My husband and I just finished an extended stint of RV living in the Florida Keys. For me it was a return to the place where I spent childhood vacations, and for him it was a maiden journey to a region that can only be described as a ‘tropical paradise’.
My dad lives in the Keys during the winter months, so when we decided to spend the winter traveling around Florida in our RV, I knew we would devote a significant amount of time to the very southern tip of the state. We ended up spending two whole months in the Keys, basking in the warm sunshine, soaking up the tropical air, and enjoying the slow pace of life that comes with island living.
There’s so much to love about the Florida Keys, from the friendly locals to the turquoise blue waters.
Because I think everyone should experience the Keys at least once, here are my top ten reasons to plan your trip as soon as possible!
Snorkeling and the Florida Keys go hand and hand. The waters around the Keys play host to some of the world’s most gorgeous coral reefs. And with countless commercial outfits offering snorkeling tours, it couldn’t be easier to get out and enjoy the underwater scenery.
We decided to go with a tour company operating out of John Pennekamp State Park. By some measure of bad luck (and a week long cold snap), it was unusually chilly on the day of our snorkeling adventure. But once we squeezed into our rented wet suits and slipped into the crystal clear water, all thoughts of the cold melted away. We slowly circled around the reef, peering down into the fascinating underwater world filled with brightly colored tropical fish and gently swaying coral. Of all the fun things we did in the Keys, this was by far my favorite.
* The price varies a bit, but you can expect to pay a minimum of $30/person + equipment rental for a two-three hour snorkeling tour.
2. Bahia Honda – The Best Beach in the Keys
Coral and limestone make up many of the beaches in the area, creating rocky shorelines that aren’t so pleasant to walk on. There are a few exceptions though, the most notable being Bahia Honda Beach.
Bahia Honda is a state park with a marina, campground, nature center…and a beach – an amazing beach with over two miles of walkable shore line, shallow, brilliantly clear turquoise water, and plenty of room so you can spread out with your towel and umbrella.
We were lucky enough to spend nearly two weeks at the Bahia Honda campground where we had easy access to the beach and its gentle, warm waters. I can honestly say that this beach deserves the title of “Best Beach in the Keys”.
*Bahia Honda charges a day use fee of $4/person or $8/vehicle
3. Feasting on Fresh Fish
One of the best things about traveling around the country in an RV is indulging in fresh local food. Roasted Hatch Chilies in New Mexico, crisp apples off the tree in Washington, juicy huckleberries in Montana, and of course – tons of fresh fish in Florida.
During our two months in the Keys we stuffed ourselves with as much fresh fish as possible. We ate out at some of the favorite local establishments such as the Square Grouper, The Wharf, and Ma’s Fish Camp. We also made several trips to the fresh seafood markets and and brought fish back to the RV for some yummy homemade fish dishes – including my very own recipe for Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa.
4. Big Pine Flea Market
Ahhhh…the Big Pine Flea Market. At this flea market you can buy used books, coconut shell wind chimes, hand woven rugs, a bright flowering orchid plant, and even a new hat.
We spent a portion of our two months in the Keys only a few miles from the permanent home of this well-known, long-standing weekend gathering place. We quickly adapted to the weekly custom of perusing “the fleas” for unique treasures and fresh produce.
Most weeks we only came away with one or two trinkets, alongside a large bag bursting with fresh strawberries, cucumbers, green beans, mangos, and whatever else the vendors had trucked down. Don’t miss the Big Pine Flea Market on your visit!
5. Oceanside Living at Long Key State Park
The Florida Keys are not a cheap place to live in your RV. At the height of the busy season (December – March) most campgrounds charge upwards of $100/night. And that’s for a cramped interior site with barely enough room to extend your awning. If you want a view of the ocean from your site, expect to pay anywhere from $120-200/night.
Or you could stay at Long Key State Park where an ocean side site is only $38/night. Of course, it’s nearly impossible to get a reservation (we got our site when someone else canceled their reservation), and if you care about such things as full hook-ups (which we don’t) then this might not be the park for you. But…if you want to park your home only steps from the water and enjoy your very own section of sandy beach, then Long Key is a dream come true.
We were lucky enough to spend two separate weeks at Long Key State Park and loved every minute of it. This one is definitely at the top of our “best campsites” list.
6. The Old 7 Mile Bridge
Bridges are the life blood of the Florida Keys. Without the 42 bridges that span the 113 mile long Overseas Highway, access to the Keys would be nearly impossible. Over the years these bridges have undergone a host of upgrades.
When a new bridge is built in the Keys, it’s constructed beside the old bridge which remains standing. In many cases these old bridges have become places for people to walk, ride bikes, fish, or watch the sunset.
The most famous of the old bridges is the Old 7 Mile Bridge. Sadly, due to safety concerns the entire bridge is not accessible, but there is a 2 mile section that has been maintained for foot and bicycle traffic. One day we took our bikes out on the bridge and biked down and back twice in an effort to get a bit of exercise. It’s a stunning setting with sparkling water all around and a constant, cool ocean breeze. If you go at the right time of day, you can catch the sunset off the end of the bridge.
7. Biking around Key West
Key West is a bustling tourist town. Drive down any street and you’re likely to encounter snarls of traffic, giant tour buses, and the always-seen Conch Trains. All that congestion can make it hard to get around on this tightly packed 7.5 square mile island.
I’ll let you in on a little secret though: The best way to see Key West? On your bike. That’s right, a little pedal power will save you a lot of potential hassle. It’s also a great way to get a more intimate tour of the island than you could by car, and cover more ground than you could on foot.
Following a local’s tip, we parked in the free lot near the public Bocce Courts. From there we unloaded our bikes, strapped on our helmets (not a law in the Keys, but with so much traffic a must in my book), and off we went. We mostly stuck to the side streets, pausing often to gawk at the cute Caribbean style homes surrounded by colorful landscaping.
We stopped a few times and left our bikes to walk around the wharfs or duck into stores. We cruised past the historic cemetery, and parked the bikes for a lunch of authentic Cuban Food at El Siboney, ending our tour with a few miles on the bike path that travels along the sea wall.
*Don’t have your own bike? Simply rent one from The Bike Man. Prices start at $10/day.
8. A Wildlife Encounter with Key Deer
Imagine if you will a regular looking deer…but shrunken down to the size of a large dog. That’s a Key Deer. Their small stature make these deer extra cute, and their friendly nature make them irresistible to tourists.
Take a drive around Big Pine Key and you are sure to see some of these tiny deer munching on roadside plants or sauntering across the road as if they own the place. And they kind of do. Most of Big Pine Key is preserved as a National Key Deer Refuge.
At one time, a combination of human actions and threats from natural disasters had nearly wiped out the Key Deer. But since the refuge was set up in the mid-1950s, the population has rebounded and today hundreds (thousands?) of Key Deer roam free around Big Pine and No Name Key.
We spent a good amount of time at my dad’s house on Big Pine Key and we saw a LOT of Key Deer. I was completely taken with their miniature features and friendly nature, but many of the locals view them as pests who knock over trash cans and devour gardens. Those little deer will always hold a special place in my heart though. I mean who doesn’t love a mini deer?
*Remember that despite their prevalence in some areas of the Keys, these deer are still considered an endangered species and feeding them is illegal and dangerous to the deer’s health.
9. Ocean Kayaking
Are you seeing a pattern emerge here? Snorkeling, beaches, ocean side campgrounds. Yup, the Keys are all about the ocean, and most of my favorite things involve the amazing waters that dominate the landscape of the Keys. One of the very best ways to enjoy the water in the keys is by paddling around in a kayak.
The Keys offer up a huge variety of fun places for paddling like:
- mangrove-lined canals
- shallow waters along the shore
- uninhabited islands and
- salt water marshes
We were able to borrow kayaks on several occasions and enjoyed paddling around the clear waters looking for fish and watching birds.
*Expect to pay a minimum of $30/day to rent a kayak. Many places, such as Lazy Dog Adventures, also offer guided kayak tours.
10. Watching the Sun Rise and Set Over The Ocean
I am a sucker for a good sunset or sunrise. Throw in an ocean and it gets even better. And if I can watch the sun rise and set over the water in one day…well then my life is practically perfect.
The chain of islands, or keys, that make up the Florida Keys runs east to west. That means if you are on the south side of the islands facing the wide open waters of the gulf, you’re in the unique position to see the sun rise and set over the water. 🙂