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Tell me about the Florida Keys
September 3, 2013 11:34 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of planning a vacation to the Florida Keys. Where are the places to go? Snowflake detail: I'll be traveling by sailboat.

I have some unused airline credit that I would like to use on something before it expires. My current best idea is to fly to Miami and charter a boat to sail through the keys (I own my own sailboat here in California, and have done this before in the Mediterranean). The timeframe is probably one (or possibly two) week(s) in April of next year. It's feasible to leave on the boat from either Miami or Key West.

Keep in mind that I am not stuck to places a car can go, as I'll have a boat, and also that the average speed of a sailboat is about 8mph, so going back and forth 100 miles in a day isn't realistic. On the other hand, sailing for half the day to get somewhere is no big deal, as that's part of the appeal of the trip, and we'll have brought our "hotel" with us, so we can stay pretty much anywhere overnight.

What are the best places to go and things to see? I have been to the Bahamas before but never the Keys. I will have a small child (2.5 years) with me, along with my girlfriend, and possibly another couple.
posted by tylerkaraszewski to Travel & Transportation around Florida (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Key West and Marathon both offer a variety of activities. Key West is slanted towards "older people" activities such as historical tours, the Hemingway place, etc., but there are family-friendly things such as the Key West Eco-Discovery center, a Conch Train Tour, the Aquarium, Higgs Beach, the butterfly conservatory, etc. There's a wonderful glass bottom boat tour out of Key West to see the reef. And of course be sure to see the sunset celebration at Mallory Square (Google for details). Very tourist-trap-py but good fun for kids. A trip to Dry Tortugas might be practical.

The things to do in Marathon are a little more mundane as it is one of the hubs of life for folks living in the Keys, but I seem to recall that there's a dolphin research center and the Theater of the Seas in that area. Otherwise, mostly boat rentals come to mind, obviously not useful to you.
posted by jgreco at 11:52 AM on September 3, 2013


Maybe check out Dry Tortugas National park. Might be too far from Key West (68 miles according to wikipedia).
posted by czytm at 12:00 PM on September 3, 2013


Sailing along the Florida coast is going to be different from a lot of places; it may not be a big difference to you but if you're not used to dealing with single-digit draft depths you might be unhappy. The very shallow depths all along John Pennekamp are what make it great snorkeling, but as a sailor it means you're either going to need to be in a small vessel or confined to the dredged channels. It's the only place I ever HAVE sailed so it always seemed reasonable to me, but I was in 22' and under vessels.

The other thing to do from Marathon is snorkel; folks who are not boaters like yourself will find a lot of easily charterable 1 or 2 stop trips from there. If you're willing to get out of the sailboat and suck fume for a while it may be best to let someone else handle finding the good spots for the day. Ditto fishing trips.
posted by phearlez at 12:49 PM on September 3, 2013


Mallory Square is nice, but the acts get a little blue after dark. I imagine it'll mostly go over the tots head, though. Along with the tours listed above, I'd say that the Mel Fisher museum (containing treasure he recovered from the Atocha) is interesting as all get out.

Otherwise the main activity along Duval Street is drinking. Also drag shows. Keep a lookout for Key Deer - they're tiny, not a whole lot bigger than a dog.
posted by jquinby at 1:39 PM on September 3, 2013


Check out Indian Key, qv.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 1:43 PM on September 3, 2013


Tarpon Basin is a nice stop. You can explore some of the mangroves by dinghy and there's a park nearby as well as grocery stores. Marathon has a huge boating population and a decent marina and restaurants. If you stick to the ICW your draft issues shouldn't be a problem, but the sailing is really wind dependant. There's lots of parks dotted here and there that you can anchor off of and then just go to shore and walk around.

You can also sail in the ocean if you want to get there faster. I did a straight shot from Marathon to Key West one Xmas eve. There's basically a shipping lane so its pretty easy coastal sailing if the weather is right. It was really nice and the dolphins came out to play. I did once do Miami to Key West and back in two weeks but it was a lot of traveling. If the weather doesn't cooperate you might be forced to travel (read motor) in less than ideal weather which is more like work and less like a vacation. So maybe you want to plan about half of that length of travel depending on how hardcore you and your guests are.
posted by captaincrouton at 3:12 PM on September 3, 2013


Key Largo. The diving/snorkling is the best in the US (not all of North America, because that's Belize). The beaches are extraordinary. People are friendly. I'm a Florida native and my family has a house down there (I know, I know, such a hard life). The mimosa trees and fishing can't be beat.
posted by syncope at 7:04 PM on September 3, 2013


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