Activities for visitors to the Florida Keys range from snorkeling, boating and fishing to bar-hopping in Key West at sunset. You don’t even have to leave your car to enjoy the tranquil scenery of water and sky on either side of the Overseas Highway.
But wherever your wanderings through the Keys might take you, chances are you'll encounter some of the islands’ many creatures on land, in the sea or flying overhead.
Tarpon fish crowd the docks at waterfront restaurants, birds and tiny Key deer abound in nature preserves, and stingrays can be seen through glass-bottomed boats at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Six-toed cats have the run of the place at Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West. Here are some details.Under the sea: Rescued birds:
But you won’t find a traditional park entrance. Instead there are a few trails accessed from Key Deer Boulevard where you can take a short hike. If you’re lucky, you'll encounter a deer or two in the brush in a moment of mutual surprise. From U.S. 1 on Big Pine Key at mile marker 30.5, turn north on Key Deer Boulevard and drive 2.8 mi. to the Blue Hole trail (park on the left). The entrance to the Jack Watson and Fred Mannillo Trails is a bit farther down the road. Reminders: Early morning and late afternoon are best times for wildlife viewing, but don’t feed the deer! A visitor center is located in the nearby Winn Dixie Shopping Plaza.Dolphins:
Other places in the Keys offering interactive dolphin programs are Dolphins Cove, Key Largo; Dolphins Plus, Key Largo; Theater of the Sea, Islamorada; and Dolphin Connection at Hawks Cay Resort, Marathon, Duck Key.
But one of the most charming aspects of any visit is encountering the 40 to 50 cats that loll about, sprawling on vintage furniture, pristine bedspreads and in the yard. Many of the cats are polydactyl, meaning they have an extra toe, just like a six-toed cat Hemingway owned. The kitties are named after Hollywood stars like Clark Gable and Audrey Hepburn. You’re not supposed to pick them up, but they are amusing to watch. Tours are offered daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; adults $13, children, $6, www.hemingwayhome.com, 907 Whitehead St., Key West.