Known as much for its fishing as for its après-fishing festivities, Islamorada is experiencing a 21st-century makeover. One’s bound to come across yoga and art classes as much as hogfish and rum these days. The laidback bedroom community’s short distance from Miami attracts both South Floridians and tourists who are falling for its new wave of businesses and attractions.
SLEEP LIKE A CORAL ROCK The Moorings, which pioneered Islamorada’s gentrification, is the resort that launched a thousand photo and film shoots (including Netflix’s new series starring Sissy Spacek) thanks to its consummate tropical setting. Stay in one of its chic historic cottages and nap in the dock’s picture-perfect hammock. Its Mayu Boutique recently opened a second outpost, inside a vintage trailer at the beach on nearby Morada Bay, also owned by The Moorings. They stock resort attire for the whole family, including Roberta Roller Rabbit, Eberjey and Strong Boalt, among other brands.
Appealing to both couples and families, the renovated, all-inclusive Cheeca Lodge, whose main hotel offers outdoor, oceanfront soaking tubs, always has something new such as antipasto and gelato bars. After a day of snorkeling and a tiger clam shell massage at its guests-only spa, sip piña coladas at the tiki bar during sunset.
Kids and cell phones aren’t welcome at Casa Morada, a quiet oasis with 16 unique suites and complimentary dockage for boaters who want to avoid Friday night traffic jams on the 18-mile stretch linking the Keys to the mainland. No boat? No worries—its resident captain gives eco tours and sailing lessons aboard the skipjack Sol Sister.
WATER’S EDGEY DINING Following in Miami’s footsteps, young chefs are reinventing the dining and mixology scenes with local ingredients and almost entirely homemade recipes. The duo behind acclaimed M.E.A.T. Eatery & Tap Room in April opened a new concept called S.A.L.T., an acronym for chef owner George Patti’s delicious combination of southern, Asian and Latin tastes, encapsulated in dishes like Kurobuta pork belly with Manchego grits and fried green tomatoes. He also expands his signature small plates with entrees, from sous-vide steaks to ancho chili-glazed grouper and mushrooms atop bamboo rice. Advancing classic crème brulee, too, his version comes in a trio of tongue-twisting flavors: foie gras, kaffir lime and a Nutella and coffee blend.
After dinner, pop upstairs to sister lounge Caña, which features 30 small-batch rums, the main component for seriously crafted Dark & Stormy cocktails with home-brewed ginger beer. Non-rum lovers have their pick of lavender martinis and jalapeño blood orange margaritas, whose vibrant coral hue captures the Keys. Farther south on U.S. 1, Oo-tray (a phonetic spelling of the French word that means beyond boundaries) lives up to its name. After cooking at various restaurants and private homes, chef David Matlock opened his dream restaurant, a place where he could reinvent even the ubiquitous. Case in point: His beet salad, which he cleverly serves with goat cheese ice cream and curried crisps. To the delight of local patrons, the menu meanders far beyond typical island fare. A house foie gras is made using a five-day process and is then shaved over mini johnnycakes drizzled in Nassau Royale liqueur and topped with pickled blackberries. For the main course, try pairing his tender, bone-in pork chop dressed in pineapple chimichurri with a Breaking & Entering bourbon Manhattan that’s barrel-aged behind the bar, stocked with 40 types of whiskey.
ISLE STYLE Islamorada doesn’t have a pedestrian-friendly downtown, so entrepreneurs have banded together in charming commercial enclaves that also serve as venues for community events like fashion shows and yoga practice. Tucked in a magical garden behind the Trading Post grocery store, Village Square centers around a roomy bungalow that’s divided into uCúmbe, a one-stop shop for home and gifts with Assouline books, Niven Morgan fragrances and Lili Largo nautical-themed totes, and Miss Monroe’s second boutique, which focuses on women’s resort apparel such as Echo caftans in retro prints and Woodbug layered bracelets with colorful tassels. Bad Boy Burrito, a Key West destination for organic Mexican cooking, operates an outpost from the house’s kitchen and terrace. Browse surrounding structures for Nomadic State of Mind sandals and Keys Cottage Industries local delicacies like sea grape jelly.
On the Tavernier border, the pastel-painted Casa Mar Village occupies a string of formerly dilapidated warehouses. Pick up fringed flip-flops and starfish makeup bags at April Daze, or souvenirs like sea sponge soaps in coco mango scent at Florida-based Muchie’s Skin. Go for Persian lime-infused olive oil and coconut white balsamic vinegar at Olive Morada. Snack on the seafood market’s smoked fish dip, or Fresh Press Café’s chili-laced corn and black bean burgers on cranberry nut rolls, cold-pressed juices served in bell jars and Florida Keys Coffee Roasting bean drinks.
More organic juices and produce are available at Urbn Grdn Farmers Market, a tiny, air-conditioned stand whose owner sources from Paradise Farms and other Homestead growers.
THE ART OF FISHING Morada Way Arts and Cultural District’s art walks, on the third Thursday of every month, encompass far more than the street’s galleries with pottery and marine motif works by local artists you’ll see everywhere. Listen to live music while touring the Garden Box’s lush grounds with raised herb and vegetable beds for sale. Don’t miss its adjoining state-of-the-art culinary lab, which features chef demos, cooking classes and charity dinners. A four-day festival in June honors hometown watercolor painter Millard Wells. One can’t come to “the sport-fishing capital of the world” without casting a line. Bud n’ Mary’s Marina books offshore and backcountry charters. For something in between, request guide Dave Morris. His Gold Line vessel, named Fish Wife, accommodates up to six guests for a wider range of activities like hooking tarpon, snorkeling and Florida Bay picnics, prepared with your day’s catch.