Anthony John Coletti
Wherever you stay in the Keys (see our lodging recommendations), you'll be tempted to remain close to the resort. But we hope you'll make time for one―or all―of these activities.
Explore John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the nation's first underwater park. Most visitors enjoy the reefs from a glass-bottom boat, but those who prefer a closer look can snorkel or scuba dive. The park also offers hiking trails, picnic areas, and three swimming beaches. Adjacent to Pennekamp (and extending its boundaries out to international waters) is Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary. Both of these coral reef areas are protected from environmental abuse, so they'll stay healthy for many generations. (Mile marker 102.5 on Key Largo; 305/451-1202 or pennekamppark.com.)
Browse at Rain Barrel Artisan Village. A maze of little shops and working studios, Rain Barrel represents more than 100 artists offering a range of unique products: pottery, jewelry, sculpture, paintings, and stained glass. Surrounded by tropical gardens, the enclave is also home to a primarily vegetarian cafe. (Mile marker 86.7 in Islamorada; 305/852-3084 or keysdirectory.com/rainbarrel.)
Kayak the backcountry with Big Pine Kayak Adventures. Captain Bill Keogh, a naturalist, educator, and professional photographer, leads half- and full-day tours through the shallow waters of the Great White Heron and Key Deer national wildlife refuges. Traveling by kayak allows up-close and personal views of the mangrove forests, sponge flats, and grass flats. And thanks to Bill's extensive knowledge of local marine and avian life and his desire to share it with others, participants leave with a better understanding of―and a deeper appreciation for―the fragile backcountry ecosystem. (Mile marker 30 on Big Pine Key; 305/872-7474 or keyskayaktours.com.)