48 Hours: Changes in latitude means changes in attitude when visiting Keys

Posted October 2, 2016


KEY LARGO, Fla. — Flipping through the radio stations, nothing seemed right yet. Leaving Homestead, the car ride was missing something. Suddenly, Jimmy Buffett and Zac Brown Band flooded the speakers as we saw water on each side of the two lane U.S. 1 leading into Key Largo. We cover about 30 miles and make it to the largest of the Florida Keys, the home to the self-proclaimed “Diving Capital of the World.” You have to consciously try not to relax to feel right at home at a sandy beach next to a tiki bar with live music after a day of snorkeling over world renown reefs.

Located outside the Key Largo Visitor Center, decorated large chairs like these are all over the area.

Located outside the Key Largo Visitor Center, decorated large chairs like these are all over the area (Photos by Alina Zerpa)..


12 p.m., Sea Shells by the Sea Shore

After seeing the “Welcome to Key Largo” sign, it’s not difficult to realize you’ve arrived in paradise. Surrounded by bars, restaurants and places to have fun on the water, it is also not hard to miss all the shops in the area. Shell World provides an array of anything under the sun: apparel, food, house furniture and quirky gifts to bring home. You might even bring home a hermit crab, who knows. Even the outside of the store has photo ops to begin the journey of typical Key Largo pictures with larger than life shells and a beach chair to fit your whole family. However, if people back home are expecting presents, go with a Key Largo specialty: Salt Scrub. If it works on the fishermen to soften their hands after a day out at sea, it can do wonders for you too.

4 p.m., Hole in the Wall

Forget anything you know about seafood. The Keys will easily make you think whatever’s back home isn’t good seafood after all. On Friday’s, Hideout offers all you can eat fish fry from 5 to 9 p.m for $9.99. A little bit off the beaten path, it’s surrounded by a jungle of trees and pebble roads. With outdoor seating and a homey atmosphere, it’s easy to lose track of time here as the breeze from the water, just a few feet away, hits your face. Go near the water shore on the patio dock before the sun sets to see the jellyfish swimming around, it’s quite a sight.

The Hideout Restaurant is a bit off the beaten path but worth the rocky road.

The Hideout Restaurant is a bit off the beaten path but worth the rocky road.

7 p.m., Beach, Booze, Bar

It wouldn’t be a night in the Keys without drinks, a tiki bar, a water front and live music. Gilbert’s Tiki Bar provides all that and a dangling plastic shark to take pictures with. With performances by local artists, enjoy a Cuba Libre or a margarita as Jet Skis and boats pull in for the night and couples start dancing around. It’s hard not to have a good time at a bar on the beach and reggae music that’ll make you want to sing and dance along.


7:30 a.m., Breakfast with Elvis

If you arrive early enough, maybe the line at DJ’s Diner won’t hold up your Saturday. Known for its breakfast and busy mornings, the Diner is sure to leave you full for the rest of the day’s adventures. With dishes such as strangely delicious as Crabcake Benedict and the Hawaiian Pancake Special, this unique, mural-filled, 1950’s themed diner will leave you and your wallet ready to conquer the rest of the Keys.

9 a.m., 70 Square Miles

Drive over to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park to visit the first undersea park in the United States with about 70 nautical square miles of coral reefs, tropical hammocks and mangrove swamps to explore through. With a marina, a beach area and tons of boats, it’s difficult not to have something to do. At 9 a.m., the snorkeling tour ($29.99) departs to go to see coral reefs and the infamous Christ of the Abyss. There since 1965, the statue has its arms reaching upwards for snorkelers and divers alike to enjoy and take underwater pictures.

12 p.m., Mom’s Cooking

After a hearty breakfast and energy-draining morning, a big plate of food is what you’d want and what you’ll get at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen II. The restaurant was named Mrs. Mac in 1976 in honor of Jeff MacFarland’s mother. Since then, it has been a local favorite with featured plates such as their world famous chili and gator steak. Try the “Konk” Chowder lunch special because at such a low price, you’ll get your bang for your buck.

3 p.m., Key Lime Heaven

For dessert, head on over to the most famous and original place in all the keys: The Original Key Lime Pie Factory. There’s only one and it lies in Key Largo where visitors from around the world come to taste original key lime or variations of it like chocolate dipped frozen key lime pie on a stick or key lime pie cookies. Right when you open the door, you’ll be greeted by a whiff of coffee and key lime and you’ll see rows of all things key lime pie. Good luck picking which one to eat but at least you eat it outside and enjoy the breeze under the colorful picnic tables.

Key Lime Pie Factory, a staple in Key Largo, is home to the original Key Lime Pie, including variations of the dessert.

Key Lime Pie Factory, a staple in Key Largo, is home to the original Key Lime Pie, including variations of the dessert.

4:30 p.m., Robbie’s Tarpons

Only 20 minutes farther south will take you Robbie’s in Islamorada. Follow the crowds of people by the boats and docks and you’ll soon find out what’s the attraction: tarpon. Buy some feed, crouch over the dock and feed the many tarpons with your own hands for a once in a lifetime experience to see how these monstrous fish become guppies knowing they’re about to eat. Careful you don’t get nibbled by one! Afterwards, walk around the area and explore the art galleries and little shops available with memorabilia of the Keys and gorgeous paintings that might come back home with you.

6 p.m., Hungry Tarpon

After feeding the tarpons, walk over from Robbie’s to the adjoining restaurant, The Hungry Tarpon. Since the 1970s, the Hungry Tarpon has been feeding fish and people with its catch of the day and laundry list of drinks. With unique concoctions like Key-lime Martini and Trailer Trash Bloody Mary enjoyed on their beach, it’s an easy way to end the night surrounded by good food and live music with the view of a picturesque Islamorada sunset.


10 a.m., Make-Your-Own-Drinks

With two long days behind you and a beautiful day ahead, Snappers is the perfect place to brunch and create cocktails. Just like other Key Largo restaurants, Snappers has a waterfront marina in its backyard complete with a full bar and a boat where a live jazz band play from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to help wake you up. Don’t know what to drink with your food? You can pick from either the Bloody Mary Bar or the Bubbly Bar where you can make your own drink and pick which fruits should accompany your champagne. Plates can range from the typical waffles to a Crab and Boursin Omelette to Shrimp & Grits. Have fun trying to pick what to eat and drink.

Like many Key Largo restaurants, Snappers provides a water front view while having brunch on a Sunday morning.

Like many Key Largo restaurants, Snappers provides a water front view while having brunch on a Sunday morning.

1 p.m., One with Nature

Full stomach, happy heart. Off you go to explore nature one last time on a Backcountry Eco-Tour on a kayak nature tour with Capt. Bill Keogh. Kayakers get to explore the waters of the Great White Heron and Key Deer National Wildlife Refuges. You’ll come across mangrove forests, shallow water sponge flats and tons of critters. For $50, you’re given the equipment needed for three hours. Don’t forget your sunscreen, the Key Largo sun can do some serious damage.

2 p.m., On the Road Again

If you’re still not ready to leave, make one last pit-stop at Hobo’s Café for Key Lime Pie in a jar. Made in house with real Key Lime and graham cracker crust, the desserts might not make it home. Try not to cry too hard as you see the Key Largo sign telling you goodbye as you “Return to Reality.”



  • Boatel. A rather unique experience, feel at home in a docked boat with a beach side and ocean view (47 Shoreland Dr.; prices range from $85 to $120 per night). Wake up to the sound of waves and boats going out for a ride. The hotel is nearby restaurants and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
  • Gilbert’s Resort. Located next to a tiki bar on the beach, Gilbert’s provides waterfront rooms with free continental breakfast (107900 Overseas Hwy.; prices range from $70 to $130 per night). Enjoy activities such as paddle boarding and kayaking.

If You Go

  1. Shell World: 97600 Overseas Hwy., Key Largo, Fla. 33037, 9 a.m.-8 p.m., 305-852-8245, www.shellworldflkeys.com/
  2. Hideout Restaurant: 47 Shoreland Dr., Key Largo, Fla. 33037, 6 a.m.-2 p.m. and again from 5-9 p.m., 305-451-0128.
  3. Gilbert’s Tiki Bar: 107900 Overseas Hwy., Key Largo, Fla. 33037, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends, 305-451-1133, www.gilbertsresort.com/tiki-bar.php.
  4. DJ’s Diner: 99411 Overseas Hwy., Key Largo, Fla. 33037, 7 a.m.-3 p.m., 305-451-2999.
  5. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park: 102601 Overseas Hwy., Key Largo, Fla. 33037, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., 305-451-6300, pennekamppark.com
  6. Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen II: 99020 Overseas Hwy., Key Largo, Fla. 33037, 11 a.m.-10 p.m., not open on Sundays, 305-485-6227, https://locu.com/places/mrs-macs-ii-key-largo-us/#menu.
  7. Key Lime Pie Factory: 92220 Overseas Hwy., Tavernier, Fla. 33070, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. from Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. on Sunday, 305-922-2400, www.blondgiraffe.com.
  8. Robbie’s: 77522 Overseas Hwy., Islamorada, Fla. 33036, 6:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday and until 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, 305-664-8070, www.robbies.com.
  9. Hungry Tarpon: 77522 Overseas Hwy., Islamorada, Fla. 33036, 6:30 a.m.-9 p.m., 305-664-0535, www.hungrytarpon.com.
  10. Snappers: 139 Seaside Ave., Key Largo, Fla. 33037, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. on Sunday, 305-852-5956, snapperskeylargo.com.
  11. Capt. Bill Keogh: 1791 Bogie Dr., Big Pine Key, Fla. 33043, 9 a.m., 1 p.m. or 6 p.m., 305-872-7474, www.keyskayaktours.com.
  12. Hobo’s Cafe: 101691 Overseas Hwy., Key Largo, Fla. 33037, 11 a.m.-10 p.m., 305-451-5888, www.hoboscafe.net.