Time Out!: 5 Great USA Getaways

The Keys, Florida

Jan 15, 2004
Outside Magazine
florida keys

The Florida Keys, due south of Miami and marching to a different beat    Photo: Corel

IF THE DIAGNOSIS IS STRESS, Islamorada is the cure. One of a narrow string of islands halfway between Miami and Key West, it very deliberately maintains the pace and feel of a small-town fishing resort with a mañana attitude. The relaxed vibe is best suited for drinking beer in a hammock, but I've come here to see why Islamorada calls itself the Sport Fishing Capital of the World. Late one afternoon my guide takes me to a deep, cool channel where we chum the water with bloody juice from the bait cooler, our hooks laden with hunks of flesh larger than any fish I've ever caught. A brief rain shower lowers the barometric pressure, which "really turns the fish on," and with more than 600 species stocking the surrounding waters—from big-game marlin to devilishly elusive bonefish—it doesn't take long for my reel to scream with life. After a 30-minute struggle with a jumping tarpon, I finally land the beast, which weighs in at 110 pounds, larger than any shown on the outfitter's Web site. In awe, we release it back to the sea with a slap on its broad, scaly side.

If you burn out on fishing, you can snorkel among the banded coral shrimp populating Alligator Reef or sea-kayak among the mangroves of the Backcountry Islands. Road biking past the artists' studios and boutiques lining U.S. 1 is good for a sweat; cool off with a scuba dive to the Eagle, a 287-foot freighter scuttled to create an artificial reef.

For such a small town, Islamorada enjoys a remarkably healthy selection of restaurants, most of them very casual. The Village Gourmet starts you off with focaccia drenched in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, whets the appetite with an organic vegetable soup, then closes the deal with blackened shrimp. Bentley's Restaurant is famous for its cioppino: linguine smothered in a spicy marinara sauce laden with mussels, clams, shrimp, crab, scallops, mahi-mahi, and half a lobster.

The Casa Morada hotel brings Miami South Beach style to the Keys, with modernist wicker chairs facing lushly manicured grounds, a bocce ball court, and a sleek pool rimmed by palm trees. My room featured a king-size bed blanketed with a fluffy, white comforter, a separate sitting room with day bed, a stocked refrigerator, and cable TV with DVD. Sliding doors opened onto a screened-in patio with a deep Jacuzzi bathtub.

Casa Morada (888-881-3030, www.casamorada.com) has doubles ranging from $199 a night for a garden-view room in the summer off-season to $519 a night in the winter high season for a suite overlooking the sea. The concierge can arrange fishing, diving, and kayaking. A three-hour snorkeling trip costs $30, scuba diving is $60-$85 per dive, and kayaks and Marin bicycles are free. There are several fine fishing guides in Islamorada, including Captain Eric Bass of A Florida Keys Fishing Guide Connection ($300 for a half-day trip; 305-664-6099, www.floridakeysadventures.com/fkfgc). Call ahead for the cioppino at Bentley's (305-664-9094)—seating is limited. For daily specials at Village Gourmet, call 305-664-4030.

Filed To: Saltwater Fishing

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