With so much unpleasantness happening around us each day, my mind wanders to a time where there seemed to be so much more joy. Escape with me, if only for 15 minutes.
The Florida Keys were expected to open back up to tourist starting June 1. That stretch of islands surrounded by the aquamarine colored ocean is really the only thing I miss about living in Florida other than family still there.
Years ago, we owned a tiny little RV that was permanently parked in a park in Key Largo. Years later we sold that RV and bought a mobile home in another park in Marathon, about an hour away from Key West. My fondest young adult memories were weekends spent at those two parks.
The first park in Key Largo was smaller but we had a boat at that time. It’s where Dad taught me how to maneuver that sucker and also taught me what not to do when stuck in a sand bar. It’s where I did some of my first offshore fishing with Dad, although not too far offshore because I would get seasick as soon as I lost sight of the shoreline. It’s where I caught my first 5-pound Pompano and Dad taught me how to clean my own catch.
We spent many weekends and sometimes longer at that place. We got up early and went to sleep late. We consumed every minute of the day enjoying the ocean, exploring nature, visiting the local arts shops, and having great family conversations and cookouts.
We would often drive roughly 20 minutes south to Islamorada. That’s where I had my first taste of turtle soup at the Green Turtle Inn, an iconic eatery that’s been slinging great food and vibes since 1935.
Key Largo is where I learned how to snorkel and swam around the Christ under the sea statue near John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
I was in my early 20’s when we had the little house in Marathon Key. That place was much larger than the first and our backyard was the canal waterway heading to the ocean. There were many weekends I spent down there with my parents. But there were also many weekends, when I was able to go on my own. It was the best place to go to clear my mind.
Heading down I would spend a good portion of my day in Islamorada at the Holiday Isle Tiki Bar checking out all the local artists, live music, cold beers, and smoked Marlin fish dip (which is rarely made with Marlin anymore because they were over-fished). At the Tiki Bar there was a cluster of artists on hand making and selling their wares. Down the road were more artist posts and touristy stores worthy of a visit at a place called the Rain Barrel. Look for the giant lobster statue at mile marker 90.7 and park.
Before ending the day, I would make my dinner stop at the Whale Harbor Seafood Buffet restaurant. For $20 I was able to shovel as many oysters, shrimp, fish, crabs and seafood soup in my mouth until I was in a food induced coma. Not sure if that place is still open but that was the best bang for your seafood buck, for sure.
A little further down the road I would stop at Robbie’s Marina. You haven’t experienced the sheer strength and beauty of live Tarpon until you get to Robbie’s and hand feed them.
The Theater of the Sea is also in Islamorada. I’ve stopped there a few times for their shows and a chance to swim in the lagoon with the Dolphins. Totally exhausted, I would head to our home tucked away near mile marker 50 open the back curtain and the sliding glass doors that faced the water and fall asleep staring out at the water, sky, and stars. The next day I would head south for my favorite spots in Stock Island and Key West.
Stock Island is a slip of land that serves as an entry-way to Key West and hosts some of the last commercial fishing fleets on Safe Harbor. And their claim to fame is the world-famous Hog Fish Bar and Grill.
The seafood at the Hogfish is literally hook-to-cooked, and outside patio dining allows you to take in the breathtaking scenery and sunshine.
I can write an entire section about Key West alone. In fact, I think I will. So, for now I hope that you can head out to the Keys and find the little places that make your heart feel warm.
Senior Editor, Coastal Courier.