We had a few criteria for our last trip:
1.) Warmest, sunniest (but cheapest) place in the US
2.) Lots of state parks
3.) Lots of history
The southernmost point of America was the obvious choice: Key West, Florida. But! There isn’t much hiking on the island, so we decided to explore all the Keys while we were down there. It’s also worth noting that flying into Fort Lauderdale cut the plane tickets in half and that the drive through the Keys is a really pretty one, overlooking mangroves and old trestles.
We started out in Key Largo. One of our first stops was the Wild Bird Refuge. While there, we saw different species of hawks and owls up close and egrets and brown pelicans were everywhere.
As we traveled down the Keys, we stopped at parks to explore. Some of our favorites:
Anne’s Beach on Islamorada
Long Key State Park
Watson Trail on Big Pine Key
We hit the marinas to have truly local seafood, and all the fish we had was delicious:
The Wharf on Summerland Key
Keys Fisheries and Marina on Marathon
Buzzard’s Roost on Key Largo
Eaton Street Seafood Market on Key West
Of course we also visited the historical homes. I enjoyed chasing the cats around the Hemingway Home and seeing his studio.
The Audubon House was gorgeous and had such interesting plants in its gardens.
Another beautiful place was the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory. As expected, lots of butterflies, but some brightly-hued finches too. And the docents really knew their plants, butterflies, and birds.
Favorite part of Key West? Fort Zachary Taylor. You can wander through a fort built in 1845. While we were there, right under an American flag, a bald eagle flew about 10 feet over our heads. Pretty epic! Also, the best beach (in my opinion) is in this same park. There’s an area filled with Australian Pines and Palm Trees, which made for a pretty combination.
Another neat area is Bahia Honda State Park. Its beaches were voted in the top 10 for the nation, and they were nice to walk, but the really memorable part was an old trestle where you can walk out over the ocean. In this spot, an osprey flew right over our heads. Oh! Which brings me to, if you like birds, the Keys are a great place to go. Hawks and osprey and herons and egrets abound!
Something worth noting is that nearly all parks charge a fee. We usually base our trips around nature because it’s typically free, but not so in this case.
My biggest suggestion for Key West would be to take a Danger tour. We opted for the half-day, and it included sailing, kayaking, and snorkeling. And it felt like taking a college course in marine biology. We sailed out to a preserve called Mule Key and learned lots about the types of trees, reef, sponges, and fish that live in that area.
All in all, it felt pretty tropical without the super-expensive plane tickets. We visited Kauai in February, so we had that terrain to compare to. And while we missed the mountains, in some of the state parks, it was just as lush.