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Florida Keys Travel Itinerary with Kids (2024 Guide)

    The Florida Keys is a popular vacation destination for families in the Midwest and East Coast, and even for native Floridians! The casual and carefree island life in the Keys is unlike anywhere else in the Sunshine State.

    If you have just a few days in the Keys, we recommend spending your time in Marathon, which is an amazing family-friendly island right in the middle of the Keys. If you have time in your Florida Keys family travel itinerary, driving either north or south will be an easy day trip from Marathon.

    If you have a week or more in the Keys, plan to visit all the major Keys. We’ll share the best kid friendly things to do from Key Largo to Key West to help you decide what to put in your Florida Keys family travel itinerary whether you have 2 days or a whole week to enjoy.

    Where to Stay in the Keys for Families

    If you’re taking a family trip to the Keys, I recommend staying in Marathon. Or if you’re camping, try to book a spot at Curry Hammock or Bahia Honda state park or look for an RV park close to Marathon. Marathon is a ‘locals’ island with multiple playgrounds and community parks, an amazing library, and large school facilities. This key also has a lot of casual restaurants, which are perfect for families.

    Marathon is also a great halfway point in the Florida Keys, making easy day trips to both Key Largo and Key West. Being centrally located in Marathon will give you the best of both worlds. You’ll have lots to do (and eat!) at your fingertips and you’ll also have lots of options for easy day trips during your Florida Keys family vacation.

    Where to Eat in the Keys for Families

    Depending on the age of your children and how often you eat out at home, finding family friendly restaurants in the Keys might be really important to you.

    We recommend looking for restaurants with casual outdoor seating or garden patios where kids have more freedom to wiggle. Look near fishing charter docks on the different islands and you’ll find a Fishery restaurant serving up fresh counter service seafood. We had a very easy and fun experience eating at Keys Fisheries in Marathon with our young kids. We went for an early lunch, so there weren’t many other patrons and after ordering at the counter, we were quite entertained watching all the happenings at the docks. A couple morning fishing charters came in and the pelicans swarmed around the fishmonger preparing the catch. We also saw several large and colorful fish in the water off the dock as well as a couple of nurse sharks.

    When budgeting for your Keys family vacation, keep in mind that seafood is pricy (and so is food in general in the Keys), so most restaurant menus will have ‘Disney World Pricing’ where items are a little more expensive than they are back home. We were camping in our RV for this trip, so we stocked up at the last Walmart on the mainland and planned to eat out only a couple of times. We also find that with the age of our children, we’d rather not sit down for multiple restaurant meals in a single day.

    What to Eat in the Keys for Families

    Seafood

    There is SO MUCH good seafood in the Keys. Most menus will have items with shrimp, mahi, conch, grouper, snapper, hogfish, lobster, and stone crab. Hogfish and conch are two things you might not find on other seafood menus outside of the Keys, which puts them high on most people’s must try lists. Some menu items we’d recommend ordering are coconut shrimp, conch fritters, mahi tacos, a fried hogfish basket, conch po’boy, and stone crab. One signature dish that gets so much hype it has its own billboard is the Lobster Rueben from Key Fisheries, which melds the classic taste of a lobster roll with sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing on rye bread.

    Cuban Food

    When we’re in Florida, we always seek out local Cuban restaurants. Our favorite things to order at Reubens, empanadas, and plantains, although you’ll also find seafood entrees at some Cuban restaurants in the Keys.

    Key Lime Things

    The Florida Keys are probably best known for key lime pie, which you will find served at nearly every restaurant. During our stay here, we also saw it deep fried, drizzled in chocolate ganache, and served frozen on a stick encased in a chocolate shell. You’ll also find numerous key lime flavored things, from cocktails to ice cream to cookies. If you’d like to chase down a couple of signature dishes, you can find the key lime freeze at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen, chocolate-covered key lime pie on a stick at Keys Chocolates, and key lime cookies at Blond Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory. Kermit’s Key West Lime Shoppe is also a great place to stop to find a variety of interesting key lime foods and the cafe next door serves pancakes with key lime syrup! The key lime freeze was our top favorite. It tastes just like a lime creamsicle and would be the perfect drink to pick up on the way to the beach!

    Top 10 Things To Do in the Keys for Families

    1. Take a snorkeling excursion – Snorkeling from the beach is certainly an option, and we were surprised at how much ocean life we saw from docks or while swimming at beaches, but the best snorkeling in the Keys will be found on a snorkeling excursion.
    2. Enjoy a day at the beach – There are dozens of beaches throughout the Keys, so we’ll leave the exact location up to you, but you should know upfront that there will be seaweed. This is naturally occurring here in the Keys and unless you’re at a fancy resort, no one is coming to comb it off the beach. Just walk over the tideline of seaweed and enjoy the crystal-clear water.
    3. Eat at a seafood restaurant – Level up this experience by choosing a restaurant on the water at sunset.
    4. Get out on the water – Take a boat ride, book a fishing excursion, or rent paddleboards or kayaks from a state park. Don’t just explore the Keys from the shore.
    5. Enjoy a sunset or a sunrise – The Florida Keys offer you the unique opportunity to watch both the sunrise and the sunset over the water. Consider booking an east or west facing waterfront view for your hotel or campsite. Take a walk on the beach at sunset or watch the sunset from a beautiful beach front restaurant. Watch how the color of the sky and the color of the water changes during this magical time of day.
    6. Visit a state park – John Pennekamp, Curry Hammock, or Bahia Honda are all excellent. We enjoyed paddling through the mangroves at John Pennekamp State Park. At Bahia Honda you’ll find an old rail bridge and multiple beaches for swimming.
    7. Look for ocean life – Walk along docks, wade into the water at a secluded beach, snorkel a beach’s swimming area, or get out on a boat. Find as many different opportunities as you can to look for beautiful sea creatures. We found different marine life everywhere we went, so experience as much as you can.
    8. Eat key lime pie and other key lime flavored treats – You won’t have to work hard for this one. Key lime pie is offered at nearly every Keys restaurant, and keep your eyes peeled for unique offerings you might not be able to find elsewhere.
    9. Keep an eye out for fun photo spots – As you drive through the Keys, you’ll see beautiful murals, larger than life statues, and other fun family photo opportunities. Stop at a few and collect those fun family vacation memories.
    10. Learn more about the Keys – Walk through the visitor center aquarium at John Pennekamp. Visit the Turtle Hospital in Marathon or the Eco Discovery Center in Key West. Walk around Fort Zachary Taylor or take a tour of Pigeon Key. There are numerous opportunities to learn more about the history of the Keys or the animals that live here.

    Ideas for Preschool and Primary Families

    If you’re traveling with younger kids, there are plenty of fun playgrounds to enjoy throughout the Florida Keys. And the kids area of the Marathon library is top notch with such fun underwater theming! It’s a great place to cool down for a bit or even spend a rainy afternoon.

    Ideas for Middle School and High School Families

    If you have older kids or teens, we’d recommend budgeting for 2 additional family excursions. Book a fishing charter to get out on the water and catch your own dinner! Private charters are available, but you can also book a group charter very affordably. The second family excursion we’d recommend adding to your Florida Keys family vacation itinerary is a day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park. Two transportation options are available, ferry boat and seaplane. Visitors can tour Fort Jefferson, swim, snorkel, and even paddle around the island. We cannot wait to visit the Florida Keys again when our boys are a bit older!

    Our Favorite Places in Key Largo for Families

    John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park – Check out the visitor center’s aquarium. Book a glass-bottom boat tour or snorkel excursion. View the sunken artifacts at Cannon Beach. Paddle through the mangroves. Enjoy the beach or fishing areas.

    Key Lime Freeze from Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen – This was our favorite treat and our top recommendation. Maybe pick one up on the way to the beach. It tastes like a lime creamsicle and the whole family loved it.

    Blond Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory – Offers a variety of key lime pies by the slice, as well as coffee and some pre-packaged key lime goodies like cookies, taffy, and meringues. I recommend trying the key lime pie with meringue and enjoying it in their beautiful relaxation garden.

    Keys Chocolates and Ice Cream – Get a scoop or pick out some chocolate truffles.

    Florida Bay Outfitters – Offers kayak rentals as well as kayak tours.

    Snorkel, Fishing, or Boat Tour – You’ll find several options available.

    Our Favorite Places in Islamorada for Families

    Dolphin Hospital – Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder offers a variety of package options for swimming with dolphins as well as dockside dolphin interactions and facility tours.

    Frozen Key Lime Pie Cocktail at Islamorada Distillery – They also have a garden area and food truck.

    Keys Chocolates and Ice Cream – A second location for sweet treats.

    Anne’s Beach – This beach has 2 small parking areas and a nice boardwalk with picnic shelters overlooking the water. This was a nice beach for hanging out on the sand, but we wouldn’t recommend it for swimming. The water was even more shallow than other Keys beaches and the sea floor is very mucky.

    Snorkel, Fishing, or Boat Tour – You’ll find several options available.

    Our Favorite Places in Marathon Key for Families

    Sombrero Beach – A very popular and beautiful beach in Marathon, this beach and park is a great place to spend the day. Paid parking only, so we’d recommend planning to spend at least a few hours here.

    Curry Hammock State Park – Paddle the mangroves, go fishing, hike the tropical hardwood hammock forest, or enjoy the beach.

    Seven Mile Bridge – Walk or bike part of the Seven Mile Bridge and enjoy the beautiful water views.

    Dolphin Research Center – Watch the dolphins and sea lions or book a hands on interactive program for an up close experience with these amazing animals.

    Turtle Hospital – Book a guided educational tour of the turtle hospital and rehabilitation center.

    Snorkeling Tours – Several snorkeling tours operate out of Marathon. We booked one from the marina on the south end of the island.

    Pigeon Key – Book a tour and learn about the island’s history and the building of the Seven Mile Bridge.

    Fishing Tours – Book a private or group fishing charter with one of the many companies in Marathon. You’ll find several located right next to Key Fisheries Restaurant.

    Paradise Flavors Paletas – While they serve ice cream cones and sundaes as well, we couldn’t resist the many cases of ice cream bars. They had so many delicious fruity flavors to choose from, but the key lime pie and coconut were top hits for us.

    Key Fisheries Restaurant – Home of the wildly popular Lobster Rueben. Their coconut shrimp were just perfection!

    Paradise Cuban Restaurant – Serving breakfast and lunch. We ordered 2 kinds of empanadas, plantains, a Cuban sandwich, and a pizza.

    Burdines Restaurant – This casual waterfront restaurant doesn’t have an extensive menu, but it was a repeated favorite on our previous trip. Their fries have the best seasoning!

    Sweet Savannah’s – Stop here for ice cream, cookies, cupcakes, key lime pie, or coffee.

    Children’s Rotary Playground – My kids loved the large wooden castle feel to this playground. It’s been recently updated and features a lot of fun climbing elements, a playground spinner, and a fun shark to climb on.

    Marathon Library – This library has been recently renovated and has an amazing children’s section, with plenty of toys, flexible seating, and a fun underwater theme.

    Marathon Community Park – The playground here was also a big hit with our kids. It’s large enough for a bunch of kids to enjoy at the same time and has a couple of unique and creative playground elements, which they really enjoyed.

    Our Favorite Places in Bahia Honda Key for Families

    Bahia Honda State Park – Enjoy Calusa Beach, Loggerhead Beach, or Sandspur Beach. Walk the old Bahia Honda Railroad Bridge. You can also book a snorkeling tour or rent kayaks or snorkel gear at the concession gift shop.

    Horseshoe Beach – Located just south of Bahia Honda on West Summerland Key, this swimming basin was a great place to see tropical fish while snorkeling. The shallow beach drops off quickly, so this is a good place for strong swimmers. The parking lot is very small and easy to miss.

    Veteran’s Memorial Beach – A small beach located just north of Bahia Honda on Little Duck Key.

    Our Favorite Places in Key West for Families

    Southernmost Point – The famous Key West buoy landmark is a must stop for family vacation photos.

    Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center – This free visitor center has limited hours, but is well worth a visit. Their amazing interactive displays educate visitors on many aspects of the Keys ecosystem, from the mangroves to shipwrecks to the efforts to regrow the coral reefs.

    Fort Zachary State Park – Take a self-guided tour of the historic fort or spend the day enjoying the outdoors. This state park offers opportunities for fishing, paddling, hiking, swimming, and snorkeling.

    The Hemingway House – Take a 30 minute guided tour of Ernest Hemingway’s home and meet the famous 6 toed cats.

    Key West Lighthouse – Climb 88 steps to the top of the lighthouse and tour the lighthouse keepers quarters.

    Mallory Square – Watch the sunset from this popular spot. The atmosphere here is lively in the evenings and you’ll usually find several food trucks and street performers.

    Truman Waterfront Park – Fantastic playground and splash pad.

    Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory – Walk among hundreds of butterflies in this glass-dome habitat.

    Higgs Pier and Beach – This beautiful beachfront and park offers a lot of amenities from chair rentals and showers to tennis and volleyball courts.

    West Martello Tower and Key West Garden Club – Enjoy the peace and tranquility of a beautiful tropical garden in the remains of a historic Civil War fort.

    Key West Aquarium – Enjoy views of tropical fish without snorkeling! Don’t miss the touch tank or shark, sea turtle, and jellyfish exhibits.

    USCGC Ingham Maritime Museum – Tour a 1936 Coast Guard vessel turned into a maritime museum and memorial.

    Shipwreck Museum – Learn about the history of Keys shipwrecks and end your visit by climbing the building’s 65 foot observation tower for a unique perspective of Key West.

    Dry Tortugas National Park – Book ferry or seaplane transportation to this island fort to enjoy a day of snorkeling, swimming, paddling, and history.

    Snorkel, Fishing, or Boat Tour – You’ll find several options available.

    Old Town Trolley Tours – We really love a hop-on-hop-off trolley touring experience. Your ticket includes unlimited re-boarding throughout the day with 13 stops all around Key West.

    Key West Conch Tour Train – Operated by the same company, this cute little train ride offers a tour through Old Town Key West with 3 stops.

    What Animals to Look for on a Keys Family Vacation

    No Florida Keys family vacation is complete until you’ve spotted some beautiful tropical fish. Whether you’re watching from a dock, visiting an aquarium, or doing a bit of snorkeling, here are some fish to look out for: angelfish, blue tang, parrotfish, tarpon, sergeant major, hogfish, yellowtail snapper, porcupinefish, and grunt. You may also see stingrays, hermit crabs, urchins, crabs, lobsters, turtles, or nurse sharks.

    Outside of ocean life, you’re of course likely to see iguanas and a variety of birds, like pelicans, ibis, herons, and osprey. And if you spend any time in Key West, you’re bound to see (and hear) some chickens and roosters!

    Tips for a Keys Family Vacation

    It’s very hot and humid here, even in the winter. And Key West feels extremely hot, because you don’t get the cooling breeze from the sea unless you’re right on the water. Winter here still feels like summer, mostly, so pack lots of breezy fabrics like linen or moisture wicking materials like athletic wear.

    If you’re visiting in the winter like we did, you’ll most likely still find the water to be a good swimming temperature. The water was 73 degrees while we were there. Some people might prefer to wear a wetsuit at that temperature, but others find it very comfortable. We did have a couple of cooler, windy days that wouldn’t be ideal swimsuit weather, so pack layers.

    As I mentioned above, you’ll find seaweed on the beach and most beaches have very shallow shorelines. The state parks have swimming areas marked off that have good swimming depths.

    If you are planning to snorkel in the Keys, research current diver flag regulations. And keep in mind that many of the local reefs have been severely damaged over the past few years. Local organizations are working hard to repair and regrow the reefs, but this process takes years. If you focus your expectations on seeing tropical fish and other marine life, you’ll have an amazing snorkeling experience. But if you’re hoping for a breathtaking and colorful coral reef, you’re likely to be disappointed with your snorkeling excursion.

    Key West is very bike-friendly! We left our bikes at our campsite and I was wishing we’d brought them along as I walked several blocks in the heat.

    Even a cloudy day can have a beautiful sunset. We noticed that even on days when the sun was hidden behind clouds, the sky usually had some beautiful pink clouds, sometimes just after sunset. It’s also when I thought the water looked its prettiest, such a soft aqua.

    What to Pack for a Keys Family Vacation

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    Multiple Swimsuits – It’s humid in the Florida Keys, so your swimsuit might not dry as fast as you expect.

    Breezy linen fabrics and athleticwear – Plan for very warm weather, even in the winter months.

    Water Shoes – Some beaches have a lot of shells and you’ll find that you walk more comfortably in the water with something to protect your feet. Ryan has these men’s water shoes in army green. I always look for arch support so I picked out these water shoes. We have these barefoot style water shoes for the kids.

    Snorkel Gear – You can rent snorkel gear at various locations and if you go on a snorkeling excursion it will most likely be provided for you, but you’ll have more flexibility if you bring your own with you. (And child sizes might not be easily available.) If you’re planning to snorkel from the beach, you probably don’t need to bring flippers. Be sure to look up current Florida laws regarding snorkeling and diver down flags before your trip. This kids’ snorkel set fit my 4 year old, but the goggles just barely fit us too. (Turns out, we left our adult snorkel gear at home!)

    Sunscreen – You’ll burn faster than you think here and you will probably be spending a lot of your days outside.

    Rashguard or Swim Shirt– Full coverage swimwear will be helpful in preventing sunburn. We loved that this rashguard felt thin and lightweight for Florida humidity.

    Waterproof Phone Pouch – We love these lanyard waterproof phone cases for phones and keys while paddling. For a beach day or boating excursion, I’d recommend this belt bag style.

    Dry Bag – If you’re going out on a boat or kayak, you might want something to keep personal items dry.

    Underwater Camera or Go Pro – I prefer not to submerge my phone even inside a waterproof phone case, so it’s nice to have another option for taking photos and video while snorkeling or swimming.

    Bug Spray – This is helpful on less windy days. The no-see-ums were really bad when it wasn’t windy.

    Florida Keys Travel Itinerary with Kids

    Building your Florida Keys family vacation itinerary is really a choose your own adventure. If you’re staying in Marathon on your Florida Keys family vacation, I’d recommend spending the majority of your time in Marathon, with day trips to Key West, Key Largo, and Islamorada as you have time. Go back up to my top 10 list of things to do in the Keys with kids and see what appeals most to your family. Many Florida Keys activities like snorkel excursions will take a few hours, so planning 2 activities, 1 picnic or quick lunch, and 1 dinner restaurant every day is a great place to start.

    Head to our 3 day Marathon travel itinerary post to see exactly what we’d plan for our family to do in the Keys for a 3, 5, or 7 day family vacation.

    Florida Keys Travel Itinerary with Kids

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