In the charismatic 1880s, the US government lavishly invested in the economy, transforming Key West into a bustling metropolis. It soon ascended to become not just Florida’s most populous city, but also the wealthiest city per capita in the nation. When the wreckage industry fell into oblivion, it was replaced by more lucrative, lawful, and less risky endeavors that, despite their eventual challenges, sustained the thriving economy. Sponge harvesting took center stage, with the Keys’ waters providing a whopping 90% of all natural sponges used across the United States.
Meanwhile, the cigar-making enterprise ignited a new wave of prosperity. A team of Cuban settlers, employing over 6,000 workers, struck a veritable gold mine manufacturing their globally-acclaimed cigars, often found being sold by friendly Cuban girls on the lively Ocean Drive in South Beach. At the industry’s zenith, the Key West Cuban cigar manufacturing topped millions annually, outshining even those from Havana in quality.
The Cubans not only contributed their revered cigars but also a dash of intrigue to the Keys. In the heart of Key West, renowned Cuban writer and patriot José Martí conspired the revolution leading to Cuba’s independence from Spain in the historic Spanish-American War of 1898. Revolutionary enthusiasts smuggled armaments from Key West to Cuba and convened in local cafes to ideate their homeland’s future. The grandiose edifice, known today as the San Carlos Institute, served as a political hub for Cuban activists, also doubling as a vibrant opera house.
Before the dawn of the 1900s, the Keys were tethered to the mainland only by ship.
However, in 1905, this changed dramatically. US railroad tycoon and retired oil baron Henry M Flagler envisioned Key West as a valuable deep-water port and decided to extend his Florida East Coast Railroad from Miami to this southernmost city. After seven years of back-breaking labor, the bridges and tracks that permanently altered the Keys’ landscape were completed. Yet, progress demands a toll. This monumental endeavor devoured $50 million and claimed the lives of at least 700 workers. Though beset by ill health, Henry M Flager saw his dream fulfilled as he witnessed the inaugural shipment of fresh Caribbean produce to travel from Key West to mainland Florida before his demise in 1912.
During the Roaring Twenties, as Prohibition laws swept the US, the Keys became a bustling hub for the illegal liquor trade and a paradise for rum smugglers. In 1927, Pan American World Airways was established, and its regular flights from Key West to Havana lured American tourists to Cuba’s enchanting nightlife and casinos. A few revolutions around the sun later, renowned writer Ernest Hemingway fell in love with the allure of the Keys and made Key West his winter haven.
Hemingway was just the first in a long line of illustrious writers, including the likes of Elizabeth Bishop, Allison Lurie, John Hersey, James Merrill, Tom McGuane, and Phil Caputo, who called Key West home and etched the city on the literary world map. Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Tennessee Williams cherished Key West, making it his residence for 30 years, until his passing in 1983. His legacy continues as more writers find inspiration in the Keys’ charms.
Despite the dazzling 1930s, it was not a golden age for the Keys. The cigar industry shifted to Tampa due to labor troubles, and a devastating hurricane in 1935 shattered the Upper Keys and the Florida East Coast Railroad. Unleashing 200-mph winds and an 18-foot tidal wave, the hurricane claimed more than 800 lives. In the sweltering heat, the deceased were stacked and burned in communal pyres to prevent the spread of diseases. In an ambitious post-disaster reconstruction project, the Florida Keys Overseas Highway was constructed in 1938, enabling locals and tourists to drive the 159-mile distance from Key West to Miami Beach.
Built over the railroad’s erstwhile tracks and bridges, the highway soon became a frequented route, bringing a wave of commerce to the once-quiet Upper and Middle Keys.
DISCOVER THE FLORIDA KEYS: A PARADISE UNVEILED
KEY LARGO: Dive into a paradise where the ocean comes alive! This vibrant key is a treasure trove of coral reefs and marine life, with over 600 species calling the waters home. Explore the wonders beneath the waves at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, or cast a line and reel in the big one—marlin, sailfish, and tuna await. Key Largo isn’t just the largest key; it’s a doorway to endless adventure. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo Florida Keys
ISLAMORADA: Welcome to the “Sportfishing Capital of the World!” Here, fishing is more than a hobby; it’s a way of life. Whether you’re an angling aficionado or a seafood lover, Islamorada hooks you with world-class fishing and dining. Explore the unique charm of Rain Barrel Village, and soak in the coastal vibe that only the Florida Keys can offer. Rain Barrel Village in Islamorada Florida Keys
MARATHON: A beach lover’s haven meets marine conservation. Marathon offers the perfect blend of relaxation and education. Visit the Dolphin Research Center and get up close with these playful creatures. Explore the serene Crane Point Hammock State Park, and find your slice of tropical paradise. Dolphin Research Center in Marathon Florida Keys
BIG PINE KEY: The peaceful home of the enchanting Key Deer, a subspecies found nowhere else on Earth. Discover the laid-back allure of Big Pine Key, where nature’s beauty is preserved in the National Key Deer Refuge. A haven for nature lovers, and a key that lets you escape to the wild side. Key Deer in Big Pine Key Florida Keys
KEY WEST: Step into the lively heart of the Keys! Colorful houses, legendary nightlife, and rich history come together to create the unforgettable atmosphere of Key West. Stroll down Duval Street, visit Hemingway’s home, or watch a breathtaking sunset. Key West is more than a destination; it’s a celebration of life! Duval Street in Key West Florida Keys
From tranquil retreats to bustling nightlife, the Florida Keys have a key to unlocking every heart’s desire. Come explore, and find your perfect escape!
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE FLORIDA KEYS
WHAT ARE THE FLORIDA KEYS?
Nestled off the southern coast of Florida, the Florida Keys form an enchanting archipelago, known for their inviting white-sand beaches and crystal-clear waters. With an atmosphere exuding tranquility and charm, the Keys are a sanctuary for marine life, including dolphins, manatees, and sharks. These islands aren’t just a haven for wildlife; they’re a hotspot for anglers, divers, and snorkelers.
If you wish to explore more, you can find insights here: Florida Keys
WHAT FLORIDA KEYS IS THE BEST TO VISIT?
Choosing the best Florida Keys to visit boils down to your personal preferences and budget. Whether you crave relaxation, adventure, or something uniquely local, the Keys have an island just for you.
Key West: Embrace the laid-back vibe of the southernmost city in the U.S., with its lively nightlife, historic sites, and casual beach living. Key West Florida Keys.
Marathon Key: For those seeking both excitement and relaxation, Marathon Key offers beaches, fishing, diving, and a chance to get close to dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center.
Key Largo: Calling all snorkelers and divers! Key Largo is the northernmost island and offers underwater wonders, including coral reefs, dolphins, sharks, and intriguing shipwrecks. Key Largo Florida Keys.
Big Pine Key: Birdwatchers and anglers will find solace here, with numerous bird species and the National Key Deer Refuge. Big Pine Key Florida Keys.
Little Torch Key: If paddling activities like kayaking or paddleboarding are your forte, the calm waters of Little Torch Key are perfect. Don’t forget to visit the Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park for native Florida flora. Little Torch Key Florida Keys.
WHAT FLORIDA KEY IS BEST FOR FAMILIES?
Planning a family getaway to the Florida Keys? You’re in for a treat! The Keys offer a plethora of family-friendly activities, from beach fun to educational experiences. Here’s a breakdown of some great places for families:
Key West: Bursting with excitement for all ages, Key West offers adventures like the Key West Aquarium, the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, and the whimsical Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. Plus, the local restaurants and shops are perfect for family outings.
Marathon Key: Looking for a balance of relaxation and fun? Marathon Key has both! Visit the Dolphin Research Center, the Turtle Hospital, or the Florida Keys Children’s Museum.
Key Largo: Dive into the wonder of the underwater world. Key Largo offers incredible snorkeling and diving spots. Don’t miss the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park to learn about the magical world beneath the waves.
WHAT TO DO IN THE FLORIDA KEYS?
Thinking about the best ways to spend your time in the Florida Keys? The choices are endless! Here’s a continuation of top activities:
Visit Key West: Experience the culture and charisma of Key West, exploring everything from literary history to the captivating Old Town.
Go snorkeling or diving: Plunge into the blue to witness breathtaking marine life and intriguing shipwrecks.
Fishing: Anglers, rejoice! The Keys offer some of the finest fishing spots in the world.
Take a boat tour: Sunset cruises, dolphin watching, or mangrove exploration – pick your perfect boat tour.
Go kayaking or paddleboarding: Paddle through calm waters and explore the untouched coastline.
Visit the National Key Deer Refuge: Experience the unique Key deer in their natural habitat. Plan your visit www.fws.gov, Visit the National Key Deer Refuge Florida Keys.
Siesta Keys, Florida: Seek relaxation on the white-sand beaches or venture out kayaking.
Cedar Keys, Florida: Escape to the tranquility of Cedar Keys for fishing, kayaking, and birdwatching.
WHICH FLORIDA KEYS HAS THE BEST BEACHES?
The Florida Keys are home to some of the best beaches in the United States. Whether you’re looking for crystal-clear waters or the perfect spot for snorkeling, there’s something for everyone.
Key West: With white, powdery sand and calm, clear waters, Key West offers some of the most beautiful beaches in the Florida Keys. Palm trees provide shade and make for an idyllic tropical setting.
Marathon Key: The beaches in Marathon Key are renowned for their beauty, although the sand may be a bit coarser than in Key West. The waters are equally clear and provide excellent opportunities for snorkeling and diving.
Key Largo: The beaches in Key Largo may not be as white as others in the Keys, but they are still stunning. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo offers some of the best snorkeling and diving opportunities.
Big Pine Key: If you’re looking for a less crowded experience, Big Pine Key might be your choice. It’s an excellent place to relax and enjoy birdwatching in a more peaceful setting.
Little Torch Key: Ideal for kayaking or paddleboarding, the calm and clear waters of Little Torch Key offer a unique paddling experience. Fishing is also popular here, and you can explore native Florida plants at the Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park.
THE FLORIDA KEYS IN DECEMBER
December is a fantastic time to visit the Florida Keys. The weather is warm, and you can enjoy various activities like snorkeling, diving, and fishing without the summer crowds. Each key offers a distinct experience, so you’ll find the perfect beach for your taste, whether you’re interested in water sports, relaxation, or exploring the local marine life.
FLORIDA KEYS’S NEAREST AIRPORT
MAP YOUR STAY: LIVE HOTEL PRICING IN THE FLORIDA KEYS