What are some of the off-the-beaten-path, laid-back summer experiences that you can share with locals? How can you savor the island chain’s carefree, life-loving vibe? Try some (or all!) of the 13 Keys activities listed here.
1. In the Middle Keys, launch a kayak at Sombrero Beach, mile marker (MM) 50. Explore on your own or take an escorted eco-tour through Sister Creek and the Boot Key Nature Preserve, and marvel at the mangrove forests alive with native birds like herons, egrets and cormorants.
2. Immerse yourself in creativity during the neighborhood art strolls held each month in Islamorada and Key West. Discover unique visual art, meet the local artisans who create it, and explore intriguing galleries alongside island chain residents enthusiastic about the cultural community.
3. Savor the sunrise while strolling along the Old Seven Mile Bridge over the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. The historic landmark parallels the modern bridge, and a 2.2-mile section of it is open to pedestrians and bicyclists.
4. On weekends, browse at the Big Pine Flea Market at MM 30.2 for bargains on everything from nautical gear and lobster floats to sundresses and jewelry. It’s a Lower Keys tradition — and the socializing is as much fun as the “treasure hunting.”
5. Soak up fishing tips and tales from some of Islamorada’s world-class charter captains over cocktails at the Lorelei, MM 82, a favorite local hangout whose on-site marina is headquarters for both offshore and backcountry captains.
6. Treat yourself to a great home-style meal of straight-off-the-boat fresh fish at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen at MM 99 in Key Largo. Dishes and sauces are homemade from scratch — and the “World Famous Key Lime Pie” sign is not an exaggeration.
7. For a tranquil escape, explore the historic, never-used Civil War–era fort called West Martello Tower, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at White Street. Now home to the Key West Garden Club, it features beautiful indigenous plants and rare palm trees blooming against the weathered brick fort — like a huge tree grown over a narrow tunnel-like archway people can actually walk through.
8. Enjoy prowling around unusual shops? Check out Key West’s honest-to-goodness “curiosity shop” at 616 Greene St. Called 90 Miles to Cuba, it contains everything from local art to nautical antiques, vintage jewelry and Hardy Boys books.
9. Stroll along the rustic interpretive nature trails at Marathon’s 63.5-acre Crane Point to discover endangered native foliage, unusual geologic features, colorful exotic vegetation and even ancient ocean fossils. It’s a one-of-a-kind living record of Keys history.
10. If you want to chill out on one of America’s best beaches, then head for Bahia Honda State Park in the Lower Keys. Its sandy expanse was recently named one of 2014’s top 25 U.S. beaches by TripAdvisor. Bahia Honda’s deep near-shore waters mean unmatched swimming and snorkeling.
11. Sample the world-class pizza at the wonderfully funky No Name Pub just off Big Pine Key. You’ll find yourself falling in love with its historic Keys charm, laid-back regular customers and ramshackle décor that includes interior walls papered with dollar bills.
12. Enjoy one of the locals’ favorite sports: hop on a paddleboard to blend fun and a core physical workout. You can use the board for surfing, traversing on a “downwinder” (riding the board backed by tradewinds to cover long distances), or exploring the tranquil backcountry flats in an environmentally friendly way.
13. If you’re looking for a Key West locals’ hangout with great live music, stop by the Schooner Wharf Bar. Located on the waterfront in the Historic Seaport, it’s the kind of funky open-air place where you can bring your dog, your girlfriend and half a dozen fishing buddies — and everyone will have a good time.