Oh man, I could write a book on the keys. Have been there four times. Weather is nice. Always 10degrees cooler than mainland in the summer and 10degrees warmer than mainland in winter.
: Take a half day charter with SeaDog Charters near Marathon and catch your own. It's simple reef fishing for yellow snapper, red snapper, grouper, etc. You'll eat fresh seafood all week. Guaranteed. Their rates are cheap and you'll love the boat ride too. They help. You dont have to know anything and they clean your fish too. Or, go to Kings Seafood on Key colony beach, just north of marathon (one of the keys not on the map). All the local fisherman bring their stuff here after their morning fishing. Talk about fresh! It was just caught! Don't pass on the pink key west shrimp. Best shrimp you'll ever eat, just caught too. When you have eaten just-caught pink key west shrimp, you'll never eat the standard grocery store, farm raised stuff again.
: My favorite stop on the way down is in Key Largo. On your right as you are going through key largo (top key), you'll see a diner looking place in a strip mall with a big sign that says CUBA RESTAURANT. The locals eat here. It's amazing home-made cuban food like chicken, dirty rice, plantains, etc. Don't pass on the Yuca Root with mojo sauce....I swear you'll be in heaven if you like fresh garlic. They have a to-go counter there...Get a couple meals to go. You'll have enough Rice and sides to go with the fish you caught nearly a week. The other land marker besides being on the right in Key Largo is that it is across from the major tourist trappings...the African Queen Boat, Glass Bottom Boat, etc.
Free/Cheap stuff to do
1. Tavernier Key
: Just beyond Key Largo as you're traveling south.
Wild Bird Sanctuary. They rehab birds here. You'll see a ton of beautiful birds. Not just rehabbing ones, but many are attracted here because of the food. It'll be on the right (gulf side). It's a nice walk through a very nautical setting on the gulf. Plan 30 - 60 minutes at most. Free/donation.
: Still on your way down. Stop at Robbies Marina and buy a bucket of Tarpon Food for a buck or two. Stand on the dock and feed the Tarpon. They are huge, awesome, and prehistoric. They flock to the food. It's fun to watch them. You might buy two buckets of food. Nice place to hang out for a few minutes or little longer and take in marina life in a natural setting. Price: one to two dollars.
3. Grassy Key
: Getting closer to Marathon now. Or you can go there seperately. Plan a half day here. General Information for the Dolphin Research Center, Dolphin and Sea Mammal Research
Its the dolphin research center. They have dolphin shows, you learn about dolphins, see dolphins, tour the grounds and dolphin habitats, watch scheduled training, feeding, shows, etc. They are a top notch group of marine biologists, not a circus act. They treat the dolphins well, not abuse them like a circus would. Lovely setting, reasonably priced about $20.00. They have a gift shop too. If you want, you can swim with the dolphins, etc., gets pricey to do that. But $20.00 gen admission is well worth it. Awesome memories.
4. Bahia Honda State Park, Florida Keys Beach, Beaches in the Keys, State Park in the Keys, Florida Keys State Park, Public Beach Florida Parks
Bahia honda state park. Just south of Marathon. They have camping here or you can visit. There aren't many expansive natural beaches in the keys, because of a lot of seawalls. This state park has a beautiful, very expansive beach. It has actually been voted one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in the world. The scenery here is great in general. You can also get a snorkel charter here and probably other touristy things. But if you want a beach day, close to marathon, this is where I'd go.
5. Key Deer
Go drive around Deer Key. It's a residential/rural key. The most rural of them all. Key deer run around here like crazy, but you won't see them anywhere else in the world. They max out at 2-3 feet high. Don't harrass or feed them. They were once nearly extinct, so the region is very protective of them, understandably. In general, they keys are very protective of all things natural. Free. Plan an hour or longer. We got plenty close to take good pictures. They must be used to people.
Well, I could go on and on about the keys. Just wanted to give you some good ideas for really really fresh seafood and cheap/free things to do that are unique to the keys and take in the nature and views.
I'm jealous. Have a great time and when you get down to key west for a day of pub crawling, have one for me.
Mike and Lynn