Marathon Key, a Florida Keys vacation spot, keeps the family happy with a distinctive natural history and scenery, along with unforgettable wildlife encounters.
Considered one of the more laidback and family-friendly hamlets in this archipelago, Marathon, FL (which spans roughly 10 miles over several islands) offers families opportunities for sightseeing, water play and exploring history. On your next trip to (or through) this Middle Keys paradise, be sure to make time for these top things to do in Marathon Key – and you just might make some new "flippered" friends along the way.
1. Get face-to-face with dolphins
In Marathon, when people think neighbor, they tend to think dolphin. On your first stop, you can meet your new "neighbors" at the Dolphin Research Center. The site housing today's Center has served as a marine-mammal retreat since the 1950s, when local fisherman Milton Santini collected Atlantic bottlenose dolphins to form Santini's Porpoise Training School. (The endeavor was successful enough that six of Santini's dolphins starred as Flipper in the movie of the same name.) The Center now houses 22 dolphins, including 16 that were born at the facility, and three sea lions.
Seeing the dolphins play in the Center's 90,000 square feet of lagoons is an inexpensive afternoon's entertainment and one of the top things to do in Marathon Key. If you have a little more money to spend, you might want to take part in the interactive programs. Depending on your budget (and factors such as age and swimming ability), the Center offers opportunities to swim with, play with, shake the fins of and otherwise get to know these peaceful creatures. Programs popular with families include the Dolphin Dip, during which participants stand on a submerged platform and greet their new friend with a backrub or flippershake then dance, spin and splash with as the dolphin imitate you. The program is only $119 per person. Many other programs are happening all the time for people of all ages.
2. Cruise the Seven Mile Bridge
After you have your flipper fun, get a panoramic view of the medium in which they live. Drive across the Seven Mile Bridge. This history of this iconic structure dates from the early 1900s, when famous Florida developer Henry Flagler built the Overseas Railroad – an attempt to lure tourists to the Lower Keys. The railroad was eventually converted into a highway, which stood for decades before a new span was built in the 1980s. Today, the bridge runs just a hair under seven miles, rising to a 65-foot arc, and connects Marathon with Little Duck Key. Enjoy spectacular water views and sights of some of the lesser islets in this 1,700-island chain. A sunset drive can be spectacular.
Remains of the Old Seven Mile Bridge run parallel to the new. More than two miles of the older structure remain open to foot traffic, and the span is a popular spot for biking and fishing. You can also stroll down the old bridge to access Pigeon Key.
3. Relive History at Pigeon Key
You may not find the flocks of large white birds that once roosted here, but Pigeon Key is still worth a visit. The whole family will enjoy exploring this tiny island, which houses a series of cottages that once sheltered workers laboring on Flagler's railroad. Visit the railroad museum onsite, where exhibits outline the structures' history and spotlight the lives of the workers, who labored up to 14 hours a day, six days out of seven. Or, grab your gear and snorkel the island's tidal shoreline. For those serious about marine science, the Pigeon Key Foundation & Marine Science Center runs day and residential summer camps for kids. Don't worry – if you aren't up for hiking the Old Seven Mile Bridge, you can access the island via the Pigeon Key Ferry running from Marathon.
4. Explore Crane Point
Continue your tour of the region's history with a visit to Crane Point Museum, Nature Center and Historic Site. Situated on a natural 63-acre thatch-palm hammock, this complex serves up a great view of the area's cultural and natural history. Check out the home of George Adderley, an immigrant from the Bahamas who settled here in the early 1900s. You and your kids can also tour the Crane Point Museum. Learn about Keys wildlife and the region's indigenous peoples. Children will especially enjoy trouncing through a pirate ship built for their exploration (pirate gear included) and greeting sea creatures in the Children's Activity Center's touch tanks.
5. Make a splash at Sombrero Beach
You can't end your Keys visit without one lazy day at the beach, soaking up the sun and the crystalline waters. While in Marathon, plop onto Sombrero Beach. Gentle Atlantic surf and plenty of shallow water make this a great family park, as do the on-site playground and volleyball court. Polish off your day with a meal at the Keys Fisheries Market and Marina, known for its fresh-fried entrees and a distinctive lobster Reuben sandwich. The place itself is beyond casual: order and pick up your meals window-side. Chow down at one of the waterfront picnic tables. Adults can enjoy a cold beverage with their meals, and children will love feeding the tarpon right from the docks. Get there around sunset for the full Marathon experience.
For more information on things to do in Marathon Key and other Florida Keys destinations, call 800-352-5397 or visit www.fla-keys.com/marathon.
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