The Florida Keys has been luring travelers for generations with its tropical climate, sparkling blue waters and laid-back lifestyle. Tucked away in the upper part of the island chain lies the charming village of Islamorada where swaying palms, superb fishing and an island state-of-mind beckon. Known as the Purple Island for its breathtaking sunsets, we’ve discovered a true hidden gem for those wanting to experience the Keys without traveling too far from the mainland. Here’s your guide for a quick jaunt on the majestic isle.
How to get there
By land: Just 80 miles south of Miami, paradise is a short drive away when you head straight south on U.S. Route 1 at mile marker 87. Keys Shuttle and luxury TransFloridian motor coach services are also available from the airports.
By sea: Boaters can take to the waters along the Atlantic Ocean side of the Keys, or by traveling through the Intracoastal Waterway and dock at one of many marinas such as Bud N’ Mary’s Marina and World Wide Sportsman.
There’s no shortage of fun things to do by land or by sea, from sunrise to sunset. Known as the Sportfishing Capital of the World, you’ll find more than 500 species of fish, from bonefish to tarpon and grouper at this fishing mecca — nearby marinas offer charter boats or you can cast a line off the 525-foot pier at Cheeca Lodge & Spa. Explore the isle’s underwater world of coral reef on an eco-tour, go snorkeling at Bay and Reef Co. or go for a swim with the dolphins at the Theater of the Sea. Nature lovers can head to Long Key State Park for a walk along tropical trails, too. Once the sun sets, make your way to dance and party under the stars at Morada Bay’s monthly Full Moon Party where reggae bands, Brazilian Capoeira dancers and an amazing fireworks show create an incredibly energetic atmosphere. The next party is January 17th.
Where to eat
Breakfast: Start your day at Islamorada landmark Green Turtle Inn that dates back to 1928 when it was originally OD King’s Rustic Inn. It’s here where you can order everything from eggs made every which way to shrimp and grits, as well as a variety of eggs Benedict iterations.
Lunch: Stop by Spanish Gardens Café for lunch, a small deli-meets-tapas restaurant with fine cheeses and meats, hot and cold small plates for sharing such as sautéed mussels, seared squid, and fresh hog snapper, plus the best seafood paella in town.
Dinner: Savor some of the area’s freshest fish at Pierre’s Restaurant & Lounge, a two-story plantation house with alfresco dining overlooking the Florida Bay. Here, executive chef Jouvens Jean recreates a gourmet selection of French-fusion dishes featuring local catches of the day, such as Florida lobster, black grouper and mahi-mahi. Notable entrées include pan-seared sea scallops (chorizo succotash, grilled corn, green beans, roasted tomatoes, cauliflower purée, housemade focaccia croutons and micro garlic chives) and juniper berry-rubbed rack of lamb (boniato mashed potatoes, baby sunburst squash and red wine mint demi-glace).
If you’re not quite up for the trek back to Miami, Islamorada boasts a collection of small inns and luxury resorts that make for a charming overnight. Cheeca Lodge & Spa is an oceanfront resort and spa with spacious suites and a 9-hole, par-3 golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus. Nearby, The Moorings Village & Spa is set upon a former coconut plantation and affords whimsically designed beachside cottages for a more intimate stay. Lounge in the hammocks scattered throughout the property, take a walk on the natural white sand beach or even test your skills windsurfing.
Photos Courtesy of Cheeca Lodge and Morada Bay