Do NOT miss lunch at Alabama Jack's
There are a sting of roadside bars that attract tourists all along The Keys but if you're going to stop in just one, make it Alabama Jack's. Located in Key Largo, Alabama Jack's has long been considered the gateway to the Keys and is popular with boaters (who can pull right up to the dock), bikers, families, and even a few celebrities.
The Conch Fritters and Crab Cakes are a must, just don't expect them to be served on a silver platter. The restaurant is casual, like plastic fork and Styrofoam plate casual, but the food is good, the beer is cold, and the prices are reasonable so you can't beat it.
Do NOT stop for Key Lime Chocolate at Key Largo Chocolates
Most guidebooks and websites about The Florida Keys recommend a stop at Key Largo Chocolates for their Key Lime Chocolate but we say skip it. The Key Lime flavored treats aren't nearly as good as they sound and the store itself is pretty basic inside with a candy counter, a small ice cream shop, and not much else.
Now, don't get us wrong, we're sure they have other delicious candies to try but if you only one day to drive from the mainland to Key West and back, a stop at KLC isn't worth the ten or fifteen minutes you'll spend there.
Do NOT set down your phone at Robbie's of Islamorada
Robbie's is one of the few Florida Keys tourist traps that is totally worth the time. Robbie's Village has several kitschy open air shops, a restaurant, boat rentals, and fishing access, but what most people stop for is the chance to feed the large tarpon fish. For a couple of bucks Robbie's will give you a bucket of small dead fish that you can drop into the water at the end of their dock where the tarpon hang out and watch them rise up from the water to catch them. It sounds gross but watching fellow tourists squee and squirm as the huge fish jump and fight for their dinner is more than worth the price of admission!
On the down side, they do warn you when you buy your bucket that the pelicans will try to swoop in and catch one of those dead fish as it is being tossed into the water. What they don't warn you about is the fact the pelicans might mistake your shiny silver cellphone for one of those shiny silver fish and try to swoop down and take it. So, if you're planning a visit to Robbie's, plan keeping a tight grip on your phone, too.
Do NOT stop at the Theater of the Sea
As you make way down Key West you'll see plenty of billboards for Theater of the Sea but, through talking to locals, we've learned there is a better option if you really want to learn about dolphins.
The Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key also lets visitors swim with dolphins, but they work to assist marine mammals in distress, learn about dolphin communication, and educate the public about marine mammals, too. To learn more about the Dolphin Research Center, visit dolphins.org.
Do NOT watch the sunset in Mallory Square
Key West is known for its sunsets and the most popular place to watch them is Mallory Square. Mallory Square is the perfect location to take a photo of the setting sun which mean it attracts a large nightly crowd of daytrippers, tourists, performers, and vendors all battling for the best spot. To get a shot without other people's heads in it you have to get there at least an hour before the sun goes down and be ready to hold your ground. By the time the sun goes down the whole experience ends up being more exhausting than enlightening.
The best alternative to Mallory Square is Ocean Key Resort's Sunset Pier. The waterfront bar has amazing views of the Key West sunset without the crowds, or the jugglers.
Do have your own tips for what to do, or NOT to do in the Florida Keys? Let us know in a comment below!
[Photos: emiliolabrador & Jaunted]