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Key Largo, FL

About Key LargoThe 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 Centers Key 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 shells with 13,000 square feet, has two 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.

NightlifeA great introduction to the Florida Keys lies deep in the heart of the mangrove swamps on a floating barge. It doesn’t get any more old Florida than local fave Alabama Jack’s (58000 Card Sound Rd.). Sip frosty local brews, wolf down what may be the best conch fritters in the Keys, and bop to live music on the weekends; occasionally you may catch square dancers swinging their partners. The joint closes at 6:30 p.m., so it’s a good place to start your evening out. Phone (305) 248-8741.

Rumor has it that scenes from the classic film “Key Largo” were shot at the rustic Caribbean Club (gulfside on US 1 at mile marker 104). Stop in for some local flavor and ice cold libations, eyeball the collection of Bogie and Bacall movie memorabilia, and watch the sunset over the bay behind the bar. Phone (305) 451-4466.

In Key Largo, much of the nightlife is centered around bars tucked inside restaurants and hotels, where you can quench your thirst with a frozen concoction, nibble on some conch fritters at a tiki bar, boogie to live music, chill out with friends and behold the beautiful sunsets.

Sharkey’s Pub & Galley Restaurant (522 Caribbean Dr.) has the laid-back island ambience vacationers and locals alike seek, with all the components necessary for a good time: icy beers, a juke box, live music, pool tables, fresh seafood and views of Port Largo Canal. Daily live entertainment draws locals to Snapper’s Oceanfront Restaurant (139 Seaside Ave.). Phone (305) 453-0999 for Sharkey's and (305) 852-5956 for Snapper's.

Dance the night away to local bands on the spacious patio at Snook’s Bayside Restaurant and Grand Tiki Bar (99470 Overseas Hwy.); don’t ignore the awesome views of the bay, especially as the sun sets. Phone (305) 453-5004.

Hipsters will want to head over to Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill (104000 Overseas Hwy.) where they can check out the sunset in a more modern setting, chill out at the gulfside tiki bar or settle into outdoor sofas while indulging in martinis or margaritas. Live rock bands and DJs provide the soundtrack at this happening spot, which also features a raw bar, sports bar and karaoke. Phone (305) 453-9066.

Breezer’s Tiki Bar is part of the Key Largo Bay Marriott Beach Resort (on US 1 at mile marker 103.8). Walk across a suspension bridge to this open-air, polygon-shaped bar and contemplate the breathtaking sunsets from one of the many windows that open to expansive Florida Bay. Phone (305) 453-0000.

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Key Largo, FL

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Playa Largo Resort & Spa, Autograph Collection

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