Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “I want to get to Key West and away from it all.” While the acclaimed novelist wasn’t referencing an escape from the hectic lifestyle parents face, moms and dads can certainly sympathize with his yearning for a Floridian respite.
Made up by a 120-mile chain of tropical islands, the Florida Keys is a quintessential destination for your family to unwind and unplug, explore and grow, admire and revel. Not to mention, it’s perfectly sandwiched between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean for an unmatched experience filled with turquoise waves, majestic marine life, epic water sports, fresh seafood and awe-inspiring history and culture.
With roughly 1,700 islands within the Keys, it can be difficult to pinpoint which wondrous location is your family’s ideal vacation spot. We’ve researched the five most notable districts—including Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key and Key West—and their top must-do activities.
Read on to discover which Florida Keys getaway is right for you and your crew.
1. Key Largo
As the most northern of the archipelago, Key Largo has direct access to spectacular natural habitats. The self-proclaimed “Diving Capital of the World” is home to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, an undersea park that spans across 70 nautical square miles, and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Enjoy the amazing sights that can be explored by scuba diving, snorkeling or a glass-bottom boat tour.
The Everglades National Park is also only a short drive from Key Largo, where your family can zip through the slow-moving river on an airboat. Your kiddos can spot alligators and other wildlife up close and enjoy the scenic views.
Made up of six islands that are 90 minutes south of Miami, Islamorada is a serene village you’ll want to explore by sea. It hosts the world’s largest fishing fleet, giving way to its distinction as a global fishing capital.
If fishing isn’t your family’s cup of tea, there are plenty of kid-friendly aquatic adventures that’ll keep your youngsters busy. Our favorites include catching a dolphin or sea lion show at the marine mammal park, Theater of the Sea, and feeding massive, hungry tarpons at Robbie’s Marina. You also can’t go wrong with a family dolphin swim or kayaking excursion.
Considered the heart of the Keys, Marathon is situated in the middle of the island chain and marks the starting point of the renowned and impressively-long Seven-Mile Bridge. The marine-friendly city is revered by travelers for its boating activities and beloved by families for its extensive eco-tourism attractions. Please the budding marine biologists in your clan with a trip to the area’s marine research centers, like the Dolphin Research Center and Marathon Turtle Hospital, for educational tours of their facilities and a view of mesmerizing sea turtles, dolphins and sea lions.
Interact directly with the ocean’s creatures at the Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters, where you and your kiddos can feed lobsters, sting rays, tortoises, snappers and more, as well as snorkel around the aquarium’s lagoon, a private natural mangrove habitat. If you prefer to stay dry during your visit, roam the interactive exhibits that feature touch tanks to pet the sea animals.
4. Big Pine Key & Florida’s Lower Keys
Located about 40 minutes north of Key West, the Big Pine Key and Florida’s Lower Keys are committed to conservation efforts that make it the perfect region to become one with nature. Head to the National Key Deer Refuge, which is home to over 20 endangered and threatened animal and plant species—such as the Key deer, the smallest subspecies of white-tailed deer—and hike any of the five trails for some family time that is free of devices.
To enjoy even more quality time with your loved ones, book a campsite at any of the local grounds or RV parks, like Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge, Sunshine Key RV Resort & Marina, and Boyd’s Key West Campground, to name a few. Don’t skip over Bahia Honda State Park, which offers some of the best beaches in the area. Campers can experience everything the Florida Keys has to offer, all within 500 acres. Beachgoers will adore snorkeling in torquise waters while nature-lovers will enjoy birdwatching and spotting wildlife, and outdoor enthusiasts can revel in canoeing.
5. Key West
While the Florida Keys is certainly notable for their watersports and eco-tourist activities, many often overlook the rich history each district offers. Key West is brimming with museums and small theaters that’ll keep your kids learning even when on vacation. Carve out time for the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum to discover unique treasures that were pulled directly from monumental shipwrecks or head to Hemingway’s former Key West home to see where he wrote some of his famous works—we promise, your future historian will adore you.
Amaze your little ones with over 50 stunning species of monarchs from all over the world at the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. Chosen as the “Best Place to Take the Kids” and “Best Attraction in Key West,” this glass-domed haven not only houses free-flying butterflies, exotic birds and flamingos but also provides an onsite gallery and educational displays to highlight everything there is to know about monarchs and their role in the natural world.
Start planning your family getaway to the Florida Keys, where your children will experience a side of Florida like no other. For more recommendations on exciting activities, dining options and kid-friendly resorts, visit fla-keys.com.