5 free things in Florida Keys with focus on nature

KEY WEST, Fla. — The Florida Keys, a series of islands spanning more than 100 miles connected by bridges and causeways, offer plenty to do at no cost, from sunset views to nature spots.


Driving the toll-free Florida Keys Overseas Highway south from Florida City to Key West takes about three hours, though you’ll want to stop to sightsee. But the drive alone is worth the trip: You feel as though you are floating over water as you hop from island to island, with pristine views on either side.

For more information, visit www.fla-keys.com. Here are five places in the Keys, with free highlights for each.

Key Largo

If you’re heading south into the Keys from the Miami or Fort Lauderdale areas, Key Largo is the first island you hit. State parks offer great opportunities for bird watching and nature photography, but many, including John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, charge entrance fees. So head to the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center (near Mile Marker 93) to see rescued and rehabilitated wild birds. Free brochures guide you through boardwalks surrounded by falcons and other wild birds in cages. Watch out for wild pelicans walking the boardwalk — they won’t bite, but they won’t get out of your way. Cross over the Mangrove Wetland to a beach where birds roam freely.

A bicycle and pedestrian corridor known as the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail starts in Key Largo (Mile Marker 106) and stretches 70 miles. It will eventually run the length of the Keys.

Islamorada

Known for sport fishing, Islamorada, which calls itself a village of islands, has a vibrant art scene with a free art walk event (between Mile Markers 81 and 82) on the third Thursday of each month, sponsored by the Morada Way Arts Cultural District. Five galleries stay open late as artists and musicians line the streets.

Anne’s Beach (at Mile Marker 73) is a quiet beach with a rocky shore and shallow clear blue waters. There’s limited parking, but it’s rarely crowded.

Stop for a picture with a giant lobster known as Betsy at The Rain Barrel Artisan Village (near Mile Marker 87). The popular figure of a crustacean is just one of many drive-by attractions on U.S. 1.

Marathon

Sombrero Beach Park is a lovely community spot with a crescent-shaped beach, white sand and palm trees. Facilities include volleyball courts, picnic pavilions, playground equipment, restrooms and showers. No fee to enter or park. It’s open from 7 a.m. until dusk. From the Overseas Highway, turn south on Sombrero Beach Road.

Big Pine Key

The Lower Keys have a more laid-back feel than the northerly islands, with fewer tourist attractions. Signs warn you to slow down and watch out for Key Deer, an endangered species. In Big Pine Key, you can see the small deer with white tails at the National Key Deer Refuge.

You can also tour the Bat Tower in Sugarloaf Key (at Mile Marker 17). Just don’t expect to see bats: The 1929 structure was built to lure bats as a way to combat mosquitoes, but bats stayed away.

Key West

Key West is known for beautiful sunsets, and the place to watch them is Mallory Square.

At the Key West Historic Memorial Sculpture Garden, 38 bronze busts highlight notables who had homes here, from Ernest Hemingway and President Harry S. Truman to Henry Flagler, who helped develop eastern Florida.

Finally, stop at the southernmost point in the continental U.S. for a picture at the reproduction of a large concrete buoy so you can say you were 90 miles from Cuba.

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  • Facebook page for the War Bird Sportfishing Charter Boat Twitter Account for Captain Dana Banks - Key Largo Fishing Guide and Charter Boat Captain of the War Bird RSS Feed for Posts from Captain Dana Banks - Key Largo Fishing Charters - the War Bird

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