More than eight months after Hurricane Irma swept through the Florida Keys, the island chain has bounced back and is arguably stronger than ever. According to the Florida Keys tourism council, as of March 8, 2018, 90 percent of Key West’s hotel rooms were open, all 10 state parks were again welcoming guests and most diving, fishing and boat charters were back in business.
If you ask us, this no-passport-required, Caribbean-like getaway is as idyllic a destination as ever. Make the most of your next visit with our guide to where to stay, play and explore in this island paradise that is more than ready to show you how well it has rebounded.
Located in the tropical southeastern United States, the drive from Miami to Key West is one of America’s most iconic road trips. Once you fly into Miami International Airport or Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International, catch a shuttle bus or rent a car — there’s only one way to reach the islands by land.
The Overseas Highway (aka U.S. Route 1) is a gorgeous 113-mile stretch that includes the famed Seven Mile Bridge and 360-degree views of the water. The drive will take you around 3.5 hours, but the unforgettable vistas make the trip worthwhile.
If you’re more of a seafarer, Key West Express operates daily ferries out of Fort Myers Beach and Marco Island, so you can start your island escape in style.
Where to Stay
Nestled along the southern edge of the island on more than 1,100 feet of Key West’s largest private beach, Casa Marina, A Waldorf Astoria Resort and The Reach are your go-to luxury properties for a dreamy tropical escape. Quietly secluded, these scenic addresses deliver a tranquil respite yet they’re still just a leisurely walk or quick bike ride to all that Old Town has to offer.
If you prefer to stay a little closer to the action, book a beach-inspired room at The Marker Waterfront Resort. Opened in December 2014, the Forbes Travel Guide Recommended hotel is the newest on the island, but the 96-room charmer was so thoughtfully constructed, you’d think it was an old standby.
Three sparkling pools allow you to unwind in style under the tropical sun, while the hotel’s position just off the Key West Bight puts you mere feet from popular live entertainment spots like the Schooner Wharf Bar.
If you’re driving down to Key West, consider stopping for a night in Islamorada, a hidden gem of a town about an hour and 40 minutes south of Miami. The Moorings Village makes for an inviting place to rest your road-weary head. The exclusive 18-acre property harbors 18 villas on what was once a coconut plantation; a white-sand beach, spa services and abundant hammocks make the place feel like paradise.
Next door, Cheeca Lodge & Spa debuted a $25 million renovation in April, which included a rebuilt 525-foot-long wooden fishing pier, an upgraded spa and a redesigned nine-hole golf course.
Tropical Tastes and Tipples
Dinner with a view is a must when in the Florida Keys, and luckily, restaurants in Key West know how to flaunt their assets.
Housed inside The Reach, Spencer’s by the Sea boasts fantastic vistas of the Atlantic Ocean from both inside the dining room and on the veranda at any time of day. Early risers can take in a magnificent sunrise along with the venue’s new small-plate brunch composed of dishes like Nutella-stuffed French toast and kurobuta pork belly BLTs. Come evening, snag a table in time for a spectacular sunset with a side of succulent steaks and unbelievably fresh seafood.
Next door at Casa Marina, alfresco beachside breakfast at SunSun is a real treat. And when it’s time to wind down, head to Rumba in the lobby. As the name suggests, the space has the most exclusive collection of rum in Key West as well as a local cigar maker.
After trying a few samples of your favorite spirit, make the time to master the art of mojito-making with complimentary classes offered at the Key West Legal Rum Distillery. Gratis daily tours and tastings are also available.
For a more sand-in-your-toes kind of experience, check out Lorelei Restaurant & Cabana Bar in Islamorada, which is known for its daily sunset parties and live music.
As for a splurge, you can’t go wrong with Pierre’s. The high-end Islamorada dining room sets the bar for fine French fusion dining in the area, and its sexy Green Flash Lounge is where to go for a nightcap.
Home to dozens of annual festivals known to draw incredible crowds, the Florida Keys show no signs of slowing down this year, with all activities taking place as scheduled, including the 38th annual Hemingway Days (July 17 through 22), a celebration of the life and work of American author (and former island resident) Ernest Hemingway.
The annual 10-day-long extravaganza of street parties, zombie bike rides and bar crawls that is the Key West Fantasy Fest is slated for October 19 through 28.
And in Key Largo, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park has all kinds of nature-filled adventures, from hiking and kayaking to snorkeling and glass-bottom boat tours, for you to try.