Key Notes

Skipping down the Florida Keys' different personalities, and ways to celebrate them.

In my younger days, a trip to the Florida Keys meant equal parts scuba and party. These days I take a more all-inclusive approach. I start at one end and leisurely work (well, play) my way through the Keys' various and delightful mood swings.

On my most recent visit, my husband and I arrived by car, towing our boat. Since getting out on the water is essential to any Keys itinerary, we immediately abandoned our vehicle at the Caribbean Club in Key Largo, a cross between an English pub and what we Americans refer to as a "dive." (You see, there's more than one kind of "diving" in the Florida Keys.) Like many Keys bars, it has a boat ramp and docks, so after soaking up some local colour, we were off to explore local waters en route to our room at the bayfront Key Largo Grande Resort.

Key Largo: Liquid Assets

You don't need your own boat to take advantage of Key Largo's liquid assets. Dozens of diving, snorkelling, fishing charter and boat rental operators can get you out on and in the water to enjoy fields of coral reefs and the rainbow of creatures that inhabit them. Charters depart out of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, where you can marvel at the two-ton Christ of the Deep statue.

Key Largo celebrates its nautical and creative reputations at diverse festivals. This May brings an island-wide first – the Key Largo Singers & Songwriters Festival, where musicians will perform on indoor and outdoor stages each weekend.

Starting July 31, feast for nine days at the Key Largo Food & Wine Festival. Demonstrations, tastings and toastings make this a bacchanal in inimitable Keys style.

Key Largo Pirates Fest, Oct. 17 to 19, switchbacks the mood to swashbuckling with a parade, costume competition and gallons of yo-ho-ho rum.

Islamorada: Fish-Frenzied

Fabulous boats and mythically proportioned billfish have given Islamorada, recently named among Geographic Travel Adventure's "Top 50 Great Adventure Towns," its reputation among anglers humble and renowned for decades – from Zane Grey to George Bush. Hang out with the reeling crowd at lofty Zane Grey Long Key Lounge or fun-funky Lorelei Restaurant & Cabana Bar.

The cluster of islands that makes up the community has another artistic side cultured by the wealthy fishermen who have historically descended. Monthly November through April, the Keys Concert Community Band performs free Pops in the Park concerts bayside. The annual Wine on the Water symposium offers another opportunity to sample Islamorada's finer side of life.

Marathon: For the Child in All of Us

Pet, swim or even paint with a dolphin. What child wouldn't smile wide as a dolphin at the thought? Sample a variety of interaction programs at Marathon's Dolphin Research Center.

Besides dolphins, other local creatures entertain family at Crane Point Museum's Wild Bird Aviary and Children's Activity Center, playful Sombrero Beach and out on the water. Boasting five designated Clean Marinas, Marathon makes family boat outings as green as they are wondrous.

Kids love eating on the docks and feeding the tarpon at Keys Fisheries Market. The ultimate opportunity to fill tummies with local sea bounty, however, happens this year on March 14 and 15 at the Original Marathon Seafood Festival. February's Pigeon Key Art Festival, the Florida Keys Art Guild's Outdoor Art Festivals (monthly from November-April) and year-round events and productions (in November, January, March and May) at the Marathon Community Theater round out the Marathon experience on the cultural end of things.

Big Pine Key: Pressure Drop

As "road trippers" make their way along the squiggle of keys south, something perceptible happens upon crossing world-famous Seven Mile Bridge. You arrive in the Lower Keys, named geographically and not necessarily for the drop in blood pressure many claim.

Bahia Honda State Park introduces a more natural, camping-oriented style of holidaying. By the time you reach Big Pine Key, life revolves around backwater fishing and the tiny, heart-melting critters of National Key Deer Refuge.

Down the way, Looe Key Reef attracts fish, sea turtles and – particularly in July for the 25th anniversary of the Underwater Music Festival – snorkellers and divers.

Key West: Kicking It Out

Then comes the ultimate mood swing called Key West, a swing so severe it takes you to someplace wholly its own. Many people come for the nightlife, which actually begins in the daylight hours. Revelers reach their peak at the Halloween-time Fantasy Fest. (Check your decorum at the border.)

Others discover the tropical magic of its arts scene – from its distinctive conch cottage architecture to the Key West Players' brilliant performances at the Waterfront Playhouse and annual plein-air Sculpture Key West three-month exhibition. The daily Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square can't be missed.

Want to swing with the Keys' moods? Plan your own holiday to the Florida Keys & Key West at

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