The Florida Keys: Barefoot in Winter

The Florida Keys: Barefoot in Winter

New York is exciting, but the average low temperature in January is 14 degrees F. It’s a little warmer in San Francisco at 45 degrees, but also the height of their rainy season.

The key to a barefoot winter is the Florida Keys. Folks there don’t even call it “winter.” They say “the dry-cool season,” and it is: the average low is 65 degrees, the average high is 74. The Midwest has greater temperature swings over lunch.

Hurricanes? Nope: that’s in August, on the other end of the year.

Getting Your Feet Wet

While everyone else is frozen over, Key West is bubbling with water fun. You can book a fishing trip. Dive in and go snorkeling. Explore shipwrecks. Eat fresh seafood you could almost catch by hand. Hang with the locals, or just hang in your hammock. You’re never late when you’re on island time.

Does This Float Your Boat?

Coastal waters surrounding the Florida Keys are protected by the National Marine Sanctuary, extending from Miami to the Dry Tortugas National Park. Spectacular coral reefs, shipwrecks, and seagrass beds offer dazzling and accessible viewing opportunities. Hundreds of vendors rent houseboats, pontoon boats, sailboats, fishing boats — with or without a captain. Help protect all this fragile beauty by checking out responsible boating practices at Reef Relief.

Then dive in. Novice snorkelers and scuba students get their feet wet along the colorful formations of Delta Shoals and Sombrero Reef, shallow areas along the only living coral barrier reef in the United States.

Here’s Looking at You, Key Largo

Key Largo is the northernmost of the Keys, and there’s a reason they call it the Diving Capital of the World. There’s even an underwater hotel for Jules Verne fans. The land impresses too, with its fascinating botanical marvels, hardwood forests, and national parks. It’s also home to the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival, featuring indoor and outdoor screenings of his film classics, plus opportunities to mingle with Bogie-related celebrities.

Now head south to Islamadora. It sits between the Everglades National Park and the deep blue Florida Strait, and offers the world’s highest density of offshore charter boats with tournament-level captains. Go fish. Then check out the intriguing History of Diving Museum.

Marathon in the Middle

A ten-mile long stretch in the middle of the Keys, Marathon represents the old-Key lifestyle. Lots of waterfront access, beaches, and 1,200 wet-slips to welcome boating guests. Get your seafood here: stone crab and lobster crawl right under your boat.

The Lower Keys arch west toward the sunset. This quieter stretch is ideal for campers, hikers and bikers (the pedal kind). There are two national wildlife refuges and a marine sanctuary. Hammocks yes, jet-skis no. Locals shun artificial light, making this a haven for astronomers and stargazing philosophers.

Key West: the Writers and Uniters

It’s closer to Cuba than to Miami. That helps explain why Key West is so irreverent, a welcoming blend of Bahamian history and Cuban culture. The diversity of people, architecture, and romance is thrilling. One Human Family is the motto of this modern island community: simple, warmhearted and open. You’ll find a vibrant gay and lesbian community shared openly with global neighbors.

Among the open-minded: Tennessee Williams and Robert Frost made homes here. Ernest Hemingway produced his finest works at 907 Whitehead St., now open to tours. Today, leading contemporary writers worldwide gather at the annual Key West Literary Seminar to share insights and mingle with literature lovers.

This winter, ease on down to the Florida Keys. Nobody rushes. Nobody tells you you’re drinking your coffee wrong. Baggy shorts are as popular as tight jeans. And shoes? Fuggedaboudit.

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