Best Attractions in the Florida KeysIn an area with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
By Patricia Miller
There's more to the Florida Keys than Key West. In fact, the Keys consist of some 1,700 islands. The largest and most populous— Big Pine Key , Islamorada , Key Largo , Key West , Marathon and Sugarloaf Key, along with Dry Tortugas National Park —are the hot spots for fun, fishing, sightseeing and water sports.
Adventurous Things to Do in the Florida Keys
Immerse yourself in the Florida Keys lifestyle at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. Take to the waters via glass-bottom boats, scuba diving or snorkeling to see the park's main attraction: its living coral reefs. Landlubbers will appreciate the park's nature trails, beaches and a 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium. At Theater of the Sea in Islamorada, you can swim with dolphins and sea lions or catch them in the act in live shows; parrots perform too. Observe marine creatures on a bottomless boat ride through a 3-acre saltwater lagoon. And don't forget to pet the resident cats.
Interacting with dolphins also is encouraged at the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon. Depending on your budget (and how wet you want to get), you can watch narrated demonstrations, shake flippers and paint a T-shirt with an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, or become a trainer or researcher for a day.
Wander the nature trails at the 9,200-acre National Key Deer Refuge in Big Pine Key to peer at the diminutive Key deer, an endangered species ranging in height from 24 to 32 inches. The best time to see these dog-sized creatures is at dawn and dusk.
Things to See in Key West
When you arrive in Key West, the Conch Tour Train should be first on your list. Not only will the ride help you get your bearings, you'll also learn about Key West's history, architecture and famous residents, including an author, a painter and a president.
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum . was the home of one of Key West's most illustrious citizens. Highlights include Hemingway's writing studio, decorative tiles in the kitchen and Art Deco bathroom, the first swimming pool in Key West and a cat cemetery. Guides regale visitors with humorous tales about the author's life.
Twenty-two original engravings painted by artist and ornithologist John James Audubon, who visited here in 1832, decorate the Audubon House and Tropical Gardens . Owned by harbor pilot Capt. John Geiger, the American Classic Revival home features 18th-century antiques and a 1-acre garden with rare tropical plants.
Learn little-known facts about President Harry Truman at the Harry S. Truman Little White House . Truman stayed here 10 times during his term, enjoying the beach, fishing and playing poker while discussing policies and working at his living room desk.
Delve into other aspects of Key West's history, art, people and events at The Custom House ; collections include Henry Flagler's Overseas Railroad.
To see art created by Mother Nature, meander the path at the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory , where butterflies of amazing hues, tiny gem-colored birds, soothing waterfalls, New Age music and tropical plants and flowers create a miniature Eden. You may never want to leave.
The waters of Key West have been host to many shipwrecks. The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum reveals some of their bounty, such as a treasure trove of artifacts from the 1622 shipwreck of the Atocha which included gold jewelry, silver ingots, coins, gems and pottery. Shackles, cannons and pewter pieces from a wrecked slave ship also are on display.
What to Do near Key West
If you can tear yourself away from Key West, take a ferry or seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park . You'll have an entire day for bird-watching, swimming, fishing, picnicking, snorkeling and diving, or touring Fort Jefferson; you also may camp overnight.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.
The Florida Keys, FL
AAA’s in-person hotel evaluations are unscheduled to ensure the inspector has an experience similar to that of members. To pass inspection, all hotels must meet the same rigorous standards for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality. These hotels receive a AAA Diamond designation that tells members what type of experience to expect.