Monthly Archives: October 2009

Journey Through the Florida Keys- Islamorada

(from TryCharterFishing.com)

Now Entering- ISLAMORADAislamorada_flats_fishing

Mile Markers: 89 to 71…give or take.

Welcome to Islamorada. You’ve seen all there is to see “above and below” the water in Key Largo, made the quick drive through the town of Tavernier, and have now entered the “Village of Islands” known as Islamorada. As you travel through Islamorada be prepared to have your camera out- you’ll want to capture the breathtaking views as you traverse the many channel and canal bridges that connect the islands. Now is also a good time to put your polarized sunglasses on. They will cut down the sun’s glare and make the vibrant shades of blues and greens come to life over the shallow water flats. Make note of the charter boats at Whale Harbor Marina (MM 83.5 O), and at Bud N’ Mary’s Marina (MM 80-O). These guys know how to catch fish, and TryCharterFishing.com will be glad to hook you up with one of them.

As you journey into Islamorada you will encounter a series of parks for your outdoor enjoyment. The first is Founder’s Park, located at MM 87-B, where there truly is something for everyone. Founder’s Park offers a beautiful and sandy swimming beach, an Olympic size pool, diving boards, boat docks, water sports rentals, baseball fields, basketball and volleyball courts, bicycle trails, a skate park, and more!

The next stop is Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park (MM 85.3-B). Take a leisurely stroll through the fossil reef quarry and learn about the ancient coral Henry Flagler used to help build the Overseas Railroad. At MM 78.5-B it’s time to leave dry land behind and head out to Indian Key Historic State Park. Rent a kayak from Robbie’s Marina (and DON’T forget to feed the tarpon while you are there) and paddle out to the secluded oceanside island. Stroll around the once home of Jacob Houseman, a noted wrecker, and learn about the island’s rich history. This is the perfect place to swim and snorkel in the clear surrounding waters, or to just relax and enjoy the peaceful solitude.

The final park in the Islamorada chain is Anne’s Beach, located at MM 73-O. Take a walk along the meandering boardwalk; have lunch in one of the water-front pavilions; swim or wade fish in the warm saltwater; or join the local extreme sports fanatics and try your hand at windsurfing.

islamoradaNow that you’re here, you need to learn how to pronounce Islamorada… if you haven’t already. It’s not difficult to say, nor hard learn- yet you’d be surprised how many people mispronounce it. EYE- LA-MORE-AAH-DA. Now say it fast, eyelamoreaahda- Islamorada.  Nothing says “tourist” like mispronouncing the town you are visiting- nothing except uttering the phrase “we’re heading to the Keys” (referring to Key West), when you’re already in the Keys. Remember, as soon as you reach Key Largo you are in the Florida Keys. People often misspeak and refer only to Key West as being “in the Keys.”

The term Islamorada means “purple isle,” a name given to the area by 16th century Spanish explorers. It is not known precisely why they referred to the land as “the purple isle”, but if we had to guess, we’d say the name has something to do with the awe-inspiring Florida Keys sunsets and the magical colors they produce when the sun is dissolved into the watery horizon. It’s possible the naming could also have been “grog induced,” but we’re going to go with our first guess, as it has more poetic value.

islamorada_bonefishTo get technical, Islamorada is actually a collection of islands consisting of Tea Table Key, Lower Matecumbe Key, Upper Matecumbe Key, Windley Key and Plantation Key. Islamorada is often referred to as the “Fishing Capital of the World” for the tremendous catches of both inshore and offshore species that are caught here. Islamorada is home to the largest collection of charter fishing boats in the Florida Keys, and hosts a number of renown fishing tournaments throughout the year. In the past, famous anglers such as former President George Bush Sr., author Zane Grey, and baseball legend Lou Gehrig made Islamorada their choice fishing destination…and there’s a reason why.

The waters around Islamorada have turned out more IGFA world-record fish than anywhere on the planet! Fill out our charter request form and we’ll connect you with one of Islamorada’s best fishing guides. You are, after all in the “Sport Fishing Capital of the World”- don’t pass up the chance to discover first-hand why Islamorada earned that moniker.

Below are the attractions, restaurants and accommodations that “us locals” recommend to OUR FRIENDS. These are our unbiased and honest opinions…you’d have to pay us a heck of a lot of money to list a place we don’t like!

Our Favorite Things to Do in Islamorada:

  • Get out on the water with one the best fishing guides in the world!
  • Bowl at the Fish Bowl (MM 83.2-B) – the Keys only regulation size bowling lanes.
  • Check out the Florida Keys History of Diving Museum (MM83-B) – see ancient artifacts and learn about the history of Florida Keys diving.
  • Visit the World Wide Sportsman store (MM 81.2-B), and see the cousins of the fish you’re going to soon catch, as they swim around in the store’s massive saltwater aquarium.
  • Enjoy the many parks and outdoor resources Islamorada provides.
  • Hand-feed the giant tarpon at Robbie’s (MM 78.5-B).
  • Try for an elusive Islamorada bonefish on fly.
  • Watch the sunset from the Channel 2 (MM 72.8) or Channel 5 (MM 71) Bridges.
  • Sip a cocktail by the water at one of the many great Islamorada bars and restaurants.
  • Paddle the canoe trail and camp by the water at Long Key State Park (MM 67.5-O, Layton).

Where we Eat, Drink, and Enjoy:

  • Boardwalk Pizza (Tavernier- MM 88-B)
  • Island Grill (MM 85-O)
  • Hog Heaven (MM 85-O)
  • Bentley’s (82.7-O)
  • The Whistle Stop (82.5-B)
  • Lorelei (MM 81.9-B, for the sunset and live music- get there early during season, they don’t take reservations!)
  • Kaiyo (MM 81.7-O)
  • Lazy Days (MM 79.8-O)

Where we “Sleep Off” the Margaritas and Key Lime Pie:

  • Casa Thorn B&B (MM 87.5-B)
  • Ragged Edge Resort (MM 86.5-O)
  • Coconut Cove (MM 84.8-O)
  • Kon-Tiki Resort (MM 81.2-B)
  • Islander Resort (MM 82.1-O)

Other Islamorada Mile Markers to note:

  • MM 87.0-B Upper Keys Sherriff Station
  • MM 86.7-B Rain Barrel Art Gallery
  • MM 84.2-O Theater of the Sea
  • MM 83.2-B Islamorada Chamber of Commerce
  • MM 82.6-O Islamorada Post Office
  • MM 81.9-B Islamorada Government Offices
  • MM 81.5-O Islamorada Library
  • MM 70-B Fiesta Key Campground

Journey Through the Florida Keys- Key Largo

(from TryCharterFishing.com)

Now Entering- KEY LARGO

Mile Markers: 112- 91…sounds about right.

key-largo-snorkelingWelcome to Key Largo. You have arrived here either via the “18-mile” stretch (MMs 126-108) of the Overseas Highway (US-1) that brought you in from Florida City, or the scenic, back-roads route along Card Sound Road (MM 126.5 heading south, MM 106.5 heading north). If you came in on US-1, we recommend taking Card Sound Road when you go to leave- if you have a few minutes to spare. It takes a little longer (25 miles), but it’s worth the extra drive. You’ll see the Florida Keys of yesteryear as you navigate past old fishing shacks; spot birds and other wildlife in and around the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary; and stop in for a bite and a cold beer at Alabama Jacks- a favorite watering hole of travelers for over 50 years. Just remember to bring $1.00 to pay the Card Sound Road toll on your way in, or out of the Keys.

As you journey into Key Largo on the 18-mile stretch you may spot a variety of birds and other wildlife. This area is bordered by the Everglades National Park, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and other waterways that are teaming with life. You may catch glimpse of a great blue heron, a roseate spoonbill, or any number of interesting critters such as the river otter and Everglades mink. You may also want to keep an eye out for alligators, or giant non-native Burmese pythons- which have recently begun to inhabit the area (scary stuff!). Continuing your drive you will venture over the recently revamped Jewfish Creek Bridge (MM 108), which offers an unobstructed view of Lake Surprise and opportunities to see large ospreys nesting high above the water (oceanside).

alabama-jacks-card-soundPlease remember to ALWAYS be alert when travelling this stretch of road into Key Largo. While the scenery is indeed alluring, the drive can be dangerous. Wait for designated passing zones when trying to pass slower vehicles, and always pay close attention to oncoming traffic. Measures have been taken to make this section of road safer, but every year more travelers are killed here than anywhere else in the Florida Keys. So be patient, relax, and enjoy the fact that you’re only minutes away from paradise.

Now that you’re here, you may be interested to know that Key Largo is the first and largest island in the Florida Keys chain. It is believed to have been named by Spanish explorers who dubbed the land “Cayo Largo,” or “long rock shoal” after making note of the rocky shoreline on their journey to discover the fountain of youth.  Over the years many ships have met their fate on the jagged barrier reef that lies just below Key Largo’s Atlantic waters. For that reason, Cayo Largo was once a notorious hangout for “wreckers” who preyed on the misfortune of passing vessels that weren’t equipped with today’s modern navigational luxuries. Wreckers would head out and “salvage” gold and treasure from sinking ships after they crashed into the sharp reef- sometimes even shining a signal light to “bait” the captains off course and into the reef, leading them to believe it was a lighthouse guiding them towards safe passage.

Today, Key Largo is known as the “Dive Capital of the World,” thanks to the phenomenal underwater diving and snorkeling opportunities provided by the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States. And, because of the ships which now rest on the sea bottom, offering a sanctuary to a variety of aquatic tropical plants and animals. Key Largo is home to the world’s largest artificial reef, the USS Spiegel Grove, an “intentionally” sunken 510-foot Navy vessel; and John Pennekamp State Park (MM 102.5-O), where you’ll find the nation’s first underwater dive park.

key-largo-kayaking-toursIn addition to attracting divers, Key Largo is a popular destination for anglers looking to target bonefish or permit on the flats; tarpon, snook and redfish in the backcountry; and sailfish, dolphin, snapper, grouper, and other hard fighting species offshore and at the reef. Eco-friendly tourists can kayak through parts of Everglades National Park; shoppers can get their fill at one of the many outlet stores located along US-1, and those craving a cold drink and a tasty meal, can indulge at one of a number of gourmet restaurants that serve waterfront cocktails and fresh seafood cuisine.

Below we have listed a few of our favorite attractions, restaurants and accommodations that “us locals” recommend to OUR FRIENDS. Remember, these are our unbiased opinions, not just a directory like you’ll find on other sites!

Our Favorite Things to Do in Key Largo:

  • Fish for bonefish in the shallows, or head offshore to reel in the big game fish.
  • Dive the USS Spiegel Grove- a 510-foot ship wreck which was sunk in 2002.
  • Enjoy a day at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (MM 102.5-O) – Take a snorkel, SCUBA, or glass bottom boat trip; or, have a picnic lunch, take a refreshing swim, and explore the park wildlife as you walk along one of the many nature trails.
  • Kayak through the backcountry and Everglades National Park.
  • Visit Humphrey Bogart’s African Queen (MM 100-O).
  • Swim with the dolphins at Dolphin Cove (MM 99-O).
  • Spend an afternoon at Harry Harris Park (92.5- O) – there’s a swimming beach, fishing areas, and a public boat launch.

Where we Eat and Drink and Enjoy:

  • Alabama Jacks (Card Sound Road)
  • Rib Daddy’s Steak & Seafood (102.5- B)
  • The Fish House Restaurant and Seafood Market (MM 102.4-O)
  • Calypso’s Seafood Grill (MM 100- O, off US-1)
  • Doc’s Diner (MM 99- B)
  • Old Tavernier Restaurant (MM 90.3-O)

Where we “Sleep Off” the Margaritas and Key Lime Pie:

  • Azul Del Mar (MM 104.3-B)
  • Marriott Key Largo Bay Beach Resort (MM 103.8-B)
  • John Pennekamp State Park (MM 102.5-O, camping)
  • Rock Reef Resort (MM 97.8- B)
  • Coconut Bay Resort (MM 97.7- B)
  • Dove Creek Lodge (MM 94.5- O)

Other Key Largo Mile Markers include:

  • MM 106-B Key Largo Chamber of Commerce
  • MM 103.2-B Silent World Dive Center
  • MM 99.8-B Key Largo Post Office
  • MM 91.3-B Mariner’s Hospital
  • MM 91.3-B Tavernier Cinema
  • MM 91 Tavernier Creek Bridge (entering Islamorada)

Journey Through the Florida Keys- Introduction

(from TryCharterFishing.com)

A Local’s Guide to Travelling through and Enjoying Paradise

KEY LARGO – ISLAMORADA – MARATHON – BIG PINE & THE LOWER KEYS -KEY WESTseven-mile-bridge-marathon

As mainland Florida disappears into the passing reflections of your rearview mirror, and you become engulfed in the tranquil blues and greens of the Atlantic and Florida Bay waters, you soon realize that you’ve entered a part of the country that is truly unique.

A land unimpeded by sky-rise office buildings, rush-hour traffic jams and bright city lights. A place where nature overshadows development; where there are more saltwater canals and channels, than paved roads and parking lots; and where the preferred method of travel is by boat or bicycle, not by car or truck.

You’ve come upon a chain of islands where history is remembered through abandoned bridges, sunken fishing boats, hurricane monuments, and long lost lobster traps. A destination where anglers head to pursue world-record catches; divers and snorkelers voyage to explore the only living coral reef system in the continental United States; and visitors from around the globe travel to enjoy year-round sunshine, and balmy tropical temperatures.

You have arrived in the Florida Keys, and your journey into paradise begins here, with TryCharterFishing.com.

We’ve created a comprehensive Guide to the Florida Keys, that will assist you along the way as you embark on one of the world’s most scenic and enjoyable drives.

florida-keys-lobster-trapsWe’ll share with you our favorite activities; our must see attractions; the restaurants we eat at; and the hotels and accommodations that we recommend to our friends (when we get tired of them sleeping on our couches). This is an unbiased guide, written from a local’s point of view, that we hope will help you discover all the reasons we live, work, and enjoy life in the beautiful Florida Keys.

So follow along as we travel to Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine & the Lower Florida Keys, and finally Key West.

First stop:Key Largo chairs_dock_florida_keys

 

A quick note about Mile Markers: In the Florida Keys, businesses and attractions are referenced by the green mile markers (MMs) located alongside the Overseas Highway (US-1). These begin in Key West (MM 0), and increase as you head east and then north to Florida City (MM 127.5). Throughout this guide we will refer to locations by the mile markers closest to them. “Bayside,” or “Gulfside,” refers to the right-hand side of the road if you are travelling towards Key West. “Oceanside” will be on your left. If travelling away from Key West, Bayside or Gulfside will be on your left, and the Atlantic Ocean will be on your right. Throughout this guide we will refer to the Bayside or Gulfside with a “B,” and the Oceanside with an “O.”

Journey Through the Florida Keys

Well, there hasn’t been a whole lot going on down here lately—except for some interesting costumes at last weekends Marathon Jaycees Halloween Party— and Fantasy Fest in Key West (which I may head to Thursday and will try to get some pics).

There fortunately has not been any more shark attacks since the guy was bitten one canal over from me a few weeks back (NOTE TO TOURISTS: I do not advise swimming in Key Colony Beach canals- we see bull sharks almost every night swimming up and down savaging for food); I haven’t been fishing much (although hope to soon); it’s been too windy to kayak; and I’ve yet to replace my digital camera that drowned out in the Atlantic a few months back so I have no pics to share.

So… to try and keep some content rolling on this site, I thought I would share a brief summary of the Florida Keys that I wrote for TryCharterFishing.com.

Hopefully this “Journey through the Florida Keys” will help some of you venturing to the islands find some fun and exciting things to do while you’re here. I also have recommendations on where to eat and sleep during your Keys Vacation.

Part I is just an introduction, so check back throughout the week to read about Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine and the Lower Keys, and Key West.