Once known as a decadent party destination, the Florida Keys has turned into a popular holiday spot for families seeking sun, culture and animal experiences. This tiny string of islands off southern Florida packs a lot into a short distance, with plenty to entertain the kids for your next family road trip.
The southernmost island of the Florida Keys, Key West is also the southernmost point of the continental USA. As you can imagine, the buoy marking this point is a popular photo stop, so head there early in the morning to look over the water for the next port of land – Cuba, which is 90 miles away.
Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Home to 50-60 different species of live butterflies from around the world, plus turtles, flamingos and small birds, the conservatory is a must-visit in the Keys. The butterflies flutter high over head and around visitors, pausing on flowers, fruit, shoulders and hats for a rest. Wear bright colours to attract the butterflies to land on you, too.
The Ernest Hemingway House & Museum
Take feline-lovers to visit the famous six-toed cats descended from writer Ernest Hemingway’s beloved moggie Snow White, in the house he called home from 1931-1939. Over 50 current descendants of the original puss live the high life in this historic building, happy to be the centre of attraction for visitors who come to learn about Hemingway and leave more than a little in love with the kitties.
Take time out from sightseeing to dine at this cute French cafe that specialises in delicious omelettes, quiches, salads and smoothies.
From Key West, drive across the scenic and iconic Seven Mile Bridge to Marathon. If time allows, walk across part of the bridge for a few snaps as you take in the stunning view.
Dolphin Research Center
Get up close to the dolphins and California sea lions who are the residents of this rescue and rehabilitation centre for marine life. Housed in a series of 90,000-square-foot series of saltwater lagoons, the resident animals can be met through a variety of experiences such as the popular “dolphin dip” where visitors stand waist-deep on a submerged platform in the edge of the lagoon to see the dolphins performing their natural behaviours up close. We met Jaxon, a dolphin who had been rescued and was unable to be returned to the wild after receiving a large bite out of his dorsal fin and tail, most likely by a bull shark.
The Turtle Hospital
Home to over 50 sick and injured turtles undergoing various stages of treatment, the Turtle Hospital is a small, non-profit organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of endangered sea turtles. The only way to meet the patients and permanent residents who have been deemed unsuitable for wild release is by booking into one of their popular tours, run several times daily. Each tour lasts 90 minutes and includes a presentation on the various turtle breeds and the threats they face in the wild, a tour of the hospital facilities, and meeting the turtle patients. Reservations are highly recommended.
A popular family beach with a playground, bathroom and BBQ facilities. Watch out for the Loggerhead turtles who nest at the beach from April-October.