Nature, culture, history, and sheer good fun are both Hawaii and Florida Keys’ slogans. Expect to be met with a diverse set of experiences and a newfound love for Mother Nature. But in all honesty, when you’re met with these choices, it’s not a matter of “which”, but “when”.
The stuff of tourism legends, and the inspiration for numerous hit songs, the Florida Keys is the most happening destination. Even Hawaii itself doesn’t come close to the sheer amount of experience you can have in the fabled islands.
Expect to see a perfect combination of history, nature, and man-made wonders. The Florida Keys have been synonymous with the fabled American experience for years on end. Nestled south of Miami, between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Keys is an American gem.
What Makes Florida Keys Unique?
Everybody in the US knows how packed Florida Keys is with all its attractions. Yet, among many of its many quirks, the Sunshine State is also famous for one thrill. Parks. From nature parks to theme parks, Florida never runs out of places you can enjoy.
The state of Florida is easily continental US park capital, expect that you’ll find a plethora of nature parks around the Florida Keys as well. The rich string of islands south of Miami is home to a total of 14 parks. You can visit several of them, if not all, in just a single road trip starting at Key Largo. There’s no shortage of thrill in the Florida Keys for sure.
Here are some you can visit:
Everglades National Park
Perhaps the most famous natural national park in Florida, the Everglades is located right outside the Florida Keys. Nestled inside the mainland north of the Keys, the park is one of the largest expanses. It runs through the west coast with a staggering 1,509,000 acres (6,070 sq km).
The famous park houses over 350 bird species and 40 mammal species. It is also home to a wealth of saltwater fish species and reptiles. One of the Everglades’ curiosities is the world’s largest breeding colony of tropical wading birds. Not to mention, the mangrove expanse here is also one of the largest in the world.
Dry Tortugas National Park
The Dry Tortugas National Park lies just outside the main string of the Florida Key. It houses and protects the rich Dry Tortuga Islands in the Gulf of Mexico. Key West is the best jumping point 68 miles (109 km) west.
Around the islands, you will be met with several sunken attractions such as shipwrecks and marine animals that have made them home. The park has a long maritime history to which many curiosities surfaced. You can do several things here, from snorkeling to picnicking, which can all be done in a day.
Biscayne National Park
A popular spot for watersports, Biscayne National Park is a hit among the adventurous. It has remarkable limestone islands and thriving coral reefs giving a wide array of marine life home. The islands also house a generous variety of other ecosystems making it a place worthy of exploration.
Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park
The Dagny Johnson State Park sits north parallel to Key Largo and is one of the largest parks in the Florida Keys. It houses one of the largest expanses of hardwood hammocks in the US. you’ll find over 6 miles (9.7 km) worth of shaded and paved trails that are pedestrian and bike-friendly.
Home to over 84 protected species, the state park is also a conservatory staying true to Florida Key’s natural preservation efforts. Upon traversing through the park, you can do a self-guided tour along a marked trail across the 2,805-acre (1135 ha) property.
Bahia Honda State Park
Situated in the Lower Keys, Bahia Honda State Park is famous for its picturesque and top-notch beaches. Most of which are clear, gentle, and shallow. This 500-acre park (202 ha) is not only ideal for beach escapes but camping and picnicking as well. You can find a plethora of features as well, such as concessions and shops.
Both fronting the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, Bahia Honda State Park is also speckled with several stunning beaches. These beaches have sweeping views facing west, so you can see beautiful sunsets, along with gentle breezes, and lovely palm trees.
Another interesting feature of Bahia Honda State Park is that it’s a nesting ground for turtles. You can check out turtles here during nesting season laying their eggs. Due to this phenomenon, the park is also a conservatory.
Water Activities Galore
Mostly consisting of water and less land, you can be sure to find an extensive list of water activities that you can do in the Florida Keys. Conquer gorgeous shores and the underwater world in any of the Keys.
Thanks to its wide availability, Florida Keys is a watersport enthusiast haven. Well, except for surfing that is. From Key Largo to Key West here are some of the best, and most popular water activities in the Florida Keys:
Expect to find a top-tier scuba diving in the Keys with its sheer number of spots and outlandish underwater scenes. Home to over 6,000 marine animals and a cemetery of over 1,000 shipwrecks, the Florida Key’s 3,000 nautical miles of water is perhaps the best on the continent.
With its many diverse underwater sceneries, diving in the Florida Keys is rich with insights and experience. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park has some of the best reefs, while the USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg Wreck is a piece of sunken history. The famous yet curious depths of the Keys are one of the most marveled at in the entire US.
If a destination has great diving, you can expect it to have great snorkeling scenes as well. In the Florida Keys, you can expect to have an even more diverse underwater environment. Especially when it sits along with the third-largest barrier reef system in the world.
Thanks to the Florida Keys Reef Tract, you can certainly find good snorkeling spots all across the island chain. The vast expanse offers a wide array of sites that are all teeming with diverse marine life, on top of exotics corals.
Beaches and coasts across most of the Florida Keys are calm and mild. All of these can be perfect for swimming, but there is one more activity that’s even more fun. Waters around the Keys are ideal for paddleboarding, or even SUP or stand-up paddleboarding.
While paddleboarding across beaches and coasts is the go-to place. Paddleboarding in mangrove tunnels and forests is even better. There are even paddleboard tours across these quirky expanses. You can even paddleboard alongside various marine animals such as rays and dolphins, or bird-watch as you take steps.
With its vast blue water expanses, going underwater isn’t the only exciting thing to do when conquering the seas of Florida Keys. Boating or boat charters are also popular activities to explore more of what the Keys can offer.
Boat tours let you see the beauty of the islands while admiring the sheer beauty of the seas as well. You can visit different sites, not only can you lounge on the deck, but you can also dive or snorkel from the boat.
Abundant in marine life, fishing or rather sportfishing is the second most popular thing to do. Speckled with natural parks and a barrier reef system, the waters of Florida Keys is obviously teeming with fish of all kinds and sizes.
People from all over the US, and even the world get their hands on Florida Keys’ most famous catches. You can catch tarpons, snappers, sailfish, billfish, and mahi-mahis. The best place to fish in the Florida Keys is right in Islamorada, the Sportfishing Capital of the World.
All the Keys
Made up of a string of tropical islands each having its own characteristics, you can expect to find a rich scene. The keys have their own quirks making them unique, and worth visiting. However, no one has the time to take them all on.
Here are some notable keys or islands:
Small town feel yet jam-packed and exciting, Key Largo is the gateway to the Florida Keys. It is the first key you’ll get to in your Florida Keys adventure, and it certainly holds the necessary Florida Keys rite of passage.
There are plenty of things to do and see hear, so expect to be staying longer. You can visit museums, try diving, and most especially, sportfishing here.
Marathon is a city and a collection of 13 smaller islands. The best thing to do here is boating, fishing, and paddleboarding. Plus, Marathon has beaches that best all of the other Keys, and swimming is also great here.
The city also houses animal centers and natural parks. You can visit the Dolphin Research Center and the Turtle Hospital. If you want to explore nature, head to the Crane Point Hammock and Nature Trail, and the Curry Hammock State Park.
Also consisting of six smaller islands, the village of Islamorada is a must-visit locale in all of the Florida Keys. Dubbed as the “Sportfishing Capital of the World”, expect that fishing is the village’s most popular activity.
But with great catches come great seafood dining as well. You can find much top-tier seafood dining around Islamorada. Plus, if you want to get to know more about the iconic village, you can visit many interesting places as well.
Rich in Historical Sites
The Florida Keys may seem like a jam-packed vacation destination, but it’s more than that. It doesn’t only have natural and man-made attractions, it’s also rich in historical gems. From its colonial background to its contemporary developments, Florida Keys isn’t just all fun and thrills.
Here are some of the must-visit sites across the island chain:
Ernest Hemingway House
The historic home of the iconic American writer Ernest Hemingway is the most famous house in the entire Florida Keys. It provides a brief yet intimate glimpse into the lives of the author and his wife. It was in Key West where Hemingway made some of his famous works.
You can tour around the house and marvel at several memorabilia, especially at the house’s impeccable design and architecture. Hemingway’s interesting life can be seen through what he and his wife had left. For cat lovers, it will be a delight to meet the 50 descendants of his famous six-toed cat, Snowball.
Audubon House and Gardens
Originally built and owned by Captain John Geiger, the house was occupied by his family for the first 100 years. In the 60s, the house was set to be demolished, however, it was converted into a museum instead. Although, it wasn’t explicitly stated that John James Audubon actually lived in the house, a lot of his works are housed and displayed there.
Fort Zachary Taylor
Natural parks aside, the Florida Keys also has its fair share of historical parks, and Fort Zachary Taylor is the most popular. It was built during the American Civil War and even served during the Spanish-American War as well. Currently a state park, it is one of the most-visited parks in the entire Keys.
But the park isn’t just war histories and bricks and clay, it also has a stunning beach and many other enjoyable amenities. You can snorkel, swim, and even fish from Fort Zachary Taylor. Downtime is also perfect for laid-back adventurers here.
Much has been said about Hawaii over the past decades. From films, tv shows, to travel articles, Hawaii still has its charms well-kept, and still high ranking. It is one of the most diverse holiday destinations you can visit, and not just a resort city with stunning beaches.
Hawaii and all its draws and features are among the most famous in the world and have been the stuff of travel dreams. You can have iconic beaches, quirky culture, high-street delights, and even special interior landscapes. Once you step on one of its 8 principal islands, you’ll easily see why the US state is often overrated in media.
What Makes Hawaii Unique?
Contrary to what most people assume, Hawaii isn’t just a string of a few large islands. It is made up of 137 islands, some of which aren’t even populated. You can already expect a whole slew of beaches each having its own twist and quirks. You can surely find a beach that fit your liking.
With 137 islands, come 100+ beaches. Imagine all the possibilities you can find. You can already expect that there will be much to see and much to do on any of these beaches. And if you’re adventurous enough, you can easily explore a heap of these fabled beaches.
Despite the sheer number, there will always be some that will stand out. Most of which will even forever become icons and favorites of both locals and tourists, here are some of them:
Waikiki Beach is Hawaii’s poster child for its stunning beaches. Easily the most famous beach strip on the island, Waikiki is the stuff of films and tv shows. The beach is Oahu’s most famous spot and hosts the majority of Hawaii’s tourists.
Just like most beaches in Hawaii, stunning white sand and a gorgeous blue define Waikiki Beach. The strip extends up to a couple of miles, lined with hotels, resorts, and restaurants. If you want to experience much of the fabled Hawaiian holiday vibe, Waikiki Beach is the first place to go.
The largest beach in Hawaii, Big Beach is an incredible expanse filled with an abundance of charms and thrills. Alluding, to its name, Big Beach boasts a dimension of miles in length, and a width of 100 feet (30 meters).
Also called a surfer’s paradise, Big Beach boasts wave breaks that are large and powerful enough for surfers and bodyboarders. This beach is one of the popular places to hit during surfing season. The wave breaks become more prominent and suitable for competitions
Another Oahu gem, Makap’u is known for its unusual sight. It is even believed that its peculiar formation involves a goddess. Or so the legends say. Upon visiting, you can easily see natural yet odd bulges that resemble eyes near its cave. It is said that it represents the goddess Makapu’u.
Beyond its legends, the beach is also famous for its picturesque views out into the Hawaiian seas. Makapu’u is found in a small cove, with several mounds of sand covered in moss. You can also see a lighthouse standing overhead the beach, looking out into the horizon.
Second to Waikiki, Waimea Bay is yet another world-famous beach in Hawaii. Thanks to its ideal waves and surf breaks, the beach packs both fun and thrills for watersport lovers. With a flair for excitement and adrenaline, you can almost say that its natural beauty comes in second.
The beach sports gigantic waves that offer that proverbial surf experience in Hawaii. These waves can reach up to over 30 feet (90 meters), enticing seasoned pros from all over the world, each year. The largest congregations of surfers are around the winter season. Waves on this side of Hawaii tend to be at their largest and strongest during the season.
While swimming isn’t allowed during the winter, the summer season in Waimea allows for a perfect downtime at the beach. You can easily lounge and swim around the beach as well as snorkel and paddleboard.
Wailea Beach can seem like a high-rollers paradise. The popular beach is where many of the well-heeled guests of the island come to spend their beach time. Wailea is speckled with many luxury amenities and facilities, on top of its lavish accommodations. The beach embodies a plush seaside expanse.
With a roster of the most expensive spots in the state, Wailea can feel exclusive and snobbish. Yet, you can’t deny the beauty it possesses. Wailea boasts some of the most beautiful views in all of Hawaii. The contrasting green, blue, and white around Wailea make it extra exceptional. Plus, whale watching from November to April is even more special.
Born out of a series of ancient eruptions, another one of Hawaii’s most fascinating features is its volcanoes. A series of eruptions millions of years ago are responsible for Hawaii’s beauty. These volcanoes themselves sculpted and formed the islands’ magnificent landscapes.
These volcanoes are responsible for feeding life to all of Hawaii’s islands, apart from the ocean. Hawaii’s flora and fauna have benefited from the volcanic materials from these eruptions. Yet, with its beauty and gifts also come its dangers.
Hawaii has 7 volcanoes, two of which are some of the world’s most active. Kilauea’s last record eruption was in 2018, while Mauna Loa was in 1984. Other volcanoes in the islands are Hualalai, Kohala, Leahi, and Haleakala.
One of the most famous surfing destinations in the world, Hawaii is a surfer’s rite of passage. The surfing mecca of surfing meccas, Hawaii has surfing conditions that can accommodate surfers of all levels.
As the birthplace of surfing, Hawaii has to be the best place to get to know the sport, whether you’re already well-versed with it or just starting. It is in Hawaii where the art of riding ocean waves on a wooden board was first introduced centuries ago. Now, Hawaii is one of the most coveted places to win surfing competitions.
You can visit Oahu and the northern islands from November to April. These months tend to have epic waves and surf breaks. However, should you visit during the summer, head to Southern Oahu and other southern islands.
One of the Most Expensive Destinations to Visit
Ranked as one of the most expensive places to travel to, Hawaii is not an easy travel choice to make. You have to consider its costs and prices, weighing them against other cheaper destinations. However, if you insist on Hawaii, flying there can be affordable, thanks to its fame. But the cost of living and hotel prices can be tricky.
Apart from being one of the most expensive travel destinations in the world, Hawaii is also the most expensive US state to live in. It even tops California, New York, and Florida in terms of living costs. From rent to grocery purchases, expect to shell out a bit more in Hawaii.
Most of its high prices may have to do with its isolation from the mainland and its tourism demand. Supplies and goods can be expensive to ship to the islands because of their tricky location. Plus, the high demand for tourism, thanks to its fame, has caused a hike in prices as well.
Which Is Better – Florida Keys or Hawaii?
Both are some of the most famous destinations in the world, and arguably two of the US’ best. But their differences can actually let you decide which is the better option. Jam-packed with many varying draws, Florida Keys is both a cultural center and offers an even more varied experience. Plus, the Keys are also way cheaper than Hawaii.
Hawaii, on the other hand, is famous for a few big things. Especially, when it comes to beaches and natural beauty, Hawaii can boot out the rest. However, the experiences it offers can somewhat be limited, and is the most expensive out of the two.
Looking at these two unique gems can most certainly be a draw. The most appropriate factor for your decision-making is the kind of experience you want to have.
Are the Florida Keys Like Hawaii?
The Florida Keys can be much like Hawaii, with all its tropical setting and endless summer days. However, the Florida Keys can feel more commercial and high-street, despite its historical and natural wealth. Hawaii, on the other hand, is the epitome of an island getaway that can still be high-street but more natural and exotic.
Are the Florida Keys More South Than Hawaii?
When counting all the states of the US, Hawaii is the southernmost point in the US.