The Keys to Happiness

Head south — way south — for the winter

By Glenda Winders

With all that Florida has to offer by way of rich history, warm-water beaches and big-name theme parks, it’s no wonder that many travelers never make it all the way down to the Keys. But those who don’t are missing a big adventure. In fact, this 120-mile-long string of 1,700 subtropical islands off the tip of the state could easily be an action-filled holiday all by itself.

“The Florida Keys offer visitors a community rich in heritage,” says Stacey Mitchell, director of the Florida Keys Tourism Council, “one that tenders a conscientious effort to protect the environment and wide-open spaces for a nature-based respite from the stressors of everyday life.”

Key Largo

What to do: Assuming you’ve flown into Miami and rented a car, you’ll find that getting to the major Keys is part of the fun. An hour’s drive on the scenic Overseas Highway will deliver you to the longest of the islands: Key Largo. If a respite is what you’ve come for, you may have a hard time leaving when it’s time to go.

Key Largo is bordered on the west by the Florida Bay and the Everglades National Park backcountry and on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, so it’s no wonder it is sometimes called the “Diving Capital of the World.” Since it’s a shallow-reef destination, it’s a great place for children and adults, whether they are learning to dive or have been certified for years. Experienced divers will want to explore the Spiegel Grove, one of the largest ships ever intentionally scuttled to create an artificial reef.

For more water fun, visit the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which protects 3,800 square miles of water surrounding the islands. Within its boundaries are North America’s only coral barrier reef, seagrass beds and more than 6,000 species of marine life. Swimming, diving, snorkeling and fishing are allowed here if visitors respect the natural resources. Within the sanctuary is the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the first underwater preserve in the United States. Here you’ll find the 9-foot-tall bronze “Christ of the Abyss,” a goal of divers and snorkelers since it was erected in 1965. Those not diving will enjoy the park’s beaches and nature trails.

The Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park offers access to 84 species of protected plants, birds and animals. View the wildlife by way of more than 6 miles of trails, many of which are paved and accessible. Signs along the trails will let you know what you’re seeing, or you can book a tour with a ranger. The park is home to one of the largest tracts of West Indian tropical hardwood hammocks in the United States.

The island was made popular by the Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall movie, “Key Largo.” Most of the scenes were filmed in Hollywood, but some were made at the local Caribbean Club. If you’re a fan, stop in for a drink. If “The African Queen” is your favorite Bogey flick, take a ride or a dinner cruise on the actual steam-powered vessel used in the movie. It’s docked at the Holiday Inn Resort and Marina.

Where to eat: A destination surrounded by water is, naturally, a great place to eat seafood, and it doesn’t get any fresher than at the Backyard Café, a part of Key Largo Fisheries. Choose from a creative menu that includes salads topped with shrimp, lobster or mahi-mahi; soups chock-full of lobster or clams; and sandwiches such as a lobster BLT and lobster Philly or maybe a hogfish boat. They aren’t open for breakfast, so for that head to the patio at The Hideout, where you’ll be served a made-to-order lobster omelet or lobster-cake Benedict and a side of grits. At lunchtime try the Key Largo Conch House Restaurant and Coffee Bar, where they cook up all things conch, from fritters and salad to chowder and a battered-and-fried conch basket. Other choices include Coconut Macadamia Mahi, Calamari Greek Salad or Caribbean Shrimp and Plantains. You’ll want a sunset with your dinner, so opt for Snook’s Bayside Restaurant and Grand Tiki Bar, where you can eat casually at the water’s edge or dress up and go inside. Start with one of their signature cocktails at the sunset ceremony (frozen Key lime colada, anyone?) and continue with stone crabs, lobster tails, pistachio-encrusted yellowtail or Snook’s Ultimate Indecision, a dinner for two that includes lobster tails, crab cakes, jumbo scallops, more crab and mahi-mahi, as well as beef and chicken dishes. For dessert have your first hit of Key lime pie, which you’ll discover at just about every restaurant you visit while you’re here.

Where to stay: If you came here to dive, the best place to bed down for the night might be Jules’ Undersea Lodge within the Pennekamp park. They’ll deliver your personal belongings and a pizza dinner to your room while you dive to it. Not certified? They can take care of that with lessons at Jules’ Lagoon.

Did you come instead for a complete getaway? Then Bay Harbor and Coconut Bay Resort could be just the thing. Stay in your own cottage on a private beach amid manicured gardens that include orchids, bird of paradise and hibiscus. They’ll serve you fresh scones and coffee every morning, and if you decide to venture out, they’ll lend you their paddleboards, paddleboats and kayaks.

In addition to accommodations, the affordable Bayside Inn Key Largo also offers a fitness center, pool and private beach. It’s close to several restaurants, and you’re welcome to bring your pet. The owners of Key Largo Cottages say you’ll have a rustic, old-Florida experience when you stay with them. In addition, they’ll lend you the equipment you need to fish, sail, kayak, paddleboard, snorkel or bicycle.


What to do: Backcountry sport fishing and saltwater fly-fishing were invented on Islamadora. Here you’ll find lots of boats ready to take visitors who want to fish out to sea. The island’s position between Florida Bay and the Atlantic Ocean means it is home to all kinds of fish. The Gulf Stream flows past some 10 to 20 miles offshore and, depending on the season, brings with it sailfish, kingfish, marlin, wahoo, mahi-mahi and tuna. Closer to shore are tarpon and bonefish.

Rather play with fish than catch them? Head for Robbie’s Marina, where you can purchase buckets of bait to feed to the tarpon that gather there. Or swim with dolphins, stingrays and sea lions at the Theater of the Sea. While you’re there, enjoy wild animal exhibits and parrot, sea lion and dolphin shows.

Some say Spanish sailors gave the island its name, “purple island,” when they observed its colorful sunsets and the profusely growing bougainvillea. Others say a railroad surveyor named it for the schooner “Island Home,” owned by a pioneer family, because trains only stopped at towns with names. Whatever the case, there’s plenty to do here, whether fishing-related or not.

Diving is popular here, too. An artificial reef created by another purposely sunken ship, the Eagle, provides one venue. Divers will also want to discover the San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve, home to the remains of a Spanish galleon that sank in 1733. The Florida Keys History of Diving Museum displays diving equipment and tools throughout history as well as diving helmets from all over the world.

There’s good exploring on dry land, too. Long Key State Park, once the winter home of Zane Gray, has the Golden Orb Trail through lush foliage that leads to a lookout tower and panoramic views of the entire island. Indian Key State Park contains the remains of a ship-salvage company from the 19th century, and at Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park visitors see an exposed coral reef and walk on trails through mangrove hammocks. Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park can only be reached by boat, but once there you’ll get to visit an early pioneer home and walk through a virgin hardwood hammock. At the Florida Keys History and Discovery Center learn about the history of the Keys as well as marine and environmental conservation. For sure take a stroll through the Morada Way Arts and Culture District to have a look at galleries and decide which restaurants to try.

Where to eat: Start at the Florida Keys Brewing Co. to have a flight of its barrel-aged beers in the beer garden or the Islamorada Brewery and Distillery for craft cocktails made with spirits distilled on the premises. For casual dining, try Bad Boy Burrito, where they’ll pair authentic Mexican flavors with fresh seafood, but if you’re full-up on seafood and want to try something different, head for the Ciao Hound Italian Kitchen and Bar, where they use local Florida ingredients to create the flavors of Tuscany in traditional meals such as spaghetti Bolognese and ravioli, followed by cannoli for dessert. Not tired of fish, you say? They can also whip up Mussels Arribbiata, Linguini Frutti di Mare and Grouper Puttanesca. For French food, put on your “elegant casual” attire and book a table at Pierre’s Lounge and Restaurant. Start with Escargot Voulevant and a cucumber martini and move on to Florida lobster curry, cage-free Maple Leaf duck breast or Keez Beez Dijon grilled veal chop. It’s easy to see why the Old Tavernier Restaurant and Lounge is said to be a favorite of locals. The menu features Italian and Greek cuisine, with the olive oil they use coming from family groves in Greece. Try the poached pink peppercorn dill salmon, spanakopita or vongole, that is, clams sautéed with scallions, tomatoes and mushrooms and served over capellini pasta.

Where to stay: Most of the hotels here have water-view rooms, so think about the amenities you require and then take your pick. At the Kon Tiki Resort on the bayside choose from rooms that range from efficiencies to suites that have kitchens and living rooms. The brand-new Hadley House offers some of the largest rooms on the island along with a private sand jetty and use of their bicycles, kayaks and paddleboards. Best of all, everything on the property is accessible. Thinking of a luxurious getaway? Cheeca Lodge and Spa invites you to be “pampered in paradise.” Stay in an ocean-view suite or snuggle up in a private casita. Play tennis or golf, then have a spa treatment before you have dinner at one of several restaurants that might include seafood at Atlantic’s Edge or award-winning Italian food at Mia Cucina. At The Moorings stay in a private cottage on land that was once a coconut plantation. Enjoy the lush gardens, swim in crystal-clear water, dive, fish or just enjoy the sunrise. The Lime Tree Bay Resort provides rooms that range from studio efficiencies to three-bedroom townhouses on a white-sand beach. Fish off the dock, curl up with a book in a tiki hut or snooze in a hammock. One of the benefits of staying here is that you’re well on your way to your next destination.


What to do: This city got its name when early 1900s railroad workers up against a construction deadline commented that the job was turning into a real marathon. It is made up of several smaller islands and claims to be the chain’s boating capital. It is also a great family destination.

“Marathon is community-based,” says Laura Hackney, membership services and sales coordinator at the Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center. “It’s a quieter island that is geared to providing activities for the entire family — festivals at our community park, art walks and beach runs.”

Kiteboarding, for example, is huge here. Combining elements of windsurfing, surfing, paragliding and skateboarding, the participant uses an oversized kite to catch the wind and power the ride. Stop in at Florida Keys Kiteboarding and Stand Up Paddleboarding for lessons and rentals; then see what it’s like to literally fly across the waves. One popular launching spot is Curry Hammock State Park, which will afford others in your group who aren’t quite as adventuresome the opportunity to fish, swim and picnic. Hackney says Keys Cable Park, a part of the Lagoon on Grassy Key eco-park, is another place to practice sports such as kiteboarding and paddleboarding, and parents or friends can have dinner as they watch. Initially a limestone quarry and later a fish farm, today the lagoon park also offers a marketplace, pools and places to stay and eat in a resort-like setting.

Interact with sharks, stingrays and much more at Aquarium Encounters and play with dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center or Dolphin Connection at Hawk’s Key Resort — even if that’s not where you’re staying. Crane Point is a 63-acre parcel of land purchased by the Florida Land Trust in 1989 to save it from development. Today it is one of the most remarkable historical and archaeological sites in the Keys. Here you can see prehistoric artifacts and the remains of a Bahamian village. The Museum of the Natural History of the Florida Keys is here, as well as the Florida Keys Children’s Museum, along with one of the oldest homes in the Keys, a butterfly garden, bird rehabilitation center, rainforest and nature trails. Pigeon Key is also filled with historical significance since it was once a labor camp for the workers who built the original Seven Mile Bridge. Take a ferry here for a tour, go see a museum, picnic or snorkel. You may want to save this for last since you’ll be crossing the bridge on your way to Big Pine and Lower Keys.

Where to eat: Burdine’s Waterfront Bar and Grill is an island favorite, where they invite you to linger right on the water and munch on sandwiches such as Joe Mama’s Big Biker sausage, a shrimp burger or Florentine chicken burger. Marathon Grill and Ale House is another spot recommended by locals. Its varied all-American menu ranges from mahi tacos to homemade chicken pot pie, barbecued ribs to pizza.

Is there a big game on TV that you don’t want to miss? Meet with like-minded souls at S.S. Wreck and Galley Grill. Proudly locally owned and veteran operated, they serve uncomplicated food made with fresh ingredients. Try the tuna poke nachos, frog legs, Cajun smoked salmon, gator bites or oysters on the half-shell. They also offer burgers, steak and chicken. If you’re a veteran, too, or a first responder, they’ll take 10% off your check. Your fine-dining experience in Marathon might be the Florida Keys Steak and Lobster House. The appetizer menu alone could fill you up with tasty tidbits such as Oysters Rockefeller, bacon-wrapped scallops or Big Bang chicken, but save room for the soup, salad and pasta courses followed by entrees such as cowboy steak, rack of lamb, lobster thermidor Dijon or roasted duck. One of their options is stone-grill dining, where your food is cooked right at your table. Vegetarian options include butternut squash ravioli and pear Fiocchetti. The Triton Seafood Restaurant serves Italian dishes in a family-friendly ambience. Opt for Triton Octopus Salad, Penne ai Pulpo or Mahi-Mahi Putanesca. If you’d like a break from seafood, they’ll bring you steak, ribs or pasta.

Where to stay: Isla Bella is a Caribbean-inspired resort where every crisp white bedroom or suite comes with an outdoor living area. They’ll lend you a bicycle or set you up for snorkeling or kayaking. For a quieter day, book a treatment at the spa or play a game of bocce ball or chess on a giant outdoor board. The water here is perfect for manatees, so you’re likely to see some, including “Isla Bella,” rescued by and named for the resort. Have dinner at the Polynesian-inspired Mahina restaurant, where dessert could very well be a Key lime martini. The rooms at the Faro Blanco Resort and Yacht Club are all lovely, but for a special occasion book the Lighthouse Suite. If by chance you arrive in your own boat, they’ll put you up in their state-of-the-art marina, and you’ll have access to the resort’s pool, fitness center and fishing charters. Stop in at the Lighthouse Grill for a cocktail and a quick bite or a full-on dinner. At Tranquility Bay Beach Resort you’ll stay in a stand-alone private beach house overlooking the ocean. While you’re there, plan to practice your golf skills at a putting green, swim in three pools or play beach volleyball. Have a sandwich and a beer at the Tiki Bar or dine in elegance at the Butterfly Café. Children are welcomed here with a menu for “Little Caterpillars” that includes pasta with a choice of four sauces and a brownie sundae for dessert.

If you’re bringing the kids and have a smaller budget, the Kingsail Resort Motel is for you. Have free coffee on the dock each morning and then swim in the palm-surrounded pool or the lagoon that opens to the Gulf of Mexico. Most units have kitchenettes, and laundry facilities are available. Driving in with your RV? At Bonefish Bay Motel and RV Sites you can park bayside, have a swim in the pool and catch up on laundry. Rooms with kitchenettes are also available. You’re close to the historic Seven Mile Bridge here, so it will be easy to drive on south to …

Big Pine and The Lower Keys

If each of the Keys has its specialty, this one’s is nature.

“All of Big Pine Key is a nature preserve that’s very much protected,” says Bill Miranda, assistant to the executive director at the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce. “We have the endangered Key deer population, and they’re a big attraction because they run free all over the place. Birdwatchers come here because birds come here from all over the world to roost and nest — bald eagles, rare white pelicans, flamingos and many more. And stargazers who come here say it’s magical. Because of its location and because it’s so dark here, it’s one of the best places in the world to look at the stars.”

What to do: Miranda explains that the mangrove trees that grow on the island make for salt ponds that attract birds and one of Florida’s signature species, alligators. He says one of the best ways to view these creatures is to visit Blue Hole, a former rock quarry used in the construction of the Over-Seas Railroad that now provides a natural habitat for them. And to make sure you can get up-close and personal with the Key deer, he says a visit to National Key Deer Refuge and Watson Nature Trail is in order. The Jack C. Watson Nature Trail runs through rare pine rock lands and tropical hammocks and their understory edged by marshlands that attract wildlife. For an encounter with tamer animals, there’s Sheriff’s Animal Farm, which gives children the opportunity to see and interact with horses, ponies, geese, llamas, pigs and much more. The Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, in the Gulf of Mexico water adjacent to the Lower Keys, can be accessed only by boat or kayak. Here, too, are sunken ships that serve as reefs that are home to marine wildlife and attractions for divers. The Adolphus Busch Sr. was sunk intentionally; the Looe Key Reef was a British frigate that ran aground in 1744 and now offers views of sponges, soft coral and many kinds of fish. Bahia Honda State Park is said to have the Keys’ finest beaches as well as facilities for camping, water sports and picnics. While you’re here, learn about the local flora and fauna at a nature center and hike along nature trails.

Where to eat: Start with breakfast at Bagel Island Deli, where they make fresh bagels every day — blueberry, sesame, Asiago, garlic, multigrain and more — and serve them with cream-cheese options that include artichoke-garlic-olive, walnut-raisin and roasted red pepper. They also serve hot breakfasts and all kinds of sandwiches for lunch. Or try the Good Food Conspiracy for breakfast or lunch of an organic nature, all made to order. Sample organic fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies or wraps and sandwiches such as the vegan sunshine burger, vegetable melt or tofu, avocado and cheese. You won’t find meat on the menu, but pescatarian offerings include the Everything, which features tuna, avocado, cheese and cashews. Big Pine Rooster also serves breakfast and creative lunches of lobster Reubens and whiskey chicken sandwiches, but you might want to save this place for dinner. Start with Thai chili shrimp or smoked mahi fish dip and move on to the teriyaki garlic salmon filet or rooster seafood pasta. For a home-cooking fix, they also serve meatloaf, chicken-fried steak, and liver and onions. Coco’s Kitchen is the place to go for Cuban and Latin favorites, including Churrasco steak, Palomilla steak, fried eggplant and Cuban mix sandwiches all served with sides of plantains, fried yucca or conch fritters and flan for dessert.

Where to stay: If you’ve come here to immerse yourself in nature, plan to stay at Deer Run on the Atlantic, located in the heart of the Key Deer Refuge and adjacent to the Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve and the National Marine Sanctuary. Certified “green” by the state of Florida, accommodations include one of four ocean-view rooms that come with a full vegetarian breakfast on the veranda.

Sugarloaf Lodge is located within the Great White Heron Refuge with views of the protected backcountry waters. All the rooms overlook mangrove-lined Sugarloaf Sound, which is a habitat for fish, birds and other local wildlife. At South of the Seven, the on-site restaurant, the menu changes daily and promises a dining adventure. Diving is good in all the Keys, and if that’s what you’ve come here to do, consider staying at Looe Key Reef Resort and Dive Center. Their rooms come with refrigerators and microwaves, and the dive shop, pool and Tiki Bar and Grill are just steps away. Dive-and-stay packages include scuba and snorkeling lessons and dives to the National Marine Sanctuary. For an additional fee they’ll take you on night dives and wreck diving at the Adolphus Busch. At Sunshine Key RV Resort and Marina, you can park your ride and head for activities that include tennis, horseshoes, swimming, kayaking, volleyball, fishing and much more. Keys Boat Tours is located on site, so they can get you the gear you’ll need. Their promise when they organize fishing or diving trips is that they employ sustainable practices that reduce the impact of visitors’ activities on the natural wonders in the area.

Key West

What to do: This is the cultural island, closer to Cuba than to Miami and with a rich Cuban-Bahamian history and subtropical climate that has attracted everyone from presidents to rock stars. That being the case, what better place to start than at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. Here you’ll see where he lived and the writing studio where he wrote some of his most famous novels, including “To Have and Have Not,” which is set in Key West. Playwright Tennessee Williams lived here for 30 years, and you can see artifacts from his life at the Tennessee Williams Museum or take in a performance at the Tennessee Williams Theatre on the campus of Florida Keys Community College. Harry S. Truman’s Little White House, which has hosted several other presidents, too, is open for tours. The Audubon House and Tropical Gardens was scheduled for demolition so that a gas station could be erected on the site. Instead, it was rescued by preservationists and restored to its original glory. The site honors John James Audubon, who visited Key West in the 1830s and painted birds while he was in the area. The gallery offers both his antique original pieces and high-quality prints.

Another good way to start your visit is on the Conch Tour Train, departing every half-hour, which will teach you about Key West and point out places to which you’ll want to return. One of those might be the Custom House Museum, home to the Key West Art and Historical Society and the repository for artifacts having to do with the history of the Keys. It also houses an impressive art collection that includes the remarkable sculptures of Seward Johnson.

Other museums abound, so whatever your interest you’re sure to find fascinating places to explore and learn. One is the Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters, which opened in 1848 after the U.S. Navy established a base here and had a woman as its first keeper. Today it is decommissioned but open so that visitors can climb to the top for panoramic vistas and then back downstairs to view photos and artifacts from this unusual way of life.

The Fort East Martello Museum was built as a Civil War fort but never used. Today it houses military photographs, Civil War relics, exhibits about the wrecking and cigar-making industries that supported the island and permanent collections of the artworks of Cuban-American folk artist Mario Sanchez and “junk” sculptor Stanley Papio. The museum is purported to be haunted by one of its inhabitants, Robert the Doll. Other Civil War artifacts can be found at Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park, 70 miles west in the Gulf of Mexico and accessible by ferry and seaplane, as well as at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park.

The San Carlos Institute was established in 1871 by Cuban exiles. Here, Cuban patriot Jose Martí gave his famous speech for Cuban independence. Exhibits explain the history of both Cuba and the people who needed to flee to Florida. Stroll through Bahamian Village on Petronia Street for markets, shops and restaurants related to that culture.

If you didn’t get enough nature on Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys, there’s plenty to see here, too. The Key West Aquarium features a touch tank, shark feeding, lionfish exhibit and sea turtle conservation. The Key West Turtle Museum will help you learn about the turtle industry here as well as conservation efforts, and the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum has the largest collection of 17th-century maritime and shipwreck antiquities in the Western Hemisphere. The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is housed in a 5,000-square-foot glass-domed butterfly habitat.

No matter what else you do here, don’t miss the nightly Mallory Square Sunset Celebration, where artists, street performers and food vendors gather two hours before sunset for a multicultural event that lasts until the sun disappears into the Gulf of Mexico.

Where to eat: The Shor American Seafood Grill offers gourmet breakfasts to fuel you for the day of exploring ahead. Signature items include Down Island French toast (made with mango bread and topped with fresh fruit and coconut), a Cuban skillet (beans, rice, potatoes and eggs) and a Cajun omelet with Andouille sausage, bacon, peppers, scallions and cheese. If you come here for dinner, plan on an elegant meal such as lemongrass and coconut seafood curry, seafood coconut lime risotto, white lasagna and lots more.

El Meson de Pepe was started 30 years ago by Pepe Diaz, who left Cuba to train in Spain and finally realized his dream of opening a restaurant in America. The menu is exciting — Cuban guacamole with fried plantain chips, plantains stuffed with roast pork, picadillo and ropa vieja, a medley of seafood in a Creole sauce, or pork chops marinated in lime and garlic. Blue Heaven is steps away from everything you’ll be doing on Duval Street and run by a couple who call themselves “free spirits.” But don’t let the leopard-spotted mannequin, rooster graveyard or rope swings scare you away. They serve three meals a day on picnic tables outside, but if you can only come once, save it for breakfast on Sunday. Then you can feast on an avocado omelet; shrimp (or lobster) and grits; Blue Heaven benedicts that you can order with beef tenderloin, ham, bacon or vegetables; Richard’s Very Good Pancakes; and on and on. You can’t visit Key West without stopping in for at least a drink at Sloppy Joe’s, owned by Hemingway’s fishing buddy and the place where he often held court with others of his ilk, such as John Dos Pasos. His favorite drink was the Papa Dobles, a daiquiri named for him, but there’s a long list of other cocktails from which to choose. The long menu of bar food includes Havana Nachos, the Full Moon Fish Sandwich and the Ernie Burger.

If you find you still haven’t had enough, why not splurge on a whole Key lime pie? Pick one up at Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe or stop at Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop for his “world famous” Key lime pie.

Where to stay: If you liked touring historic homes here, you’re going to love staying at the grand Curry Mansion Bed and Breakfast, former home of Florida’s first millionaire. The owners host a cocktail party each evening and offer made-to-order omelet breakfasts. Even though checkout time is 11 a.m., they’ll hang onto your luggage while you have a last dip in the pool. Each room has a balcony or porch.

The Southernmost House is a Victorian mansion often photographed because of its location at the southern tip of the Key. Enjoy elegance among historic furnishings and a seaside continental breakfast. The on-site Seaside Café is famous for its Mansion Mojitos and honey-butter lobster biscuits.

Luxuriate in your own two-, three- or four-bedroom oceanfront cottage at Sunset Key Cottages on a secluded 27-acre island that you’ll arrive at by launch. Each is appointed with Caribbean influences, and while you’re here you can play tennis, swim in the pool, go to the spa or relax on the beach. Fruit and freshly baked bread will be delivered to your porch each morning, and you can enjoy lunch poolside. Each evening honors “Up Spirits” by meeting with other guests for a daily ration of rum as sailors once did. Then put on your “country club casual” attire and dine in luxury at Latitudes.

The Gardens Hotel claims to be the “prettiest hotel in Key West.” Its rooms, suites and cottages come with verandas and are impeccably designed with Bahamian-style furnishings and an impressive list of amenities that make it inclusive for whoever wants to visit. It’s LGBTQ-friendly, eco-friendly, pet-friendly, and its accessible courtyard room has a ramped entrance, roll-in bathroom with grab bars, a bed-shaker to notify the occupant of incoming phone calls, and doorbell and alarm-clock alerts. Use the pass you’ll be given to access the self-serve D’Vine Wine Gallery or swim in two heated pools.

On a budget or just prefer to sleep under the stars? Go to the end of U.S. Highway 1 and roll into Boyd’s Key West Campground. You’ll find full hook-up facilities for RVs, tent campsites and tiny-home rentals. Swim in the pool, sun on the beach, kayak or swing in a hammock, just like owners Boyd and Elsie Hamilton did when they decided to leave chilly Canada and establish their business here more than 60 years ago.