DescriptionThe 1948 film “Key Largo” and Bertie Higgins’ eponymous 1982 hit song might spring to mind when you hear this island’s name. Both “Key Largo,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and the 1951 film “The African Queen” with Bogart and Katharine Hepburn were partially filmed here, creating a romantic image of this tropical isle, the first link in the Florida Keys’ chain.
Named “Cayo Largo,” or Long Key, by Spanish explorers, Key Largo links to the mainland by the first of 42 bridges along the Overseas Highway—the scenic 113-mile section of US 1 between the Florida mainland and Key West—and introduces visitors to the lifestyle of the Keys with its marinas, diving and snorkeling shops, fishing guides and art galleries.
With an abundance of shipwrecks and living coral reefs begging to be explored several miles away in the clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Key Largo’s nickname—the Diving Capital of the World—is well-earned. A multitude of outfitters, guides and charters are at the ready whenever you are. If you prefer to stay dry, experience the reefs and their otherworldly marine life on a glass-bottomed boat tour. Diving, snorkeling, sailing, freshwater and saltwater fishing, jet-skiing, parasailing—Key Largo’s world is an outdoor recreation lover’s oyster.
From sky to sea, the area teems with wildlife. In the waters of Florida Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, you can hook a trophy fish or dinner; reel in dolphin, grouper, marlin, redfish, sailfish, snapper, swordfish and tarpon. Marine and shore birds—including herons, ospreys, pelicans, roseate spoonbills and white ibis—make their home in the forests of the Everglades and thickets of mangrove trees; catch migrating hawks and songbirds with your binoculars in the spring and fall. The island is also close to Everglades National Park; take an ecotour or explore on your own via kayak.
Get your first taste of Keys seafood here. Many restaurants will prepare your freshly caught fish, or just order off the menu; either way, local chefs know how to create exquisite seafood dishes. Dine at one of Key Largo’s bayside restaurants and gaze at a sublime sunset over Florida Bay.
Key Largo hosts an assortment of festivals and fishing tournaments throughout the year. In mid-January, the Uncorked: Key Largo & Islamorada Food & Wine Festival satisfies gourmands with 10 days of food and wine tastings, gourmet dinners at local restaurants and cooking demonstrations.
Visitor InfoKey Largo Chamber of Commerce 106000 Overseas Hwy. KEY LARGO, FL 33037. Phone:(305)451-1414 or (800)822-1088
ShoppingA large sign outside of Largo Cargo (103101 Overseas Hwy.) boasts of the store’s contents, which begs the question: What are beer can shorts? As you might imagine, they’re shorts with pockets deep enough to hold a beer can. You can also buy the usual beachy stuff here, including beach bags, sandals, seashells and flamingo knick-knacks.
Buy some bottle-opener flip flops to go with the beer can shorts at Sandal Factory Outlet (102411 Overseas Hwy.). Or choose from a selection of casual and dressy open-toe shoes from shoemakers like Birkenstock and Teva. Need a T-shirt to go with your new footwear? Peruse the stacks and racks at the T-Shirt City in the same building.
Shell World, the superstore of shell shillers with 13,000 square feet, has 2 locations in Key Largo (on US 1 at mile markers 97.5 and 106). Not only do they sell scores of seashells and starfish, the store features products from resort wear and home décor to bath products and wood manatee and dolphin sculptures. Serious shellers will find a selection of rare shells priced over one hundred dollars. Fun buys include a pineapple pillow and margarita glass party lights.
Key Largo could not call itself the Diving Capital of the World without having some major sporting goods stores to supply the steady stream of outdoor sports lovers. Divers and snorkelers can stock up on fins, snorkels, masks, tanks, wet suits, spearguns and underwater cameras at the supersized Diver’s Direct (99621 Overseas Hwy.). West Marine (on US 1 at mile marker 103.4 in the Pink Plaza Shopping Center) will float every sailor’s boat; swag includes boating supplies, frozen bait, boat shoes, rods and reels, engine parts, inflatable kayaks, and sportswear.
If you need an art fix before you get to the plethora of galleries in Key West, visit a few of Key Largo’s finest. Key Largo Art Gallery (103200 Overseas Hwy., Suite 10) has amassed a collection of works by Florida Keys and Cuban artists; add a splash of color to your home with a painting featuring vibrant tropical and Caribbean motifs. Surrounded by tropical gardens, the Gallery at Kona Kai (97802 Overseas Hwy.) shows only original works and specializes in international artists who work in such mediums as black and white photography, sculpture, watercolors and oils.
A tiki god guards each parking space at Key Lime Products (95231 Overseas Hwy.), where most of the products are made from—you guessed it—Key limes. The assortment of goodies includes natural bath products, cookies, jam, salsas and Key lime juice. Furnishings and accessories for the garden and patio are sold outside the shop, where you might see a craftsman carving a tiki.
Things to SeeJohn Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park