If when you think of the Florida Keys you think about Ernest Hemingway imbibing at Sloppy Joe's and penning another masterpiece in his study, or the black and white images of Humphrey Bogart in Key Largo weathering a hurricane in an old clapboard house you may be far from the reality of today's Keys. Today the Keys are a tourist, diving, and sport fishing mecca that draws over a million visitors each year.
The Keys are increasingly touristy and overdeveloped and although romance, intrigue, and hippness may be a bit overstated by the media, different attitudes do exist here that might not be tolerated on the mainland - misfits, dropouts, artists, writers, gays and lesbians, and anyone else not quite in step with society provide a glimpse of exotic attitudes.
Here we'll explore some of the questions I'm most frequently asked about the Keys... What is the weather like?... How are the beaches?... What is the best way to get to the Keys?... What is there to do?... and then we'll give you an overview of each Key.
Q: What is the weather like in the Keys?
A: Common sense would dictate that daytime temperatures in the Florida Keys, the southernmost region of the continental United States, would average significantly higher than in the nation's northern climes. Surprisingly, that assumption is incorrect.
Situated between the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Keys' unique geographical location benefits from ocean breezes that keep temperatures moderate year-round.
Key West, the Keys' most far-flung island, boasts an average daytime high temperature of 81.9 degrees Fahrenheit. With similar readings for the entire island chain, the Keys are the perfect place to enjoy water recreation - with scuba diving or snorkeling on the region's rare living reefs, water skiing, sailing and offshore swimming - any time of year.
During the late evening, when the temperature in Key West reaches its average low of 73 degrees Fahrenheit, the weather creates a climate conducive to celebration into the wee hours in the city's streets.
There are basically two seasons in the Keys - winter and summer, or "dry" and "wet." Winter brings day after day of short-sleeve weather and clear blue skies.
In the summer, brief daily showers are the norm. Weather systems move swiftly in the tropics, so summer showers in the Keys are short and sweet, providing sudden shade from the summer sun. Visitors caught in downpours find that they dry rapidly when the bright sun reappears.
Q: How are the beaches?
A: If you are looking for miles and miles of gleaming white beaches, then this is the reason to NOT come to the Florida Keys. There is no natural beach. The offshore reef eliminates the surf action needed to carry in the sand and many of the shores are sharp with coral shards. The best public sand beaches may be located at Bahia Honda State Park and Long Key State Park.
Q: What is the best way to get to the Keys?
A: Most who are making the Keys their vacation destination, arrive at Miami International Airport, rent a car, and drive to their final destination using the Overseas Highway. You can be in the Upper Keys within an hour or plan on a three-hour drive if you are traveling to Key West – the southernmost Key. This is mostly a two-lane road over land and water and you can expect routine backups Friday afternoons and Sunday evenings as South Floridians head for their favorite getaway.
Connections to Marathon and Key West International Airport are available from Miami and Fort Lauderdale International Airports. Facilities are available at both airports in the Keys to accommodate travelers flying in private aircraft.
Visitors not interested in air travel have a wide variety of ground transportation options to reach their destination as several shuttle bus and limo services are also available from these airports to the Keys.
The Key West Express ferry services between Key West and Fort Myers and Marco Island are available — year round from Fort Myers and seasonal from Marco Island (December through April).