If you’re looking for a paradise of sunshine, sand, and sea, look no further than the beautiful Florida Keys. Situated south of Miami and stretching along many miles of coastal islands, the Keys are a tropical delight just waiting to be explored. From the vibrant culture and laidback lifestyle to the diverse wildlife and pristine underwater world, this unique Atlantic archipelago has something special around every bend. In this post, we’ll be sharing 25 little-known facts about the Keys that will have you packing your bags and heading for the scenic Overseas Highway. Whether you’re into fishing, scuba diving, or simply relaxing with a fruity cocktail in hand, you’ll discover why locals say the best days are spent in the land of coral reefs and coconut trees we call the Keys.
1) The Florida Keys include over 1,700 islands, with only about 800 defined as keys.
The Florida Keys are undoubtedly one of the most unique and fascinating regions in the United States. Comprised of over 1,700 islands, only around 800 are considered actual keys. But what does the word “key” even mean in this context? Interestingly, it comes from the Spanish word “cayo,” which means “little island.” However, the geological definition of a key refers to a limestone island that was formed by an ancient coral reef over 100,000 years ago. It’s amazing to think about how these little islands have such an incredible history and how they’ve evolved. There’s no denying that the Florida Keys hold an endless amount of secrets and wonders just waiting to be discovered.
2) The Florida Keys extend the southernmost tip of the state by over 200 miles.
The Florida Keys offer a unique and unforgettable island hopping experience, with over 200 miles of tropical paradise to explore. These islands stretch from Virginia Key in the Atlantic Ocean, just south of Miami Beach, all the way to Loggerhead Key of the Dry Tortugas in the Gulf of Mexico for a total of 220 miles. This archipelago is famous for its crystal clear waters, beautiful coral reefs, sun-soaked beaches, and laid-back island lifestyle. Whether you are a nature lover, an adventurer, or simply someone looking for a relaxing vacation, the Florida Keys have something for everyone. Come and experience the southernmost tip of the continental U.S. firsthand to make memories that will last a lifetime.
3) There are 42 bridges connecting the Florida Keys.
Driving along the Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys is a breathtaking experience. As you cruise down U.S. 1, you are surrounded by crystal blue waters and stunning views in every direction. There are an astounding 42 bridges that connect the islands, each one unique and impressive in its own right. Of course, there is one bridge that stands out above the rest – the iconic Seven Mile Bridge. This behemoth spans an incredible seven miles in length, connecting Knight’s Key in the Middle Keys to Little Duck Key in the Lower Keys. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a first-time visitor, the sight of these remarkable bridges is sure to leave you in awe.
4) Key West is the southernmost city in the continental United States.
Key West is a truly unique destination and the southernmost city in the continental U.S. Curiously, it’s closer to Havana, Cuba than to Miami. This location gives Key West a distinct charm and flavor that can be felt throughout the charming streets of Old Town. Along with its history and beautiful scenery, Key West also boasts a vibrant nightlife scene, fascinating museums, delicious dining options, and excellent fishing charter opportunities. Whether you’re looking to dance the night away, explore the rich history of the area, try some local cuisine, or reel in some impressive catches, Key West truly has something to offer everyone.
5) Most of the sand on Key West’s beaches has been imported.
When you envision a beach getaway, you likely imagine pristine white sands beneath your toes as you soak up the warm sun. However, you may be surprised to learn that the sand on Key West’s beaches is not entirely natural. Due to the unique geography of the island, with a natural coral reef surrounding its perimeter, importing sand has become a necessity for creating the quintessential beach atmosphere. With gentle waves lapping at the shore, it’s easy to forget that much of the sand you’re lounging on was brought in from the Bahamas. Regardless, Key West’s stunning views and tropical climate are sure to make any beach lover’s heart happy.
6) Many artificial reefs have been created with shipwrecks.
The clear waters off the Keys are home to a treasure trove of man-made reefs, each with its own unique history. Since 1981, more than 23 of these reefs have been formed off the shores of the Keys, providing habitats for a diverse array of ocean creatures. The most famous of these submerged vessels is the USS Spiegel Grove, a once-mighty Navy ship that has since been overtaken by the sea and transformed into a unique underwater coral wonderland for divers to explore off the coast of Key Largo.
7) The longest and largest of the Florida Keys is Key Largo.
With more natural parks and wildlife preserves, Key Largo may not be the most populated of the Florida Keys, but it is a breathtaking destination that should not be missed. Spanning 30 miles in length and a mere half mile in width, Key Largo hosts an impressive array of flora and fauna that call its warm waters and lush landscapes home. It’s no wonder that it’s become a popular tourist destination, with visitors flocking to the island to experience its one-of-a-kind beauty. From the coral reefs to the mangroves, every inch of Key Largo is worth exploring for its natural ecosystem and the many adventures it offers.
8) Before European explorers came, the Keys were inhabited by Tequesta and Calusa Native Americans.
For centuries before the arrival of European explorers, the Florida Keys were home to the Tequesta and Calusa Native American tribes. They lived in harmony with the land, fishing and hunting in the crystal-clear waters that surrounded them. It was not until 1513, when Spanish explorer Ponce de León visited the area, that the Keys became known to the wider world. Although the Spanish saw little value in the rocky islands, they recognized the importance of mapping and naming them to help their ships navigate The Florida Straits. Little did they know that their discovery would be the start of a rich and fascinating history for The Keys.
9) Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railway was completed in the early 20th century.
Henry Flagler’s vision for the Overseas Railway was revolutionary when it launched in 1912. It not only connected Key West to mainland Florida, but it opened up a completely new avenue for transportation and development in the state. The railway allowed for quicker and easier access to the beautiful, yet previously isolated, Florida Keys. It was replaced in the late 1930s by the Overseas Highway. Today, we owe a debt of gratitude to Flagler for his groundbreaking innovation, which paved the way for the modern transportation we enjoy today in the Florida Keys.
10) Flagler’s Overseas Railway was destroyed by a devastating hurricane.
The Labor Day Hurricane that hit the Florida Keys in 1935 was a catastrophic event that left a significant mark on history. The sheer strength of the winds with speeds of 200 miles per hour was unimaginable, and this was made even worse by the storm surge that flooded the islands with over 17.5 feet of water. Tragically, 485 people lost their lives due to the hurricane. The Overseas Railway, which connected the Keys to the mainland, was damaged beyond repair. However, out of this tragedy the Overseas Highway was born, replacing the railway tracks with roadways to provide better access to the islands.
11) Key West’s idyllic atmosphere has drawn many artistic celebrities.
Key West has been home to some of the most creative and influential minds to impact our culture. From legendary writers to popular musicians, this town has attracted some of the most vibrant and famed figures of the 20th century. Ernest Hemingway, known as one of the greatest American writers, called this island his home, as did the great poet Robert Frost. Judy Blume, Shel Silverstein, and Tennessee Williams have all penned stories that have resonated with many generations while living here. Even the fashion industry has left its mark on the island, as designer Calvin Klein once called this unique little town his own. But perhaps no one has captured the spirit of Key West quite as much as the legendary musician, Jimmy Buffett. All of these iconic figures may come from different backgrounds, but one common thread connects them all, and that’s the enduring legacy of Key West.
12) The Florida Keys has its own unique species of deer.
The Florida Keys are a unique ecosystem filled with diverse wildlife, including the endangered Key Deer. Despite its small size, this species of deer has captured the hearts of many with its delicate features and gentle demeanor. Unfortunately, due to habitat loss and hunting, the Key Deer population has dwindled to dangerous levels. Conservation efforts have been implemented to save this magnificent animal from extinction, but more needs to be done to protect its habitat and promote responsible hunting practices. The Key Deer may be small, but its uniqueness is what sets the Florida Keys apart.
13) The Florida Reef is the only complete living coral barrier reef in North America.
The Florida Reef, stretching over 350 miles from Key Biscayne to Dry Tortugas National Park, is a magnificent wonder that draws tourists from around the world. As the only complete living coral barrier reef in North America, it holds a special place in the hearts of nature enthusiasts, who marvel at its stunning biodiversity and vibrant marine life. Home to thousands of species of plants and animals, the reef is a vital resource for countless marine species, providing shelter and sustenance for them to thrive. But despite its impressive size and beauty, the reef faces many threats, including pollution, warming waters, and overfishing. As we continue to learn more about the invaluable role the Florida Reef plays in our ecosystem, it becomes ever more crucial to protect and preserve it for future generations to enjoy.
14) Key Largo’s most famous landmark statue is underwater.
Below the surface of the crystal clear water, in the heart of the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, lies a most remarkable underwater marvel – the Christ of the Deep. This awe-inspiring bronze statue of Jesus stands tall at almost 9 feet and weighs an incredible 4000 pounds. Located at Key Largo Dry Rocks and submerged in about 25 feet of water, this statue is a sight to behold. Adventurous divers can get up close and personal with this majestic figure, taking in every intricate detail of its design. A symbol of hope and faith, the Christ of the Deep is a true work of art and a testament to humanity’s unrelenting spirit.
15) Key Largo is regarded as the Scuba Diving Capital of the World.
Beneath the crystal clear waters of Key Largo lies a mesmerizing world waiting to be explored by scuba enthusiasts. It’s no wonder why Key Largo has gained the title of the Scuba Diving Capital of the World, with its stunning marine life and impressive reef formations. Molasses Reef, French Reef, Elbow Reef, and Carysfort Reef stand out as some of the most noteworthy dive spots. While the reefs offer a unique and captivating dive experience, the sunken wrecks of the USS Spiegel Grove, USCG Duane, and USCG Bibb offer an entirely different perspective of undersea exploration. With all these spectacular dive sites at your fingertips, it’s no wonder why Key Largo draws in divers from around the globe to take a plunge into its magical underwater world.
16) Key Largo was once known for its key lime plantations.
Key Largo has a rich history rooted in key lime production. These small, tart fruits were brought to the Keys from Mexico in the 1800s and quickly found a home in the acidic soil of the area. By the 1920s, the key lime crop was profitable, but it never quite lived up to demand. As Persian limes from California became more popular, key lime production in the area dwindled. Today, the tourism industry reigns supreme in the Keys, and most key lime pie production in nearby Key West relies on imported lime juice from Mexico. Nonetheless, the key lime heritage of Key Largo and its contributions to the famous dessert should never be forgotten.
17) Islamorada has a monument honoring victims of the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.
Islamorada, a small village in the Florida Keys, is home to a monument that serves as a solemn reminder of a devastating natural disaster. The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 claimed the lives of 485 individuals, many of whom were World War I veterans working on a federal highway project. To honor the victims, the Florida Keys Memorial was erected on November 14, 1937. The memorial is simple yet poignant, crafted from Keys limestone and featuring an 18-foot obelisk that stands tall over a dais bearing a striking image of a tidal wave and palm trees bending in the powerful winds. It is a humble tribute that tells a powerful story of loss and sacrifice.
18) Key West has a healthy population of chickens that roam free on the island.
The sunny island of Key West is home to more than just palm trees and ocean waves – it’s also got a vibrant and bustling population of chickens. These feathered friends roam free all over the island, pecking away at seeds and insects while greeting tourists and locals alike. For those who are brave enough to pet them, beware – these chickens have a bit of an attitude. But for those content to simply watch them strut their stuff, there’s no better way to soak up the island’s laid-back vibe. Next time you find yourself in Key West, keep an eye out for these quirky locals. They may just steal the show!
19) Mallory Square’s Sunset is Key West’s most iconic attraction.
The gorgeous sunset in Key West is something that locals and tourists alike can appreciate. And there’s no place quite like Mallory Square to witness this daily spectacle. With live music, street performers, and food stands, this has become an iconic attraction spot for the town. Everyone on Duval Street makes their way north by late afternoon so they won’t miss it. The only thing better than being in this bustling waterfront plaza is chartering a sunset sail just off Mallory Square. Sailing on the ocean nearby during sunset is a magical experience that will leave you with an unobstructed view. So, whether you choose to enjoy the sunset from land or sea, one thing is for certain – you won’t be disappointed with the beauty that Mallory Square has to offer.
20) The lowest temperature recorded in the Keys was 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
For those dreaming of escaping to a tropical paradise, the Florida Keys are often at the top of the list and with good reason. With its balmy weather, crystal-clear waters, and endless sunshine, it’s the perfect place to kick back and relax, far from the cold winter weather. The lowest temperature ever recorded in the Keys was an unremarkable 41 degrees Fahrenheit, a cool temperature for a region that typically sees highs in the 70s and 80s year-round. This has only occurred twice in recorded history, once in 1886 and again in 1981. It’s a rare event and unlikely to happen often, so you’ll want to pack for warm weather.
21) The earliest industry in Key West was shipwreck recovery.
The history of Key West is rich with tales of the sea, and one of its earliest industries exemplifies that fact. Shipwreck recovery was the foundation upon which the island’s economy was built in the early days. Along trade routes between Cuba, the Bahamas and New Orleans, ships laden with goods and supplies often suffered the misfortune of sinking to the ocean floor. Key West settlers soon realized the potential profitability of salvaging these vessels and their cargo and ventured out to do just that. As the industry grew, so too did the secondary trades that supported it, such as sponging, fishing, turtling and salt manufacturing. And while tourism may reign supreme in Key West these days, the island’s hardworking and daring seafaring roots remain firmly embedded in its past.
22) Key West tried to secede from the U.S. in 1982.
When it comes to protesting, Key West residents certainly know how to do it in style. In 1982, the citizens of Key West were frustrated by the U.S. Border Patrol’s roadblocks and inspection efforts at the entrance to the Overseas Highway. Tourists were being delayed, and the whole island was suffering from the inconvenience. So, they decided to do something drastic. They demanded secession from the U.S. and they declared themselves the Conch Republic. And while the goal was to gain independence and awareness, it seems the real victory was the creation of the Conch Republic Independence Celebration. Every April, residents and visitors alike gather for some hilarious, tongue-in-cheek festivities honoring this moment in Key West’s proud history.
23) Two of the Florida Keys islands are man-made.
In the tranquil, turquoise waters of the Florida Keys, there are two unassuming islands with a fascinating past. Sunset Key and Christmas Tree Island are both man-made structures, built by the US Navy amid the Cold War. While Sunset Key now boasts a stunning array of luxurious homes and a resort, its humble beginnings were as a fuel tank depot. And even its original name, Tank Island, hints at a past shrouded in military secrecy. As for Christmas Tree Island, it remains uninhabited to this day. These two islands may seem like mere dots on a map, but you’d never know by looking at them that they were manufactured for a purpose.
24) For a time, the most frequent guest at the Dry Tortugas was a reptile.
Over the years, Dry Tortugas National Park has been home to a variety of unique species, including a saltwater crocodile that was frequently seen in the moat surrounding Fort Jefferson. For 14+ years, staff members observed the crocodile hanging out in the park, until some close calls with tourists forced them to take action. Ultimately, for the safety of both the crocodile and visitors to the park, it was relocated to an Everglades preserve. While it’s always fascinating to see wildlife up close, it’s important to remember that they are still wild animals and can pose a danger if they feel threatened.
25) You can stay overnight in an underwater hotel.
For scuba diving enthusiasts, Key Largo is a must-visit destination, with its crystal-clear waters and colorful marine life. And for those who want to take their love of diving to the next level, there’s Jules’ Undersea Lodge. This unique hotel is the only one of its kind in the world and offers visitors the opportunity to sleep in an underwater room – accessible only by scuba diving. The accommodations are cozy and comfortable, complete with air conditioning, hot showers, and a window that allows you to peer out at the vibrant fish swimming by. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that is sure to thrill and delight anyone who loves the ocean and all its wonders. So if you’re looking for a truly unique vacation, pack your scuba gear and head to Key Largo and Jules’ Undersea Lodge.
In conclusion, the Florida Keys truly are a unique and fascinating destination, full of wonder and adventure. From the vibrant coral reef islands to the iconic bridges connecting each place, there is no shortage of natural beauty and breathtaking sights to explore. Whether you’re a nature lover, a history buff, or just looking for some fun in the sun, the Florida Keys have something for everyone. So don’t hesitate any longer – pack your bags and set off on an unforgettable journey to this sunny destination. And if you need some help planning your trip, be sure to check out our Florida Keys Vacation Guide for insider tips and recommendations. So what are you waiting for? The Florida Keys are calling your name – go forth and create amazing memories!