Monthly Archives: November 2009
Congrats to Captain Ty Price and Nick Borraccino for helping landing this once-in-a-lifetime catch this past week. This fish, which weighed in at 504-pounds, was caught Thursday off Marathon, Florida.
Photos courtesy of Denise Matzen.
Stay tuned- I’m hoping to do a feature on Ty and Nick’s catch to be published in next week’s Florida Keys Weekly Newspapers.
Now Entering- KEY WEST
Mile Markers: 6 to zero…including Stock Island.
Welcome to Key West…the end of the road. It’s been a fun and exciting journey through the Florida Keys and now you have reached the southernmost city in the continental United States. If Key West was your destination from the start, we hope that you were able to learn about and explore the places you travelled through along the way. If you drove straight through, we suggest you come back (soon and often) and stay a few nights in Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon and the Lower Florida Keys. After all, Key West is home to only a fraction of the natural beauty and exciting attractions waiting to be discovered in the Florida Keys. So remember, each of the islands you passed through along your journey is a destination in itself.
As you begin your decent into Key West you will first travel through Stock Island (MM 6-4), home to many local fishermen, shrimpers, lobstermen and crabbers. While Stock Island is often overlooked by travelers in a rush to reach Key West, we recommend taking a few moments to check out a few of the joints that we like to hang out at. For fresh seafood, try the Shrimp Shack at Fishbusterz (Front Street- oceanside). Enjoy freshly prepared catches of fish, Key West pink shrimp, and other tasty seafood creations while overlooking one of the Keys’ largest shrimpin’ fleets. Just down the road, Hogfish Bar & Grill is another local’s favorite and “old Keys” establishment (also located on Front Street)). Grab a delicious hogfish sandwich (our favorite fish to eat!), or just enjoy a cold beer by the water.
Stock Island is also home to the Lower Keys Medical Center (MM 5-B) and the Key West Golf Course (MM 5-B) – the only regulation length golf course in the Florida Keys that is open to the public. Call the pro shop, or check their website for special rates. Greens fees can be a bit pricey during the peak tourist season (November-March) so our favorite time to play is in the summer when they offer discounts. The layout of the course is quite challenging- especially when the winds kick up, and it’s pretty cool to play golf on an island.
As you drive into Key West you’ll come to a traffic light (MM 3.9), signaling the end of the single-road navigation that guided you in. If you take a right at the traffic light you will merge onto North Roosevelt Blvd. – to the left is South Roosevelt (aka A1A). This is where the majority of hotels outside of “Old Town” Key West are located. While there are many excellent accommodations in this area, we suggest looking for a room or vacation rental closer to Old Town if you haven’t yet booked your accommodations. The hotels in this part of the island are 3 to 4 miles away from the popular tourist attractions and the restaurants that you’ll want to visit, and you’ll either have to drive, take a cab, or find a hotel shuttle to take you back and forth. If you want to avoid the crowds, or want to be closer to one of the Key West beaches, this may be where you’ll want to stay. Also note that if you “bid” on a hotel room using auction sites such as Priceline.com or Hotwire.com, this is likely where you’ll end up. Read below about the hotels we recommend staying at closer to Old Town Key West.
If you take a right at the light, North Roosevelt will lead you through the commercialized part of town- where you’ll find retail stores, chain restaurants and fast food joints. While this isn’t the part of Key West you came to explore, the area does offer many conveniences if you’re looking for a quick bite to eat or you forgot to pack an item for your trip. As you continue on North Roosevelt you will see Garrison Bight Marina, home to some of the best Key West charter fishing boats. Take a right at charter boat row (Palm Avenue) and head over the causeway. At the end of Palm Avenue take a left onto Eaton Street. This will take you towards the end of Duval Street where you’ll find popular bars such as Sloppy Joes, Captain Tony’s Saloon, Irish Kevin’s- and Mallory Square, where you’ll want to head for the “sunset celebration.”
Take a right on Margaret or Grinnell Street (just before you get to Duval) and you’ll be led to the Historic Seaport, where you’ll find the ever-popular Schooner Wharf Bar (good happy hour), and many of our favorite waterfront dining options including Conch Republic Seafood, Raw Bar, and Turtle Kraals. This is also where you’ll find the City Marina, where even more professional charter captains and flats fishing guides ready to take you out for a memorable day on the water. The ferry to Fort Myers, and the boats that take you over to the Dry Tortugas National Park also depart here.
If you stayed straight on N. Roosevelt (instead of turning at the marina), the road will become Truman Avenue and take you towards the other end of Duval Street. This is the location of a variety of art galleries, great shopping, and some of Key West’s more eclectic restaurants. Head past Duval and take the first right on Whitehead Street. Just a hundred yards down the road you will come to the Ernest Hemingway Key West Home and Museum- where “Papa” lived and wrote for over ten years. We recommend taking the guided tour that teaches you many interesting facts about our favorite writer.
After visiting Hemingway’s house turn around and head south on Whitehead Street. At the end of the road you’ll see a structure that looks like a large stone “JuJubee” candy. Actually, this is the monument that marks the Southernmost Point in the continental United States. The real southernmost point is in the nearby Truman Annex, but since that land is owned by the Navy and off-limits to civilians, we recommend getting your picture taken here so you don’t wind up in the brig.
If you take South Roosevelt at the US-1 split (way back at the traffic light) you will drive past the Key West International Airport, and the Key West beaches. The first beach you will see on your left is Smather’s beach, which is two-miles long and Key West’s largest beach. REMEMBER- Key West is not known for its beaches. You won’t find endless stretches of white sand and crashing waves here like you will on Florida’s east and west coasts-the barrier coral reef keeps this from occuring. Still, Smather’s Beach, as well as South Beach, and the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, offer great opportunities to swim, sunbath, windsurf and snorkel in the tropical sun and warm water. Just past Smather’s Beach, South Roosevelt will veer to the right. Take the first left on Atlantic Blvd, a right onto Whitehead Street, and then a left onto South Street and you again will reach Duval and will be able to access the “southernmost Jujubee”.
If you have any trouble with directions just pick up one of the coupon guides you’ll see along the way. It’s best not to seek advice from the more “colorful” Key West residents (you’ll recognize them by their long beards, bicycles, and cardboard signs) as we’re not quite sure they even know where they are. If you get lost just remember that Duval Street runs north and south from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, and Roosevelt and Truman, run east and west.
Now that you’re here, you’ll want to know about Key West’s rich and fascinating history. The island of Key West was originally named “Cayo Hueso” or “Bone Island” by Spanish explorers who came ashore and found the island littered with skeletal remains- either from an ancient burial ground, or from a bloody battle fought between indigenous tribes who had been pushed south by “Old World” settlers of Florida.
Key West was colonized in the early 1820s and around the same time was claimed as an official US territory by the United States Navy. About that same time, Cayo Hueso was renamed “Key West” by English speaking inhabitants who either incorrectly translated “hueso” to mean, “West,” or because of the island’s westward geographical location. As the deepest port between New Orleans and Norfolk, Virginia, and because of its close proximity to the heavily travelled shipping route of the Florida Straits, Key West’s population rapidly grew.
Into the decades that followed Key West’s economy would flourish as a result of the wrecking and salvage industries. Many citizens became wealthy thanks to the valuable cargo that was “claimed” by Key West wreckers after trade ships crashed into the nearby reef. People from all over the world came to the island to purchase the salvaged goods of Spanish Galleons; and for a time- Key West was the richest city in all of Florida. The fishing industry, cigar trade, and most notably- the sponge industry, prospered around this time as well. This is also the era when immigrants from the Bahamas, referred to as “Conchs” (say conk), began arriving. We still use the word “conch” today to refer to lifelong Keys residents.
Key West’s population and economy was in decline until Henry Flagler connected the isolated island to the Florida mainland in 1912. This marked the start of Key West as a tourism epicenter and began the creation of the town you now see today. During the prohibition era Key West became a popular destination for bootleggers who took on the task of running booze into the U.S. from Cuba and the Bahamas. The endless miles of coastline, multitude of hiding spots, and difficult geography for the Coast Guard to patrol, made the islands a popular drug smuggling “port” all the way through the 1980s.
One of Key West’s more colorful moments happened in 1982 when the island declared itself the Conch Republic and “mockingly” succeeded from the Union. This took place in protest of a U.S. Border Patrol roadblock in Florida City, where cars traveling into the Keys were stopped and checked for drugs and illegal immigrants. Seeing this as a major obstruction for Key West tourism-then Mayor Dennis Wardlow, standing in Mallory Square, declared war against the United States, quickly surrendered, and then demanded a billion dollars in foreign aid for Key West’s war relief effort. Shortly thereafter the blockade was lifted, and the lure of the “Conch Republic” was born. If you’re in Key West in late April, be sure to check out the Conch Republic’s annual week-long Independence celebration.
Over the years many famous celebrities have made their home in Key West. The list includes President Harry Truman, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Mel Fisher, Jimmy Buffett, Shel Silverstein, John Audubon, and Calvin Kline.
Today, Key West has changed a great deal since the days of wreckers and rum runners, but still possesses a charm unlike anywhere in the world. Palm lined-streets, exhausted cemeteries and run-down conch homes tell of a time long since passed- while modern sidewalk cafes, art galleries, gourmet restaurants, lively nightlife, and risqué entertainment (like Fantasy Fest), continue to lure visitors to the island.
Getting around Key West can be a bit tricky. Watch for pedestrians and people riding bicycles and scooters while you’re driving around. Also look for one-way street signs and make sure not park in one of the many tow-away or permit required zones. Most of the hotels located on Roosevelt offer shuttle services to and from Old Town, and there are plenty of Key West “pink” taxis driving around to also get you where you need to go. If you want to go the “green” route, and soak up some rays in the process, hop aboard a Key West pedi-cab and get peddled you from one end of Duval to the other. If you arrive in Key West on a cruise line, pedi-cabs are a great way to see the town in a short period of time. Also keep in mind that almost anywhere in the Old Town area is within walking distance- once you get down there.
Key West does offer free parking, but it can be very difficult to find. One of our favorite places to park is off Truman Street before you get to Duval. There are usually spots available on the “outgoing” side of the street as you head away from Old Town. Your best bet is to try the side streets a little further away from Old town and walk to the Duval area. We have also found free parking on and around Eaton Street. Just make sure to not park in residential areas where you need to have a permit. If a space is not marked however, you can usually park there. If you are willing to pay to park (which is often worth it) we recommend parking at the Old Town Garage (951 Caroline) $1.50/hour, or $10.00/day, or the City Hall Parking Garage (525 Angela). Metered parking is also available on most streets but can add up quickly. If you are in Key West during fantasy fest or New Year’s Eve, it may be smart to take public transportation into town from Stock Island or another one of the Lower Keys.
Listed below are the Lower Keys attractions, restaurants and accommodations that “us locals” recommend to OUR FRIENDS. These are our unbiased opinions, and we recommend that you write them down before you spend a night on Duval Street and forget what we told you.
Our Favorite Things to Do in Key West:
- Fish for Blue Marlin (like Hemingway did) in the Florida Straits.
- Attend an exciting event- Fantasy Fest, Hemingway Days, Conch Republic Celebration, Offshore Power Boat Races, World Sailfish Tournament- there’s ALWAYS something going on in Key West.
- Go on a snorkel sunset cruise (Historic Seaport).
- Watch the sunset and street performers at Mallory Square.
- Take a tour of Ernest Hemingway’s House (907 Whitehead Street) and question why all the cats have six toes.
- Head by boat to the Dry Tortugas (Historic Seaport) – a vacation in itself.
- Walk around, people watch, and admire the city’s beautiful architecture.
- Swim, relax, and tour the fort at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park (Truman Annex).
- Party on Duval Street! There’s nowhere else like it.
- See the treasures of the sea at the Mel Fisher Museum (200 Greene).
- Head to the top of the Crown Plaza Hotel (430 Duval) for the best view of Key West.
Where we Eat, Drink, and Enjoy:
BARS (Old Town area)
- Green Parrot (601 Whitehead)
- The Whistle Bar (224 Duval- drink specials on the second floor)
- Schooner Wharf (Historic Seaport)
- Cowboy Bills (618 Duval- for $1 Beers)
- Finnegan’s Wake (320 Grinnell)
- Irish Kevin’s (211 Duval) and Sloppy Joe’s (201 Duval) – if you want to do the tourist thing
- Captain Tony’s Saloon (428 Greene)
- Rum Barrel (528 Front St.)
- Two Friends Patio Bar (512 Front St.)
- Caroline’s (310 Duval)
- Pepe’s Café (806 Caroline)
- Salsa Loca (918 Duval)
- Blue Heaven (729 Thomas)
- Conch Republic (Historic Seaport)
- A&B’s Lobster House (700 Front St.)
- Santiago’s Bodega (207 Petronia)
- Square One (1075 Duval)
- Hogfish (Stock Island)
- Shrimp Shack (Stock Island)
- Raw Bar (Historic Seaport)
Where we “Sleep Off” the Margaritas and Key Lime Pie:
- Key Lime Inn (725 Truman)
- Crown Plaza La Concha (430 Duval)
- Pier House Resort (1 Duval)
- La Te Da Hotel (1125 Duval)
- Almond Tree Inn (512 Truman)
- Key West B&B (415 William)
- Alexander Palms Court (715 South St.)
- Sunset Key Cottages (Sunset Key)
Now Entering- BIG PINE & THE LOWER FLORIDA KEYS
Mile Markers: 40-6….the Seven-Mile Bridge to Key West.
Welcome to Big Pine and the Lower Florida Keys. First stop, Bahia Honda State Park (MM 36.8-O)- our favorite place to take out our camera phones and send photographs of palm trees and pelicans to our envious friends back home (Note- they don’t seem to appreciate this much, especially the ones up north during the winter months). Just follow the park signs that you’ll see while driving along US-1, and you will be led into one of the true gems of the Florida Keys. At Bahia Honda State Park you will find calm, clear waters that are ideal from swimming, kayaking and snorkeling; and Sandspur Beach- annually voted one of the most beautiful beaches on the continent by the Travel Channel. Bahia Honda offers water-front camping at a number of tent and RV sites, as well as endless opportunities to enjoy nature (there are plants and flowers here that grow nowhere else in the world). Before you leave , don’t forget to walk to the top of the old Bahia Honda Railroad Bridge and look out over the breathtaking Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico waters. In our opinion, there is no better view in all of the Florida Keys than here.
Immediately after crossing the Bahia Honda Bridge (MM 36), turn off to the right at MM 35-B and park in the gravel parking lot. Walk towards the water and you will find a deep lagoon referred to as the “Horseshoe.” This off-the-beaten path dive and snorkel site is actually an old quarry where coral was dug out to use in the construction of the Bahia Honda Bridge. This is a great place to snorkel and SCUBA dive- especially on windy days, as it offers protection from choppy seas, and the water is always clear. An abundance of sea life, including parrotfish, barracuda, snapper, and small tropical fish can be found around the coral base of the Horseshoe, as well as lurking in the dark waters of the quarry’s center.
Continuing on your journey you will enter Big Pine Key (MM 33-29), the second largest island of the Florida Keys; and home to the endangered and often hard-to-spot Key deer. Keep your eyes open for these little guys (they look just like whitetail deer, only smaller) as you drive through Big Pine. Often you will see them along the back roads or eating mangroves or thatch palm berries along the side of the road. Your best chance of seeing a Key deer is at the National Key Deer Wildlife Refuge. To get here, turn bayside at Key Deer Blvd (MM 30.2) and travel ¼ of a mile to the visitor center. Here you will find 9,200 acres of land set aside to protect and preserve the Key deer population. Ask at the visitor center where the prime Key deer viewing locations are located.
Past the Key Deer Refuge you will find another wonderful wildlife observation area. The Blue Hole, as it was dubbed for the blue hue of the water, is the only fresh water lake in the Florida Keys, and a great place to see alligators, snakes, iguanas, birds and a variety of other plants and animals. Since you’re in the area, you might as well also follow the signs towards No Name Key- where you will find one of the Florida Keys best restaurant hideaways, the No Name Pub. This historic watering hole and food joint is a favorite of locals and tourists alike who come here for arguably one of the best slices of pizza pie in the Keys.
As you continue west along the Overseas Highway, you will pass a number of less- commercialized islands that offer solitude and relaxation. After crossing the North Pine Channel Bridge (MM 29.3) you will enter the Torch Keys (MM 29-28). On Little Torch Key you will find the ferry (MM 28.5-O) that takes you out to Little Palm Island, the luxury resort and spa that is home to a world-class fine-dining restaurant (you may have seen it featured on the Travel Channel). If you are looking for a romantic getaway and a private-island seaside dinner to remember, Little Key is the place for you- just remember to bring your wallet!
After the Torch Keys you will pass through Ramrod Key (MM 27.5-26), Summerland Key (MM 25.5-24), Cudjoe Key (MM 23-20.5) and the Sugarloaf Keys (MM 20.5-15). These Lower Keys offer tremendous deep sea charter fishing opportunities, and their proximity to backcountry islands makes them one of the best places in the Keys to target bonefish and permit. Request a charter fishing trip and we’ll have a professional Lower Keys guide ready to hook you up with a trophy catch. While you’re here, you may also want to check out the Perky bat tower at MM 17-B. In 1929, Richter Perky built the historic tower to rid Sugarloaf Key of its pesky mosquito problem. He imported bats into the Keys and hoped they would live in the tower and eat the island’s mosquitoes. Instead, the bats immediately flew away and never returned (woops)! Now the tower stands as a popular piece of history and a reminder that we can’t control nature.
Continuing down the road you will pass through the rest of the Lower Keys including the
Saddlebunch Keys (MM 15-11.5), Big Coppitt Key (MM 11-9.5), and Boca Chica Key (MM 8-6.5).
Now that you’re here, you should know that Key deer were almost extinct in 1957, when populations dwindled to only about 27 deer (according to the National Key Deer Refuge). Today it is estimated the population has risen to over 800 Key deer which inhabit Big Pine a few of the other Lower Keys (they’re strong swimmers and can swim between islands). Key deer are a subspecies of the Virginia white tail deer with bucks averaging 80-pounds, and does averaging around 65-pounds. The best time to spot a Key deer is early in the day or later in the evening.
Listed below are the Lower Keys attractions, restaurants and accommodations that “us locals” recommend to OUR FRIENDS. These are our unbiased opinions, and we’re sharing them with you because we have good taste.
Our Favorite Things to Do in Big Pine & the Lower Florida Keys:
- Fish Bahia Honda Bridge during the spring tarpon run.
- Wade into the water or kayak to the Seven-Mile Bridge at Veteran’s Memorial Park (MM 39.9-O).
- Spend a day, week, or month camping (why not?), camping and enjoying life at Bahia Honda State Park (MM 36.8).
- See endangered Key Deer at the National Key Deer Refuge (MM 30.2-B).
- Search for the alligators at the Blue Hole.
- Have a slice of “pie” at the No Name Pub- if you can find it.
- Treat yourself to a meal and night to remember on Little Palm Island (MM 28.5-O).
- Play a round of putt-putt golf while enjoying an adult beverage at Boondocks (MM 27.5-B).
- Dive and Snorkel at Looe Key National Marine Preserve- where they hold the extremely unusual and always entertaining “underwater concert” (MM 27.5-O, Looe Key Dive Center).
- Head to the Bat Tower (MM 17-B) and question how such an idea could have possibly failed to rid the Keys of mosquitoes.
Where we Eat, Drink, and Enjoy:
- Rob’s Island Grill (MM 31.2-B)
- Cracked Egg Café (MM 30.7-B)
- No Name Pub (MM 30.2-B, No Name Key)
- Little Palm Island (MM 28.5-O, via the ferry)
- Boondocks (MM 27.5-B)
- Square Grouper Bar & Grill (MM 22.5-O)
- Mangrove Mamas (MM 20-B)
- Baby’s Coffee (MM 15-O)
- Geiger Key Pub & Grill (MM 10.5-O, via Boca Chica Rd.)
Where we “Sleep Off” the Margaritas and Key Lime Pie:
- Bahia Honda State Park (MM 36.8-O, camping)
- Big Pine Fishing Lodge (MM 33-O)
- Old Wooden Bridge Guest Cottages and Marina (MM 31-B)
- Little Palm Island (MM 28.5-O, if you have the $$$)
- Parmer’s Resort (MM 28.5-B)
Other Marathon Mile Markers to note:
- MM 31-O Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce
- MM 30-O Big Pine Post Office
- MM 26 Niles Channel Bridge
- MM 24-O Summerland Key Post Office
- MM 20-O KOA Campground
- MM 10.5-O Geiger Key Marina
Now Entering- MARATHON
Mile Markers: 60-40…if you count the Seven-Mile Bridge.
Welcome to Marathon. You caught your first Florida Keys bonefish; dipped your feet in the saltwater at Anne’s Beach (MM 73-O); fed the tarpon at Robbie’s (MM 78.5-B, how cool was that?); slowed down for the police car “decoy” in Layton (MM 68-O); took a leisurely stroll along the fishing pier at Long Key Bridge (MM-64); admired the spectacular views of the water as you drove past Duck Key (MM 61-O); and now you have arrived in Marathon, “the Heart of the Florida Keys.” As you enter into Marathon (Grassy Key) make note of the Aqua Ranch (MM 59.3-O, a saltwater fish pond that’s free to visit), and the Dolphin Research Center (MM 58.9-B, where you can get in the water and actually swim with the dolphins). These are just two of the many exciting outdoor attractions that you and your family can enjoy during your trip to Marathon.
As you continue on your journey keep an eye out for the Sadowski Causeway (MM 53.5-O). This road will take you to the picturesque island of Key Colony Beach where you will find a collection of the finest Florida Keys charter boats, as well as Sparky’s Landing, our favorite local joint to enjoy a few adult beverages on the water. Just remember NOT TO SPEED on the Sadowski Causeway. The police here only know one number… 25! If their radar guns read anything different they will write you a ticket, and that’s not a good way to start your vacation. So heed our warning and respect the advice written on the city of Key Colony Beach sign- “What’s your hurry? You’re already here!”
In “downtown” Marathon you can load up on the supplies that you may have forgotten to pack. There’s a Kmart (MM 50-O), two “full-size” grocery stores (MM 50-O) and even a Home Depot (MM 49-O). Pay attention to the street signs and look for Sombrero Beach Road (at the stoplight before Publix). This will take you to Sombrero Beach, one of the sandiest, cleanest, and most popular beaches in all of the Keys. Sombrero Beach offers state-of-the-art facilities, picnic tables, bbq grills, clear waters to swim and snorkel in, and an amazing view of the Atlantic. This is also a great spot to cast out a rod (with a live shrimp on it) to try and hook a tarpon or snook feeding at the mouth of Sister’s Creek (at the west end of the park). Look out from the beach and into the Atlantic Ocean and you will see Sombrero Reef Lighthouse- our favorite place to snorkel in the Keys.
At the end of town you will find our most popular tourist attraction- the historic Seven-Mile Bridge (MM 47). Be ready to make a quick right turn into the bridge’s designated parking area – if you miss it you will have quite a long drive before you can turn around and come back. Head over to the old 2.2 mile bridge section that is closed off to vehicle traffic. Here you can look down into the water and often see migrating tarpon, giant spotted eagle rays, and swimming sea turtles. At the end of the 2.2 mile bridge section you will find historic Pigeon Key, listed on the National Register of Historic Places (read below). The Seven-Mile Bridge is our favorite place to take an evening jog, walk our four-legged companions, and admire the truly breathtaking Florida Keys sunsets.
Driving across the Seven-Mile Bridge is an experience all in itself. Have your cameras ready to capture fantastic views of tropical islands and beautiful contrasts of the blues and greens over the shallow water flats. As you travel over the bridge the first island you will see off to your right is Pigeon Key (MM 44.8-B). In the early 1900s Pigeon Key served as a base camp for around 400 of Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad workers. You can imagine how horrific the living conditions must have been without readily available fresh water, mosquito repellent, or air-conditioning (we’re spoiled). Today you can take a guided tour of the island and walk through the old workers’ quarters while learning all about Pigeon Key’s rich history. There is also museum on the island with a wonderful collection of scenic and historic photographs of the Overseas Railroad. Tours and transportation to Pigeon Key can be arranged at the visitor’s center (MM 47-O).
Further along the Seven-Mile Bridge, and off to your left, you will see the Molasses Keys and Money Key. These are great places to boat out and pitch a tent to enjoy primitive ocean-front camping at its finest. If you’re looking for more luxurious island accommodations, Melody Key (MM 41-B), at the West end of the bridge, is a private vacation rental that you can actually rent by the week. How amazing would it be to have your own private island with no one around to spoil your relaxation?
Now that you’re here you should know that Marathon was first settled in the early 1800s as an immigrant fishing village- and to this day remains a hard working town of world-renown charter fishing captains, crabbers, and commercial lobstermen. The town (which wasn’t officially incorporated until 1999) took its name in the early 1900s from Henry Flagler railroad workers who took residence here while building the Overseas Railroad. As they labored day and night to complete the railway to Key West, they knew they had a “marathon” of a task ahead of them if they ever wanted to finish.
Similar to Islamorada, Marathon is actually a collection of islands- beginning at Grassy Key, and ending at the west end of the Seven-Mile Bridge. The islands incorporated under the boundaries of Marathon include: Grassy Key, Long Pine Key, Fat Deer Key, Deer Key, East and West Sister’s Island, Crawl Key, Little Crawl Key, Stirrup Key, Vaca Key, Knights Key, Hog Key and Boot Key.
Despite the presence of a few modern chain stores and fast food restaurants, Marathon still preserves its small town feel. It is home to a community theater (MM 49-O), a cabaret-style cinema (MM 49-O, where you can have a glass of wine or a cold beer while watching a film), several parks and wildlife refuges, miles of designated nature and bicycle trails, a par-3 golf course (Key Colony Beach), a hospital for turtles (MM 48.5-B), incredible fishing opportunities, gourmet restaurants, and much more.
Listed below are the attractions, restaurants and accommodations that “us locals” recommend to OUR FRIENDS. These are our unbiased opinions, and we could be banished from paradise for telling you these secrets.
Our Favorite Things to Do in Marathon:
- Spend a memorable day catching sailfish at the reef, or permit on the flats.
- Snorkel at Sombrero Reef Light, one of the best spots in the Keys to view tropical fish and exotic underwater sea creatures.
- See the nesting sea turtles at Coco Plum Beach (Turn at the light MM 54.5-B).
- Head to Sparky’s Landing on Key Colony Beach for their terrific Happy Hour. Listen to live music on the water as they cook your catch.
- Take a memorable bi-plane ride over the islands (MM 52-B, Marathon Airport) – if you have the courage!
- Relax at Sombrero Beach- swim, fish, picnic, and work on your tan (MM 50-O, Sombrero Beach Rd).
- Learn about local wildlife at Crane Point Nature Center (MM 50-B).
- Watch a play at the Marathon Community Theater (MM 49-O).
- Visit the Turtle Hospital (MM 48.5-B) and witness rescued sea turtles being nursed back to health.
- Walk the historic Seven-Mile Bridge (MM 47) – not the whole thing… the 2.2 miles that takes you to historic Pigeon Key, on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Watch the sunset at Key Colony Beach Park.
Where we Eat, Drink, and Enjoy:
- Sparky’s Landing (Key Colony Beach)
- Hideaway Café (MM 58-O, Grassy Key)
- Frank’s Grill (MM 52.5-B)
- Annette’s Lobster & Steakhouse (MM 48-B)
- Takara Thai Restaurant (MM 48-B)
- Castaway Restaurant (MM 47-O)
- Key Colony Inn (Key Colony Beach)
Where we “Sleep Off” the Margaritas and Key Lime Pie:
- Sombrero Reef Inn and Fishing Lodge (MM 50-O, Sombrero Beach Road)
- Hawk’s Cay Resort (MM 61-O, Duck Key)
- White Sands Inn (MM 57.5-O, Grassy Key)
- Curry Hammock State Park (MM 56.2-O, camping)
- Banana Bay Resort (MM- 49.5B)
- Crystal Bay Resort (MM 49-B)
Other Marathon Mile Markers to note:
- MM 53-B Marathon Chamber of Commerce
- MM 52-B Marathon Airport
- MM 49.5-O Marathon Post Office
- MM 49-O Boot Key Harbor/City Marina
- MM 49-O Marathon Community Park
- MM 48.7-O Fisherman’s Hospital
- MM 48.6-O Marathon Library
- MM 48.5-O Marathon Sherriff Station, Courthouse