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Here in the southern most tip of the United States, life is about as laid back or adventurous as you want it to be. Kayak along the rushing Keys one day and relax on a private beach the next. Honeymooners looking for an intimate getaway can book a private bungalow they never have to leave, and couples who want to show off their newly perfected dance moves can party in Key West till dawn. The different islands are easily accessible, so each day can feel like a new vacation. Planning a wedding may have left you feeling like you lost control, but in the Florida Keys, everything is up to you.
[divider]Lay of the Land[/divider]
The Florida Keys are a series of islands that run southwest of Miami. Starting with Key Largo and ending with Key West, the islands stretch for a sunny 110 miles of blue water and lively coasts. Many are connected by bridges or causeways so it’s easy to scuba through a shipwreck off Key Largo one day and get a beachside massage at a 5-star resort in Marathon the next. Because of its southern location, the Keys can be considered the American Caribbean and offer a lot of the same thrills as a tropical destination – snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing – without leaving the country.
[divider]Top Must See’s, Must Do’s[/divider]
Since the Keys are islands, the main tourism draws involve the crystal clear water that surrounds the area. If you’re a diver, Key Largo’s John Pennekamp State Park is the best place to explore the underwater world. Dives to abandoned shipwrecks can also be arranged in Key Largo. For fishermen (and women!), Islamorada offers some of the best sport fishing in the country. Chartered boats give couples the chance to catch a 10 lb. bonefish for dinner, or get a private sailboat and do some relaxing boating and fishing. If you just want to de-stress from your big day on the beach, head to Big Pine Key for a laid-back atmosphere along pristine beaches.
During the day, take your time sauntering down Duval Street in Key West. If you’re looking for shopping, a fresh seafood lunch, an afternoon daiquiri, a Cuban cigar or all of the above, Duval Street is your place. Along the street, in what looks like an ordinary Victorian style home, is the Key West Butterfly Conservatory, where you can see 60 butterfly species and 20 exotic bird species. Stay on Duval Street till after sunset for the most happening party spot in town, but depending on the time of year, risk getting a beer poured on your head by an over-zealous spring breaker.
[divider]Where to Stay[/divider]
For a truly intimate stay, book a bungalow at Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, three miles off the coast of the lower Keys. It’s only accessible by boat or small seaplane, but once you’re there you’re hidden on an exotic island with everything you need for a never-ending romantic getaway. The resort boasts gourmet dining, couple spa treatments, private beaches, snorkeling and diving trips and a fitness center. Conde Nast Traveler named it the best resort in the country.
If you want to be a little more centrally located but still want a charming atmostphere, check out the Marquesa Hotel in Key West. Set in the center of the historic old town area of Key West, the hotel is made up of four refurbished Victorian buildings around two luxury pools and a plush garden. The quaint and private buildings offer old-school pleasures such as marble baths with the modern amenities of free wi-fi and poolside dining service.
For a secluded getaway on the relaxing Islamorada, which is about the center point of the Keys, get yourselves one of the 18 private cottages at The Moorings Village. Built on what used to be a coconut plantation, the cottages are self-sufficient with kitchen, laundry, and TV and just a stroll away from a beach. Since Islamorada is the best place to fish in the Keys, trips can be easily booked with the hotel.
[divider]Where to Eat[/divider]
Like any American tourist destination, good restaurants are plenty in the Keys, but so are decent, gimmicky restaurants. It’s best to decide what kind of food you’re in the mood to eat and ask around for the latest tasty place. If you’re a seafood lover, try some Caribbean and Cuban influenced fish and shrimp, which is often grilled with a citrus salsa topping and served with rice and beans or rich cornbread. A seafood staple is Blue Heaven in Key West, or if you like shellfish the Half Shell Raw Bar is a favorite. If you like eating your fresh seafood while reclining in a lawn chair on the beach, try the Morada Bay Beach Café in Islamorada. Authentic Mexican and traditional American spots are also big on the Keys, so ask around for the best local places. Wherever you go, make sure to save room for Florida’s dessert specialty – a thick slice of key lime pie.