You need not go far from America’s mainland to discover lush tropical islands full of happy, sun-kissed locals. This sporty, laidback archipelago is still full of kitsch, but it’s the natural beauty saturating the landscape that’s the real draw. From two new top-notch stays to sailing and diving experiences, here are a few new ways to best experience these coral cays.
Where to Stay
The landmark Waldorf Astoria property collaborates with local seaplane companies for a two-night package that allows guests to fly directly to the resort’s beach from most major Florida airports. Two guests receive an aerial tour and a welcome drink and can then bypass check-in and go straight to their oceanfront suite—or head to the bar for a pint of the hotel’s new custom brew, a collaboration with Florida-based brewery Funky Buddha. Package, from $6,000; 1500 Reynolds St.; 305-296-3535; casamarinaresort.com.
The Perry Hotel Key West
This 100-room boutique hotel, which opened at the beginning of May, is connected to one of the Keys’ largest deep-water marinas and features plenty of outdoor activities such as kayaking, snorkeling, fishing, and sailing. Executive chef Ryan Fredstrom (of Bourbon Steak and Yardbird) oversees the hotel’s two restaurants, Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen & Bar and the Salty Oyster Bar & Grill. The hotel also boasts an outdoor pool, organic community garden, fire pits, and two dog parks. Rooms from $160; 7001 Shrimp Rd.; 305-296-1717; perrykeywest.com.
This Key West boutique property, which opened this spring, is made up of 22 one-bedroom suites, many with private plunge pools, and offers 24-hour concierge service. Relax with a cocktail on the rooftop pool deck, or take advantage of hotel-organized events like painting classes, day trips to local attractions, and more. Rooms from $250; 1212 Simonton St.; 305-296-3432; h2osuites.com.
Where to Eat
Angler and Ale
Located on the docks at the Hawks Kay Resort, Angler and Ale opened last May and serves American classics with a tropical spin, like wedge salad with shrimp or barbecue chicken with a mango glaze. As Key West is playfully referred to as “The Conch Republic,” don’t miss out on eating the restaurant’s conch (sea snail) options, served two ways: in a chowder, with tomato broth and a splash of sherry, or as fritters, with key lime aioli for dipping. 540 Duck Key Dr., Duck Key; 305-209-9991; hawkscay.com.
The Keys’ first meadery opened in April and offers tours and tastings in their space in Key Largo. Their meads, made with honey from local apiary Pirate Hat Apiary in addition to honey from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland, range from dry to semi-dry to sweet. Keys’ Meads also offers several specialty meads at any given time flavored with ingredients like fruit, habanero, coffee, and more. 99353 Overseas Hwy. Unit 12, Key Largo; 305-204-4596; keysmeads.com.
What to Do
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
While Hemingway is more often associated with Paris than Key West, the author had a beautiful home (with striking mustard-hued shutters), which currently operates as a well-preserved museum with most of the original furniture left intact. Thirty-minute-long guided tours ($14) are offered throughout the day, and visitors can browse the bookstore and tropical flower garden on the premises. 907 Whitehead St.; 305-294-1136; hemingwayhome.com.
The Florida Keys have the world’s third-largest barrier reef, making it a popular diving destination. Every year around late summer’s full moon (August 7 and September 6, 2017), millions of coral gametes are released underwater in a synchronized exchange, and the sight is incredible. South Point Divers offers night dives every Wednesday and Saturday evening, but private charters for night dives are available through Dive Key West.
Sail the Keys
Based out of Smuggler’s Cove Resort and Marina, this sailing charter offers 3-hour to 6-day sailing outings, often paired with activities like snorkeling, paddle boarding, or kayaking. sailthekeys.net.