Tops stops in the Florida Keys that provide ample family-fun and enrichment.
The Florida Keys are synonymous with laid-back vibes and landscapes that seem to have been plucked from the pages of Travel + Leisure. But oh wait. You’re going there with kids? Those humans that breed that special brand of stress for parents? Luckily, children aren’t impervious to the tranquility of the Keys, and seem to flow into the easy living alongside their parents.
With all that said, even the most soothing of beaches can’t make a child be chill while you read your book for three hours. They’ll want to get out and explore. So here’s some parent and child-friendly destinations to get you started.
Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Walking into this whimsical world of butterflies and birds feels like stepping into Pandora (that fictional Avatar planet). It wipes away earthly stressors. It’s magical. And this magic is made up of 50 to 60 different species of butterflies from around the world floating around the massive climate-controlled, glass-enclosed habitat. You’ll also find hundreds of coloring birds tootling around.
You can also sneak in some learning by taking the kids to The Learning Center where they can explore the butterfly anatomy, physiology, life cycle, feeding and the migratory journey of the Monarch.
Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center
With our climate shifting and oceans rising it’s crucial to raise children who understand and appreciate our delicate ecosystem, and are instilled with a desire to protect it - even heal it. The Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center is on the job with their 6,000-sqaure feet of interactive and dynamic exhibits, which offer folks of all ages opportunities to not just hear about the workings of the Earth, but participate in them.
They also have a mock-up of Aquarius, the world's only underwater ocean laboratory! In addition, the Mote Marine Laboratory Living Reef exhibit includes a 2,500-gallon reef tank with living corals and tropical fish, a live Reef Cam, and other displays providing insight into the coral reef environment.
Bahia Honda State Park and Beach
This 500-acre oasis is so whole-being rejuvenating it requires an extended stay. So, take advantage of the campsites, or cabins for rent, and spend a few days exploring this park where the silken sand and translucent waters sooth the nerves, and foster enhanced curiosity and love for the natural world.
In addition to the snorkel boat tours (the snorkeling is extraordinary) and beachcombing, the park offers kayak and beach equipment rentals, a snack bar and a gift shop. And, there’s FREE 24-hour wi-fi available at the concession building.
Tip: While the snack bar offers decent options, it’s ideal to do a big shop at the local Winn-Dixie before you arrive.
Dry Tortugas National Park
For families composed of individuals with varying interests, Dry Tortugas National Park - made up of seven islands perched in protected coral reefs - offers a platter of activities sure to excite everyone in your bunch. First up is the prime exploring for the history-enthusiast, as the park includes the 19th-century Fort Jefferson, and the Windjammer Wreck - the remains of an 1875 ship, which is popular with divers.
The animal-lover will enjoy the ample opportunities to spot sea turtles, the sooty tern seabird, and active creatures exploring the coral reefs. And for the adventurer, Dry Tortugas National Park offers snorkeling, diving, and boating.
Key West Eco Tours
Our favorite stop in the area, the Key West Eco Tours allows you to explore the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Key West’s National Wildlife Refuge with a nature guide. The guides help you understand the intricasies of the fish, coral gardens, mangroves, and birds that make up the local ecosystem, and promote conservation efforts by retrieving debris during the tours.
The water is crystal clear and fairly shallow, so you get an amazing show during your tour via kayaking, sailing, paddle boarding or snorkeling. Snorkeling and kayak are our preferred ways to explore these waters.
Key West Aquarium
If you want to ensure you’ll see the most exotic creatures found in the waters surrounding Key West, head to the Key West Aquarium. Located in Mallory Square, this aquarium provides sightings of alligators, jellyfish, and a bevy of local marine life, in addition to offering you the chance to touch a shark’s tail.
This is a great place to visit before hitting up the Key West Eco Tours, as you’ll gain insights into the critters you’ll see while snorkeling, paddle boarding, or boating.
Dolphin Research Center
This nonprofit research and education center is home to a family of dolphins and sea lions, and offers a range of programs that provide an introduction to dolphin maternity, social groupings, physiology, and natural abilities. They also provide interactive opportunities, like the Dolphin Encounter swim program, Family Dolphin Splash, Ultimate Trainer for a Day, VIP Experience, Researcher Experience, and Paint with a Dolphin (as strangely fun as it sounds.)
For those weary of visiting a site where animals are kept in captivity, know that many of the dolphins were born on-site, and the others came to the center because they were rescued and considered non-releasable by the government.