Located south of the tip of Florida, the Keys are a coral cay archipelago forming the southernmost tip of the continental United States; they also separate the Gulf of Mexico from the Atlantic Ocean. The chain of over 200 islands is over 290 kilometres long and connected by the 42 man-made bridges called the Overseas Highway. The Florida Keys have a tropical climate with average annual high temperatures of 28,3°C, lows of 23°C, and total precipitation of circa 1000mm.
This summer we took all 42 bridges down to Key West and would like to share some of the sights we discovered with the help of a veteran Keys-visitor and hobby fisherman. The practically turquoise Caribbean waters surrounding the coral islands are home to various great game species: In the flats and mangroves closer to the shores, there are tarpon, bone fish, and red fish which are often caught on a fly from flat boats. But venturing further out into the Atlantic, the game changes to mainly trolling for the big game fish: swordfish, sail fish with their spectacular tail walks, and of course the magnificent mahi mahi (or dolphin fish).
Guided fishing trips can be arranged at literally any marina, with boat sizes varying drastically. A good place to start looking is always one of the numerous bars and grills where the captains hang out after a morning of deep-sea fishing–at the very least, the local wait staff is sure to know where or with whom to arrange a fishing expedition. The general atmosphere in the area is just very laid back and social statuses seem to vanish with the burning red sunsets over the ocean. As our guide told us, you’ll never know if you’re sitting next to a bum or a billionaire in the Keys.
Here are some of our favorite–and very Keysy–places we visited on our trip:
The Island Grill in Islamorada sits on a small waterway of the Atlantic just off of the highway. The fare is simple, but it’s a good spot to stop for a diner-like breakfast or lunch with pretty views of the water and, especially, the mangroves.
The Lorelei is a casual bar and restaurant in Islamorada that serves food and drinks all day in classic Keys style: no frills, live music, unpretentious people, and a great view of the back bay. The sunsets are beautiful here, especially with a cold one in hand.
Morada Bay sits right next to the Lorelei and is one of the more upscale options for dinner and drinks on the Keys; that being said, you can still show up in shorts and a t-shirt for dinner. Set under twinkly lights and palm trees, tables are scattered over a deck and the sand-covered backyard overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. There’s often live music and always a bevy of little kids running around and playing on the sand. It’s a great family spot and one of the most beautiful spots to watch the sun go down. Plus, the food and cocktails are quite good!
Sparky’s is a Keys classic on Fat Deer Key for all-day dining or drinks with live music and a great view of a marina. Come here less for the food (though it’s not bad) than the atmosphere, which is fun, lively, and full of locals. Also worth a visit for the large fishing boats in the marina. Bar staff will be able to point you to the captains of the boats for a fishing trip.
Amid the raucous bars and dining spots overrun with tourists in Key West, Louie’s is a high-end dining spot with a great view of the ocean looking south toward Cuba. The food, especially the fresh fish, here is excellent, and so is the service. Sit outside on the deck if it’s a nice day, though the inside also has a nice atmosphere with views of the water. On the lower deck, there’s a nice bar to sit if you’d just like a drink.