virtually limitless.
X: X Key West
The X Key West – Music of The Keys is at 104.9 on your FM radio. But it’s not all Jimmy Buffet and parrot rock, so if you want to hear current and classic hits when visiting the Keys, tune in!
If you have the time — and the money — you can do almost anything in the Keys, including hiring a yacht or luxury boat.
Z: Jay Z
Rapper and mogul Jay Z was rumored to have bought his wife, Beyoncé, Hopkins Island, a 12.5-acre property off Big Pine Key with an 1,800-square-foot main house and a 443-square-foot guest cottage as a birthday gift!
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