Fine white sands, blue Caribbean waters, lush tropical gardens, and icy mojitos. Sound alluring? It is. And it’s only the beginning of the Florida Keys, an exquisite string of islands that offer some of the best resort vacations in the country. And while the Keys have many traits in common, there are differences that can shape the type of resort-holiday each region offers. Here are three of our recommendations for some of the best resorts in the Florida Keys; grab that mojito and let’s get started.
Upper Keys region: Key Largo
The gateway to the Key archipelago begins with Key Largo. Only 60 minutes from Miami, Key Largo is all about aquatic fun, but without the heavy tourist presence found in lower Key regions. With white sandy beaches and beautiful star and brain coral reefs, Key Largo has some of the best swimming, snorkeling, diving, paddle-boarding, and sea kayaking around. The vibe is decidedly homier and quieter than some of the other Keys. And thanks to its status as a marine sanctuary, Key Largo prohibits sport fishing.
For a luxe holiday with days spent floating serenely among exquisitely-painted fish and evenings indulging your inner foodie, go with the Playa Largo Resort & Spa from Marriott’s Autograph Collection. This is a sophisticated and elegant property that offers private hideaway bungalows, a premier spa, and four dining options.
Guest rooms and suites include private balconies, tip-top amenities, gorgeous water views, and contemporary interiors in calming neutral shades. Pastel-washed bungalows with surf-y names like Half Shell or Seascape peek out from leafy paths for those who want a bit more room and privacy. For those who really want to go big, there is the Beach House. With three master bedrooms, wraparound balconies, a private pool, event lawn, and private beach, you can pretend to be Beyoncé for a few days.
Daily room rates will vary depending on season, size, and view but generally run from $400/night to around $700 for a bungalow. The Beach House will run you at least $2,100 per night.
Hungry? Go dockside at Sol for Steamed Clams or Spicy Conch Fritters off the sharing menu. Try an ice cold Channel IPA to go with. For fine dining, La Marea is a perfect mix between seaside casual and haute cuisine. While you decide what to order, try the Dragon Fruit Mojito for a bit of sweet and tang. For your appetizer, we recommend the Avocado Fire & Ice Ceviche, followed by the pan-seared Black Grouper with celery greens, olives, and Florida oranges. Finish off the evening with a stop at Las Olas for (another) specialty cocktail. We like the Playa Morada: that’s blackberry, jalapeño, and sage-infused mescal, with a twist of lime.
For a change of pace, how about a spa treatment? The Ocean Spa features an extensive menu of treatments for both men and women. The Key-Latr Glow facial is specifically designed to optimize your beachy holiday selfies. Go ahead, we know you want to.
Mid Keys: Islamorada
Midway down the archipelago (90 minutes from Miami), the water off the coasts of Islamorada play host to several big fish species on their annual migration routes. No surprise, then, that this region of the Keys is known as the world’s sport fishing capital. If the thought of spending an afternoon on a charter boat with a tournament-grade captain floats your boat (see what we did there?), this may be the region for you. If not, the region’s shallow reef line and patch reefs still make it a go-to destination for diving, snorkeling, and sea kayaking. Islamorada is also a favorite with families thanks to its multitude of aquatic activities and onshore sea life attractions like Robbie’s Marina and the Theater by the Sea and (The latter is perfect for dolphin-lovers.)
While the kids are here to swim, we’re guessing you would prefer to be reclining in a chaise lounge with a pineapple mojito clutched in your palm. Luckily the Cheeca Lodge & Spa has you covered. With a 1,100-foot private beach, fishing pier, saltwater lagoon (for more swimming and snorkeling), boat docking, and a full menu of water-sport options, you can chill-lax and the kids won’t ever have to leave the water.
Cheeca’s luscious guestrooms have a warm, West Indies-style décor with woven cane and rattan furnishings, not to mention screened-in balconies for enjoying those early evening gin and tonics in private. Accommodations face the Jack Nicklaus-designed nine-hole, par-three course; a lush lagoon with cascading waterfalls; or the immaculate ocean. Suites include open-air balconies, vaulted wood-beam ceilings, and marble bathrooms with rain showers. Our top pick is the Islamorada Suite: 1,400 square-feet of sheer luxury with top amenities, spectacular water views, and a hidden outdoor soaking tub and shower.
Three resort eateries cover your dining needs, from Mia Cucina, an authentic Neapolitan pizzeria and favorite with the kids; to the Japanese-inspired Nikai Sushi Bar & Restaurant; to the Cheeca flagship restaurant, Atlantic’s Edge, known for its locally sourced ingredients and regional specialties. The Edge is also open for all meals and features indoor and outdoor dining with glorious views of the ocean.
For breakfast, go with the Edge’s Eggs Benedict or a quick smoothie before hitting the water. Dinner selections range from the Hibiscus Swordfish with tomato and heirloom carrot, to the Waygu Burger with tomato jam, white cheddar, and house pickles. There is an extensive wine list with over 200 hundred handpicked selections; or if you’re feeling like something more island-y, try the Key Lime Martini or rum-based Akeyi Punch Cruzan.
Room rates at Cheeca Lodge range from about $500 to $800 per night.
Lower Keys: Key West
Key West is at the far end of the island chain and closer to Cuba (90 miles) than Miami (150 miles). While the island is relatively small at about four square-miles, it is packed with activity. The historic district towards the west end of the island includes popular tourist attractions such as Duval Street and Mallory Square — known for their boutiques, art galleries, eateries, and scattering of Victorian mansions. Evenings are often festive as crowds, musicians, and street performers of all stripes congregate in Mallory Square to watch the amazing array of oranges, pinks, and golds blanket the sky at sunset. Once past all the hustle and bustle, the beaches to the west are pristine, offering the perfect opportunity to relax while soaking up the sun.
Speaking of beaches, you can’t get much closer to the water than number 0 Duval Street. This is where you can find the Ocean Key Resort & Spa, voted the number one among Resorts in the Florida Keys in the 2019 Condé Nast Readers poll (and for lots of good reasons).
Guest rooms range from single rooms to two bed, two bath suites. All include private balconies with views overlooking the Gulf or historic Duval Street; are decorated in a palette of Caribbean blues and greens; and are appointed with local art pieces. The pièce de résistance, however, is the ultra-luxurious penthouse suite on top floor. With unparalleled views, two types of bathtub (whirlpool tub and soaking tub), teak woodwork, Dorado stone floors, and a granite wet bar, the penthouse offers seriously prime living.
Once you’re settled in, get yourself to , Ocean Key’s sumptuous pool side bar & lounge. Try the Key Chi Chi: Cîroc coconut and Sobieski vanilla vodkas, Keke Beach Key lime, and a bit of fizz. With ultra VIP service, curtained daybeds, throw pillows, and pools lit from within, LIQUID drips with luxury. Menu items (available as you settle into your daybed) include a full range of tapas, croquettes, and sliders. Don’t forget to stop off at the Veuve Cliquot Champagne station on your way out.
For dinner, go Cuban with Ocean Key’s Hot Tin Roof. Start with the Grilled “Al Ajillo” Shrimp served with poblano chili maduros and avocado, followed by the Seafood Paella (Valencia rice, saffron, lobster, muscles, shrimp, and chorizo), or get meaty instead with the braised Boneless Beef Short Rib, cooked to your liking.
For a bit of spa-themed R&R, check out SpaTerre. Here, you can unwind with luxurious Balinese spa treatments and Thai body rituals using essential oils, herbs, and volcanic clays from the Far East. Finish it all off with an exotic flower petal bath, and you’re ready for, well, more relaxation.
Room rates at the Ocean Key Resort will vary, but range from $400 – $1,400 per night depending on size and view.
See Visit Florida for more information on resorts in the Florida Keys.