The Florida Keys
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Outside magazine, October 1995
The Florida Keys
The Florida Keys, the 100-mile string of bridge-connected islands that curve southwest into the Gulf of Mexico, can put you to sleep or make you want to rumba. On one level, the Keys are overdeveloped, air-conditioned, and polite, as safe as a waltz with your grandmother. But if you can get past the trendy “Kokomo”-inspired bars, the shiny boutiques, and real estate agents who
Two roads get you there. The fastest and busiest is U.S. 1. Avoid it. Instead, at Florida City–the last mainland town–take a left onto Card Sound Road, lined by mangrove creeks, fishing shacks, and dilapidated boats. Cross the Card Sound Bridge, and you’re in what may be the least-known wilderness in the Keys, an otherworldly place that’s best seen on two wheels. Bring your
Generations of anglers have made the gloriously odoriferous Key Largo Bait and Tackle (305-451-0921) their first stop on U.S. 1 for excellent advice about where to fish and what to fish for (guided trips, $195- $300). Iron-stomached winter anglers head into the Atlantic to engage sailfish made ravenous by wild and woolly weather.
On calm days, divers and snorkelers can sample Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the country’s only underwater park, with reefs patrolled by pugnacious yellowtail snappers, parrotfish, and about 650 other species (park entry fee, $3.25 per person). Coral Reef Park Company (305-451-1621) runs charter trips and rents small motorboats, sailboats, kayaks, and dive
Thirty minutes south on U.S. 1, on Upper Matecumbe Key, lies the laid-back but upscale town of Islamorada. Charter-boat captains and light-tackle guides lurk at every marina, motel, and tackle store, including the classy World Wide Sportsman (800-327-2880 or 305-664-4615), managed by the crusty George Hommell, fishing guru to George Bush. Hommell will arrange for backcountry
Recovering from ‘cuda encounters, the former president often nests at Cheeca Lodge (doubles, $230-$1,000; 800-327-2888), an elegant plantation-style manor offering fishing and dive-boat charters. For a less costly thrill, go a few blocks to Manny & Isa’s restaurant for an authentic slice of key lime pie (those made with real key limes have become an endangered species).
Marathon, in the middle of the Keys, sprouts strip malls and chain restaurants like crabgrass. But it is home to beautiful Crane Point Hammock, the Museum of Natural History of the Florida Keys. Call loquacious environmentalist Captain Ed Davidson (305-743-6054) for a museum tour, hammock walk, and snorkeling trip through the mangroves out back (around $250 for the day). The
Key West, of course, is Key West. It has Bahamian architecture, “Floribbean” restaurants, street hustlers, shady poinciana trees, lizards in every shrub, and a sunset celebrated by an army of jugglers, fire-eaters, and what has to be the last of the tropical bagpipers. Sloppy Joe’s, on Duval Street, is the most famous bar, but Captain Tony’s, a dark, dank saloon on Greene
For a less harrowing adventure, try diving on Ten-Fathom Ledge, a quarter-mile-long coral plateau that plunges 100 feet. Key West Pro Dive Shop (two-tank dive, $85 including equipment and transportation; 800-426-0707) can take you there, as well as to the area’s legendary wrecks, among them Tug Boat, Alexander’s, and Cayman Salvage-Master.
Dry Tortugas National Park, known for its clear water and healthy coral reefs, is 70 miles from Key West. Key West Seaplane Service (800-224-2359) runs half-day trips ($159) for snorkeling and tours of huge Fort Jefferson. Stay overnight at a first-come, first-served campground (call 305-242-7700 for information).