Islamorada — Legendary Sport Fishing, Historic Parks, Arts and More (Mile Markers 90 to 63)
The fisherman’s paradise known as Islamorada was incorporated as a municipality in January 1998. Now called Islamorada, Village of Islands, the community that measures 20 miles long and in some places barely 150 feet wide encompasses Plantation, Windley and Upper and Lower Matecumbe keys.
It’s likely that the area was named by William J. Krome, the primary surveyor for the Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad that traversed the island chain. Trains would only stop at named towns, so Krome is said to have christened the location on Upper Matecumbe Key “Islamorada,” after the schooner Island Home owned by the pioneering Pinder family.
Known as the Sport Fishing Capital of the World, Islamorada is where backcountry sport fishing and saltwater fly-fishing were pioneered. It’s where legendary angling figures including Ted Williams, Jimmy Albright and Cecil Keith plied their trade. Perhaps the world’s highest density of professional offshore charter boats with tournament-grade captains can be found in Islamorada.
Islamorada’s unique location, lying between Florida Bay (the “backcountry”) and the Atlantic Ocean (the “front side”), provides an unrivaled diversity of fishing opportunities. The Gulf Stream flows past the islands from 10 to 20 miles offshore, bringing seasonal visitors like sailfish and marlin, kingfish and wahoo, dolphin (mahi-mahi) and tuna close enough to shore to be targeted by small-boat anglers. Tarpon and bonefish are among inshore species coveted by light-tackle anglers.
Scuba divers and snorkelers flock to the region to explore the extraordinary reef line and patch reefs brimming with tropical fish, sponges, soft and hard corals and crustaceans. Davis, Conch, Alligator and Pickles reefs, Crocker Wall and the Aquarium and Fish Bowl offer safe and easy viewing of Islamorada’s diverse marine life for divers and snorkelers of virtually every skill level.
The intentionally scuttled 287-foot Eagle is Islamorada’s premier artificial reef. The wreck sits on a 105-foot-deep sandy bottom, but its superstructure can be enjoyed and explored at depths of 60 to 70 feet. In the San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve, divers and snorkelers can see the remnants of a wrecked 1733 Spanish treasure fleet galleon at depths of 15 to 20 feet.
On land, travelers can step inside a coral reef to see 20,000 years of reef development at the Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park. Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park, a short ride by boat, encompasses a virgin hardwood hammock untouched by modern development as well as the original Matheson home built in 1919.
The Islamorada area also features eco-tours, watersports such as stand-up paddling and kiteboarding, tennis facilities, bicycle trails, historic hikes, beautiful vistas of both the Atlantic Ocean and Florida Bay, opportunities to swim with dolphins and stingrays, and a typically quirky Keys recreational activity: hand-feeding tarpon from the docks at Robbie’s Marina, mile marker 77.5 bayside.
Area beaches include a family facility with picnic tables behind the Islamorada Public Library and Anne’s Beach, where stretches of sand are linked by a boardwalk nature trail.
Islamorada also is home to the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District, spotlighting the art galleries and restaurants at Morada Way between mile markers 81 and 82. As well as welcoming visitors throughout the year, the popular arts district is the site of the Third Thursday Art Walk each month that features fine art, live music and culinary offerings.
Local restaurants range from very upscale continental to casual to downright funky. Many specialize in fresh-from-the-dock seafood, while others offer steaks, gourmet or ethnic dishes and even pizza and hamburgers.
Islamorada is about a 90-minute drive from Miami International Airport and a 40-minute drive from the Florida Keys Marathon International Airport in the Middle Keys.
WHAT TO DO AND SEE IN ISLAMORADA
Florida Keys History and Discovery Center, mile marker 82 bayside; 305-664-2031, keysdiscovery.com. The History & Discovery Center occupies a two-story 7,500-square-foot property at the Islander Resort. The ground floor explores the incredible history associated with the island chain, especially the history of the Upper Keys and their unique ecological features. The second floor hosts a series of rotating exhibitions reflecting upon the nature, art or history of the Florida Keys.
Florida Keys Memorial, mile marker 81.5 oceanside. Constructed in 1937, the 65-by-20-foot art deco–style monument, also known as the Hurricane Monument, commemorates more than 400 lives lost in the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane. The design motif features churning waves and wind-blown trees, typical of the modern art style. The monument is an excellent starting point to explore historic Islamorada and the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District.
History of Diving Museum, mile marker 83 bayside; 305-664-9737, divingmuseum.org. Dive in to see amazing displays that tell the story of humans’ quest to explore, understand and venture under the sea. Visitors to the museum will learn how South Florida’s open-bottom helmets have contributed to sport diving, marine biology, underwater photography and treasure hunting. Enjoy a scavenger hunt, see a limited-time featured exhibit, join special events and shop in the museum store.
Indian Key Historic State Park, offshore near mile marker 78.5 oceanside; 305-664-2540, floridastateparks.org/indiankey. Located a half-mile offshore, this 11-acre island is only accessible by boat or kayak and feels serene and secluded. Visitors can view the remains of a wrecking, or shipwreck salvage, community from the 1830s. The island offers an abundance of terrestrial and aquatic wildlife while its perimeter provides one of the few nearshore areas where snorkelers can view coral.
Islamorada Community Entertainment Amphitheater at Founders Park, mile marker 87 bayside; 305-853-1685, keysice.com. This outdoor performing arts amphitheater features six concrete rows of seats that accommodate approximately 300 people and open “festival” seating on the grass that accommodates up to 4,000. Backdropped by beautiful sunset views, musical concerts, dance and other live performances highlight a yearly show schedule.
Islamorada Library Beach Park, mile marker 81.5 bayside. Located behind the Helen Wadley Branch library, this locals’ hideaway features a small sandy beach on a mangrove channel with play equipment, shaded tables and barbecue facilities. Although small in size, it’s a quiet place to relax and enjoy the outdoors.
Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park, offshore near mile marker 78.5 bayside; 305-664-2540, floridastateparks.org/lignumvitaekey. Experience island living 1930s style on this small island accessible only by boat. Visitors can take a self-guided tour to view the island’s virgin hardwood hammock, along with an early Florida Keys pioneer family home and a stone wall believed to have been built by Native Americans. The area is also home to butterflies such as the rare Florida purplewing that uses crabwood trees as its host species. The hardwood hammock forest is one of the only remaining old-growth hardwood hammocks in the Florida Keys.
Long Key State Park, on the Atlantic Ocean at mile marker 67.5; 305-664-4815, floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/long-key-state-park. An island escape within a rare coastal habitat, Long Key State Park still bears the historical tracks of the region's past. In the early 20th century, Long Key was the site of a luxurious fishing resort that was the winter home to writer Zane Grey. Today, visitors can explore the island by paddling through lively sea flats or mangrove forests. Some of the best bonefishing in the Keys is found here. Visitors can stroll down two land-based hiking trails. The Golden Orb Trail leads through five natural communities and a profusion of plant and animal life.
Pioneer Cemetery, mile marker 82 oceanside; cheeca.com/history. Situated on the beach at Cheeca Lodge & Spa, the cemetery is a tiny collection of graves, statues and sand surrounded by a small white picket fence. Three names appear quite frequently within the small space: Parker, Pinder and Russell — the names of the first families to settle in the area, the founding fathers and mothers of Islamorada. The cemetery was designated a historic site in the late 1980s.
Robbie’s Marina, mile marker 77.5 bayside; 305-664-9814, robbies.com. Robbie’s Marina comprises an eclectic mix of outdoor shops, food vendors and watersports options. Grab a bucket of fish to feed the resident tarpon or enjoy watching everyone else getting up-close and personal with the huge fish. The marina also is home to fishing boat charters, kayak rentals and more. After spending a day out on the water, visitors can grab a satisfying meal at the on-site Hungry Tarpon restaurant.
Theater of the Sea, mile marker 84.7 oceanside; 305-664-2431, theaterofthesea.com. Established in 1946, Theater of the Sea is the second-oldest marine mammal facility in the world and includes a series of saltwater lagoons and lush tropical gardens. Visitors to this attraction can swim with bottlenose dolphins, stingrays and sea lions, and enjoy wild animal exhibits and watch parrot, dolphin and sea lion shows.
Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park, mile marker 85.5 bayside; 305-664-2540, floridastateparks.org/windleykey. Stop at this 320-acre park to learn about the fossilized coral reef that underlies the Keys. Land at the park was formed by fossilized coral known as Key Largo limestone; until the 1960s the park’s quarry was used to produce decorative Keystone used in walls, patios and fixtures. Visitors can walk along 8-foot-high quarry walls to see cross sections of ancient coral. Other attractions include a welcome center, picnic tables, hiking trails and self-guided tours.
Islamorada visitor information: fla-keys.com/islamorada or 1-800-FAB-KEYS
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
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