Where Can I See Sunset In Key West

By Gwen Filosa


The Overseas Highway

The legendary road in and out of the Florida Keys faces more and more pressure.

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Driving on the Overseas Highway feels like getting VIP access to the best views. Peer out the window at the water on all sides as you roll down the island chain. If you catch a sunset, you’re golden.

For visitors, U.S. 1 is about the journey, not the destination. But many landmarks along the highway are worth stopping for, even if it makes the drive longer.

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Marinas, restaurants, state parks and shops dot the road through the Florida Keys. Must-see roadside attractions include a giant lobster sculpture, a hospital for turtles, a dolphin research center and a refuge that protects the dog-sized Key deer.

Here’s a short list of what you shouldn’t miss while on the road.

Shell World

Key Largo, mile marker 97.5

Let’s start with a true Keys treasure. Shell World is an 18,000-square-foot shop on the median in Key Largo that sells home decor, T-shirts and souvenirs along with basket upon basket of shells.

Its origin dates back to 1972. That’s when founder and owner Jim Waterman opened the shop in a gas station across the street called Jimmy’s American Gas and Gifts.

By 1977, that store had turned into Shell World, and it moved to the current space in 1984.

Shell World’s inventory is vast and varied. It has a mermaid section. Coral, starfish and seahorses are also for sale. Offerings range from 50-cent shells to rare ones from around the world. You can pick up inexpensive bags of shells, too. Conch shells, of course, abound.

Shell World is a popular fixture off U.S. 1 in Key Largo. Provided by Shell World

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Key Largo, mile marker 102.5

The Keys aren’t famous for their beaches. But they still have a breathtaking environment to explore at 10 state parks, breathtaking views and plenty of on-the-water activities.

Bahia Honda State Park and Fort Zachary Historic State Park are in the Lower Keys. Curry Hammock State Park is in the Middle Keys.

The heavy hitter is near the top of the Keys, close to Miami.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, named after the Miami Herald editor whose work helped establish Everglades National Park, is the first undersea park in the U.S.

It covers 178 nautical square miles of coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove swamps. You can scuba dive, swim, snorkel, kayak, take a glass-bottom boat tour, camp and fish.

The park is also home to one of the Keys’ favorite dive spots: the Christ of the Deep statue site.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is located at mile marker 102.5 in the Florida Keys. Florida Department of Environmental Protection

‘Betsy’ the Lobster

Islamorada, mile marker 86.7

As you head farther down the Keys from the mainland, a giant spiny lobster known as Betsy greets you at mile marker 86.7 in Islamorada, off the southbound lane of U.S. 1.

Since 2009, this 30-foot tall, 40-foot long roadside attraction has perched outside the Rain Barrel Village complex of shops.

But Betsy dates back to the 1980s, when a local restaurant owner commissioned sculptor Richard Blaze to build the “biologically correct” fiberglass bug with a dozen legs, according to the Islamorada Times.

Betsy took five years to complete but the restaurant had closed by that time. She was installed outside another U.S. 1 landmark, the Treasure Village “fortress.” Betsy was removed after Treasure Village was turned into a Montessori charter school in 1998 and temporarily put into storage.

Betsy, a giant Keys spiny lobster sculpture, was created by Marathon artist Richard Blaze in the 1980s. Bob Care Monroe County Tourist Development Council

Theater of the Sea

Islamorada, mile marker 84.5

You can swim, wade or paint with a dolphin at Theater of the Sea, which also offers a chance to hang out with sea lions, an alligator, nurse sharks, stingrays, a sea turtle and parrots.

Created in 1946 by the P.F. McKenney family, which still owns and operates the attraction, Theater of the Sea opens daily at 9:30 a.m. They pump in 12 million gallons of ocean water a day to maintain the three-acre natural salt-water lagoons.

While the theater has a list of “animal interactions” for extra fees, you can opt to pay general admission to watch the dolphin, sea lion and parrot shows, take a short boat ride, lounge on the lagoon-side beach and take a fish and reptile tour that includes alligators.

General admission is $22.95 for ages 3 to 10 and $44.95 for ages 11 and over. It costs $95 to meet a dolphin. Swimming with one starts at $210. The dolphin visits include the general admission price.

At Theater of the Sea you can watch shows, take a tour or interact with a dolphin, sea lion and nurse sharks. File Photo

Robbie’s Marina of Islamorada

Islamorada, mile marker 77.5

No trip through the Upper Keys is complete without a stop to feed the tarpon.

Robbie’s Marina of Islamorada offers charter fishing trips, parasailing, boat and kayak rentals along with a restaurant and open-air market.

But it’s the chance to feed tarpon by hand at Robbie’s that makes it a classic Keys roadside attraction. A school of more than 100 tarpon hang out at the marina for hours, according to Robbie’s, and occasionally one of the “silver kings” will emerge from the water to grab some tossed fish.

It costs $2.25 per person, once per day, to get access to the dock. Robbie’s will sell you a bucket of fish for $4.

Robbies tarpon
You can feed the tarpon at Robbie’s Marina of Islamorada. Chabeli Herrera Miami Herald File

Dolphin Research Center

Grassy Key, mile marker 59

The Dolphin Research Center is dedicated to learning and teaching about dolphins and is licensed by the federal government to help manatees in distress. It also welcomes people to spend a couple of hours or the day on the grounds or pay $210 to swim with a dolphin.

Higher ticket options include a chance to shadow dolphin trainers, or spend half a day with the dolphins and sea lions. General admission, which allows you to observe the dolphins and sea lions, is $28 for adults and $23 for children 4 to 12.

Availability and program times vary. The research center says its dolphins and sea lions choose to take part in activities. “None are ever forced,” its website states.

This Middle Keys nonprofit has been providing a home for dolphins since 1984. But the first person to bring dolphins to the Grassy Key site was Milton Santini, who started collecting dolphins in the 1940s, according to the center.

One of the dolphins that lived on Grassy Key was Mitzi, who starred in the 1963 movie “Flipper.” A memorial to Mitzi, who died in 1972, remains on the property.

Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key.

Pigeon Key

Marathon, Visitor center, mile marker 47.5

At just five acres, this island beneath the “Old” Seven Mile Bridge in Marathon sure is tiny. But it played a huge role in Keys history.

This is where hundreds of workers bunked while building Henry Flagler’s Key West extension of the Florida East Coast Railway, which connected the Keys to mainland Florida. Pigeon Key’s grounds and buildings date back to 1908.

These days, the buildings are used for marine science education programs. People in the programs get to spend the night on the island.

But you can still visit Pigeon Key.

Tours, which last about an hour, are available. You’ll take a ferry from the Pigeon Key visitor center at mile marker 47.5 between the Faro Blanco Resort and the Marriott Hotel.

Pigeon Key offers a chance to swim, snorkel around the dock or do some catch-and-release fishing off it. You can bring a lunch or a cooler and spend time at the beach area.

Admission is $15 for adults, $12 for children ages 6-12 and $5 for children 5 and under. (Monroe County residents get a discount.)

The Old Seven Mile Bridge is closed for repairs.

Pigeon Key, the one-time base camp for the workers that constructed Henry Flagler’s Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad, is both an educational center and a visitor attraction featuring a small museum that pays homage to a railroad that opened in January 1912 and ceased operations in September 1935. Andy Newman Monroe County Tourist Development Council

The Turtle Hospital

Marathon, mile marker 48.5

The Turtle Hospital in the Middle Keys city of Marathon is much more than a place to meet some sea turtles up close and personal.

Richie Moretti, a New Jersey native and former Volkswagen mechanic, opened the hospital in 1986 to rescue and rehabilitate injured and sick sea turtles, and when they’re healthy enough, release them back to the ocean.

Moretti turned the old Hidden Harbor Motel into a veterinary hospital for turtles. Since its founding, the Turtle Hospital has helped heal and release more than 1,500 sea turtles. The rehabilitation area includes 23 tanks that range between 150 and 800 gallons, and a 100,000 gallon saltwater pool.

To visit the turtles you have to take a guided, 90-minute tour, and reservations are recommended. The tour costs $27 for adults and $12 for children 4-12. Children under 4 get in for free.

After the tour, visitors may feed the “permanent residents” turtles, who include Bubble Butt, Bender and Coastie.

Agape, a sub-adult loggerhead sea turtle, was treated at the Turtle Hospital in the Middle Keys city of Marathon. Turtle Hospital

National Key Deer Refuge Complex

Big Pine Key, mile marker 30.5

The adorable Key deer are found in the Lower Keys and nowhere else on the planet.

Stop in Big Pine Key or the remote No Name Key and you’re likely to spot the deer, which grow to about three feet tall.

Created in 1957 to protect and preserve the deer, the National Key Deer Refuge covers 9,200 acres and is home to 23 endangered and threatened plant and animal species.

The best time to find Key deer is early in the morning or just before sunset, the refuge says. Look for them at the Blue Hole and near the Watson Nature Trail on Big Pine.

On Big Pine, U.S. 1 becomes a Key deer low-speed zone with a speed limit of 45 mph during daylight. After sunset, the limit drops to 35 mph.

You may consider feeding these dog-sized, endangered Key deer, and they will approach you as if they want something in return. But wildlife officials warn you could harm the deer by giving them snacks. It draws them to roadsides and neighborhoods, putting them close to traffic. The deer also can get sick from eating food meant for humans and become vulnerable to parasites.

key deer herd
Key deer are unique to the Lower Florida Keys. Emily Michot [email protected]

Fat Albert

Over Cudjoe Key, at about mile marker 21

As you pass through the Lower Keys, you may spot a blimp in the sky over Cudjoe Key, which is about 20 miles east of Key West. Dubbed “Fat Albert,” it’s part of a group of helium-filled blimps formally called the Tethered Aerostat Radar System, or TARS.

It’s off Blimp Road, of course.

Cudjoe Key is home to the first TARS set up by the Air Force in 1978.

The program was launched to monitor the southern border of the U.S. by detecting low-flying small planes used by drug smugglers.

In 2013, U.S. Customs and Border Protection took over the program. In response to the blimps, Customs says most drug smugglers started to land ahead of the border and head for the U.S. by land.

Each blimp holds a 2,200-pound radar that can find aircraft at a range of 200 miles, the agency says.

‘Fat Albert,’ a blimp used for surveillance by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, hovers over Cudjoe Key in the Lower Keys. Courtesy of Mitch Mitchell

The Green Parrot

Key West, near Mile Marker 0

Despite its rugged appearance inside and out, the Green Parrot bar, one of the last — or first — stops on U.S. 1, is a friendly, laid-back space with character and charm to burn. Famous for its live music, the Parrot is a favorite for locals and tourists.

The Parrot location dates back to 1890, when it was a grocery store. It evolved into a watering hole and its clientele would change with the times, from sailors to hippies and then from fishermen to hipsters. Today, it’s a place where local workers mix with moneyed tourists and retirees.

Merchandise includes T-shirts with the Parrot slogan, “A sunny place for shady people.”

Check out the best jukebox in town, the indelible portrait dubbed “Smirk,” which has been up for more than 40 years, and the “No snivelling” sign (yes, they know it’s misspelled) behind the bar. An array of vintage signs and other collectibles, including some oddities, hang on the walls and from the ceiling.

“The Green Parrot is more than a bar,” the Parrot’s history lesson states. “It is a Key West icon, it is Key West.”

The Green Parrot bar in Key West is one of the last stops on U.S. 1 south. Gwen Filosa FLKeysNews.com

Mile Marker Zero Signs

Key West, mile marker 0

You’ve hit the end of the road in Key West when it comes to U.S. 1.

And you can’t miss the mile marker 0 signs that mark both the southbound and northbound lanes at the intersection of Fleming and Whitehead streets downtown.

It’s a must for photo opportunities in the Keys.

Tourists flock to the signs for selfies and group shots in front of the U.S. 1 sign. One side reads “Begin” and the other says “End.” Unlike that famous giant Southernmost Point concrete “buoy” at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean off South and Whitehead streets, there generally aren’t lines at the mile marker 0 signs.

If you need a sign of your own, nearby gift shops sell green and white replicas.

The mile marker zero signs at the end of the Overseas Highway in Key West are favorite photo opportunities for tourists. Gwen Filosa FLKeysNews.com

This story has been updated to correct the Dolphin Research Center’s work. The nonprofit teaches about dolphins. It does not rescue and rehabilitate them.

This story was originally published October 24, 2021 6:00 AM.

Source : https://www.flkeysnews.com/news/local/article253286023.html

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