Marathon and Middle Keys:
I’ve spent a lot of time in Marathon since my in-laws have a place there, so I know that area of the keys the best. Its central location makes Marathon the perfect base camp to the entire string of islands. It’s less than an hour and a half drive to either Key West or Key Largo. Here are the highlights of our favorite attractions for kids in the Florida Keys. You can also view an area guide for more ideas.
Kid friendly things to do in Marathon:
The biggest attraction is the Dolphin Research Center, a not-for-profit facility for dolphin encounters and education. For some, it’s not worth the admission price if you’re not going to swim with the dolphins, but if you remember that it’s a research center and not an amusement park, I think helping the dolphins is worth the price.
The Turtle Hospital Take a guided tour of this working hospital and feed the sea turtles. The guides are passionate and informative; and the sea turtles are heart-warming. A must-see to experience and help these wonderful creatures.
Crane Point Nature Museum Has a fun children’s activity center to explore lagoons and invertebrates in the Marine Touch Tanks. A replica pirate ship complete with costumes, is sure to please the little ones.
Insider tip: On the trails, keep an eye out for huge spiders above your head.
Sombrero Beach (MM50 Oceanside, and down to the end) This small beach with soft sand has a playground (and restrooms) right next to the beach. Beautiful and quiet kid friendly beach. There is shallow and deep water here, and is good for snorkeling. As with all beaches in the Keys, I encourage you –and kids- to wear your water shoes.
Walk along the Old 7 Mile Bridge… On this pedestrian bridge, you can see sting rays, turtles, dolphin, sharks, and any number of marine life swim by in the waters below. Take your time, as it’s wildlife, not a zoo. Some days I only see a small group of stingrays. Others, just a lonely shark. But, it’s fun to look. On the other end of the 2.2 mile bridge at Pigeon Key, there is a small park with picnic area, as well as a Keys history musuem. It is quite a long walk, and very, very windy. Bring snacks, water and sunscreen! (There is a ferry directly to Pigeon Key). Alternatively, there is a picnic area (with bathrooms) at the entrance of the bridge for those, like me, who prefer a shorter walk.
Bahia Honda State Park & Campgrounds. Sandspur beach is the best beach for toddlers since it has very few waves. I do not recommend the snorkel reef excursion to Looe Key reef unless you are a very strong swimmer, because the waves can get 2-3 feet high, with a surface current to fight against. Camping, both RV and tenting, is very popular here (maybe because of the hot showers?).
Coco Plum beach on Boot Key (MM49, Oceanside) is more wild and great for shelling.
Kayak Dave’s eco tour comes recommended for older kids (Marathon Kayak). I haven’t been, so please leave a review in the comments if you’ve been there.
Kid friendly restaurants in Marathon:
Most restaurants in the Keys are family friendly, just by their casual, touristy nature. In general, you’ll find a variety of fresh seafood, some of it fried, and a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere. Of course, you’ll find other staples like chicken and burgers, as well. Here’s a quick list of our favorites:
Keys Fisheries restaurant (Marathon) fresh, tasty seafood in a casual picnic-table atmosphere. Everything is dine-in or take-out. Kids love watching the tarpon swim (and the occasional manatee) in the marina while waiting for dinner. The lobster reuben is legendary, but honestly, I have never had a bad meal here.
Our personal favorite is the Hideaway Café. Located on the beach, it offers gorgeous sunset views, fine wine, great food, yet is still casual and kid-friendly.
Porky’s Bayside is great for BBQ, and has water views.
Herbie’s is famous for conch fritters. It looks like a typical dive, but the food is spectacular.
Insider tip: they don’t take credit cards, so bring cash.
Don Pedro’s Restaurant for authentic Cuban cuisine (MM52, Marathon). Croquetas are always kid-friendly, as they are basically a crab or chicken nugget-stick. I LOVE Cuban food, so I highly recommend.
Of course, if you have a kitchen in your hotel room, you can save money at Publix grocery store… and it has a great deli.
Kid friendly hotels, resorts in Marathon:
Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key is a beautiful resort with kids programs separated by age, (3-5, and 6-11) and 5 pools including one (with a pirate theme) just for little kids, and one adults only pool.
Continental Inn (Key Colony Beach) small beach but nice, some rooms nicer than others as they are individually owned. Very family friendly and rooms have kitchenettes.
Tranquility Bay Beach Resorts is a small, townhouse-style resort with separate children’s pool and small beach. The beach is great for playing in the sand, but not so much for swimming… too much seaweed. Located in central Marathon, this kid friendly resort is close to everything, including area restaurants… which is good, because the onsite restaurants cater to adults with gourmet tastes.