Culture + Style

By Land or By Sea: Where to Find Action Beyond Key West’s Confines

Seek stellar sunset — and wildlife, like the famed Key deer — from Big Pine Key, a short drive from Key West. (Photo: Keith Kapple / Alamy)

Key West boasts the enviable status as the only city in the continental United States to never record freezing temperatures. This sultry climate makes it the ideal destination for vacationers seeking a tropical escape. Still, the streets and beaches on this tiny island aren’t the only local destinations worth exploring.

A short drive — or boat ride — from Key West you’ll find a world of things to see and do. From fishing charters to spotting miniature deer, we’ve lined up the best places to explore beyond Key West.

Water-Based Activities in Paradise

For true lovers of the outdoors, a dolphin-spotting boat tour is a guaranteed hit. These beloved creatures call the waters around Key West home and are frequently spotted on dolphin boat tours in the region. Many outfitters offer the tours, but stick with one that strives to respect the animals and their environs, like Wild Dolphin Adventures.

You can book 6-person open charter cruises, sunset dolphin sails, private charters, and — if you’re feeling risque — clothing optional charters. You’re welcome to bring any drinks you’d like on the tour.

Remember to also bring polarized sunglasses with you to cut the glare on the water and improve your dolphin-spotting abilities.

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Sport fishing in the waters off Key West’s coast makes for an epic adventure. (Photo: Aurora Photos / Alamy)

Hook a Lunker While Deep-Sea Fishing

Plan a deep-sea fishing jaunt with a boat charter from Triple Time Fishing Charters. You’ll climb aboard the 46-foot Bertram yacht ready to cast a line. Catch a whopping mahi mahi or big jack and you may claim some fame among your friends during your visit to Key West. If you don’t bring home “The Big One,” stop in at the Conch Republic Seafood Restaurant for some Key West ocean fare that tastes just as good.

Spot a Tiny Key Deer

If you’re a serious outdoor explorer and animal lover, check out the National Key Deer Refuge’s Blue Hole, on Big Pine Key Island. This abandoned rock quarry in the midst of an island is the Florida Keys’ only freshwater lake, which makes it a prime spot to see turtles, alligators and South Florida’s famous wading birds.

But the real bonus of a trip to the Refuge is the chance to spot a Key Deer. This miniature deer are unspeakably adorable and you’ll most likely encounter one or more on your sojourn. Of course, don’t ever feed them, or pet them; they’re wild creatures. Get your picture with one of the many green iguanas in the area, or hold out for some more exotic wildlife—just don’t bring any critters back to your Key West hotel room!