Winter Adventures at Home – Locals’ Tour of the Florida Keys

No Name KeyOutside’s Winter Traveler lists 10 Easy-to-Reach Adventures from Northern Minnesota to Islamorada, Florida, Yosemite and the territories of the Caribbean, all places with “No Passport required.”

First off, I suppose I’d like to concur on the inclusion of the Florida Keys, and Sedona, Arizona, provided you can deal with the highest per capita concentration of massive “retreat resorts” and people who have intimate relationships with crystals. But to really have a great domestic adventure, I’ve got a few offerings of my own I’ll be sharing with you this week. (As always please feel free to post your own adventure suggestions below).

Today, I’ll start by improving on the mag’s Florida Keys itinerary:

Yes, it is mandatory to do a bit of time in the tourist trap culture on any visit to the Florida Keys, but there’s no need to get totally immersed. Unless you’re already pro or know some locals, you’ll have to go through some sort of tour company to setup your mandatory deep-sea fishing, SCUBA or snorkeling outing. Fortunately, as a former local, I may not be able to offer up any huge discounts here online, but I can point you in the right direction.

Looe Key reefFirst, for the SCUBA / snorkel action, you’re likely to get steered towards the overrun hubs around Key Largo, but you can do better. Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary offers a quieter, less crowded alternative, about five miles offshore of Big Pine Key, which is also home to the odd but endangered population of tiny Key Deer that roam the island.

But before you dive right in, it’s good to commune with the keys a bit. The ideal evening? I say an open air dinner at Mango Mama’s a few miles before you reach Key West along Highway 1. I know it was still there a couple years ago, hopefully it still is, the Key Lime Pie is unbelievable. From there, head back towards the mainland and No Name Key for a drink at the rustic, colorful and hard-to-find No Name Pub. Once night has fully fallen, find a suitable shallow, but not still, spot under one of the many bridges over the sea and slip in to get to know the local bioluminescence.

For a relaxing day, check out Bahia Honda state park, with nice views of all those endless bridges that have been “blown up” by Hollywood time and time again (actually, it’s an old railroad bridge that’s been missing sections for years). While you’re down here, you really must see a drag show in Key West, drink at Hemingway’s old haunts, meet his six-toed cats and make the trip out to Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas. That should keep you busy for a day of two, just make sure to work in time for the daily hangover…