When you think of the Florida Keys, a few things usually come to mind. Gorgeous turquoise waters, a Caribbean climate, margaritas, and dozens of tiny remote islands chained together by a long highway.
You might even think of some of the major destinations in the keys, like the bookends of Key West or Key Largo. But what you don’t generally think of are all of the smaller local communities in between. Places like Islamorada – a village that consists of six island keys, scattered across the middle of the chain.
Islamorada represents the quieter side of the Florida Keys vacation hub. The kind of place where Floridians go to get away from northerners on their Florida getaways.
That’s not to say that it’s so quiet that it has nothing to offer. In fact, we think that in some ways Islamorada actually has more to offer than you’ll find elsewhere in the Keys. Here are our favorite things that we think you should do on your next trip down there.
Feed the Tarpon at Robbie’s of Islamorada
One of the first restaurants we visited in Islamorada was Robbie’s, a restaurant that also offers a variety of water activities (including jet skis, fishing, and more). One of their most popular offerings, though, is feeding the tarpon. For just under $10.00 per couple ($4.00 for a bucket of fish and $2.25 each for the entrance fee), you can walk onto a large dock with tarpon swimming nearby, waiting for you to toss them a fish from your bucket.
They’re truly spectacular – we always knew they were large fish, but seeing them up close and feeding them gave us a new sense of just how awe-striking they are. The biggest challenge? Keeping the pelicans from snagging the fish from your hand before you can toss them to the tarpon. The pelicans are smart little buggers and have figured out that if they camp out at the dock they are likely to score some fish throughout the day.
Eat at the local restaurants
After you finish feeding the tarpon, you can obviously enjoy a delicious lunch at Robbie’s as well. But, while Robbie’s is a spectacular place to start, it is far from the only local restaurant with a unique experience to offer. Not only will you find places to eat in all sorts of special settings, but you’ll find some of the best seafood you will ever eat (Islamorada is known as the Sport-Fishing Capital of the World, after all). Some of our highlight lunch and dinner venues are:
- Hog Heaven – a sports bar and grill that offers waterfront seating in their own cove.
- Wahoo’s Bar and Grill – a seafood grill located above a marina, featuring a wealth of fresh locally caught fish.
- Morada Bay Beach Café – one of the more intimate locations, offering delicious cuisine with seating on a candlelit beach.
- Lorelei Restaurant and Cabana Bar – a fantastic place to grab a drink, watch the sunset, enjoy some live entertainment.
- Islamorada Fish Company – A great spot to watch the sunset right on the water and watch the tarpon swim around in the restaurant’s inner cove.
- Sunset Grille and Raw Bar – if you make the trip down to nearby Marathon, you’ll find great seafood (including sushi), as well as an oceanfront pool and tiki bar.
Florida Keys Brewing Co.
We also made a stop at the Florida Keys Brewing Co. (one of two breweries in the area) and were pleased with the variety of beers they had available on tap. The brewery seems to be located in an old beach house, and the backyard area is set up to be a relaxing spot to kick back and enjoy a cold one (a literal beer garden).
And of course, the beers were delicious too – my favorite was the Spearfish Amber, while Katie preferred the Honey Bottom Blonde (sticking pretty much to our normal beer preferences). If you’re a brewery fan, we highly recommend checking it out if you’re in the area.
Dolphin Research Center
One of our favorite attractions that we visited was the Dolphin Research Center (DRC) (another activity that will take you down to nearby Marathon, FL). The dolphins that reside at the Dolphin Research Center are very interactive with the employed trainers as well as the public, and it was amazing to watch them perform tricks and communicate. The mission of the DRC is to promote the relationships between humans and marine animals through research and education, and that was evident from spending time in their facility. While we didn’t swim with the dolphins this time, that is an option as well if you’re looking to interact with them one-on-one. No matter what your preferences are, the Dolphin Research Center has something for you!
The Seven Mile Bridge
One of the most well-known features of the Florida Keys is US Highway 1 (aka the Overseas Highway) – the lone highway that winds its way from the mainland all the way down to Key West. And the crown jewel of US-1 is the world-famous Seven Mile Bridge, which is built over seven miles of open water from Marathon to Little Duck Key. While driving across it is not necessarily the most exhilarating experience you will ever have, it’s definitely a bucket list item that’s worth doing.
Things We Want to Do Next Time: Turtle Hospital and Long Key State Park
While we did get to take advantage of the many activities the Florida Keys have to offer, there are some things that we didn’t get a chance to do, and plan to do the next time we’re there. In Marathon, there’s a sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation center known as the Turtle Hospital that we’d like to visit. We’d also like to visit Long Key State Park to swim, kayak, and check out some of the trails.
It’s pretty remarkable that we were able to fill out the week we spent in Islamorada with this much activity, and yet still have more that we’d like to do. Even still, while our week might have been action-packed, our time in Islamorada was nonetheless relaxing and rejuvenating given the slower pace of daily life in the area. There’s no doubt that our next trip to the Keys will be another fun-filled adventure!