Florida Keys with children : coconuts and underwater towns
‘Look, mom’, my six-year old shouts, pointing downwards to the water we were standing in. ‘There’s a whole town of fish down here. This is where all the fish live!’. She is so excited. Wearing goggles, she’s just kneeled down in the shallow water of the Atlantic Ocean. Her brother is still under water. Slightly freaked out by the sea weed, but at the same time mesmerized by the underwater world. Here, at the Bahia Honda State Park, our kids have their first experience with life beneath the surface of the sea. Florida Keys with children is so much more than eating key-lime pie and the obligatory photo of the most-southern point of the USA in Key West.
Just off the Highway 1 between Big Pine Key and Marathon, the Bahia Honda State Park offers you the best beaches of the Florida Keys. It’s a low key state park, with beaches on both the Gulf and the Atlantic side. Its beaches are perfect for families with younger kids, because of the shallow water and tons of fish swimming just beneath the surface. It’s not the white sandy beach with palm trees you might expect in these tropical islands. But just sitting there – a Great Blue Herron strolling by – just enjoying the quiet of the clear sea and the blue skies, to us it was a magical experience.
Scenic drive on iconic Highway
We stop over at the Bahia Honda State Park on the way back from a day-trip visit to Key West. When planning our Florida road trip a few months before, I had my mind set on finding lodging at this most infamous island of the Keys. For families, however, Key West has limited offers. Either B&B’s and hotels are not open for children or wildly expensive. In the end, I decided on Key Largo. The name of this island has always appealed to me since the famous Beach Boys song. This, however, meant that our plans to visit Key West included a 2-hour drive there and back. The drive being one of the world’s most iconic scenic routes – and a life-long dream of my husband – was definitely worthwhile. Highway 1 takes you across bridge after bridge from island to island. I have to admit that both children in the backseat were underwhelmed. Us adults in the front tuned in to a Latin music radio channel and just enjoyed the ride.
Supposedly, Key West can be filled to the brim with tourists. We were there mid May, which is slightly off-season but just before the hurricane season is supposed to begin. Temperatures were tropical, prices were high, but there were no crowds that day. Parking seems to be limited but we nailed a spot just in front of the Glazed Donuts. A donut is always a good idea, right?
Southernmost Southernmost coconuts
Very pretty and very touristy Duval Street. And blazing hot, even on a Spring day. Not much to do with kids, too. Just stroll along on your way to the Southernmost point of the continental USA and do some window shopping. It takes about 20 minutes to arrive at the southernmost point, first passing the southernmost hotel and the southernmost southernmost house. Even more memorable than our obligatory photo opportunity with the colorful buoy are the waste bins marked ‘coconuts only’. First, I thought it was a tongue- in-cheek reference to the tropical Keys, but there actually is a popular coconut stand around the corner. And yes, after a 15 minute wait in line, yes, you will pay 3 USD for a coconut with a straw.
After that, the whining started. The kids were hot and bored, it was too warm for the playground. What was there to do in Key West with kids? We opted for a drink at the cute six-toed cat café close to Ernest Hemingway’s house. But if you’re up to something more, take a tour with the conch train. I’ve read raving reviews of this wildly touristy attraction, to my surprise. It probably beats walking along pretty Whitehead street with two tired children in the blazing heat, though.
End of Highway 1
Our last stop at the southernmost point was the sign indicating the end of Highway 1. You can find the sign at the corner of Whitehead Street and Fleming Street: Mile 0 of Highway 1. Maybe, we’ll once make it to Maine at the Canadian border to the other end of this highway.
I absolutely love Key West. Its architecture is amazing and so different from the rest of Florida and its Keys. It takes you back to the days of Hemingway, rum and cigars. I’d love to come back once the ferries to Cuba start running again. I’d say it’s not the most kid-friendly place we ever visited. Family travel is not just about the children, though. Alternating, we choose kid-friendly activities and activities more tuned to us parents. Following this rule, we stopped over at Bahia Honda State park on the way back from Key West. And had the most amazing time, discovering underwater life and silently watching colorful bird life. This is what family travel is about: sharing new experiences and enjoying them together.
Bahia Honda State Park – entrance fee is 8 USD per vehicle
The Park has lots more to offer, besides beaches. Cycling, birding, boating, fishing, kayaking, the park has more on offer for families. You can also rent a cabin or stay at their campsite.
The drive from Key Largo to Key West takes 2 hours, single way, along Highway 1. Take your time and enjoy the drive itself. Supposedly, in summer, the road is to be avoided on Fridays and in weekends because of slow traffic and traffic jams. Parking in Key West is limited, try your luck at the large car park near Mallory square at the sea.