10 Things You Have to Do When RVing to the Florida Keys
Last week, Alyssa had to drag me away from the Florida Keys.
There is a lot of hype around this string of islands, especially in the RVer community. Many friends have told us how far in advance the campgrounds book out for the winter season, how beautiful the campgrounds are, and how it's one of the best places to visit in an RV (or in general).
Well, I'm here to say, they were 100% right. The crystal blue water, fish galore, island vibes (which include tropical drinks!) and rich culture make the Florida Keys a bucket-list worthy destination for RVers.
There is so much to eat, see and do, but I've narrowed down the top 10 things you shouldn't miss while RVing through the Florida Keys.
1. Try All the Key Lime Pie You Can Get Your Hands On
The Florida Keys are the birthplace of Key Lime Pie. While visiting, we took it upon ourselves to try as many slices of this local favorite as we possibly could. It was a hard job, but someone had to do it. So, we made our Key Lime Pie Expedition a top priority with every single meal.
I couldn't wait to take a photo before devouring it.
30 seconds later
Our first pie stop was in Key Largo at Mrs Mac's Kitchen, which has been featured on multiple TV shows and won numerous awards for their pies.
Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of citrus flavor and had never tried Key Lime Pie before this trip. But, the pie at Mrs. Mac's Kitchen made me realize I had been missing out!
Stopping here early on your drive through the Keys, helps to set the mood for a great RV road trip. Plus, it's an easy pull over on the right side of Highway 101.
If you asked me to pick my favorite Key Lime Pie of the trip, I would choose Mrs. Mac's. I'm not sure if it was because of all the hype, or because it was the first pie of the trip, but it definitely stood out even after trying multiple others.
Here are a few other places we tried this delicious dessert:
2. Camp Next to the Ocean
Camping out next to our new friends Andy, Maria, and his Winnebago View.
One of my favorite parts of the Keys road trip was pulling into our first campsite at the Fiesta Keys RV Resort.
It. Was. Awesome.
Check out this view! (Or you can watch a brief Facebook live tour of our campsite here).
We've had a lot of great campsites over the past three years of RV life, but none quite like this. From our campsite, we could walk less than ten steps and toss a fishing line, watch lobsters crawling on the ocean floor, or just enjoy the sunset.
On our first night at Fiesta Key, we had dinner at their on-site restaurant. We enjoyed our meal surrounded by tiki torches, crashing waves, and exactly the ambiance you hope for when visiting a place like the Florida Keys.
The campground had also mastered the art of the "beach playlist" with a mix of island music, Jimmy Buffett and Zac Brown Band. Alyssa got me to dance with her in the sand and it was the perfect start to our island vacation.
Our second campground, Sunshine Key RV Resort & Marina, was a slightly bigger park. And instead of our sites backing up to the small canal leading to the marina, we had our own private beach. These oceanfront sites were incredibly spacious. And being just inches from our own little stretch of sand was luxurious.
If you're going to bring your RV down to the Keys, don't be cheap. Spring the extra money for an oceanfront site. You will not regret it!
3. Eat, and Eat, and Then Eat S'more (see what I did there?)
We'll be writing a more in depth post soon about all of our foodie experiences in the Keys, but in the meantime, I wanted to share our absolute favorite meal from the Keys.
This trip entailed a lot of firsts for me. For example, have you ever tried conch? If you didn't pronounce that as "conk", the answer is probably no. I hadn't either.
Every restaurant in the Keys has fried conch fritters as an appetizer and we boldly tried them all. If you go to Lazy Days, I urge you to try the "Lazy Conch." It was incredibly unique and delicious. It's like a seafood version of chicken fried steak.
For my entr�e at Lazy Days, I ordered the catch of the day (mahi mahi) with stuffed crab cake inside. Portions here were HUGE. Neither of us could finish, so we took the fish home and ate it for leftovers the next two days of our trip (still amazing reheated).
During dinner, a musician stood under a tiki hut serenading us with the perfect beach songs surrounded by the sunset, and of course tiki torches (because it's the Keys).
We topped off the night with some dancing on the sand, while a not-so-sober customer briefly took over the microphone and sang Margaritaville surprisingly well.
4. Feed the sharks. Yes, sharks!
Photo cred: Aquarium Encounters
At the Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters, you can snorkel with stingrays, exotic fish, and feed sharks from your hand!
When we first arrived, I was terrified. I'd never even snorkeled before and they asked me to sign a waiver that sounded like I was diving into a tank with Great Whites.
Of course, I was worried for nothing. There was a large glass wall between us and the sharks, and we fed them through a tiny hole that's only big enough for their food (fish, of course). But, watching sharks take food out of my hand was still a surreal experience.
Also, snorkeling in a closed-off environment for the first time was a solid choice. I wasn't worried about any dangerous animals coming out of the dark corners of the water to get me. It's a great place for beginners.
The staff at Aquarium Encounters are great and very helpful at answering questions about the fish, plus they have extensive knowledge of diving in the area.
After the shark encounter, you can walk around the rest of the property to pet stingrays, see the nurse sharks or snorkel in their on-site lagoon.
5. Explore the History of Diving Museum
Although I graduated from novice to amateur snorkeler after my stint at Aquarium Encounters, I've yet to go on an actual dive of any kind in the ocean (I think I'll slowly work my way into underwater activities). However, we made a short afternoon trip through the History of Diving Museum while in the Keys and it was fascinating.
Over a span of 40 years, Joe and Sally Baur acquired the world's largest collection of diving helmets, hand operated air-pumps, armored suites, and other diving contributions from more than 30 countries, all of which are on display at the History of Diving Museum.
Aside from being able to see the very first scuba diving gear and how the gear has progressed over the years, you can hear all about the Spiegel Grove (my favorite part of the museum). The Spiegel Grove was a U.S Navy Landing Ship Dock that was intentionally sunk back in 2002 to become an artificial reef off the Keys. At the time it was sunk, it was the largest artificial reef in the world.
I recommend taking a guided tour around the History of Diving Museum to gain more insight into local diving and how it plays a significant role in the Keys' culture.
6. Visit the Turtle Hospital
Did I mention that while in the Keys we returned a sea turtle back to the ocean!?
A little over thirty years ago, the first ever state-licensed veterinary hospital, dedicated solely to the treatment of sea turtles, was opened in the Keys. The mission of the Turtle Hospital is to rescue, rehabilitate and return turtles to the ocean.
I learned that many turtles have to be rescued because they've contracted fibropapillomatosis � a herpes-like virus that affects sea turtles around the world. The virus produces growths all over their body and many of the turtles even have tumors on their eyes and can no longer see.
The more heartbreaking part of this is that the virus is only present near highly populated areas, which means it's likely caused by humans and pollutants in the water. Fortunately, the turtle hospital can help many of the affected turtles regain health and return to the wild.
While visiting the Turtle Hospital, we were actually allowed to join a turtle release. Skipper, a 50-pound green sea turtle, had been rescued a year ago. Now that he was successfully treated for fibropapillomatosis, he was being returned home.
We tagged along with the Coast Guard for the 12-mile ride out, and we got to watch Skipper go home as a healthy turtle.
Watching Skipper dive back into the ocean was an insanely cool experience and made me realize the huge impact the Turtle Hospital has made on marine life in the keys. This place is a must-visit while in town.
7. Kayak Through the Mangroves
I had never heard of a mangrove before visiting the Keys, but they are native to the area and grow all around the islands. There are even entire islands made of these interconnected trees that look like a giant mangled mess of iPhone headphones. (Can you tell I'm a millennial?)
Paddling around and through the mangroves makes for an epic kayaking trip � it feels like you're in a different world. But this world also has a ton of mosquitoes. Make sure you bring plenty of repellent if you plan on taking a kayak trip around the mangroves.
We kayaked with a local captain named Bill Keogh (keyskayaktours.com) who has lived in the Lower Keys for more than two decades and has a wealth of knowledge about the natural history of the Keys.
8. Walk Through History at Ernest Hemingway's House
When I think of Hemingway, I think of Paris. But Ernest Hemingway lived and wrote in the Keys for nearly 10 years. I had no idea he actually wrote 70% of his published works in the Keys until we happened upon the Hemingway House in Key West.
On our last full day, we took a guided tour around his property in Key West and learned about his time in Florida. As a writer, it was amazing to see what life was like for Hemingway. And the museum curator David knew everything about Hemingway's life in the Keys � from the process Hemingway used to write books to the lineage of the infamous six-toed cats that still live on the property to the reason why there's a penny cemented into the ground next to the pool.
In addition to learning a lot of interesting facts, the guided tour also allowed us to go behind a locked gate to see Hemingway's study. We were able to look at his bookshelves, his desk, and get a feel for what it was like writing timeless literary fiction in a small office above a garage (now a gift shop).
There was something incredibly awe-inspiring about this visit. Everyone knows the name Hemingway, but I don't think everyone knows what made him great. When you're in Key West, you must stop by here and get a little taste of the magic.
9. Go Snorkeling
When I hear Florida, I think of beaches, but the Florida Keys are also known for snorkeling and reefs. During our visit it was really windy, which made for murky water around the reef. So, instead of going out ocean-side, we snorkeled around the bay where the water is still beautiful.
For our snorkeling expedition, we anchored next to a sunken fishing boat, which you can see in the shot above, if you look closely.
Our snorkeling trip was an eco-tour with Keyz Charters. We departed from Robbie's Marina (which also has a great restaurant) and Captain Sam took us out through the mangroves into the bay. We saw dolphins, sharks, stingrays and, of course, plenty of fish!
10. Party at the Sunset Celebration in Key West
After a Cuban meal at El Meson De Pepe in Key West, we watched the sun go down from the southernmost point in the U.S. � the perfect ending to our adventure in the Keys. Known as the Sunset Celebration � this end-of-day party has street performers and vendors everywhere vying for your attention while you stroll around the waterfront.
The evenings in Key West are hard to beat, everything cools off once the sun goes down and it really epitomizes what you hope and dream of when it comes to an island vacation.
The Florida Keys are a can't-miss destination for RVers.
If you want a truly unique place to visit, the Keys offer a distinct culture, climate, and experience (don't get me started on the Key Lime Pie again). On the islands, you can wake up next to the ocean, go fishing, snorkel, eat, or just hang out with the locals. Even doing nothing at all is enjoyable!
If you've been to the Keys before, what else would you recommend?