Day-tripping: 12 hours in Key Largo
Key Largo, Montego, baby why don't we go...
From our home in West Palm Beach, the start of the Florida Keys is an easy two hour drive. I was itching for a little adventure this weekend -- even if it was just a day trip -- so Jeremy and I decided to get there fast and take it slow. Our 12 hours in Key Largo were perfect from start to finish.
Note: photo credit for the high quality images in this post goes to my talented fiance Jeremy! The cell-phone quality shots are mine. None of this content is sponsored... I'm a journalist, not an #influencer :)
The only real plan we had going into it was a snorkeling trip we booked online a few days prior. Everything else we did and saw was completely spontaneous and based some on-the-spot Google searches, Yelp reviews, and recommendations from locals.
We got up before sunrise to hit the road early and cross the bridge into the Keys (while blasting the Beach Boys) around breakfast time. I don't know what I was expecting but the layout of Key Largo was a bit surprising to me: no real "downtown" and walk able strip to explore... it's basically one corridor with roadside restaurants and attractions for the length of the key. Based on positive online reviews, we stopped at a charming breakfast spot called Mrs. Mac's and I opted to try the alligator sausage (tasted like regular sausage but a bit spicier and drier). After that, we had about an hour to kill so we walked as far as we could go down the canal where our snorkeling boat was docked, checking out vessels, island homes, and iguanas along the way.
Our snorkeling trip was the highlight of the day, and I feel so lucky to have some of the best diving in the world in our backyard! We did have two foot seas and some churned-up conditions -- so stopping at the submerged Christ statue off of Key Largo wasn't an option... but we did get to see some of the most beautiful coral reefs, bright pink jellyfish, giant barracudas, and colorful parrot fish at the Grecian Rocks. The 2.5 hour excursion was just $45 with the Paradise Island Charters (I'm sure it's more expensive during the busy season).
We had no plans for the rest of the day, and chatted with one of the charter company employees to get advice from a local (she happened to be a former West Palm Beach news photographer!). She told us to check out the Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder, the only dolphin stranding organization in the keys. They have several dolphins in captivity that have been deemed not fit for release into the wild and they offer interactions with the dolphins several times a day. While we weren't ready to spring for the full interactive experience (around $200 per person), we were lucky enough to arrive in time to be observers ($15 per person) for a small group getting in the water. Sitting by the side of that pool was the closest I've been to a dolphin and such a fun experience to watch them swim and respond to commands and listen to their vocalizations.
I was in the mood to shop, but learned there really isn't a shopping district in Key Largo. Instead, the locals recommended "Shell World," a big roadside shop that has everything from beach-themed clothes, jewelry, knick-knacks, and of course, shells. I picked up a few trinkets -- like Christmas ornaments for this year's Florida-inspired Christmas tree :)
By that time it was 5 p.m. and the only items left on my Key Largo list were having dinner and watching the sunset. Fortunately we found a place to do both at the same time: Snook's Bayside Restaurant right on the water. I tried the pistachio encrusted yellowtail and Jeremy had a Parmesan encrusted hogfish -- both were incredible! We also had conch fritters, island drinks, and a slice of key lime pie... totally not #ketofriendly but totally worth it. There was live music, tiki torches, and even a horn "celebration" when the sun set.
I left Key Largo feeling totally at peace, refreshed, and like I had been on vacation -- even if it was just for a few hours! Already planning my next trip back...