A succession of idyllic islands extending from the tip of mainland Florida at Miami, stretching for 120 miles into water that is an almost impossible shade of turquoise blue, all united by one spectacular road, the Overseas Highway: these are the fantastic Florida Keys, and a taste of the tropics in the USA.
The islands’ main draw is clear, and undeniably alluring: the alabaster beaches dappled with coconut palm trees appear to have leaped straight from a glossy postcard, begging you to stretch out, catch some rays and let the hours slip away.
But under the white sanded surface, this scatter of islets is more than just your average seaside destination – here’s why we’re falling for the Florida Keys.
Packed with personality
From its candy-colour clapboard houses to its quirky events like the annual Underwater Music Festival, the Florida Keys and Key West have the edge when it comes to their unique personality. Not content with just looking like a slice of the Caribbean within the USA country borders, they have that laidback island way of life that brings people back time after time. Literary types like Hemingway, Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams used it as a base to pen their work during the day and frequent bars by night (or afternoon), giving the area an interesting history and making some of its watering holes well worth a look – try Captain Tony’s Saloon where stools belonging to Hemingway and Jimmy Buffett hang from the ceiling in their honour.
Jetpack a la James Bond
Where else can you jetpack across the surface of the deep blue sea, 007-style? Here is one of the only places in the world where you can zoom thirty feet over the water thanks to a slick Jetlev R200 in quite possibly THE coolest holiday activity, inducing a sense of weightlessness and a superhero-worthy ability to fly.
If that awakens your taste for adventure, the Keys has plenty more to satisfy – kayaking is a popular way to explore and one of our favourite routes goes from Curry Hammock State Park to Molasses Key, navigating the leafy mangroves of Boot Key and stopping off at the sleepy Sombrero Beach; and of course, the Keys are home to some supreme diving and snorkelling as well..
Take the plunge
Dive into the waters just a few miles offshore the Keys and uncover the only living coral barrier reef in the continental US (and the third largest in the world), where a legion of mesmerising marine life goes about its daily business, a chain of ghostly shipwrecks await exploration and the nine-foot tall Christ of the Deep statue is a sight to behold.
One of the best spots for making the most of the vibrant reef is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the first undersea park in the States, where snorkelers can plunge into an otherworldly watery wilderness of green moral eels, Nemo-esque clownfish and spiky sea urchin.
Feast like a Floridian
Unsurprisingly, seafood is the name of the game in the Keys, where conch is king (try classic conch fritters) and authentic key lime pie is the perfect pudding. Floridians are all about organic, seasonal produce, meaning that mealtimes pose the difficult decision of just which eatery to choose, with farm-to-table restaurants, laidback bistros and fine dining establishments aplenty. One of the best-known in Key West is Cafe Marquesa, an award-winning restaurant that’s a hit with locals as well as visitors, and well worth stopping by – particularly if you’re staying in the boutique Marquesa hotel.
We could go on but suffice it to say that we here at Exsus are fans. Take a look at our luxury Florida road trip, kicking off in Miami and driving over the stunning Overseas Highway to the Keys in a sun-drenched self-drive that sees the best of the region.