An evening in Key Largo is best spent relaxing seaside at sunset, sipping a margarita and recuperating from your day of breath-taking scuba diving off the shores of the Diving Capital of the World. Equally known for its sunny weather and laid-back pace, Key Largo packs a lot into its 12 square miles of island. Diving, fishing, sailing, watersports, historic and eco-tours, shopping, dining, and more await, all against the tropical paradise backdrop that is Key Largo.
Key Largo is home to the world’s largest artificial reef (and the only living reef off North America), which rests three miles offshore in warm Atlantic waters. Swim through schools of brightly colored fish and moray eels and over a wide variety of hard and soft corals. Romantics often don tanks and dive in – over 200 weddings take place each year alongside the famous Christ of the Deep statue, 25 feet below the shimmering surface.
Old hands and first-time divers alike will find the perfect charter service to get them where they want to go. Dive wrecks or reefs – Key Largo has plenty of both. Site depths range from a couple of feet to about 75, so half your party can snorkel while the other half dives without having to take separate charter boats or go to different reefs.
Though Islamorada, the island minutes to the south, claims the official title of Sport Fishing Capital of the World, Key Largo certainly doesn’t fall far behind. The backcountry flats teem with permit, snook, tarpon, and bonefish, and there are plenty of experienced guides to weave you through the grasses and mangroves. Deeper water and stronger lines bring in marlin, mahi mahi, sailfish, tuna, and a variety of sharks sure to test your angling skills. Offshore charters will take you to where the captains know the fish are; charter trips range from several hours to several nights.
Not surprisingly, the featured dishes on most Keys menus are fresh seafood – snapper, grouper, tuna, mackerel, mahi mahi, pink Key shrimp, and spiny Key lobster. Forego the chain restaurants and try different cafes and dockside restaurants, sampling the local specialties. Key lime pie is, of course, served everywhere, and should probably be tasted everywhere as house recipes vary. Find your favorite and have a couple shipped north; the friends you left behind will thank you for it.
After hours, the Keys come alive. Find a torch-lit tiki bar and sip frozen tropical drinks, or dance at a South Beach-style club. Locals favor the sports pubs for their pool tables and great food. You don’t have to go all the way to Key West to party – but a weekend trip to the end of the Overseas Highway is never a bad idea.
The Florida Keys Art Guild Outdoor Art Festival in January serves as an open-air gallery for local artists. Barley’s Bay Music Festival supports preservation of Keys and Everglades habitats in May. In July, the Key Largo Celebration of the Sea features scuba diving how-to seminars, concerts, and more.
Hosted by some surprisingly friendly and knowledgeable pelicans, the Key Largo Wild Bird Sanctuary rehabilitates injured cranes, egrets, and parrots (MM 93.5). Swim with Flipper at Dolphin Cove in a natural five-acre setting, then choose between snorkel tours, crocodile expeditions, sunset cruises, an everglades ecology tour, and kayaking trips. Stop by Caribbean Watersports for parasailing, Hobie cats, snorkeling, and eco-tours by raft into the Everglades (MM 97).
Key Largo’s most famous attraction is the Key Largo Undersea Park, location of the world’s first underwater hotel. The converted marine research station, now named Jules’ Undersea Lodge after the author of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, rests 21 feet below the surface of the Emerald Lagoon. Two bedrooms and a common room once serviced notable guests Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, but the 600 square-foot space is now available for couples or small groups. MM 103.2, Oceanside.
Only an hour’s drive from either Miami International Airport or the Florida Keys Marathon Airport, Key Largo is the ideal tropical getaway, whether for a weekend or a lifetime. The beautiful white sand beaches and clear blue waters surrounding Key Largo do turn many vacationers into locals, so make sure there’s someone to feed your cat and pick up your mail – indefinitely.