Gateway and Upper Keys:
Driving down from Miami you’ll start to feel like you’re in a whole new place. Even directions seem foreign. When looking for the Islamorada Fish Company for lunch, for example, your directions read MM 81.5, Bayside. What the heck does that mean? In the Keys, all addresses are based on their Mile Marker number. (81.5 in this case) The Mile Marker signs are green with white lettering. You’ll get to know to watch for them. Then, Oceanside or Bayside … South for the Atlantic Ocean, North for the Gulf of Mexico (bay). So much easier than watching for street signs, right?
Key Biscayne is nearest, and really part of Miami. You’ll find the Miami Seaquarium here, along with beaches and playgrounds away from the bustle of the city.
Everglades National Park: An expansive protected wetland ecosystem; expansive being the operative word. It takes over half an hour to get to Flamingo, the main area with restaurants, etc. The view is the same the whole way, so it’s easy for kids to get bored. It’s rare to see a gator from the road, but kids will be glued to the windows trying. You can camp here, but watch out for snakes! Check out the Shark valley tram (part of Everglades National Park) west on Tamiami Trail (SW.8 St) off the turnpike. Get there by 11am to spend the day before heading down to the keys. Be sure to eat before and bring your own snacks, as there are no restaurants available. Keep in mind it’s a two-hour tram ride with only one stop. You likely won’t get a tram without a reservation, so call ahead. Check out this post for more insider tips on the Everglades with kids.
Kid friendly hotels, resorts in the Upper Keys:
Kid friendly activities in the Upper Keys:
Worldwide Sportsman (Islamorada, MM 81.5, bayside) has a large fish tank in the center showing a good variety of local fish like tarpon, snook and bonefish, to name a few.
Theater of the Sea (Islamorada, MM 84.5) Kids age 5 and up can swim with dolphins, sea lions and stingrays in a natural salt water lagoon. (Read restrictions policies) It’s also home to dozens of cats wandering around… keep that in mind if you have allergies. Watch sea lion, dolphin and parrot shows. If your kids are a little older, try the 4 hour Adventure and Snorkel Cruise and learn about the ecology and history of the area, including tales of pirates, Indian warriors and settlers.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (Key Largo) offers snorkel, scuba, or glassbottom boat tours of its underwater park. Camping is popular with 47 full-facility sites for RVs and tents. Showers and restrooms are nearby. Their activities are geared toward kids older than preschool age, since even the boat tour is over 2 hours long.
Robbie’s Marina at MM 77 to feed wild tarpon, rent kayaks and go across to Indian Key
Kid friendly restaurants in the Upper Keys:
Eat lunch or dinner at Islamorada Fish Company (Islamorada MM 81.5, bayside)
Fish Bowl –(Islamorada- Bayside MM 83.2) An Ice cream parlor with family fun and entertainment, ice cream plus 12 lanes of kids bumpers, glow bowling, snack bar lounge- Call for seasonal hours 305-664-9357
Arnold’s Happy Days –(Grassy Key – MM 60) Arnold’s is a fifties style soda fountain and offers pizza, deli sandwiches, sodas, sundaes, and ice cream cones. 305-7743-7321
Key Largo restaurants: The Key Largo Conch House Restaurant & Coffee Bar.
Whether the upper keys is your final destination, or just a stop on the way down to Key West, it’s worth spending some time in this family friendly area. Have you been here? Share with us in the comments below!