When my husband and I first started going to the Florida Keys together 7 years ago, it was before kids. I would spend most of the day in my hammock reading at a pace of a book every few hours, while my husband would swim the canal, kayak, or do a little sunbathing himself. We’d head to downtown Key West in the evenings for dinner or to watch the street performers at Mallory Square, then catch some live music in one of the local bars. A month or two a year in paradise was good for our blood pressure, as we were working through our doctoral programs and our brains needed an occasional rest from the fast-paced thinking required by our studies.
Now with two kids under 4, our time in the Keys is a bit different, though just as enjoyable. Having children with us in paradise forced us to go out and explore a side of the Keys that we had not seen before. If you’ve searched the Internet, you have probably seen there is not much information about traveling to the Keys with kids, so my husband and I put together a guide to help us inform friends and family who travel to the Keys have an amazing time with their children.
This guide particularly focuses on things to do with children in the Lower and Middle Keys, with the main focus of this guide being from Key West to Marathon (and the Keys in between). The ideas on this list are by no means exhaustive and our descriptions are solely based on our personal experiences. We can not promise you the same experiences, but as a family who sees the Keys as a second “home” (thanks Pa!), we wanted to share our love for these islands and the local businesses that make the Keys such a special place for us:
Expect to see local fishes, sharks, and turtles. Great tour (free with admission) – we’d recommend taking it because they feed the sharks and turtles during that time. Touch tank where kids can touch conchs, sea cucumbers, and other beautiful sea creatures.
See a presentation on saving turtles, then meet the turtles being rehabilitated and feed them a snack! This is one of our favorite environmental organizations and we are proud to be members and to support the mission of the hospital.
See up-close dolphin action and hear what some expert trainers have to say. This is a beautiful location with gorgeous landscaping. They have a splash park for kids on site and opportunities to paint with, swim with, and even train dolphins. They also have two sea lions.
We are DRC members and visit the research center several times a week when we are in town.
Watch the street acts while you watch the sun set. And adults, get a mojito at El Meson de Pepe.
Secluded, beautiful white sand beaches. Rarely crowded. Walk the bridge of the former railroad.
Walk the old fort (actually really cool and great views – opinion of Heather who is not a history person). Then, hit the expansive beaches for some fun in the sand and surf.
Water pools protected naturally by rocks, keeps waves down a bit for the little ones. Great shell hunting. Shaded picnic tables along whole beach, with a food hut for lunch or snacks. Butterfly garden, nature trails, place to watch sunset. It is worth the admission prices to go to this beach over many of the free beaches.
It is air-conditioned and free, so if you need a cool down, visit the Eco Discovery Museum to view some Keys-related displays.
Historic place on Key West where you can stand next to a larger-than-life buoy and take pictures of yourself 90 miles from Cuba. Lots of people taking pictures. Including you. Must-have souvenir photo shot. 15 minute stop. At South St. and Whitehead St., Key West.
The tour might not be kid friendly unless you have an aspiring author on hand, but children are sure to enjoy the 6-toed cats that roam the property. Whitehead St., Key West.
Located on Big Pine Key. See the only alligator(s) in the lower keys. Take a short walk through some wooded areas (keep alert for stray wildlife) to an observation deck. Enjoy alligators, egrets, and key deer in their natural habitat.
Stop by the National Refuge Center in the Big Pine Shopping Center for maps and souveniers before driving around Big Pine Key looking for the miniature deer. You are sure to spot some, but drive carefully!
Visit a garden of beautiful butterflies, birds, and plants right on Duval Street. Passes good all day.
We first saw Brian perform on our honeymoon on Little Palm Island. We try to catch a show whenever we are in the Keys, as our kids also love his original music and covers. You can often catch him at Sloppy Joe”s on Tuesdays at lunchtime, or during occasional shows at Sunset Grille in Marathon for kid-friendly performances.
Sugarloaf Bakery – Summerland Key
Awesome bakery with good coffee. Try the sticky bun…it is out-of-this-world.
Mangrove Mamas – Cudjoe Key
Go for happy hour (4-6 PM). Reasonably-priced and kid friendly.
Mangia Mangia – Key West
Awesome food. Ask to be seated out of the way – we like eating on their patio when the kids are with us. Go early.
Murray’s Food Mart – Summerland Key
Mini grocery store. Good sandwiches, made with Boar’s Head product. Buy deli meats and cheese here.
No Name Pub – Big Pine Key
Fun place to go. Money on walls. Good pizza and wings.
Bagel Island Deli –Big Pine Key
If you want a bagel, this is really your only bet. The bagels freeze nicely if you are staying in a house.
Boondocks – Ramrod Key
Very kid-friendly restaurant with music and mini-golf.
Chico’s Cantina – Stock Island
Good Mexican food.
Half Shell Raw Bar – Key West
Very kid-friendly. Asked to be seated on the water, so you can watch the fish while you eat. Walk the boardwalk and view the boats after eating.
Kelly’s Caribbean Bar – Key West
Consistently good food. Outdoor patio is kid-friendly.
Pat Croce’s Rum Barrel – Key West
Kid friendly, fun atmosphere. Good (authentically-Philly) cheesesteaks and seafood.
Baby’s Coffee – Mile Marker 15
Amazing coffee. Get the ice coffee with whipped cream – it is AWESOME.
Sunset Grille – Marathon
Great food, pool/beach area on site so bring bathing suits. Kids can swim while family eats. On the water. Sit outside and you’ll likely see some tarpon/dolphin.
Porky’s BBQ – Marathon
Deep fried Key Lime Pie. Need I say more? On the water. Local’s place.
Food Shopping in the Keys
Don’t expect to get a lot of fresh veggies in the Keys. Or edible meat. Other than that, the food stores are fairly clean with a reasonable selection. Check expiration dates, mold levels, and the working ability of the refrigeration/freezer machines before purchasing any food products. If you need any particular products (i.e., gluten free, organic, etc.,) it might be better to bring it with you, as brand selection can be hit or miss at all stores. There are very few “big box” stores in the Lower Keys, so don’t plan on hitting a Target or Walmart when you get to paradise.