FLORIDA KEYS — There's more to the Florida Keys than meets the eye, yet travelers often visit once and think they've seen it all. With so many hidden gems and colorful locales, even frequent visitors can enjoy new experiences each time they return to the island chain.
When travelers choose the road less traveled, Card Sound Road, they'll cruise past Alabama Jack's, Card Sound's only restaurant and a popular local watering hole. This colorful Keys establishment has been called the home of the best conch fritters in the Keys and has a Key lime pie to marvel over, as well. alabamajacks.com.
Visitors traveling Card Sound Road eventually head southwest on Route 905 to connect with U.S. Highway 1 on their way to the remainder of the Keys. Once in Key Largo, art and nature enthusiasts alike can enjoy Kona Kai Resort, Gallery & Botanic Gardens, MM 98 bayside in Key Largo. This unique boutique property includes not only a beautiful inn but also one of the most sophisticated art galleries in South Florida, featuring world-renowned artists. Kona Kai Resort is surrounded by a lush botanic garden that captivates the senses and engulfs visitors in a tropical paradise. The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort is staffed by a full-time ethnobotanist, and tours are offered regularly. g-k-k.com, konakairesort.com, kkbg.org.
On the third Thursday of every month in Islamorada, the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District hosts its Third Thursday art walk featuring national and Keys-based artists and art galleries at Morada Way between MM 81 and 82. Attendees can discover and enjoy a stimulating blend of fine art, live music and culinary offerings. moradawayarts.org.
Travelers can't miss the larger-than-life dolphin statue at Dolphin Research Center, MM 59 bayside on Grassy Key, but few realize that one of the first "Flippers" of television fame is buried beneath it. Tour the acclaimed nonprofit marine mammal research and education facility to meet its resident dolphins. dolphins.org
Not far away at the Turtle Hospital, MM 48.5 in Marathon, is the world's first state-licensed veterinary hospital for sea turtles. The hospital's specially designed "turtle ambulance" is generally parked outside the facility, and tours are offered daily so visitors can learn about the hospital and its "patients." turtlehospital.org.
A portion of the Old Bahia Honda Bridge, a dramatic reminder of the historic Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad, is a landmark at the 524-acre Bahia Honda State Park between MM 36 and 37. Pedestrians can stroll along the old bridge for a panoramic view of the park and surrounding azure water. bahiahondapark.com.
Lower Keys visitors can explore the Keys' marine environment on an island-hopping excursion aboard Strike Zone Charters' glass-bottom catamaran, departing from Strike Zone's headquarters at MM 29.5 bayside on Big Pine Key. The tour includes snorkeling, light-tackle fishing, bird watching, the occasional dolphin spotting and a private island beachfront fish cookout. strikezonecharter.com.
Hidden from view at the gateway to Key West is the 15-acre Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden. Situated just off College Road at MM 5 bayside, the garden features more than 6,000 plants and trees, and provides habitat for 35 butterfly species and more than 270 migratory bird species. Visitors can explore walking trails and boardwalk trails, a one-acre butterfly habitat, freshwater lake, wetland habitat and more. keywestbotanicalgarden.org.
Among the ruins of Key West's historic, never-used Civil War-era fort known as West Martello Tower is a beautiful garden featuring indigenous plants, rare palm trees and a butterfly garden. Located just past the intersection of Atlantic Boulevard and White Street, the fort is home to the Key West Garden Club and is called the Joe Allen Garden Center. keywestgardenclub.com.
The legacy of Key West's first millionaire, William Curry, lives on at the Curry Mansion Inn and Museum, located at 511 Caroline St. Today the home of innkeeper Edith Amsterdam, the grand Victorian-style mansion also is an intriguing museum listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is said that Key lime pie was originally created in the Curry Mansion kitchen by Curry's private cook, known as Aunt Sally. The Curry Mansion Inn and Museum is a full-service inn and is open to the public for tours. currymansion.com.
For more Florida Keys & Key West travel information, including electronic brochures and videos, explore this website at fla-keys.com.
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