Spanning 200 nautical miles, the Florida Keys arc southwest from Virginia Key in the Atlantic Ocean (just south of Miami Beach) to Loggerhead Key in Dry Tortugas National Park, a remote seven-island archipelago in the Gulf of Mexico, 70 miles off Key West. The islands are easy to navigate. Cruising in the Keys can mean a leisurely and scenic sail through the shallow interconnected basins of Florida Bay or a more adventurous trip out on the open waters of the Atlantic. But it’s not all plain sailing. Mariners can drop anchor in a coral cove to swim, snorkel, or fish, or dock at a seafood restaurant for conch fritters and Rum Runner cocktails. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects nearly 4,000 square miles of waters surrounding the islands, including North America’s only coral barrier reef and more than 6,000 species of marine life, as well as shipwrecks and other archeological sites.
To explore the keys by land, follow Overseas Highway (US 1), a 113-mile-long stretch from Key Largo to Key West. The “Highway that Goes to Sea” crosses 42 bridges in all, including Seven Mile Bridge. Along the way are unique communities, including Islamorada, the “Sportfishing Capital of the World; the romantic Little Palm Island; and Big Pine Key, home to the tiny Key Deer. All roads lead to Key West—continental America’s southernmost city: a place described as “close to perfect and far from normal,” where flip flops are the official shoe and every day the sunset is celebrated.