Florida Keys Islands Guide (w/ Beach Info, Photos & Attractions)
October 8th 2019
The Florida Keys are undeniably one of the most beautiful places in our country. With crystal-clear water, coral reefs, majestic mangroves, a vast array of plant and animal life, and stunning sunsets, the Florida Keys are more than just a simple, tropical beach destination. While each island boasts these incredible features, each one is unique in its own way, as well.
This can make choosing which Florida Keys islands to visit to make the most of your time in paradise challenging. With each key offering something completely different, yet equally magical, it’s best to get acquainted with some of the most popular islands, and make an informed decision from there. Learn about the Florida Keys Islands - Beach Information, Photos, Attractions, and More!
Table of Contents
- Islands of the Florida Keys
- Key Largo
- Diving in the “Dive Capital of the World”
- John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
- USS Spiegel Grove
- Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
- Far Beach
- Diving in the “Dive Capital of the World”
- Sportfishing Capital of the World
- Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park
- History of Diving Museum
- Robbie’s Marina
- Indian Key Historic State Park
- Anne’s Beach
- Dolphin Research Center
- Visit the Turtle Hospital
- Sombrero Beach
- Big Pine Key
- National Key Deer Refuge
- Bahia Honda State Park
- Key West
- Fort Zachary Taylor State Park Beach
- Smathers Beach
- Dry Tortugas
- Key West Watersports
- How to Get There
- Florida Keys Island Hopping
Islands of the Florida Keys
Aerial view of the Florida Keys taken by NASA via Wikimedia
The Florida Keys are a cluster of small islands that create the southernmost part of the continental United States. The Southernmost Point Buoy in Key West marks the spot, and means visitors are just a mere 90 miles to Cuba! There are a total of 1,700 islands in the Keys, spanning over 137.3 square miles.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to sort through 1,700 islands to pick the one you want to explore. Very few of these islands are populated, as only 43 are connected by bridges. Some of the most popular Florida Keys islands include:
- Key Largo
- Big Pine Key
- Key West
Keep reading and discover the best of the Florida Keys, and choose the paradise that is perfect for you!
One of Key Largo’s famous and fabulous sunsets - Image from Pixabay
Key Largo is the largest of the Keys, reaching 30 miles in length, and is located just 60 miles south of Miami. Being in close proximity to the Everglades, combined with the island’s own natural wonder, makes Key Largo the perfect place for nature enthusiasts and thrill seekers alike.
While 30 miles doesn’t sound like much, this tiny island is full of incredible things to do!
Diving in the “Dive Capital of the World”
Image of divers exploring coral reef formations from Max Pixel
Key Largo is the self-proclaimed “Dive Capital of the World,” but with good reason! From state parks that preserve the area’s natural beauty, to sunken ships just waiting to be explored, there is so much to see when under the sea in Key Largo.
If this sounds like the key for you, you may want to visit one of these places when you’re there, and dive in:
- John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park: This is the first undersea park in the country, and covers about 70 nautical square miles. This park is home to incredible coral formations and marine life, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Boat tours, diving, snorkeling, and kayaking are popular activities at the park.
- USS Spiegel Grove: The USS Spiegel Grove is a sunken ship just off the coast of Key Largo. Sunk in 2002, this ship is quickly becoming its own reef ecosystem. Nearly two football fields long, there is a lot of beauty to explore when diving the Spiegel Grove!
- Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary: While the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary encompasses basically all of the Florida Keys, one of the best diving spots in the sanctuary is located in Key Largo. The “Christ of the Abyss” is a beautiful, 9-foot, bronze statue located at the sea floor, that is also home to some magnificent marine life.
Exploring the underwater abyss in Key Largo is a must when visiting the Florida Keys. Wherever you decide to take the plunge in Key Largo, you’ll be happy you did!
Image of Far Beach in Key Largo, Florida, from Pixabay
Far Beach in Key Largo is, by far, one of the most popular beaches to visit on the island. Located within the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Far Beach is a great option for groups with different interests.
Visitors can simply relax on the beautiful beach under the palm trees, or hit the water and swim, snorkel, dive, and explore the coral reef! Other popular beaches in Key Largo include:
- Cannon Beach
- Harry Harris Park Beach
Image of the beautiful palm trees in Islamorada, Florida, taken by Paul Brennan
Just over 16 miles south of Key Largo lies Islamorada, a village comprising 6 of the Florida Keys. These low-key keys are full of incredible nature and wildlife. Known for fishing, snorkeling, diving, and beautiful beaches, Islamorada, FL, has something for every age and interest!
Sportfishing Capital of the World
Image of 28-pound Mahi Mahi caught in Islamorada by Jeff Weiss via Wikimedia
Islamorada is known by many as the “Sportfishing Capital of the World.” With access to bays, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean, there’s no telling what you’ll reel in! Islamorada also offers the largest fishing fleet per square mile in the world, so if you’re wanting to catch a keeper, this is where to do it! Popular species of fish to target in Islamorada include:
- Blue Marlin
- Mahi Mahi
If reeling in the big one is what you’re after, you may want to consider booking your stay in Islamorada during one of their fishing tournaments. With dozens taking place throughout the year, there is plenty of fishing to go around! Below are some popular Islamorada fishing tournaments to consider:
- Islamorada Fishing Club (IFC) Sailfish Tournament
- IFC Captains Cup Dolphin Tournament
- Robert James Sales Redbone Celebrity Tournament
- Islamorada Women's Sailfish Tournament
- Gold Cup Tarpon Tournament
- Islamorada Fly Dolphin Tournament
Islamorada’s warm waters attract such a wide variety of marine life, making it one of the most diverse places to fish in the country. It’s one of the only places you can catch a Mahi Mahi, Permit, and maybe even a Marlin, all in the same day! With that being said, let Islamorada lure you in and hook yourself a keeper!
Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park
Exposed Brain Coral fossil found at the Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park - Image by Jstuby from Wikimedia
The Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park is an old limestone rock quarry that was once used by Henry Flagler in the early 1900s to build the overseas railway. Now, visitors can see the quarry and the thousands of fossilized corals and ancient marine life preserved in the rocks. Other popular things to do at the state park include:
- Wildlife Viewing
History of Diving Museum
Image of the History of Diving Museum taken by Ebyabe from Wikimedia
The great thing about the Florida Keys as a whole is that with all levels of reef and wreck diving available, scuba diving is possible for the expert and the novice. It's easy to see why so many people are drawn to diving here, especially when considering these islands are also home to the continental United State's only barrier reef system. Diving plays a major role in the area's economy, and is definitely a driving force for tourism, as well.
The History of Diving Museum is a non-profit organization whose mission is to collect, preserve, display, and interpret artifacts and oral history relative to diving. This museum is a great way to combine past and present, and the fun of diving with the history that created it. Go beyond diving in the deep blue, and dive into history at the History of Diving Museum!
Image of Tarpon waiting to be fed at Robbie’s Marina in Islamorada taken by Sam Howzit via Flickr
Visiting Robbie’s Marina in Islamorada is must when in the Florida Keys! The docks at Robbie’s are home to about 100 Tarpon, and visitors from across the country come to feed these feisty fish. Sometimes, a Tarpon will actually jump out of the water to meet the fish as it leaves your hand; an incredible sight to be seen!
Indian Key Historic State Park
Image of the beautiful waters of Indian Key Historic State Park - Courtesy of Florida State Parks
Indian Key Historic State Park is the perfect place to soak up the sun in Islamorada! Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, this deserted, 11-acre island is home to the ruins of a town that existed in the early 1800s. The island is only accessible by boat from Islamorada, but is great place for the following:
- Scenic Views
A popular way to get to the state park is by kayak. If you decide to paddle to the island, it will usually take about 30-45 minutes. Be sure to look out for Flipper and friends along the way!
Photo of Anne’s Beach taken by Ved Ivanov via Wikimedia
Anne’s Beach in Islamorada is a local favorite, and the perfect place to go if you’re looking for some true rest and relaxation. Located on the Atlantic side of the island, the waters of Anne’s Beach are shallow and calm. This makes for the perfect location to swim, snorkel, kayak, paddleboard, or kite board.
You don’t have to limit yourself to just one beach when in Islamorada, either. The island is literally surrounded by gorgeous beaches! Check out these other popular beaches for a beach-hopping extravaganza:
- Holiday Isle Beach
- Islamorada Library Beach and Park
- Long Key State Park
- Sea Oats Beach
- Kite Beach
Stunning view from the curved shoreline of Marathon, Florida
Heading further south down the Florida Keys will put you in magnificent Marathon, Florida! About 30 miles from Islamorada, Marathon is spread out over 13 islands. Known for their beautiful beaches and the barrier reef, there is a lot of natural beauty and wildlife to explore when visiting this tropical island paradise!
Dolphin Research Center
Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin at the Dolphin Research Center - Image by Reinhard Link via Flickr
Spend the day with dolphins in Marathon, FL, at the Dolphin Research Center! The Dolphin Research Center was founded in 1984, and is a 90,000-square-foot series of saltwater lagoons housing dolphins and sea lions. This all-natural setting is a great way to flip out with Flipper and friends!
The Dolphin Research Center not only means a great time with America’s sweetheart, the dolphin, but also research and rehabilitation. This non-profit facility strives to help animals in need, and house them in a safe environment.
Visit the Turtle Hospital
Recovering Sea Turtle at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon - Image by Tori Siebecker via Wikimedia
The Turtle Hospital is another non-profit organization whose goal is to rescue, rehabilitate, and release Sea Turtles in need in the Florida Keys. They offer guided educational experiences, as well, which is a great way to see these stunning swimmers, while also learning about them and their environment.
If you see a sick or injured turtle while traveling the Keys, be sure to call one of these numbers:
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:
The Turtle Hospital’s 24-Hour Stranding Hotline:
Image of Sombrero Beach by Franz Stellbrink via Wikimedia
Sombrero Beach in Marathon is a stunning and scenic beach on the Atlantic Ocean. With soft sand and turquoise waters, Sombrero Beach is a favorite amongst locals and tourists alike!
From April until October, however, it’s not uncommon to see Loggerhead Turtles heading to shore to lay their eggs. While there isn’t a sight quite as awe-inspiring as this, it’s important to remember these animals are endangered, and need to be enjoyed from a distance.
Other popular beaches in Marathon, FL, include:
- Sunset Park Beach
- Coco Plum Beach
Big Pine Key
Image of Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys by Cayobo via Flickr
South of Marathon lies Big Pine Key, FL, a little over 20 miles away. Big Pine Key is the perfect place for a low-key vacation with delicious seafood, wondrous wildlife, and natural, scenic beauty.
National Key Deer Refuge
A majestic male key deer in the Florida Keys - Image by Averette via Wikimedia
The National Key Deer Refuge was created in 1957 to protect Key Deer, an endangered deer species that lives only in the Florida Keys. The last scientific study on Key Deer was conducted in 2000, revealing that there are less than 1,000 in existence.
These small and scarce species of deer attract thousands of visitors to the Keys every year. Check out these interesting facts about Key Deer, and be prepared for your next encounter with one:
Key Deer aren’t the only rare species you’ll find at the National Key Deer Refuge. Located on 9,200 acres of pine rockland forests, tropical hardwood hammocks, freshwater wetlands, salt marsh wetlands, and mangrove forests, the Refuge hosts a wide variety of plant and animal life, including 23 endangered and threatened species.
According to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services, endangered and threatened animal species that call the National Key Deer Refuge home include:
- Bartram's Hairstreak Butterfly
- Lower Keys Marsh Rabbit
- Indigo Snake
- Schaus Swallowtail Butterfly
- American Crocodile
If you decide to go to the National Key Deer Refuge, don't forget to bring a camera! You never know what you'll encounter, but it is sure to be a great photo-op.
Bahia Honda State Park
Image of a beautiful day in paradise at Bahia Honda State Park taken by Paul Brennan
Bahia Honda State Park is a favorite amongst travelers to Florida Keys islands! The park encompasses over 500 acres, including an offshore island known for incredible snorkeling. Other popular activities while visiting Bahia Honda State Park include:
- Bird Watching
- Scuba Diving
Beautiful beaches and watersports aside, Bahia Honda State Park is also home to a remnant of the Overseas Highway, built in 1912. Be sure to check out this incredible piece of history before leaving the island!
Scenic views like the one pictured above are just one of the many reasons so many people flock to Key West, year after year
All the way down at the very end of the Florida Keys lies the southernmost point in the country, Key West, FL. Almost 30 miles from Big Pine Key, Key West is definitely worth the trek!
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park Beach
Iconic signage at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park Beach - Image by Cristo Vlahos via Wikimedia
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is a great way to experience history and fun all in one! Fort Taylor is a National Historic Monument that played an important role in the Civil War and Spanish-American War, and guided tours are offered daily.
The state park is not only home to some incredible history, but it is also home to one of the best beaches! Swimming and snorkeling are the top activities here, as the water is very clear and there is a wide variety of marine life just under the surface.
Image of Smathers Beach in Key West, FL, taken by Ulla Moilanen via Flickr
Smathers Beach is the largest public beach in Key West, approximately a half mile long, and is located at mile marker zero on the Atlantic Ocean. One of the most popular beaches in Key West, Smathers hosts an estimated 150,000 visitors every year! With incredible views, crystal-clear water, beautiful palm trees, and diverse wildlife, it’s easy to see why so many people choose Smathers Beach for their Florida Keys retreat.
Smathers Beach is just one of many beaches located across the island. Other popular beaches to explore while in Key West include:
- Dog Beach
- Higgs Beach
- South Beach
- Rest Beach
Historic and scenic Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park - Image by Lindsey C. Straub via Wikimedia
The Dry Tortugas are a cluster of islands located about 70 miles west of Key West. Only accessible by boat or through a tour, the Dry Tortugas are definitely worth the venture. Home to the Dry Tortugas National Park and the famous Fort Jefferson, the amount of history to take in is unsurpassed.
The best part about the Dry Tortugas? It’s equal parts history and equal parts fun in the sun! After you tour the fort and take in the area history, jump in the picturesque turquoise water and keep your eyes peeled for colorful fish, friendly dolphins, and, of course, the majestic sea turtle!
Key West Watersports
Come to Key West for the breathtaking beaches, but stay for the whimsical watersports! With so much to explore by sea in Key West, hitting the water is an absolute must. From exploring the riveting reefs on a snorkeling tour to setting sail on a sunset cruise, Key West offers some of the best watersports in the country!
According to a recent Traveler Story, snorkeling in Key West yields a wide variety of unique marine life
Key West, Florida, is home to some of the best snorkeling in the world! With 2,800 square nautical miles of barrier reef to explore, it’s easy to see why!
From the beautiful coral to the diverse marine life, snorkeling in Key West is definitely something you should knock off of your bucket list! Grab your googles and be sure to look out for these incredible animals when snorkeling in Key West:
- Sea Turtles
A couple enjoys scenic views from high in the sky while parasailing over beautiful Key West
Whether you're exploring the Florida Keys islands on a romantic getaway, or are just looking for some fun, parasailing is the way to go! Soaring high in the sky with your favorite person is the best way to see Key West in a whole new light! Don't forget to look down and look for:
- and MORE!
A group enjoys an incredible Key West sunset on a sailing charter with Danger Charters
Sail off into the sunset on an unforgettable Key West sailing charter! Sailing and Key West go together like sunshine and tan lines, and is the quintessential way to catch a sunset on the island. Just picture the sea breeze in your hair, a tropical drink in hand, and a sky full of vivid and beautiful colors!
If this sounds like more your style, then you’re in luck! Sailing tours come in all forms, which means choosing the right Key West sailing tour for you is easier than ever! Below are a few of the many popular sailing excursions to choose from:
- Day Sails
- Sunset Sails
- Private Sails
- Combination Tours
How to Get There
The Seven Mile Bridge, pictured above, connects the Middle Keys to the Lower Keys - Image by Meyyappan S via Flickr
Now that you know all about the best Florida Keys islands and beaches, all that’s left to figure out is how to get there! Which island you choose to explore may affect how you get there, but in general, there are three main ways to do so:
- By Boat: Since the Florida Keys are a cluster of islands, most destinations are accessible by boat. Please be aware that when traveling by boat in the Keys, there are additional things to be aware of, like the coral reef, for example. If you plan on exploring Florida Keys islands and beaches by boat, you may want to check out TripShock’s complete guide to boating in Key West, for more information.
- By Car: Traveling by car grants you the freedom to explore the Florida Keys at your own pace. If you are looking to travel to the Lower Keys, however, planning is key. For example, traveling to Key West from Miami is about a 3.5-hour drive.
- By Tour: One of the best ways to explore the tropical Florida Keys is with a tour guide! Taking a day trip or excursion from Miami is an option, and takes away the stress of planning and traveling all together.
Florida Keys Island Hopping
No matter which key you decide to explore, be sure to catch one of the Florida Key’s famous sunsets - Image by Jason Zeid from Pexels
If you have the time during your tropical getaway to explore all the islands mentioned above, you won’t regret it! Each island is unique and special in their own, individual way. If you only have time for one, whichever island you decide to explore, you’ll be happy you decided to dive into the Florida Keys!
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