Let's be honest...at this point in winter, it's pretty obvious that the weather up here is the Number One reason to go. Of course there are dozens of other good reasons to head for the Florida Keys at any time of year. Here are six of them:
1. Drive the awesome Overseas Highway
The feeling of space and freedom that comes with driving for miles over open water on a dazzlingly sunny day is a thrill that can't be beat. The Overseas Highway, that part of US 1 that takes you over the water and through the islands from Largo to Key West--more than 127 miles all the way--is one of a kind. Heading south, the Atlantic is on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other. There are 42 bridges in all, including the famous Seven Mile Bridge at Marathon, an engineering feat that is, in the truest sense of the word, awesome.
2. See North America's only living coral reef
The Florida Reef, the only living coral barrier reef in North America and the third biggest in the world, has a biodiversity along the lines of the Caribbean Sea. It's home to over a thousand different species of marine plants and animals, including hundreds of species of fish. The easiest way to explore it is at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, where you can scuba dive, go snorkelling or just sit back and relax on a glass-bottom boat tour. With 70 nautical square miles on display, it's quite a show. Reservations are a must during peak season.
Michelle Nicole Lowe Gallery, Islamorada
3. Try your luck at world-class fishing
The six islands that make up Islamorada, the midway point in the Keys, are known as the sport fishing capital of the world. You can opt for light tackle fishing or the fishing in the backcountry flats, but of course it's the offshore fishing--for tuna, sailfish, and blue marlin, the holy grail of deep-sea fisherman the world over--that's the big draw. In these parts, with a marina and boat charter around every bend, it's a cinch to get out on the water and try your luck.
4. Sample the freshest seafood
From snapper to stone crab to Key West pink shrimp--all of it fresh, fresh, fresh--the seafood in the Keys alone is worth the trip. A couple of standouts in Key West are the stellar crabcakes at the Rooftop Café and the fried hogfish sandwich at the Hogfish Bar and Grill. For a great take on this light and delicate local fish, try Chef Michael's in Islamorada, where you can bring in your catch (see Reason 3 above) and Chef will cook it for you. Peace, love and hogfish is the mantra here.
Sunset on the Florida Strait
5. Sail into the sunset
A few hours on the tropical waters at sunset is a soul-satisfying way to end the day. And the good news is that in the Keys you don't have to be a sailor to do it. There are dozens of charters and planned excursions--morning, afternoon, all day or sunset--that you can just book, climb aboard and enjoy. One of the best is the Wind and Wine Sunset Sail from Danger Charters in Key West. Their schooners, custom replicas of a classic American skipjack, are big enough to be comfortable and small enough to feel like you're with friends.
6. Chill out...your way
Looking for a place that's kid-friendly? Pet-friendly? LGBT-friendly? No problem. In the Keys there's a place for everyone, complete with a relaxing, laid-back island vibe. Whether you're the type who likes RV parks or campgrounds, budget motels, historic inns, high-end resorts or humble guest houses, no worries--you're never far from a beach. If you're a certified scuba diver, you can even stay 21 feet down at Jules' Undersea Lodge in Key Largo. In Islamorada, check out the casual cool of Casa Morada on the bay. And in Key West, you can lounge around the pools or just chill out in blissful comfort at the big and beautiful Parrot Key Hotel & Resort, just a five-minute drive from the centre of town.
Poolside at Parrot Key Hotel & Resort
For more information on things to do, where to stay, what the weather's like, and just about anything else you might want to know about visiting the Florida Keys, just go to www.fla-keys.com