Key Largo – Florida Keys

About five months ago, I dropped my business card in a drawing at work, entering a contest for a trip to Key Largo that included hotel accommodations, dinner, fishing trip, snorkeling trip, paddleboard rental, glass bottom boat tour, and a kayaking adventure in the Everglades. Imagine my surprise and glee when a few weeks later, I received a thick envelope at work announcing ME the winner! The trip was sponsored by Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District and I immediately called them to express my gratitude for putting together such an incredible prize package. Of course, being huge fans of traveling and outdoor activities, we quickly picked a weekend, made sure the hotel was available, booked flights, and made reservations for the different activities.

This post is going to be a bit different than usual. Because there are so many operators in the Keys, you may find a vendor that is more appropriate for your circumstances than one that we used. With that said, I am going to suggest general activities and share the vendors that kindly contributed to our trip. We had wonderful experiences with all of them, but there may be other options that work better for your location or family size.

What to do in Key Largo:

  • Snorkeling/Diving – With arguably the best reefs in the United States, snorkeling and diving in the Keys is a must. I saw stingrays, barracuda, and tons of beautiful, brightly colored fish, Unfortunately, I also saw a lot of jellyfish. Jellyfish season is during August and September. There were tons of “jellies” in the water, but fortunately, they weren’t too dangerous. The sting looks like a little bug bite and disappeared within a day or two. We went out with Captain Slate’s Scuba Adventures. The boat was small, which was great because we didn’t have to snorkel with tons of other people. Captain Slate and his crew are really nice guys. They brought water and oranges on board and even let me borrow a shirt to help protect me from getting stung by jellyfish. They took us to two really nice snorkeling locations: one on a reef and one near a small shipwreck. (Regular price: $45/adult)
Lots of barracudas!
Lots of barracudas!
The reef had a decent variety of colorful fish.
The reef had a decent variety of colorful fish.
  • Fishing – Fishing is another great way to spend a day (or half a day). Regardless of whether you catch anything, it’s always a fun activity whether you are a group of adults or with a family. We fished on the Sailor’s Choice Party Boat, which is conveniently located right outside of the Holiday Inn in Key Largo. The company provides free rods and equipment, although you are welcome to bring your own if you prefer. The crew was fantastic, reminding everyone of the basics of fishing and helping out when needed. They quickly determined whether you could keep your fish or whether it had to be released. Although Alex and I only caught small fish that had to be released, the crew will filet anything that you are able to keep. As a bonus, most of the local restaurants will prepare your fish for you! (Regular price: $40/adult for 1/2 day)
Not exactly a whopper.
Not exactly a whopper.

IMG_5442

  • Kayaking – One of my favorite activities of the weekend was a kayaking trip through the Everglades with Garl’s Coastal Kayaking. Garl picked us up at the famous Robert is Here fruit stand, which has delicious fruit smoothies and fantastic produce. Garl personally led our excursion, taking us on a very adventurous hike through knee-deep water to hunt for alligators and snakes and on a several hour kayaking tour where we saw crocodiles, sharks, rays, and several types of birds. We had a blast! I highly recommend this activity, especially if you enjoy the outdoors and like to incorporate some physical activity on your vacation. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, I definitely recommend doing the half day kayaking trip. The other people on our tour weren’t quite as into the kayaking as we were and really held us back. We had to cut the kayaking trip short because they demanded to go in, which was a shame. After they left, Garl took Alex and I on a night walk where we saw several alligators. It was a really fun day, but Garl recommended that the winter is a better time to see more wildlife and avoid mosquitos so I would love to go back at that time of year! (Regular price: $150 for full day)
On the hunt for gators!
On the hunt for gators!

IMG_7827 IMG_3394

Saw tons of birds of all shapes and colors.
Saw tons of birds of all shapes and colors.

IMG_3376 IMG_3380

  • Glass Bottom Boat Tour – The last time I went on a glass bottom boat tour was when I was a kid so it was really fun to go on one again. Glass bottom boat tours are great if you have kids, aren’t into snorkeling, or just want a fun way to be out on the water for a couple of hours. We went on the Key Largo Princess, which is also located right outside of the Holiday Inn in Key Largo. The staff was very knowledgeable about aquatic species and pointed out different sea life almost quicker than we could spot them. (Regular price: $35/adult)

DSCN4041

  • Stand Up Paddleboard – I am a huge fan of stand up paddleboarding and was thrilled to have the opportunity to get a free half day rental from Florida Bay Outfitters for our trip. Florida Bay Outfitters offers rentals for kayaks, canoes, and boards, as well as guided tours through the Everglades. There is access to Florida Bay from the outfitters, which is where we launched, but you could also hop on a shuttle to launch a bit farther north. The only thing I would suggest is to make a reservation. I called Florida Bay Outfitters twice and was told there was no need to make a reservation, but when I showed up to get our SUP boards, we were told they were all booked. We ended up having to rearrange a few of our scheduled activities because of that so I wished I had insisted on a reservation instead of believing that it wasn’t necessary.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Can't beat the views out on the water!
Can’t beat the views out on the water!
  • John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park – John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is the first undersea park in the U.S. and is well worth a visit. Although most visitors use the park as a launching off point for glass bottom boat and snorkel tours, there are a few worthwhile stops within the park itself. The Visitor Center features several nature exhibits including a 30,000 gallon saltwater aquarium and is well worth a stop. There are several displays with pictures of local fish so it was fun to identify what we had seen while snorkeling and on the glass bottom boat tour. The beaches were extremely crowded and frankly, I would suggest skipping them. The nature walks also worth a visit, especially to get a short respite from the crowds. We enjoyed the Grove trail, which was a short walk through mangroves to a hidden fruit grove with mangos, limes, and avocados.
The old grove.
The old grove.
View along the hike.
View along the hike.
Art Walk
Art Walk

IMG_2709

Where to eat in Key Largo:

  • The Key Largo Conch House – Breakfast at the Key Largo Conch House is full of interesting and unique menu choices. If the weather is nice, the front porch is a great place to enjoy your meal in a charming atmosphere. What to order: Key lime pancakes, conch omelette.
  • Skipper’s Dockside (dog-friendly)- Skipper’s Dockside is a brand new restaurant that feels like you stepped back in time to another era with its antique decor. Sitting on the tiki deck which overlooks the water while listening to live music was a lovely way to spend an evening. There is also an area for bonfires around the side of the restaurant. It was one of the pricier restaurants, but the food was excellent. What to order: Ceviche

IMG_5431

  • Islamorada Fish Co -Although we didn’t actually eat at Islamorada Fish Co, we did have the fish tacos and fish dip at their pop up stand at the Islamorada ArtWalk. Both were delicious and perfect paired with the Key Largo Brewing Co. beer!
  • Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen-This local institution definitely lives up to the hype. Like many of the local restaurants, you can bring in your fresh caught fish for them to cook or if you’re like us and the fish weren’t biting, you can just order their fresh catch of the day. Mrs. Mac’s has several signature ways of preparing the fresh catch, such as their TJ style, which is grilled with tijuana sauce (tomatoes, tomatillos, and jalapenos with fresh cilantro & onion). What to order: Hogfish, if it’s in season!

IMG_5448

  • Fish House Encore-We went here because we had a gift certificate from the prize package and it was definitely the best meal we had! The restaurant has a live pianist and the food is incredible. It was quite pricey, but definitely worth the splurge. Our fish meals were fantastic (and you can order any of the preparations with the fish of your choice) and the Key lime pie (with meringue!) was easily the best I have ever had! The only negative was that the sushi was nothing to write home about. What to order: Fish florentine, fish thasos, and Key lime pie
  • Cafe Moka-This is the cutest little coffee shop/wine bar. The people who run it are so nice and they have live music, an adorable patio, wi-fi, sandwiches, and cheese boards. Definitely stop here!

IMG_5458

  • Snappers-Another local favorite, you can also order the fresh catch in one of many preparations. The restaurant has a huge deck overlooking the water and a lively atmosphere. Make sure you order lobster if it is in season! What to order: blackened dolphin, lobster chowder.

Where to stay in Key Largo:

  • Rock Reef Resort-Rock Reef resort graciously donated a 3 night stay to our prize package and we had a wonderful time there. The property is beautiful and features amenities such as hammocks, a paddleboat, and great views of the sunset. The room was comfortable and we appreciated having a refrigerator in the room to keep our drinks cold. The location is convenient to several restaurants and activities. If you stay here, make sure you say hi to Bogey the parrot!
On the paddleboat!
On the paddleboat!
View of Rock Reef Resort from the paddle boat
View of Rock Reef Resort from the paddle boat

IMG_5426

A beautiful Key Largo sunset from Rock Reef Resort
A beautiful Key Largo sunset from Rock Reef Resort

IMG_5455

  • Hilton Key Largo Resort-We needed to add an extra night to our vacation to fit in all of the activities so we decided to go down the road to the Hilton Key Largo Resort. The resort is gorgeous and features tons of amenities like kayaks, ping-pong, hammocks, beach games, two pools, a nature walk, and cool eucalyptus towels. The restaurant is also great and features a delicious breakfast buffet and happy hour specials.

DSCN4077DSCN4076

 

RECAP

Eat/Drink
The Key Largo Conch House100211 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, FL 33037
Skipper’s Dockside, 528 Caribbean Dr, Key Largo, FL 33037
Islamorada Fish Co, 81532 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL 33036
Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen, 99336 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, FL 33037
Fish House Encore, 102341 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, FL 33037
Cafe Moka, 91865 Overseas Hwy, Tavernier, FL 33070
Snappers, 139 Seaside Ave, Key Largo, FL 33037
Florida Keys Brewing Company, 200 Morada Way, Islamorada, FL 33036

Do
Garl’s Coastal Kayaking, 99010 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, FL 33037
Florida Bay Outfitters, 104050 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, FL 33037
Captain Slate’s Scuba Adventures, 90791 Old Hwy #1, Tavernier, FL 33070
Sailor’s Choice Party Boat, 99701 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, FL 33037
Key Largo Princess, 99701 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, FL 33037
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, 102601 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, FL 33037

Stay
Hilton Key Largo Resort, 97000 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, FL 33037
Rock Reef Resort, 97850 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, FL 33037

 

Advertisements

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s