florida keys

Beyond the Beach Boys’ song, Kokomo, I’m embarrassed to admit I knew nothing about the Florida Keys until Alec decided he wanted to add in Florida Keys road trip to our summer USA adventure.

The Florida Keys are a string of islands stretching around 120 miles (193 km) off the south tip of Florida. It only takes around 2 hours to drive straight from Key West (the southernmost island) to Key Largo, the last island before the mainland. Most people stay a few days in the Keys swimming, snorkelling or fishing, but we had a tight schedule and allocated four days to drive from Key West through Key Largo, up to Palm Beach and Cape Canaveral where we were due to catch a cruise boat.

Key West

We flew into Key West, the southernmost island, known mostly for partying and fishing. Key West is also the southernmost point of the continental USA. A large buoy marks the southernmost point, with the next port of land Cuba – 90 miles away. People love to queue for a picture next to the buoy, but it was so incredibly hot on the day we visited that we decided to take a sneaky photo behind the buoy instead, which I thought made it even more southernly than the buoy itself.

Key West most southern point, Florida Keys, via christineknight.me Key West most southern point, Florida Keys, via christineknight.me

High season for the Florida Keys is during the southern hemisphere’s winter, when people from cold states like to escape the snow and defrost on the islands. We visited during the low season, June, which is also summer and so humid it was pretty unbearable. On the plus side, there weren’t as many people, but it was also face-meltingly hot, making it hard to do much.

Key West is home to a lot of historic buildings, making it a pretty interesting place to visit in general. We stuck to family-friendly activities that our four-year-old could also enjoy.

Butterfly Conservatory Key West, Florida Keys, via christineknight.me

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
This butterfly park is home to 50-60 different species of live butterflies from around the world, plus turtles, flamingoes and small birds. We spend a wonderful hour inside the conservatory surrounded by the dancing of butterfly wings.

Butterfly Conservatory Key West, Florida Keys, via christineknight.me

Butterflies flutter high over head and around guests, occasionally pausing on flowers, fruit or even shoulders and hats for a rest. While we all wore bright colours in hopes of attracting butterflies, Alec was the only one who was lucky enough to have a butterfly land on his shoulder.

Butterfly Conservatory Key West, Florida Keys, via christineknight.me
Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
1316 Duval St, Key West, FL
Prices: Adult $12, kids 4-12 years $8.50, under 4 years free

Hemingway's House, Key West, Florida Keys, via christineknight.me

The Ernest Hemingway House & Museum
This gorgeous house was home to the writer Hemingway for 9 years, from 1931-1939. We enjoyed a thoroughly entertaining and free 30 minute tour of the house, the highlight for our daughter being meeting some of the 53 cats who call the house their home.

Hemingway's House, Key West, Florida Keys, via christineknight.me

Hemingway was given a white six-toed cat called Snow White by a ship’s captain. The cat was never neutered and bred with local cats, the result being a colony of 50-70 cats living at the house at any one time – the majority having six toes.

Hemingway's House, Key West, Florida Keys, via christineknight.me The Ernest Hemingway House & Museum
907 Whitehead St, Key West, FL
Prices: Adult $13, kids 6-12 yrs $6, under 5 years free

Banana Cafe, Key West, Florida Keys, via christineknight.me Banana Cafe
We stumbled upon this cute little cafe and fell in love with its French cuisine. Delicious omlettes, quiches, salads, smoothies and extremely friendly staff make this a must for lunch in Key West.
Banana Cafe, 1215 Duval St, Key West, FL

Marathon

An hour drive from Key West is a large key called Marathon. Driving there you’ll cross the incredibly scenic Seven Mile Bridge. If you pull over at the end of the bridge you can walk back along the old bridge and take in the view.

Dolphin Research Centre, Florida Keys via christineknight.me

Dolphin Research Center
This 90,000-square-foot series of saltwater lagoons is home to a family of dolphins and California sea lions. The Dolphin Research Center (DRC) “rescues and rehabilitates whales and dolphins, providing expert medical attention to help ease the way for our marine friends from the wild”. I’m generally very wary of any animal interactions, but was reassured that this facility is all about dolphin care and research rather than entertainment for tourists.

Dolphin Research Centre, Florida Keys via christineknight.me

Dolphins are not required to participate in any interactions that they do not want to – the two dolphins who we met, Tanner and Jaxon, were extremely friendly and excited to play. One of the dolphins, Jaxon, was an obvious example of a dolphin who had been rescued and was unable to be returned to the wild. He had a large bite out of his dorsal fin and tail, most likely caused by a bull shark. Our Dolphin Dip ($159pp, kids under 5 can be held by a paying adult for free) ran for around 20-25 minutes in the water with the dolphins swimming around us as we stood on a waist-deep water on a submerged platform.

Dolphin Research Centre, Florida Keys via christineknight.me

The dolphin trainer taught us about our new friends and encouraged them closer so we could give them back rubs (which they seemed to enjoy) and flipper shakes. We also learned some hand signals and asked the dolphins to perform natural behaviours like jumping and swimming fast, or “dancing” (spinning in the water).

Dolphin Research Centre, Florida Keys via christineknight.me

DRC is completely wheelchair/stroller accessible. The dolphin encounters are also wheelchair-accessible.
Dolphin Research Center
58901 Overseas Hwy, Grassy Key, FL
Prices: Adults: $28 kids 4-12: $23, under 3 free

Marathon Turtle Hospital, Florida Keys, via christineknight.me

The Turtle Hospital
A must-see on a road trip through the Keys, the Turtle Hospital is a small, non-profit organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of endangered sea turtles. The Turtle Hospital is home to over 50 sick and injured turtles who are undergoing various stages of treatment, rehabilitation, or have been deemed unsuitable to be released into the wild and so have become permanent residents.

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In order to visit the turtles you must book in for a tour. The tour lasts around 90 minutes and includes a presentation on the various turtle breeds and the threats they face in the wild, a tour of the hospital facilities, and, what everyone had been waiting for, meeting the turtle patients. The majority of the turtles end up in the hospital after bodily trauma (such as being hit by a propeller blade) or sickness suck as infections or tumours.

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Several of the turtles have what’s called “bubble butt” where an accident, such as a boating incident, has damaged their shell, letting air in underneath it, giving them the appearance of a “bubble butt”, which causes the turtle to float.

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Florida Keys Family Road Trip - Adventure, baby! Meta description:The meta description is often shown as the black text under the title in a search result. For this to work it has to contain the keyword that was searched for.<br/><br/>Read <a href="https://yoast.com/snippet-preview/#utm_source=wordpress-seo-metabox&utm_medium=inline-help&utm_campaign=focus-keyword">this post</a> for more info. The meta description will be limited to 156 chars, chars left. Toggle panel: Revisions Revisions Christine Knight Christine Knight, 1 week ago (June 18, 2016 @ 12:16:18) Christine Knight Christine Knight, 1 week ago (June 18, 2016 @ 12:10:43) Christine Knight Christine Knight, 1 week ago (June 18, 2016 @ 11:52:45) Christine Knight Christine Knight, 1 week ago (June 18, 2016 @ 11:25:38) Christine Knight Christine Knight, 1 week ago (June 18, 2016 @ 11:02:32) Christine Knight Christine Knight, 1 week ago (June 18, 2016 @ 10:44:25) Toggle panel: Related Posts Related PostsConfigure These are the related entries for this entry. Updating this post may change these related posts. Boston Long Weekend (2) California and NYC Trip (2) NYC: The Highlights (2) A Day Trip To The Cloisters (2) Whether all of these related entries are actually displayed and how they are displayed depends on your YARPP display options. Toggle panel: Sharing Sharing Show sharing buttons. Thank you for creating with WordPress. Version 4.5.3 Link inserted. No search results. Close media panel Insert Media Create Gallery Featured Image Insert from URL Insert Media Upload FilesMedia Library Filter by typeFilter by dateSearch Media Search ATTACHMENT DETAILS turtle-hospital-15.jpg June 28, 2016 403 kB 526 × 700 Edit Image Delete Permanently URL http://christineknight.me/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/turtle-hospital-15.jpg Title turtle-hospital-15 Caption Alt Text Marathon Turtle Hospital, Florida Keys, via christineknight.me Description ATTACHMENT DISPLAY SETTINGS Alignment Link To Size Deselect 1 selected Clear Insert into post Choose Files

Turtles with bubble butt have weights affixed to them to help them balance out and give them the ability to swim underneath the water once more. At the end of each program guests are invited to feed the permanent residents – not touch them, mind you, but throw their favourite pellets to them as they swim happily in the pool underneath.

Marathon Turtle Hospital, Florida Keys, via christineknight.me

Because they are a working hospital, you must be part of one of the guided educational programs in order to visit the turtles. Reservations are highly recommended.

More info and pics here.

The Turtle Hospital
2396 Overseas Hwy, Marathon, FL
Prices: Adults: $22, kids 4-12 years old: $11, under 4 free

Sombrero Beach, Marathon, Florida Keys, via christineknight.me

Sombrero Beach
A popular family beach with a playground, bathroom and BBQ facilities. If you’re lucky you’ll see the Loggerhead turtles who nest at the beach from April-October.
Sombrero Beach, Sombrero Beach Rd, Marathon, FL

7 Mile Grill, Florida Keys, via christineknight.me

7 Mile Grill
A little cafe we stumbled upon relatively close to the Turtle Hospital and Dolphin Research Center, 7 Mile Grill is an incredibly family-friendly place to grab a quick, delicious meal from their extensive menu featuring plenty of seafood, Mediterranean food, burgers, sandwiches, breakfast dishes and even several vegetarian options.
7 Mile Grill, 1240 Overseas Highway, MM 47.5, Marathon, Florida

After more weird and wonderful places to visit in Florida? You might enjoy this guidebook.

Christine Knight
Christine is the editor of Adventure, Baby!