The Florida Keys is a highly sought after vacation spot. My daughter and I had the opportunity to make a trip through the Florida Keys in the fall. We had an amazing time exploring sea life, learning about endangered or injured turtles, sightseeing, and eating delicious food. While world-famous Key West lies in the southernmost part of the state and the Florida Keys, let me introduce you to its counterparts. Key Largo, Islamorada, Duck Key, and Marathon are some of the other great places to add to your travels. Even if for only 24 hours, I do recommend a stop.
The scenic drive through the Florida Keys is part of the trip’s fun, though you can arrive by plane. Leaving Miami, the drive will take a little over an hour to get to the Upper Keys (Islamorada and Key Largo), followed by the Middle Keys (Duck Key and Marathon), also known as the heart of the Florida Keys.
Stretch Your Legs (and Wallet)
One of the first significant towns you come to while driving through the Florida Keys is Islamorada. Since you’ve dealt with the Miami traffic or have been sitting at least a few hours in the car, it is time to stretch your legs. The Rain Barrel Artisan Village, an open-air artist’s village with fantastic artwork and scenery, is the perfect place to do just that. From sculptures to wall hangings and clothing to local books, this market is a real treat. Furthermore, you are greeted by Betsy, a huge spiny lobster that you will be snapping pictures of as soon as you cross the Overseas Highway. She is adorable!
Time for Lunch
Lunch is a visual and tasty treat from Marker 88, where you will have the most amazing Islamorada waterfront views and delicious fresh seafood. Regardless of what you order, make sure to have the Lobster & Mango Guacamole as a starter. Yum!
Chef Bobby Stoky is the owner of Marker 88 and four other Upper Keys restaurants. If you are hungry enough, the juicy Filet Mignon Oscar with asparagus and key lime hollandaise is the bomb!
If you are looking for some other lunch suggestions, check out our Guide to the Best Restaurants in the Florida Keys.
Florida Keys Adventures
One of my favorite things to do in Marathon, Florida, is to swim with the fish. You can do this (and more) at the Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters. We chose the Coral Reef Snorkel, which involved getting suited up (more challenging than it looks!) and participating in an instructor-led Coral Reef tank activity. Each encounter at the aquarium allows you to interact with sea life, including sharks and stingrays, new for my daughter and me.
Thousands of fish swim in the same pool as you are, and you can see them all up close and personal. We even had the chance to feed the fish while Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters took photographs, that were available for purchase later. The coolest thing we did on our snorkel was to hand-feed sharks. I’ll admit I was incredibly nervous, but our guide was exceptional and had all the patience in the world. Snorkeling has never been my specialty, but he kept offering assistance and helping me along the way, not easy for someone afraid for a fish to touch her.
Note: Proper swimwear is required; no shorts and t-shirts.
Florida’s life very much consists of learning how to live with and care for the locals. In this case, turtles. At the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida, you can tour a facility that has been saving and caring for injured or diseased Loggerhead, green, Hawksbill, and Kemp’s Ridley turtles for 35 years. Learn how turtles are nurtured back to health and if at all possible, released back into the wild, often with a grand party and well-wishers in attendance.
The Turtle Hospital’s guided tour shares insight with the public about their curative programs for the turtles. I found their careful attention to the turtle’s diets incredibly impressive. Each turtle is named, monitored closely, and very well-loved by the devoted staff.
If you only have 24 hours in the Florida Keys, this is the place I would recommend as the do-not-miss attraction.
Dinner and Cocktails
Angler & Ale was our dinner spot in Duck Key, Florida. This exceptional restaurant offers lively entertainment, beautiful alfresco dining (with two fire pits), and amazing cuisine. You can’t go wrong with Caribbean Conch Fritters and a fabulous key lime aioli dipping sauce. I had the Burrata and Heirloom Tomato Salad for dinner, and my daughter the Fish tacos with Caribbean slaw. Pair your dishes with a flight of local beers as I did with mine.
If you are fishing in the Florida Keys and catch a few, bring them with you. Angler & Ale has a “Hook N Cook” offering them to cook what you catch. The restaurant is open seven days a week for drinks, lunch, and dinner.
Time to Relax and Call it a Night
An affordable yet stylish and comfortable property for your 24 hours in the Florida Keys is the Faro Blanco Resort & Yacht Club. This Hyatt Place hotel is convenient with all of the modern comforts you look for in a hotel stay. Rooms have lovely linens, 42″ wide-screen TVs, free parking and Wifi, plus a swimming pool/fitness club.
This unique Marathon property is not only a hotel but a landmark lighthouse that has been capturing the hearts of travelers since the 1950s. The hotel is located in Bayside Village, including a 125-room hotel, full-service yacht club and marina, and Lighthouse Grill, a gorgeous waterfront restaurant.
Little things go a long way like fresh fruit in the lobby and the well-stocked market, both nice touches. I also like the fact that all rooms at Faro Blanco Resort & Yacht Club have sleeper sofas.
Note: If you book through Hyatt directly or are a rewards member, breakfast is included with your stay.
More of Florida to Love
Just when I think I know Florida, I find new places to love and share with our readers. I’m so glad that my daughter and I couldsee the Upper and Middle Florida Keys, a different vibe and feel than that of the Lower Keys, namely Key West.
I hope you will consider adding Marathon’s beautiful towns, Duck Key, Islamorada, and Key Largo to your Florida Keys travel plans.
Upper and Middle Keys Photos
Thanks to the Florida Keys for hosting our adventures. As always, opinions and reviews are 100% mine and unbiased. Thank you for reading. You can learn more about the Florida Keys by visiting their tourism site.