Planning a Florida Keys vacation? Check this guide to top stops along the way

Looking to unwind this summer with a relaxing beachside vacation? Luckily for you, the Florida Keys is still open for business.

One of Florida’s most popular vacation getaways, the Keys is back up and running — albeit with some new COVID-19 guidelines. While nearly all of the restaurants and attractions are operating, they’re subject to social distancing and limited capacity in some instances.

In addition, everyone in Monroe County, which covers the 125-mile island chain, must wear masks indoors and outside when social distancing isn’t possible. While the Keys is known for being a laid-back destination, the mask mandate extends to any roofed areas — including the copious number of outdoor tiki restaurants and bars, so be prepared.

“We’re just trying to work with officials and and still provide a fun and enjoyable, typical Florida Keys experience,” said Andy Newman, media relations director for the Florida Keys and Key West Tourism Council. “But we need to do it under today’s COVID requirements and to keep people safe.”

Outside of restaurants, many tourist attractions are recommending guests book reservations online due to limited capacity, so make sure to check individual websites for more information.

Despite the guidelines, there’s still plenty of great places to visit this summer. Here’s a guide of some of the top spots in the Florida Keys.

Upper Keys

MM 102: John Pennekamp State Park. 102601 Overseas Highway, Key Largo,

Established in 1973, John Pennekamp State Park is a great family-friendly option for outdoor activities. Covering approximately 70 nautical square miles of coral reef and seagrass beds, the park offers terrific snorkeling and scuba diving. In addition, visitors can check out the scenic views via kayaking and canoeing.

The park is open daily from 8 a.m. until sunset.

MM 102: The Fish House. 102401 Overseas Highway, Key Largo,

Offering a seafood menu with yellowtail snapper, mahi-mahi, grouper, Florida lobster and stone crab, The Fish House is one of many great eateries in Key Largo. Operating since 1982, the restaurant has expanded its outside seating to compliment limited in indoor seating.

MM 101: Hobo’s Cafe. 101691 Overseas Highway, Key Largo,

Described as an “authentic Keys eatery” by National Geographic, Hobo’s Cafe menu features local seafood, burgers and numerous other tasty options. The Key Largo spot is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

MM 99: Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen. 99336 Overseas Highway, Key Largo,

The popular seafood restaurant has two locations separated by less than a mile – “Original Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen” and “Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen II.” Both spots are open Monday-Saturday for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

MM 94.5: Snappers. 139 Seaside Ave., Key Largo,

Established in 1989, Snapper’s provides a casual waterfront setting with live music and diverse seafood menu. The kitchen is open Monday-Friday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

MM 88: Marker 88. 8800 Overseas Highway, Islamorada,

The beachfront restaurant offers a laid-back vibe with ample seafood cuisine. Located at – wait for it – mile marker 88, the Islamorada spot is open daily.

MM 84: Theater of the Sea. 84721 Overseas Highway, Islamorada,

A great family-friendly option, Theater of the Sea provides visitors with the chance for numerous up-close animal encounters. Guests can swim with dolphins, nurse sharks and sea lions, plus scope out the alligators and parrots on the facility. Theater of the Sea also offers private snorkel cruises and general admission tours. Visitors looking for up-close interactions are asked to book online.

MM 82: Lorelai Restaurant and Cabana Bar. 96 Madeira Road, Islamorada,

Known for the distinctive large mermaid stationed over the entrance, the seafood restaurant offers a beautiful scenic view of Florida Bay. With gorgeous sunsets and nightly live music, Lorelai’s provides guests with a popular and relaxing waterfront spot.

MM 82: Islamorada Fish Company. 81532 Overseas Highway, Islamorada,

Operating since 1948, Islamorada Fish Company provides fresh Florida seafood and great scenery off the water. The restaurant is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

MM 77.5: Robbie’s Marina. 77522 Overseas Highway,

With a variety of outdoor activities, Robbie’s has become a go-to spot for people looking to hit the water. The marina offers snorkeling, fishing, parasailing and tarpon feeding, along with boat, jet ski and kayak rentals.

MM 80: Bud ‘N Mary’s Marina. 79851 Overseas Highway, Islamorada,

Established in 1944, the fishing marina provides a plethora of resources for those looking to hit the water. Offering charter boats and deep sea fishing trips, Bud N’ Mary’s also provides diving and snorkeling for water enthusiasts. Party boat capacity is currently limited at 50 percent.

Middle Keys

MM 59: Dolphin Research Center. 58901 Overseas Highway, Grassy Key,

If you’re looking to spend the day with dolphins, you’ve come to the right place. The Dolphin Research Center offers guests a variety of options, including the chance to swim with dolphins or learn more about them through interactive programs. Kids can also cool down at the family sprayground during their visit.

Operating at 50 percent capacity, guests are encouraged to reserve their spots online.

MM 53: Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters. 1710 Overseas Highway, Marathon,

The marine aquarium offers numerous interactive experiences, including feeding nurse sharks, snorkeling in the coral reef tank and immersing yourself the stingray tank. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters encourages guests to make reservations online or over the phone.

MM 48.5: The Turtle Hospital. 2396 Overseas Highway, Marathon,

Dedicated to rehabilitating endangered sea turtles, The Turtle Hospital offers tours and educational programs throughout its facility, which includes 23 individual tanks and 100,000 gallon salt water pool. Space is limited, so guests are asked to make a reservation beforehand.

MM 47: Sunset Grille and Raw Bar. 7 Knights Key Blvd., Marathon, SunsetGrille7MileBridge

The grille is known for its waterfront dining, as well as its beach party every Sunday at its large pool. During the virus, the restaurant is still operating, but there are certainly changes.

The restaurant said it is sitting parties 6 feet apart at the tables and the bar. They have removed some tables and chairs from operation.

The hours are from 8 a.m. and last seating is at 9 p.m.

MM 37: Bahia Honda State Park. Bahia Honda Key,

The state park is best known for its snorkeling, which offers tours to the Looe Key National Sanctuary. The snorkel trips resume July 14 at limited capacity. Kayak rentals are also not currently available.

In the meantime, visitors can visit the park’s Loggerhead and Calusa beaches, where they can swim in both the Atlantic Ocean side and the Gulf side.

Make a reservation to camp out just steps from oceans, though cabin rentals are halted until further notice.

The park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset.

MM 30.2: National Key Deer Wildlife Refuge. Big Pine Key

The Key Deer are an endangered species that are unique to the lower Florida Keys. And the best way to see them is at the wildlife refuge in Big Pine Key, where many of its outdoor spaces are open to the public.

Try to spot them from the Blue Hole observation platform, a limsestone quarry now filled with freshwater that many different species of floral and fauna call home. Or try walking through the Mannillo Trail.

The National Key Deer NWR Nature Center is closed until further notice. Public use areas like Blue Hole, nature trails and rustic trails will be open from dawn to dusk.

No Name Pub. 30813 Watson Blvd, Big Pine Key,

No Name Pub has been a staple on Big Pine Key since 1931 when it opened as a general and bait and tackle store. Since then, it has operated as a brothel and now a restaurant and bar. You may recognize the inside of the pub – its walls and ceilings are hidden by the thousands of dollar bills signed and stapled on by patrons.

The pub is operating at 50% capacity. It is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

MM 27.5: Boondocks Grille and Draft House. Ramrod Key, 27205 Overseas Highway

This restaurant features the only mini-golf course in the Florida Keys, as well live music every night. Both have resumed for the summer.

The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., while the mini-golf course is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

MM 22.5: Square Grouper Bar and Grill. Cudjoe Key,

The popular seafood join is open for dine in, pick up and delivery.

Key West

MM 0: Hemingway Home. 907 Whitehead St., Key West,

The Hemingway Home is one of the most popular destinations in Old Town Key West. Hemingway fans visit the Spanish Colonial estate that one of the most well-known American writers called home.

The home is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. As of right now, The Hemingway Home said there are no extra summer events.

And yes, as of the beginning of July, the cats are still there. Dozens of the famous cats, including the polydactyl descendants of Hemingway’s cats, roam around the property.

MM 0: Conch Train Tours. 201 Front St., Suite 224, Key West,

One of the most well-known ways to explore Old Town Key West, the tour begins at Front Street Depot and ends at Mallory Square. The train makes stops close to the Hemingway Home, lighthouse and the Southernmost Point.

The tours are operating from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The tours are taking social distancing measures and enforcing masks.

MM 0: Mallory Square. 400 Wall St., Key West,

The sunset celebration is still happening. Of course, with the coronavirus, there are many changes in the operation of the celebration. gather to watch performers, listen to live music and buy from local artisans.

The Sunset celebration is still happening. Of course, with the coronavirus, there are many changes.

Many of the original performers are still there, including a high wire tightrope act and jugglers on 10 foot unicycles. However, the performers have to stay a distance from the crowds and cannot interact with them.

Vendors and customers in retail areas must wear masks. There are also hand sanitizing stations located throughout the pier.


©2020 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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