13:12 PM

Overseas Experience Trail: Key Largo


Key Largo, the northernmost and longest island in the Florida Keys, stretching from mile marker 108 south to mile marker 90, is known as the Dive Capital of the World and is just over an hour's drive from Miami International Airport.

Key Largo, the northernmost and longest island in the Florida Keys, stretching from mile marker 108 south to mile marker 90, is known as the Dive Capital of the World and is just over an hour's drive from Miami International Airport.

Key Largo gained fame and widespread name recognition when the 1948 movie "Key Largo" hit the silver screen, featuring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

The island is best known for John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the United States' first underwater preserve and part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The federally protected sanctuary covers 3,800 square miles or 2,900 square nautical miles, surrounding both sides of the island chain.

Experienced divers can explore the Spiegel Grove, one of the largest vessels ever intentionally sunk to become an artificial reef, lying approximately 6 miles off Key Largo.

Examples of "don't miss" stops include:
Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park. This 2,700-acre park has one of the United States' largest tracts of West Indian tropical hardwood hammock. It's home to 84 protected animal and plant species including the Key Largo woodrat and American crocodile, and wild cotton and mahogany mistletoe. There are over 6 miles of trails, including a half-mile paved section at the main entrance at County Road 905, a half-mile north of the intersection at the Florida Keys Overseas Highway and mile marker 106. floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/dagny-johnson-key-largo-hammock-botanical-state-park

Caribbean Club Bar. This lively waterfront spot, known as the Upper Keys' oldest bar, is popular for cocktails, live music and sunset watching. Opened in 1938 and standing at mile marker 104, the bar was part of an original small hotel and restaurant that was the final project of famed Florida real estate promoter Carl Fisher. Exterior location shots of the Humphrey Bogart classic "Key Largo" were filmed on-site. caribbeanclubkl.com

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. The nation's first undersea park, covering 70 nautical miles, is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Located at mile marker 102.5, it's famed for glass-bottom boat and snorkel tours of Florida's Coral Reef, and its dive and snorkel tours to the Christ of the Deep statue. A visitor center has a 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium, while other park activities include paddleboarding, saltwater fishing, hiking marked trails through mangrove wilderness and tropical hammocks, beach swimming and camping. floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/john-pennekamp-coral-reef-state-park

Keys Chocolates & Ice Cream. The only Keys-based chocolatier, founded in Key Largo with Upper Keys shops at mile marker 100.5 in Key Largo and mile marker 81.9 in Islamorada, is known for handcrafted chocolates, truffles and Key lime treats. It's owned by Rich and Bronna Peterson, who also own a small-batch chocolatier in Lake Park, Florida. keylargochocolates.com

The African Queen. The steamboat, listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, appeared in John Huston's 1951 film "The African Queen," starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Today it travels Key Largo's Port Largo Canal on scenic 1.5-hour cruises. The fully restored vessel was built in 1912 at Lytham, England, to shuttle cargo, missionaries and hunting parties in Africa. Cruises depart four times daily from the Marina Del Mar at mile marker 100. africanqueenflkeys.com or calypsosailing.com/The-African-Queen

Coral Restoration Foundation. At the foundation's Exploration Center, visitors can get up close and personal with 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 of all ages can join the CRF team to help bring these reefs back to life. The facility stands at 5 Seagate Blvd. near mile marker 99.6. coralrestoration.org

Keys' Meads. The Keys' only mead distillery has a 2,500-square-foot Key Largo location offering tours, a tasting room and retail space selling made-in-the-Keys mead - an alcoholic beverage crafted from fermented honey - and spirits distilled from mead that can be used in cocktails. Local meads are made from Florida Keys honey, water and yeast and are dry, semidry or sweet depending on ingredients. It has a Meads Club and online store offering shipments to most states. Established in 2017, the distillery is open daily at 99411 Overseas Highway or mile marker 99.4. keysmeads.com

(Original) Mrs. Mac's Kitchen. Key Largo's longest-running restaurant, known for its Key lime pie and straight-off-the-boat fish, is an iconic roadside café at mile marker 99.3 with walls festooned with donated automobile license plates. Jeff McFarland founded it in 1976, naming it for his mother and her recipes. Paula Wittke has owned and operated it since the late 1980s, with the motto "Eat Well, Laugh Often, Live Long." A newer second venue called Mrs. Mac's II is located at mile marker 99. Both are closed Sundays. mrsmacskitchen.com

Reef Environmental Education Foundation. This 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. On-site at mile marker 98.3, a visitor interpretive center is open weekdays with a colorful floor-to-ceiling mural detailing Keys marine ecosystems. There's an outdoor native plants trail, butterfly garden and shaded picnic tables accessible daily from sunrise to sunset. REEF.org

Florida Keys Wild Bird Center. Known for its Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary, this nonprofit conservation center is dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of injured and displaced native wild birds. The facility, located at mile marker 93.6 in Tavernier, houses and shelters birds that cannot be released and enables visitors to learn about Keys wild bird species. Its affiliated Mission Wild Bird Hospital, located nearby at mile marker 92, has an educational center and gift shop. Birds undergoing medical treatment at the hospital are not available for public viewing. keepthemflying.org

Key Largo visitor information: fla-keys.com/keylargo or 800-822-1088
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
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