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If you are like most people, when someone says The Florida Keys you think of Key West. And certainly Key West is every bit the magnificent adult playground everyone knows it to be. But most people would be surprised to find that while driving to Key West there is a whole chain of islands that comprise 113 miles of pristine beaches, Marine galleries, museums and a rich culture of island food and fun that await patiently in their big sister’s shadow. And it is in the center of these 113 miles that one can find the city of Marathon.
The city of Marathon is largely considered the heart of the Florida Keys. The city is situated on Vaca Key, Fat Deer Key and Grassy Key. With a population of 10,255 this tropical getaway is packed with hotels, restaurants, family-friendly festivals and attractions enough to satisfy all members of the family. Throughout the year the local restaurants feature fresh catches from local fishermen, making dining a thorough delight. And, margaritas and daiquiris flow like water every day and night.
WHAT TO DO
Fishing, fishing, fishing! Fishing is to the Florida Keys as gambling is to Las Vegas. One cannot go anywhere in the Florida Keys and not see that the entire culture of the islands is steeped in fishing in one way or another.
In the winter, the tropical waters team with tuna and billfish, tarpon in the spring and dolphinfish in the summer. And if spending the day reeling in your bounty isn’t satisfying enough, every local restaurant gladly offers “catch and cook” services for their patrons. Simply bring your day’s catch to the restaurant and their chef will cook your fresh seafood to perfection.
As a sport fishing destination, Marathon is a major player with 1,200 wet slips and 1,200 dry slips, not to mention major accommodations for transient boaters. For full service charters, see Saltwater Experience and Tarpon Time.
2. WATER ACTIVITIES
If fishing isn’t all that you do, you can still find time to enjoy all the other sports the water has to offer:
- Paddle boarding
- Kite boarding
- Jet skiing
- Wreck and reef diving
- Boat rentals
3. HIKING & BIKING
The beginning of the city of Marathon starts with the Seven Mile Bridge, and you can bike this iconic landmark with bikes supplied by Overseas Outfitters. Also, at the Crane Point Museum and Nature Center and historic site, one can hike the hardwood groves and visit the estate of the settler family.
4. LAND ACTIVITIES
The Turtle Hospital
The Turtle Hospital is a fully functioning veterinary hospital for sick and injured sea turtles. They have a fun and informative program that includes a slideshow presentation and guided tour of their facilities. It is highly encouraged to call ahead for a reservation as the tours sell out frequently.
Have you ever wanted to swim with a dolphin? With Dolphin Connection you can shake hands with and get a kiss from a dolphin. You will be amazed by the beauty and intelligence of these wonderful mammals. And nothing can compare to spending time getting to know your new dolphin friend. For a truly once in a lifetime experience little can compare to an up-close and personal dolphin encounter.
From the touch tank to the shark tank, Aquarium Encounters is a full marine experience. Pet stingrays from the safety of dry land or strap on a wetsuit and immerse yourself in the man-made coral reef. While snorkeling the reef you will feed stingrays and exotic tropical fish while you wait your turn to feed a great white shark with your bare hands.
Michelle Lowe’s Gallery
A native Florida resident, Michelle Lowe, spent her childhood snorkeling and fishing in the Florida Keys. Now she brings her experiences to life through her art at the Michelle Lowe Gallery. Featuring original paintings, prints and gifts, her vibrant and colorful art depicts the very sea life she sees while swimming the Florida seas.
WHERE TO EAT
1. The Hungry Tarpon
Located on Lower Matecumbe Key, Robbie’s Marina has been operating for 18 years. Besides being able to hand feed gigantic tarpon fish, the full service marina offers fishing charters, snorkel trips, kayak rentals, souvenir shops and is the home of their famed restaurant, The Hungry Tarpon. In their own words, you’ll find yourself engulfed in the Caribbean-inspired cuisine, the compassionate people and old Keys tranquility.
2. Castaway Waterfront Restaurant and Sushi Bar
Established in 1951, Castaway’s Waterfront Restaurant has been the first stop for many generations of fishing crews and captains alike. Featuring 33 beers on tap, Castaway is a local fisherman’s favorite that is sure to delight both fishermen and patrons with great food, abundant spirits and plenty of tails of the one that got away!
3. Keys Fisheries
Located in the Keys Fisheries Marina, The Keys Fisheries Restaurant is a casual seafood experience popular with regular locals and tourists. Featuring a full service bar and restaurant that is open daily for lunch and dinner, the Keys Fisheries is positioned to give one of the most spectacular views of the sunset that any Florida restaurant has to offer.
4. Lazy Days South
Every year since 1996 Lazy Days South has won the annual Upper Keys People’s Choice Award for “Best Overall Restaurant”. Choosing to expand beyond just seafood, this amazing restaurant offers not only award winning seafood but also steak and pasta meals that will pique even the most discerning palates. Come hungry because the portions are large and the desserts are not to be missed.
5. Alma at Hawks Cay Resort
Alma is just one of the eight restaurants at the Hawks Cay Resort. A fine dining experience with a mix of Latin flavors and island spices that leaves one with an elegant fusion of tastes will impress and delight. When romance is in the air Alma elegantly waits to serve you.
WHERE TO STAY
Hawks Cay Resort
Hawks Cay Resort spans over a massive 60-acre compound with complete amenities to enjoy virtually every aspect of the Florida Key’s experience. The resort boasts 250 two and three bedroom villas, 177 hotel rooms, four restaurants, a saltwater lagoon, five swimming pools, an award-winning spa, onsite fishing charters, water sports and even a Dolphin Connection Facility.
The resort has spared no expense to ensure that guests receive a complete vacation experience. And they have thought of every possible aspect to accommodate your every need. Whether you are looking to host a wedding, plan a corporate retreat, or just vacation with your family, the Hawks Cay Resort is your best choice for a Florida Keys destination.
Their most significant amenity by far is their newly upgraded Coral Cay Adventure and Activities Center. This walled compound is a safe haven for children or the young at heart to laugh and play. Swim around the pirate themed pool complete with a splash zone, water cannons and a climbable pirate ship.
Camp Hawk (ages 5-12) is a fully staffed drop-off service that gives adults the opportunity to relax and spend the day enjoying the numerous adult activities available at the Hawks Cay Resort. There is even a game room (ages 13 – 17) that features Wii, Guitar Hero, Baja Speedway, and more. Interactive games, stories, and arts and crafts projects are scheduled for all resort guests to enjoy daily.
Day and night babysitting for infants by trained and friendly staff is also available to give parents a chance to enjoy some quiet time at the spa or even reconnect over a romantic dinner, and later enjoy drinks by the fire pit at the tiki bar.
So when the winter weather has finally had its way with you and you can’t remember the last time you saw a perfectly blue sky, just remember that Marathon, Florida in the Florida Keys has a spot saved for you underneath a gently blowing palm tree on its pristine sandy beaches and warm teal waters.