Do you dream of turquoise waters, towering palm trees swaying in the warm Gulf breeze well can you imagine yourself being whisked away to a tropical paradise?
After returning from Islamorada, I created this Islamorada Travel Guide for those of you seeking a little more Sun, Salt, and Sand in your life. I wanted to provide some tips and ideas for those seeking an island escape without the need to leave the country. Look no further than Islamorada, a small “Village of Islands” down in the Florida Keys about an hour and half drive from Miami. It is a great destination if you're looking for that “Island Feel” without having to worry about passports and customs. It was just a quick hour and half flight down from Washington D.C. Then we picked up a Jeep at the airport, did a quick change into our shorts and flip flops, dropped the top and headed down the famed Florida Route 1.
If you're in search of Sun kissed skin, salty kisses, and sandy feet, Islamorada is calling for you. You don't have to drive all the way to Key West to appreciate the offbeat charm of the Keys. Islamorada is just a quick 90 minute drive from Miami Airport. You will first have to make your way through Key Largo, home to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park a noted diving spot, the National Marine Sanctuary, and Christ of the Abyss.
Key Largo, to me, is still a little over populated and you don't get that true “Island Charm.” However, 30 minutes more down Route 1 you will be greeted by a giant brown lobster outside the Treasure Village gift shop. Once you see her, you know you have arrived at the Sport Fishing Capital of the World. But honestly they don't call Islamorada “the Purple Island” for nothing. The sunsets are amazing.
Islamorada is a great place to unwind and relax in the sun, enjoy the salt water and feel a little island sand between your toes. Islamorada is the perfect Florida Keys location to use as a base camp for expeditions out into the other Keys. Its central location make it perfect for this. The draw to these Village of Islands is you can make it whatever you want it to be.
Dreaming of an exciting adventure diving into a sunken ships, searching for treasure, fighting a Marlin on an off shore fishing adventure, snorkeling one of the many beautiful Reefs, enjoying a romantic meal on the beach or sitting by the pool sipping on a Lime Colada watching the sunset? It's all about Sun, Sand and Saltwater down in Islamorada. You can mix it up however you like. Just add Sun Salt and Sand – Instant Vacation!
Islamorada has some great choices, Cheeca Lodge being the premier resort and Spa in Islamorada. I have never stayed there myself so I can't really say it's an “Islamorada travel tip”, other than people seem to love it.
One thing to think about when traveling to Islamorada is what side of the Island you want to be on. I prefer the Ocean side, some like the Gulf side. I find the beaches and water nicer on the Ocean side, others prefer to watch the sunsets and find it a little quieter on the Gulf side.
For this trip, we chose The Post Card Inn at Holiday isle.
Postcard Inn simply exudes all things Islamorada. Fishing, diving, snorkeling, boating, kayaks, paddle boards, peddle boats, bicycles, and a water trampoline. It's a great place for family fun. Another huge benefit is the ability to walk right out of your hotel room and grab a Starbucks (it's the last Starbucks before you hit Key West). If you rent or bring your own boat, they have dock space. Postcard Inn has that laid-back beach attitude. No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems! For real, no one cares what you're wearing or where you came from. It's not that kind of place. We also noticed it was very pet friendly, maybe not a plus if you're not a dog lover, but it didn't bother us – we are dog people.
We rented an oceanfront King Room that had a stunning panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean from our private Lanai. It was really great to walk right out onto the beach and not worry about finding a space in the shade for when we had too much sun. I enjoyed my morning coffee on the Lanai, then took a quick swim before I started my days. The room was super clean and the bathroom was very large and updated – something you would expect to see in a more upscale resort. The king bed was comfortable, in fact one of the most comfortable hotel beds I have ever slept in – outside of Vegas.
The nice part of Post Card Inn is it's part of the Islamorada Resort Collection and your wrist band will allow you access to Amara Cay's, La Siesta, with its beach cottages, and Pelican Cove, which has a laid back Old Florida atmosphere.
During our 5 days on the islands, we found renting a boat was the way to go. Our only regret was not renting it longer. The weather was great and the main attraction for most Islamorada itinerants is the Ocean. I would recommend getting ahold of Oscar at A1A Boat Rentals. They did right by us and even threw in some fishing poles and tackle for me.
If a Sun-Kissed body and Sandy Feet is what you desire- Head for the Sand Bar.
Right off shore is one of Islamorada's best kept secrets, the sandbar. It is only accessible by water, boats, wave runners, kayaks, and paddle boards. In the summer and Holidays, you will see hundreds of boats gather to create a huge party on the water. Because the water is shallow on the sandbar, lounge chairs, barbecue grills, picnic table, umbrellas, all submersed in the water, make it into something you really have to see to believe. The sandbar is a great spot for all ages, two and four legged, all are welcome.
If your perfect vacation is all about staying wet Islamorada is the place
From snorkeling to scuba diving, don't leave this island without having taken in the pristine underwater life that lives off the coast. A massive population of unique and beautiful marine life lives in these waters and you don't want to miss out.
Alligator Reef is a great place to start, the reef itself is teeming with more than 500 species of marine life, a pirate-hunter shipwreck, and a 144-year-old lighthouse all sit just four nautical miles offshore from Islamorada. The 136-foot lighthouse still stands nearly a century and half later. At an average depth of 20 feet, the surrounding reef is ideal for snorkelers and divers looking to explore Florida's Caribbean coast. There are spiny lobsters, parrot-fish, barracuda, and abundant coral all in a jumbled graveyard of shipwrecks. Somewhere down there are the remains of the USS Alligator.
If you're a first timer out, it's easy to locate the reef by boat. We really enjoyed snorkeling here. Right out of the boat, we saw a nurse shark, barracudas and schools of gorgeous fish that seem to be as tame as a pier pelican when it comes to people in the water. I was even able to hand feed a few while snorkeling around Alligator reef. We found it best to move away from the crowds as the lighthouse itself it is the main attraction and gets busy.
Check out the true story of the not so famous USS Alligator commissioned to combat the slave trade off the coast of Africa and protect merchant ships in the West Indies from pirates. USS Alligator
For many sun worshiping travelers Fishing is what leads them to Islamorada
I would have to say even if you never fished, don't know how to fish, this is the number one activity to do in Islamorada. Why? Because it's best known as the Sport-fishing Capital of the World, and rightfully so. More world record fish have been caught from these waters than any other location on earth. You can't walk 10 feet in Islamorada without running into a Fishing Charter. You don't even have to book a deep sea trip as there are plenty of back country fishing charters available. Back Country is on the Gulf of Mexico/ Florida Bay side of the islands, where the water is shallower and mangrove trees provide a safe haven to many different species of fish, providing a very unique fishing experience not found any place else in the world .
There are also plenty of head boats which are large boats that accommodate a large group of people normally to bottom fish. This is a great idea if you have a large group or have several kids that want the experience of fishing in the Florida Keys. These boats are great for not breaking the bank and have the security of a large vessel that provides restrooms and places to get out of the sun if you have a few anglers who can't handle a 4 – 6 hour trip.
No trip to Islamorada is really complete without at least trying to take on a Sailfish. Wintertime is the best time of year for this. Big Sailfish drive the ballyhoo to the surface and shower the sea with silver. It's something to behold, and that's before you even hook any fish. Once you've hooked a sail, there is nothing like it in the world. Hemingway, arguably the original Florida Keys guide, was drawn in by the Sun, Salt and Sand. With the allure of the Sea and its many adventures, it's hard to resist.
Then the fish came alive, with his death in him, and rose high out of the water showing all his great length and width and all his power and his beauty. He seemed to hang in the air above the old man in the skiff. Then he fell into the water with a crash that sent spray over the old man and over all of the skiff.
– Hemingway – The Old Man and the Sea.
When you want to take a break from the Sun, Sand and Salt
I know this doesn't sound like something real. I mean, what the heck is a Tarpon anyhow? If you've never spent time in Florida or the Caribbean, you probably have no idea what a Tarpon is. Tarpon are a large Saltwater game fish similar to a Salmon. No trip to the Keys would be complete without a stop at Robbies!
Robbie's is located just past mile marker 77 in Islamorada. For $5, you can gain admission onto the dock and get a bucket of fish to feed these massive gentle giants. It's incredible to see them jump out of the water as you entice them with the little snack of fishy goodness. Just be quick to let it go or you may find your hand inside of one of these beasts. But not to worry, they have no teeth and they just come for the fish.
There is also a restaurant and small little shopping area at the marina, so grab a bite and some souvenirs while you're at it. This is old Florida at its best and reminds me of the road side stands I used to see in the 80's along the highways.
Some Islamorada Dining tips – just add a dash of Sun, hint of sand and pinch of Salt
Fine dining on Islamorada has a completely different feel than it does here in Washington D.C. Even at the finest of places, Island Casual is expected. We will help guide you through your culinary island desires, all while soaking in the Sun and not having to worry about arriving with sandy feet.
Not treating yourself to a fresh seafood dinner would be tragic, and pretty near impossible to do while visiting Islamorada. There are almost zero chain restaurants on the islands and something for everyone to enjoy. If you've had too much Sun, Salt and Sand for the day, just kick back with a Funky Buddha and a big slice of Key Lime Pie.
Located at Whale Harbor Marina, Wahoo's Bar and Grill offers the Key's fresh selection of locally caught fish and seafood including mahi-mahi, grouper, snapper, tuna, stone crabs, and Florida lobster that come right from our docks.
They have truly spectacular views from nearly every seat in the house. The fish tacos were the best we had anywhere and the fresh Florida Lobster was amazing. The key lime Pie was also one of the best we had during the entire trip – and we ate a lot of Key Lime Pie.
The Tiki Bar is located in the Postcard Inn resort. We tried them for breakfast one day but I would pretty much stick to bar food and drinks. It is a Tiki Bar, but it was the only option the Hotel had for us to dine in for breakfast. It is an icon of Islamorda and the night life is where it's at.
We decided to eat at Mangrove Mikes for breakfast the rest of the week and we were not disappointed. The portions are large, prices are reasonable, and the service is great. It has that old fisherman's diner feel to it. They have a Tater Tot Tower ! Enough said.
No trip to Islamorada would be complete without taking in a sunset dinner and no better place in the keys but Lorelei. Their Cabana Bar is the perfect place to sit back, order a tall, cool drink and let yourself fade away with the sunset during their Sunset Celebrations that are nightly with live entertainment!
One of the best places we ate at in the entire trip was at the Fish House in Key Largo. The vibe is busy and fun, with tropical-themed lights strung all the way across the room. This truly reminds me of my childhood, growing up in Florida with the old school seafood house feel to it. The rustic seafarer decor, walls covered in old photos hung slightly off kilter to give it charm. Everyone is here to relax, have a drink, and enjoy the day's fresh catch.
Morada Way Arts and Cultural District is a great spot to visit, home to many artists and craftsmen. Midway Café, located midway through the Florida Keys and right off of the Overseas Highway, is a great brunch or lunch spot for good food, an eclectic vibe, and amazing key lime pie.
I hope someday you make the trip to Islamorada and the Florida keys and thisTravel Guide helps bring you closer to sun-kissed skin, salty kisses and sandy feet.
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