The Middle Keys, a stunning chain of islands located in the southernmost part of the United States, offer a perfect blend of scenic beauty, adventure, and relaxation. From the crystal-clear waters to the vibrant marine life, the Middle Keys are truly a paradise for nature lovers. In this article, we will explore the Middle Keys and discover some of the hidden gems that make this part of the Florida Keys a must-visit destination.
Are you planning your trip to the Florida Keys last minute?
If you are booking your trip to the Florida Keys last minute, we have you covered. Below are some of the top tours, hotels, and more!
⭐Top Experiences and Tours in the Florida Keys:
- Snorkel Adventure and Sandbar (the top seller!)
- 1.5 Hour Waverunner Tour (Highly rated!)
- Sunset Cruise from Cheeca Resort (Gorgeous Photos!)
- Glassbottom Boat Tour (So popular!)
- Key West Sunset Sail & Full Bar (Live music too!)
- Key West Shark Adventure (For adrenaline junkies)
🛌 Top Hotels in the Florida Keys:
🚗 Looking for the best way to get around the Florida Keys? Click here to check rental car rates for Florida!
What is considered Middle Keys?
When you’re planning your escape to the Florida Keys, you might wonder where the Middle Keys fall within this stretch of tropical paradise. Well, they’re smack in the heart of the island chain, nestled comfortably between the Upper and Lower Keys. An easy drive from Miami brings you to the start of the Middle Keys at Layton, stretching down to the sun-soaked beaches of Marathon.
Characterized by their low-key vibe and natural beauty, the Middle Keys offer a respite from the bustling energy of Key West and the overly touristy areas further north. Whether you’re lounging on a secluded beach in Curry Hammock State Park or watching the sunset paint the sky from the old Seven Mile Bridge, you’ll find yourself sinking into the peaceful rhythms of island life.
Marathon, the heartthrob of the Middle Keys, is a collective of islands that serve as a family-friendly destination known for its marine activities and history. This mini archipelago includes Knight’s Key, Boot Key, Key Vaca, Fat Deer Key, Long Point Key, Crawl Key, and Grassy Key. Not only is it a hub for sport fishing and boating, but it also hosts the Turtle Hospital, a facility dedicated to the rehabilitation of sea turtles.
The Middle Keys are less about commercial hustle and all about embracing the serenity of the sea. You’ll find endless opportunities to connect with nature, from snorkeling in the living reefs to kayaking through quiet mangrove tunnels. And with the famed Bahia Honda State Park offering some of the best beaches in the Florida Keys, your craving for unspoiled sandy retreats will be satiated.
Fun Things to Do In The Middle Keys
Snorkeling in Sombrero Reef
Sombrero Reef, a part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, offers some of the most astonishing snorkeling adventures in the Middle Keys. Here you’ll find tons of coral beneath the waves, where parrotfish and angelfish dart among the vibrant formations. Visibility in these waters can be incredibly clear, often exceeding 70 feet, providing an almost cinematic experience of the ocean’s wonders.
Boat tours are readily available, whisking you away to the best spots for an intimate glimpse of the reef’s diverse marine life.
Kayaking in Curry Hammock State Park
If you want an awesome experience without getting wet, check out Curry Hammock State Park in the Middle Keys. It’s a pristine area that’s protected, and there are some uninhabited islands you can explore with a kayak.
Mangrove tunnels and shallow waters teem with wildlife, offering up-close encounters with species such as herons, egrets, and the occasional manatee. This is your chance to glide through nature’s hidden pathways and embrace the serenity of untouched Florida. Paddle at your own pace and let the park’s natural beauty unfold before you. Kayak rentals are available within the park, making it easy for you to make your way through the mangroves.
One of the most popular beaches in the middle key is Sombrero Beach (in Marathon), which is known for its pristine beauty and picturesque views. The beach covers a large area and offers various amenities such as picnic areas, restrooms, and showers, making it an ideal spot for families and friends to spend a day out.
It’s perfect for a chill day when you don’t plan to be on the water – there are lots of palm trees on the beach – so get there early and snag a spot under one!
Relaxing at Bahia Honda State Park
Bahia Honda State Park is a must-visit spot for anyone who loves beautiful beaches. The park is home to some of the most breathtaking beaches in Florida and is famous for its iconic Old Bahia Honda Bridge. In addition to being a great spot for taking pictures, it’s also an excellent place to spend a day at the beach. You can enjoy a range of fun activities, such as:
- Laying on the shores of Sandspur Beach, the park’s largest
- Taking a leisurely swim in the warm, shallow waters
- Observing shorebirds and maybe even a dolphin or two
Snorkeling equipment is available for rent, giving you a chance to peek at the vibrant underwater life without venturing too far from the shore.
Paddleboarding in Marathon
If you’re planning a trip to Marathon and looking for an exciting water activity to add to your itinerary, why not give paddleboarding a try? The clear waters and calm bays of the area provide an ideal setting for beginners to learn the ropes, while more experienced paddleboarders can take advantage of the stunning scenery and work on their skills. The activity itself is a great workout, providing a full-body workout that’s both fun and challenging.
- It’s a fun way to exercise and soak up the sun simultaneously
- You can explore the serene mangrove creeks
- It offers unique perspectives of the sea life beneath the waves
Rent a paddleboard from one of the local outfitters, and you might get insider tips on the best spots to explore.
The Middle Keys offer a variety of water activities to suit different preferences. Whether you’re looking for an adrenaline-fueled adventure or a laid-back day on the water, there’s something for everyone.
Jet Skiing in Islamorada
In Islamorada, jet skiing is the perfect combination of thrill and scenery. Several local outfitters offer rentals along with guided tours that will take you to some stunning remote locations only accessible by water.
Fishing in the Middle Keys
Anglers, you’re in for a treat! The Middle Keys are revered for their World-Class Fishing opportunities. You can cast a line for tarpon, bonefish, and permit in the shallow waters or charter a boat to venture out for deep-sea fishing in pursuit of sailfish, mahi-mahi, or tuna.
Don’t forget to check the fishing regulations and acquire the necessary license before setting out. Local guides are on hand to help you tackle the waters and possibly land the catch of a lifetime.
Visiting the Dolphin Research Center
One of the most unforgettable experiences you’ll encounter in the Middle Keys is a visit to the Dolphin Research Center. This incredible facility is dedicated to the research, education, and conservation of dolphins and other marine mammals.
The center offers a variety of interactive programs where you can meet and learn about these intelligent creatures. Remember to book your interactive sessions in advance because they fill up fast!
- Watch dolphins in their natural lagoon habitats
- Participate in hands-on educational programs
- Capture memories with photo opportunities
Exploring the Turtle Hospital
The Turtle Hospital in Marathon provides you with a rare opportunity to get up close and personal with one of the ocean’s most gentle inhabitants—the sea turtle. It is one of our favorite places to visit as a family!
This hospital and rehabilitation center is dedicated to the treatment and recovery of injured sea turtles, with the ultimate goal of releasing them back into the wild. During your visit, you’ll learn about the various injuries and threats these creatures face, such as boat strikes and entanglement in fishing gear.
- Take a guided educational tour of the facility
- Engage in interactive experiences and feed resident turtles
- Support conservation efforts through adoptions and donations
Discovering the History of Pigeon Key
Tucked beneath the Old Seven Mile Bridge, Pigeon Key is a tiny island with a rich historical tapestry waiting to be unraveled. Once a base camp for workers constructing the Overseas Railroad in the early 1900s, it now houses historical buildings that have stood the test of time. During your visit, you’ll see the museum which tells of the island’s past and the Flagler Era railroads’ pivotal role in the development of the Florida Keys.
Artifacts, photographs, and detailed displays will give you a greater appreciation for the engineering marvels and the hardships endured by the laborers. Spend the day immersing yourself in this charming slice of Florida Keys history, maybe even ending it with a picnic overlooking the Atlantic, reflecting on how this secluded spot shaped the region.
Touring the Crane Point Museum and Nature Center
To learn more about Crane Point, head over to the Crane Point Museum and Nature Center. Spanning over 63 acres, Crane Point is one of the most important historical and archaeological sites in the Keys. Highlights include:
- Indigenous peoples’ artifacts
- Stories of the Early Settlers
- A glimpse into the life of George Adderley, a Bahamian immigrant and one of the first settlers
Exploring the Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters
You won’t want to miss the opportunity to stop at the Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters. It’s an interactive aquarium where you and your family can get up close and personal with marine life. Touch tanks allow you to feel the texture of sea stars and the smoothness of rays gliding under your fingers.
Dive-in to the Coral Reef Tank Encounter where, under professional guidance, you can snorkel or dive among vividly colored tropical fish. For adventure seekers, there’s a thrilling chance to feed sharks safely.
For younger children or those preferring dryer encounters, the aquarium offers interactive experiences. The guides are enthusiastic and committed to teaching the importance of conservation while ensuring a fun learning environment. The Tarpon Basin is a hit with kids who have so much fun in feeding these large, prehistoric-looking fish.
Food and Drink
If you’re exploring the Middle Keys, you’ll want to try the local food! They’ve got the freshest catches and some cool brews that’ll make your taste buds happy.
Enjoying Fresh Seafood at Key Colony Beach
If you’re into fishing, Key Colony Beach is the place to be! And boy, the food here is just amazing. All the restaurants here serve freshly caught fish. They have this cool “catch of the day” thing going on, which means that you get to savor the freshest fish available that day.
I recommend trying out the mahi-mahi, which is cooked to perfection with local herbs and citrus. The best part? You can enjoy your meal while sitting by the water. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind experience!
Make sure to try the lobster rolls or the tropical-infused ceviche! Highlights here include:
- Specialty stone crab claws
- Tender grilled conch
- Key West pink shrimp, famed for their sweet taste
Tasting Craft Beer at the Florida Keys Brewing Company
Once you’re done eating some delicious seafood, it’s time to quench your thirst with a distinctly Floridian twist. The Florida Keys Brewing Company in Islamorada is the perfect place to chill and enjoy some craft beer that’s island-inspired. You can try out a variety of beers that reflect the colors and moods of the Keys, and soak up the laid-back vibes of this place.
Founded by locals with a passion for beer, this brewery offers an assortment of styles ranging from refreshing citrus-infused ales to rich stouts.
Enjoy flights of their signature brews which might include:
- The Iguana Bait, a honey hibiscus kölsch
- The Spearfish Amber, smooth with caramel notes
- The Key Lime Pie Tart captures the essence of the iconic dessert in liquid form
Shopping and Souvenirs
Browsing the Shops at Marathon
You can’t visit the Middle Keys without taking a stroll through the charming boutiques and shops at Marathon. There are a variety of clothing stores brimming with beach wear and tropical attire perfect for the Keys lifestyle. As you walk down the streets, you’ll discover art galleries featuring local artists whose works capture the vibrant hues and scenes of island life.
- Seek out locally made crafts for one-of-a-kind mementos.
- Check out the galleries for pieces that bring the spirit of the Keys into your home.
Finding Unique Treasures at the Dolphin Plaza Shopping Center
This shopping center offers an array of quirky shops that sell everything from nautical antiques to tropical home décor. If you’re on the lookout for gifts, the specialty stores here have you covered with funky T-shirts, island spices, and finely crafted woodwork. Keep an eye out for:
- Specialty gift shops with island-themed products.
- Rare finds in the tucked-away boutiques.
Hiking and Biking at Long Key State Park
Long Key State Park is a beautiful place for people who love nature and the outdoors. You can enjoy hiking or biking on the trails that wind through the picturesque landscapes of emerald waters and lush tropical foliage.
The Golden Orb Trail, a notable path within the park, offers a 1.5-mile round trip that promises stunning views and the chance to spot local wildlife.
Biking is another great way to explore the park’s beauty at your own pace. The flat terrain ensures a relaxing ride, suitable for all fitness levels. Bike rentals are usually available, making it easy for you to ride around.
Camping at Curry Hammock State Park
Curry Hammock State Park has some peaceful places for you to stay where you can sleep under the night sky. You can camp right by the beach and hear the sounds of the ocean and nature while you sleep.
This state park is the largest undeveloped parcel of land between Key Largo and Big Pine Key, offering pristine conditions for camping. Here are some key details to know before you set up camp:
- Reservation Required: Reserve your spot ahead of time to guarantee your place.
- Amenities: Restrooms, hot showers, and picnic tables are provided for a comfortable stay.
- Wildlife Rules: Store food securely, and always respect the local wildlife.
Whether it’s pitching a tent or parking an RV, Curry Hammock State Park provides a unique opportunity to connect with nature. Camping here is an adventure. You’ll hear the ocean breeze and palm leaves rustling as you fall asleep.
So there you have it! The Middle Keys is waiting with a mix of culture, shopping, family fun, and outdoor thrills. Whether you’re exploring historical sites, browsing unique boutiques, or immersing yourself in nature’s beauty, you’re in for an unforgettable experience. Don’t forget to try some Key Lime goodies and share your favorite moments. Pack your bags, grab your sense of adventure, and dive into all the Middle Keys have to offer. Happy travels!
Frequently Asked Questions
What cultural experiences can I explore in the Middle Keys?
Pigeon Key and the Crane Point Museum and Nature Center are notable cultural destinations in the Middle Keys. These sites offer a look into the local history and natural beauty of the area.
Are there any family-friendly attractions in the Middle Keys?
Yes, families can enjoy the Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters and the Aquarium at the Florida Keys Marathon Airport, which are great attractions for children and adults alike.
Where can I go shopping in the Middle Keys?
In the Middle Keys, Marathon’s boutiques and shops are perfect for finding beachwear, tropical attire, and local artwork. At the same time, Dolphin Plaza Shopping Center offers a selection of nautical antiques, tropical home décor, and island-themed products.
How do I reserve a campsite at Curry Hammock State Park?
To reserve a campsite at Curry Hammock State Park, visit the Florida State Parks reservation system online or call their reservation line for details on availability, amenities, and park rules.