Key Largo Overview
Key Largo — Northernmost of the Florida Keys (Mile Markers 108 to 90)
Driving from mainland Florida, visitors to the Florida Keys enter the 125-mile-long subtropical island chain at Key Largo, the longest and northernmost island in the Keys.
Key Largo is bordered on the west by Florida Bay and the Everglades National Park backcountry, and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, home to the clear waters of the Gulf Stream. Visitors can enjoy Key Largo's ties to the sea with attractions including scuba diving, snorkeling, an underwater hotel, sport fishing, eco-tours, beaches and dolphin encounter programs.
The island also offers a variety of onshore attractions including two state parks, nonprofit organizations dedicated to restoring coral reefs, shaded nature trails and a rehabilitation center for wild birds.
Key Largo is best known for John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the first underwater preserve in the United States. In shallow waters adjacent to the park at a site called Key Largo Dry Rocks rests the 9-foot-tall bronze “Christ of the Deep” statue, an iconic landmark for divers and snorkelers. Today the park welcomes more than 650,000 visitors annually who come to explore its nature trails and beaches and observe its abundant underwater wildlife.
Pennekamp is part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The sanctuary covers about 3,800 square miles of coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove swamp on both sides of the Keys island chain and throughout the surrounding waters of Florida Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
The sanctuary’s indigenous population comprises more than 6,000 species of marine life and plants. The living reefs off Key Largo are acclaimed as some of the most fascinating scuba diving sites in the world.
Key Largo, often called the Dive Capital of the World, is a prime shallow-reef destination for children and adults who want to try diving for the first time or earn their dive certification. Its leading sites for experienced divers include the Spiegel Grove, one of the largest vessels ever intentionally sunk to become an artificial reef.
The island also is known around the globe for its dolphin interaction attractions and therapy programs.
Key Largo gained movie fame when the 1947 classic “Key Largo,” featuring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, hit the silver screen. A local bar, the Caribbean Club, provided a backdrop for some of the movie's scenes.
Bogie's presence is apparent even today in Key Largo. Visitors can cruise aboard the restored 1912 steam-powered vessel from one of his other epic films, “The African Queen.”
Key Largo is about a 60-minute drive from Miami International Airport and a world away from South Florida’s mainland.
ATTRACTIONS AND EXPERIENCES IN KEY LARGO
Spiegel Grove, fla-keys.com/spiegelgrove. The 510-foot-long, 84-foot-high retired U.S. Navy landing ship dock is one of the largest ships ever intentionally sunk to create an artificial reef. The sunken vessel attracts legions of fish and other Keys marine life that can be viewed by scuba divers with advanced diving experience. It is positioned about 6 miles off Key Largo and lies 130 feet deep; its minimum depth is about 45 feet. Several mooring buoys provide tie-off points for boats.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, 102601 Overseas Highway, mile marker 102.5 oceanside; 305-676-3777, floridastateparks.org/index.php/parks-and-trails/john-pennekamp-coral-reef-state-park. Dedicated Dec. 10, 1960, as America's first underwater preserve, Pennekamp offers dive, snorkel, eco-tour, glass-bottom boat, paddleboard and kayak excursions. Dive and snorkel tours go to the famed underwater “Christ of the Deep” statue. Other park venues include nature trails, two beaches, picnic grounds and campsites.
African Queen, 99701 Overseas Highway, mile marker 100 oceanside; 305-451-8080, AfricanQueenFlKeys.com. Visitors can cruise on the iconic original vessel from director John Huston’s classic 1951 film, starring actors Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. It was restored and relaunched for its centennial in 2012. Ninety-minute cruises on Port Largo Canal are offered four times daily. Private cruises can be booked.
Caribbean Club, 104080 Overseas Highway, mile marker 104.3 bayside; 305-451-4466, caribbeanclubkl.com/. The waterfront saloon is the only Florida Keys location where filming of the movie “Key Largo” took place; all other scenes were filmed on a Hollywood sound stage. Walls within the popular bar are decorated with memorabilia from the movie.
Coral Restoration Foundation, 5 Seagate Blvd., near mile marker 99; 305-453-7030, coralrestoration.org. At the foundation's Exploration Center, visitors can get up close to Florida Keys coral reefs and, through the foundation’s educational efforts, participate in reef restoration. CRF manages the world's largest coral nurseries, raising critically endangered coral species and returning them to Florida’s Coral Reef. Ocean lovers and “citizen scientists” can join the CRF team to help bring these reefs back to life.
Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, County Road 905 at mile marker 106 bayside; 305-676-3777, floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/dagny-johnson-key-largo-hammock-botanical-state-park. Years ago, conservationists rescued this nature preserve from development and today it is home to numerous endangered species. Visitors can see more than 80 protected species of animals and plants and other indigenous life including rare tree snails, Schaus swallowtail butterflies, white crowned pigeons, mangrove cuckoos, lignumvitae trees and butterfly orchids.
Dolphins Plus Bayside Inc., 101900 Overseas Highway, mile marker 102 bayside; 305-451-1993, dolphinsplus.com. The facility offers both in-water and dockside hands-on encounter experiences with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. A separate affiliated oceanside location is a marine mammal stranding and rescue site.
Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center, 93600 Overseas Highway, mile marker 93.6 bayside; 305-852-4486, keepthemflying.org. The center rescues and rehabilitates ill, injured and orphaned wild birds. A boardwalk winds around cages that house songbirds, shorebirds and birds of prey. Birds at the Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary, named after its founder, are unable to survive in the wild on their own and so are lifelong inhabitants. At its affiliated Mission Wild Bird Hospital, 92080 Overseas Highway, mile marker 92, there’s an education center and gift shop. Birds undergoing medical treatment at the hospital are not available for public viewing.
Jules' Undersea Lodge, 51 Shoreland Drive, mile marker 103.2 oceanside; 305-451-2353, jul.com. Room service is available at the world's first and only underwater hotel, permanently anchored beneath the surface of Key Largo's Emerald Lagoon. The two-bedroom air-conditioned facility offers comfortable accommodations and is an “only-in-the-Keys” destination for those who prefer underwater honeymoons.
Reef Environmental Education Foundation, 98300 Overseas Highway, mile marker 98.3; 305-852-0301, REEF.org. The international marine conservation organization’s mission is to protect biodiversity and ocean life by inspiring the public through citizen science, education and scientific partnerships with hands-on programs. A visitor interpretive center, with a colorful floor-to-ceiling mural detailing Keys marine ecosystems, is open weekdays. There’s an outdoor native plants trail, butterfly garden and shaded picnic tables.
Key Largo visitor information: fla-keys.com/keylargo or 800-822-1088
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
Social: Facebook • Twitter • Instagram • YouTube • Pinterest • TikTok • Keys Voices Blog