“Reality doesn't impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.” ― Anaïs Nin
Sound familiar? Ask people in the Florida Keys why they live there, and Conchs (pronounced konks), which is what natives are called, can’t imagine leaving, while expats will often say they came for a vacation and just couldn’t bear to go home. The laid back lifestyle, spectacular sunrises, turquoise waters, and balmy weather conspire to make you forget about work and the stress that comes with it.
However, you won’t find the real Keys if you hang out in tourist traps. The best way to experience the Florida Keys is like a local; and when you do that you get to see the real Conch Republic. Plus, going native has its advantages; you’ll meet new people, and you can even save money. No one will come right out and tell you this, but there is a local rate for everything in the Keys from hotel rates to grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, and bars. If you can convince people you’re local you can save as much as 50% on the rates paid by tourists, but the only way to do that is by looking and acting the part.
Dress Like a Local
This is not the time or place to wear over-priced designer resort wear or typical tourist attire that includes branded fanny packs, baseball caps, and tee shirts. Do what the locals do so well: adopt a casual, hippy look that includes well-worn tee shirts and tops, slightly faded shorts or pants, and comfortable sandals, sneakers, or flip-flops. You don’t have to look homeless or wear threadbare clothes, but if you look like you don’t have two pennies to rub together, that should do the trick.
Change Your Attitude to Match the Latitude
Looking more like a native will also help you get into the role. The minute you cast aside pretense and wear comfortable clothing, you will begin to relax, take things more slowly, and avoid sweating the small stuff. If you need a bit of inspiration or encouragement, take a leisurely stroll, grab a seat at a coffee shop or bar off the beaten path and get into the groove. The local hangouts are where you’ll meet your favorite resources for tips on what to do, see, eat, and drink. The grocery store owner, fishing guide, or boat owner will let you in on secrets only the locals know.
To help you visit like a local, we’ve put together short itineraries for Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine & The Lower Keys, and Key West that include a little something for every kind of traveler.
Key Largo calls itself the “Diving Capital of the World,” has two state parks, a marine sanctuary, and a national park and it’s just about an hour’s drive south of Miami. Key Largo is the most northern island in the Florida Keys, and it’s a fantastic place to visit if diving, snorkeling, and water activities are at the top of your bucket list.
What to Do
A visit to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a must, and the park features camping, gorgeous tropical fish, bright coral reefs, and clear blue water along more than 70 nautical square miles of beautiful ocean habitat. Pennekamp was America’s first underwater park and is the only living coral reef in the continental United States. After you see it during a dive or from one of the park’s glass-bottom boats, you may agree Key Largo is the diving capital.
Stick with the water theme and head to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. It’s a national treasure, and is one of 15 federally protected National Marine Sanctuaries. The Florida Keys Sanctuary includes 2,900 square miles of unique habitat, which makes it the third largest habitat in the world, and it includes 6,000 species of wildlife, seagrass beds, protected shipwrecks, and underwater archaeological sites.
If your plans take you to Key Largo in October, film buffs can attend the annual Humphrey Bogart Film Festival and pay homage to Bogart’s life, films (including Key Largo), and talent.
Don’t Miss: An eco-tour of another rare and unique natural treasure, the Florida Everglades National Park. They flank the western side of Key Largo and are a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Site and the largest sub-tropical wilderness in America. This vital recharge area is a favorite with birders, canoe enthusiasts, kayakers, campers, cyclists, eco-tourists, and adventure junkies in search of up-close experiences with alligators and snakes.
Where to Eat
Francophiles will get a kick out of Café Moka, an espresso and wine bar in Key Largo. It’s a stylish slice of France that avoids being kitsch-y or precious and serves très Français espresso, croissants, and pastries every week. The last Wednesday of every month features live jazz. The wine list is just as hip with a handpicked selection of French and global artisanal wines.