Begin planning your ideal trip to the Florida Keys by exploring the top 5 islands that make up this coral cay archipelago!
Reasons to Visit the Florida Keys
The Florida Keys provide a tropical escape with sunshine and island vibes right in the contiguous United States. With over 1,700 islands, the 5 main island destinations include Key West, the Lower Keys, Marathon, Islamorada, and Key Largo, each deserving a spot on your travel itinerary.
Here are some reasons why you should consider visiting the Florida Keys:
Nature enthusiasts will appreciate the wildlife refuges, national and state parks, and breathtaking tropical landscapes.
Water sports and fishing are incredibly popular, with world-renowned saltwater fishing drawing in countless visitors each year.
A trip to the Keys would not be complete without snorkeling or diving in the waters around the islands, renowned for their stunning shipwrecks and coral reefs that attract marine life both big and small.
History buffs will enjoy learning about the storied roots of the Keys, with historic fishing villages and indigenous history adding depth to your trip.
Key West is home to the southernmost point in the United States, offering a unique photo opportunity.
Key Largo, known as the Diving Capital of the World, offers an underwater hotel experience for a fully immersive and unforgettable trip.
While there are over 1,700 islands in this archipelago, only 43 are connected to the highway leading to Key West from Miami, making island hopping a breeze.
For those seeking a more secluded experience, take a boat to visit some of the smaller, less developed islands off the beaten path.
With so many reasons to visit the Florida Keys, it can be challenging to decide which islands to explore. To help you plan your trip, let’s take a closer look at the top 5 islands in the Florida Keys!
The Best Islands in the Florida Keys
Trying to choose which island to visit in the Florida Keys? The answer depends on what you’re looking for in your vacation. Each island offers a distinct experience, from tranquil natural settings to lively social scenes complete with famous nightlife and festivals.
Here are the top 5 islands in the Florida Keys:
- Big Pine Key
- Key Largo
- Key West
Read on to discover what makes each island unique, including what it’s known for, what types of accommodations you can expect, and how long it takes to reach the island from Miami.
Ideal for: Fishing, diving, water sports, parks Lodging: Mid-tier to luxury options Access: A comfortable 2.5-hour drive from Miami
Comprised of six islands, Islamorada is a tranquil and uncrowded destination in the Keys that appeals to fishing enthusiasts. Its saltwater flats are a prime spot to hook snook and bonefish, while deeper waters are teeming with tuna, sailfish, and sharks.
Divers and snorkelers will also find plenty to explore, from shallow coral reefs to shipwrecks and mini wall reefs. On land, you can visit the marine mammal park for dolphin encounters, explore museums, and dine on delicious seafood at local restaurants.
While there are various accommodation options, note that Islamorada has fewer budget-friendly choices than other Keys.
Marathon, a 10-mile island chain located in the middle of the Florida Keys, is perfect for families, ecotours, fishing, and diving. Compared to Islamorada, Marathon provides a wider range of activities and options for families.
The island chain includes smaller islands like Vaca Key, Grassy Key, Boot Key, Hog Key, and Fat Deer Key, where visitors can choose from several resorts, hotels, and vacation rentals.
Families can enjoy a variety of water sports in Marathon, including diving, snorkeling, paddle boarding, and windsurfing. With 8 marinas, boaters can explore nearby islands, fish, or simply enjoy the scenery.
Marathon also offers some fantastic wildlife attractions, including a Turtle Hospital, where kids can learn about turtles, a dolphin research center that provides interactive tours, and the Crane Point Museum, which offers educational wildlife activities.
Seafood lovers can indulge in daily fresh catches or cook their own catch at local seafood joints that serve up delicious local flavors. Fly fishing and deep-sea fishing are popular activities in Marathon, and visitors can even attend the Original Marathon Seafood Festival in early March. Access to Marathon is easy, with a drive time of just over 3 hours from Miami.
Big Pine Key
Best for: Natural beauty, ecotours, diving, solitude Accommodations: Limited to a few resorts and vacation rentals Access: Longer 3.5-hour drive from Miami
Big Pine Key, part of the Lower Keys (along with Summerland Key, Big Torch Key, Little Torch Key, Cudjoe Key, Sugarloaf Key, Big Coppitt Key, Saddlebunch Keys, and Stock Island), is a haven for travelers seeking solitude in the Florida Keys.
This island is one of the few remaining unspoiled natural areas in the Keys. The National Key Deer Refuge covers over 8,500 acres and is home to the tiny, dog-sized Key deer and other wildlife.
While the beaches here may not be the typical pristine white sand variety, Bahia Honda Beach in the state park of the same name offers 500 acres of stunning natural beauty.
Dive the 210-foot Adolphus Busch Sr. freighter shipwreck off the coast of Big Pine Key, or explore the Looe Key protected coral reef just south of the island.
Take a bridge to No Name Key, where hiking trails wind through hardwood pine forests with ocean views just feet away.
Don’t miss the Blue Hole, an abandoned rock quarry now filled with freshwater. When you’re ready to step out of the wilderness, there’s the Big Pine Flea Market and a handful of restaurants to choose from.
Accommodations on Big Pine Key are limited to a few resorts and vacation rentals, so make sure to book in advance.
Best for: Scuba diving, snorkeling, national and state parks
Accommodations: Numerous options available for every budget
Access: Easily accessible by car from Miami and nearby airports
“Key Largo, Montego, baby, why don’t we go?” – sang The Beach Boys, and for good reason! Key Largo is one of the best islands in the Florida Keys and the first one you’ll encounter when driving south from Miami.
Its convenient location near South Florida makes it a popular destination for both locals and out-of-state travelers looking for a warm and relaxed island escape that’s not too far from home.
Key Largo boasts two state parks, a national park, winding creeks, and lush tropical forests that are typical of island scenery, with palm trees, sandy beaches, and endless ocean views.
But Key Largo is most famous for being the scuba diving capital of the world. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary here is home to a 510-foot sunken Navy ship and many other incredible dive sites.
There is a wide range of accommodation options in Key Largo, from affordable rooms to luxurious beach house rentals and private resorts.
There is even an underwater hotel here, where guests can admire marine life through their room’s porthole and access it by scuba diving.