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Tony Capecchi

Woodbury, Minn.

Photo Essay: Florida Keys Overseas Highway

“Island-hopping to land’s end, this one-of-a-kind highway offers the promise of radiant seascapes, exotic underwater worlds, and animals found nowhere else in America.” Such praise for Florida’s famed Overseas Highways––in Reader’s Digest coffee table book The Most Scenic Drives in America, no less––inspired me to rent a car in Miami and drive to the Florida Keys this May. I am grateful I did. 

The drive from North Key Largo to Key West, the southernmost tip of the continental U.S., spans 42 bridges, hundreds of hotels and restaurants, and countless options for ocean-fun under the sun.
 


 

As someone who has sought out the world’s most scenic drives––from Scotland’s Isle of Skye to British Columbia’s Sea-to-Sky Drive, from Ireland's Ring of Kerry to Italy’s Amalfi Coast––I would definitely recommend the Overseas Highway, with the following two caveats.

One, don’t expect a feeling of remote isolation. Two, embrace the island lifestyle. You won’t be alone on Overseas Highway, and you shouldn’t be in a rush. The one-lane highway (several stretches do include passing lanes) runs from island to island––or key to key––and is surrounded by countless bars and restaurants, terrific watersports, arguably the best fishing in North America, and a contagious vibe of island fun specific to the laid-back, friendly Florida Keys

Key Largo

Roughly 30 miles long and just two miles in width, Key Largo is the largest of the Florida Keys. For a cool view of its geologic underpinnings, stop at mile marker 103 on Rte 1, where an expanse of coral has been exposed on the bank of a man-made channel. An outstanding spot for snorkeling and scuba diving is John Pennekmamp Coral Reef State Park, an undersea wildlife preserve.

Islamorada

According to the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), more saltwater fishing records have been set in the Florida Keys than anywhere else in the world. Islamorada is the heart of the Keys when it comes to fishing. 

“Where else in the world can you go out in the morning and catch a 300-pound swordfish and a 30- or 40-pound dolphin, come back in to catch a few snappers for dinner, then in the evening go out and catch a 100-pound tarpon?” asked Andy Newman, Media Relations Director of Newman PR.
 



Word to the wise: When visiting Islamorada, even if you’re just driving through, make a point to stop at Lorelei Restaurant & Cabana Bar. Failing to do so, will be a mistake. Cheap drinks, live music every night, fantastic yet inexpensive seafood and spectacular sunsets are all part of the experience. Click here to see my full article on this gem of a restaurant. 

Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two guides based out of Islamorada’s Bud N’ Mary’s Marina. The first is Nick Stanczyk, son of fishing legend Richard Stanczyk who’s owned Bud ’N Mary’s since 1978. Nick and his family discovered a school of broadbill swordfish off the coast of Islamorada and pioneered the current approach for daytime swordfishing.

The second is Jim Willcox, who’s been named one of the top five fishing guides in the world.
 


 

Two years ago I spent a day fishing the Everglades with Willcox and have to say it was the single best experience I’ve ever had with a guide. 

Long Key State Recreation Area

A great spot to stop if you want the classic adventure of canoeing or kayaking in the Keys. This 1,100-acre park offers variety of self-guided nature trails, including one that was designed for exploration by canoe––enjoy the mangrove-fringed lagoons and tropical hammocks. 

Marathon

My wife and I enjoyed two very unique, family friendly attractions at Marathon. The first is The Turtle Hospital, a small non-profit dedicated to the rehabilitation of endangered sea turtles.




This one of a kind “hospital” offer regular tours of the facilities, and you can observe sea turtles they are currently nursing back to health. They also do special release parties when they re-introduce a sea turtle back into the wild.   



The second place we spent an afternoon at was The Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters. This is a place kids will love, but so will adults. You get to pet sting rays, swim with hundreds of colorful fish, watch 300-pound goliath grouper eat, and feed sharks by hand.


 


 



If you're hungry yourself, they also have tasty paninis and a variety of other food at the Eagle Ray Cafe. 

Little Torch Key



This small island is the launching pad for one of the elite island resorts in the world. Lucky guests access Little Palm Island Resort & Spa by riding a 1930’s style motorboat from Little Torch Key.




Upon arrival at the 5.5-acre island, guests are pampered beyond belief at a verifiable paradise island featuring 15 thatched roof bungalows, private beaches, outstanding food and high-scale amenities ranging from sailing to scuba diving to spa treatments.



My 3-night stay at Little Palm Island was an incredible highlight
 

Key West 

Key West is the end of the road, the southernmost tip of the continental U.S. Much to the delight of its locals and visitors, the island embraces its reputation as an eccentric, wacky, barefoot and carefree bohemian island town. It’s a real melting pot of U.S., Latin American and Caribbean culture … and the views aren’t bad either. 

The island, with its signature Duval Street lined with entertainment and island excitement, was rightfully featured in the New York Times-best seller “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.” If you’re looking for a place to stay in the heart of it all, treat yourself to a night at Ocean Key Resort & Spa.  


 

In sum, the Florida Keys would make anyone’s bucket list of places to see, and I can’t wait to again cruise Overseas Highway. 

For more information on things to do in the Florida Keys, visit Fla-keys.com.

Video Blog: A Day in Paradise

If a picture’s worth 1,000 words, how many is a video worth? Much has been said about Little Palm Island Resort & Spa; the 5.5-acre luxury resort a dozen miles off the coast of the Florida Keys is routinely named one of the top resorts in the world. I’ve written about the island multiple times, but for all my attempts at describing the unique experience Little Palm offers, my words come up a bit short. 

So I have assembled a collection of videos from my visit last month––along with a few photos––to provide a glimpse of life on paradise island.

The canopy beds in the thatched-roof bungalow suites are incredibly comfortable, and the bedrooms are surrounded by black-out shades that keep it pitch-black until noon, but I recommend waking up before sunrise and starting your day on the dock. 

 

You won’t be the only one doing some early morning fishing. 
 


Of course, you’ll work up an appetite catching all those fish. Fortunately, Little Palm Island has you covered. Whoever said breakfast is the most important meal of the day has obviously visited Little Palm. 
 


Then again, with sunsets like this you do not want to miss dinner on the beach, so I may waver here and say dinner is the most important, can’t-miss meal at the island. 
 


As spectacular as the meals are at Little Palm, I certainly didn’t intend to gloss over the sun-filled daytime hours when the myriad of activities call out to Little Palm’s lucky guests.

In addition to stand-up paddleboards and kayaks, Little Palm Island offers a fleet of motorboats its guests are free to take out during the day. My wife and I loved cruising the turquoise waters on a 20-ft catamaran powered by a 90-horsepower Suzuki motor. 
 


 

In the afternoon, we went on a guided snorkeling excursion to Looe Key, a prime reef on the world’s third largest barrier reef. We got up close and personal with dozens of species of colorful and bizarre fish, as well as with a shark and sea turtle.
 

 
When we got back from snorkeling, we squeezed in a lap around the island on a stand-up paddleboard. I brought a fishing pole and caught a few fish along the way, before returning to the island and doing more fishing (Did I mention I love to fish? Or that Little Palm Island is home to some of the best fishing in the world?)




While fishing and hanging out at the dock we saw several manatees, including one that swam right up to us and gave us an opportunity to pet the gentle giant. 
 


 

As you can tell, my wife and I like to be active. But rest assured, we did catch plenty of R&R on some of our other days at Little Palm. We laid on the beach, floated in the pool and swung in the hammocks. 
 


 

But most relaxing of all, we treated ourselves to an incredible 110-minute couples massage at the award-winning SpaTerre in a gazebo yards away from the ocean. Talk about unwinding. A gentle ocean breeze flowed through the gazebo and we listened to the waves lapping against the shore as we each had a talented masseuse spoil us with a full-body massage.
 


 

After a 5-course dinner consisting of shrimp, seafood ceviche, grouper, braised ribs and ice cream we surely did not need but miraculously managed to polish off, my wife and I enjoyed some of Little Palm’s evening activities. Sitting by the campfire provided a chance to share stories with other guests.

Listening to live music offered an opportunity to sit back and reflect on the day’s events. 
 


The music was great, but in my opinion the best evening entertainment at Little Palm is found above, by gazing up at the dazzling stars. 

By the time your head hits the pillow at Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, you’ve long since forgotten about the outside world.

Life on paradise island is good. 

The website for Little Palm Island Resort & Spa is www.littlepalmisland.com. For more information, call 800.343.8567 or email getlost@littlepalmisland.com.

For information on other fun things to do in the Florida Keys, visit www.fla-keys.com.

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