A guide to the Florida Keys, an LGBT-friendly destination
For decades the Florida Keys have been a place of acceptance and a safe haven for people to live their lives as they choose, regardless of their sexuality or gender.
We take a journey through the Keys, from Key Largo to the bohemian island of Key West and find out what makes this corner of the USA so special.
One Human Family
The official philosophy of the Florida Keys is ‘One Human Family’ and they value compassion, acceptance and respect for all. As a result of this attitude, it is home to one of the most diverse populations in the world, living together harmoniously and inclusively; and it remains one of the United States’ most welcoming and accepting destinations for LGBT travellers and residents alike. Key West was the first place in Florida to elect an openly LGBT mayor in 1983, and today the Chief of Police and the mayor of the entire county are both openly gay.
The Florida Keys are a coral archipelago of over 1700 islands stretching approximately 120 miles off the southern tip of Florida. The Keys are connected to the mainland by the Overseas Highway, a 113-mile road linking approximately 30 keys between Key Largo and Key West. As you hop from island to island you’ll see the incredible shades of green and blue and the visible coral reefs of the Straits of Florida. This is a real bucket-list road trip.
This is the northern-most of the keys connected to the mainland by the Overseas Highway, and more importantly, the self-proclaimed ‘Dive Capital of the World’. Here you will find the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the country’s first underwater park. Encompassing approximately 70 nautical square miles of upland areas, mangrove forests and coral reefs, it is a mecca for divers, snorkellers, kayakers and big-game catch-and-release anglers. As it is only 1¼ hours from Miami and 1½ hours from Everglades National Park, it is the perfect choice if you want to stay in the Keys but still be within easy reach of Southern Florida.
A little different from the other main destinations in the Florida Keys, and often overlooked in favour of its neighbours, upmarket Islamorada – the ‘village of islands’ – is made up of six separate keys. While Key Largo is known for its diving, Islamorada is famed for its sport fishing and you can head out on a trip from one of many marinas that line its shores. If you’re on your honeymoon, we highly recommend Islamorada due to its handful of low-key-yet-luxury beach-front properties. One of our favourite LGBT-friendly hotels, and one of the region’s most luxurious resorts, the Checca Lodge & Spa, is located on the waterfront at the heart of Upper Matecumbe Key.
The next stop on the journey south is the 10-mile long stretch of islands that make up the city of Marathon. If you’re a fan of seafood then you’re in for real a treat here – not only does the island host one of Florida’s best seafood festivals every March, there’s also a selection of seafood restaurants serving the freshest local produce and many of them are located right on the oceanfront. After crossing the famous Seven Mile Bridge you’ll reach the virtually-uninhabited island of Bahia Honda, which is home to a large state park of the same name. This is a great stop as you head south as the 2½-mile white-sand beach is consistently voted one of America’s top 10 natural beaches and is heaven for snorkelers or kayakers.
When you think of the Florida Keys, the island that’s most likely to springs to mind is Key West. Closer to Havana than it is to Miami, Key West is the furthest point south you can go in the contiguous United States. This island is home to the previously mentioned ‘come-as-you-are’ community, and the LGBT lifestyle is pretty much integrated everywhere you go. The atmosphere is eclectic, perhaps somewhat hedonistic with an ‘anything goes’ view on life, and as you might expect, there’s a vibrant arts scene and lively nightlife. Spending time in the restaurants, bars and night spots of Duval Street is customary during a visit here – as is an evening at the Mallory Square Sunset Celebration, the island’s most popular attraction.
You can easily combine a trip to the one or more of the islands of the Florida Keys with a stay in Miami or an escape to a Caribbean Island. Speak to a Personal Travel Expert who can help tailor-make your holiday.