Winter in the Florida Keys – The Disease and the Cure
They call it “Keys Disease” and we’ve got a MAJOR case of it. The plan was to spend a week of February down in the Florida Keys for a proverbial “get our feet wet” sorta visit…we ended up staying for 19 days.
The day before we had to pack up the RV to head north out of the keys, and into mainland Florida, we had a couple locals invite us to their home on Summerland Key. They recently installed full hook-ups to entertain their RV friends and they proclaimed let us show you the “water side” of the keys. I mean how could we say “no” to this amazing spot, or the opportunity to get a few extra days in paradise?
One of our readers put it best: Where else in the USA can you drive to a tropical island? That’s just it, we look around and all we see is crystal clear water broken up by mangrove islands and beautiful turquoise sand bars waiting patiently below the waters surface for the next low tide.
After undoubtedly overstaying our welcome with our gracious hosts we’d like to share a little slice of our Winter Florida Keys Experience with you.
Our Favorite Restaurants
We only had a few misses while we were eating our way around town, but here are a few of our favorites where everything was pretty much perfect: Square Grouper, Blue Heaven and Nine One Five. If you’re here during the Stone Crab season make sure you get a “Colossal Claw”, you won’t be disappointed.
Fishing in the Keys
Backcountry – On the windy days we hopped in the smaller boat to tour the nearby private island hotel to the stars, do a little fishing for the “smaller guys”, and just relax on the water.
Frontcountry – When it’s not too windy we were able to head to deeper water for bigger fish. We did a ton of “catching” but we couldn’t keep most of them due to seasonal fishing restrictions…and yes…Nikki caught a lot more than I did and she knows how to clean them.
Looe Key Snorkeling
Winter is not the best time of the year for snorkeling or SCUBA due to the wind and lower visibility, but within seconds of jumping in the water we saw all types of fish, man-o-war, barracuda and sharks!
The best RV Spots in the Keys
Our friends showed us all the RV Parks in the area and by far the fanciest has to be the Bluewater Key RV Resort. It’s full of privately owned sites that (if the owners aren’t using them) are up for rent. Waterfront views, private sites and perfectly manicured outdoor cooking and lounge areas. Only downside here is there’s no access to the deep water for bigger boats. It was nice & quiet and located at MM 14 so it’s very close to Key West. If you want a party resort and don’t care as much about the peace and quiet, check out the Sugarloaf KOA at MM 20 as it definitely holds up it’s party reputation.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all puppy dogs and bubble gum here in the winter.
The RV parks start at $100+ per night for a bumper to bumper, reach out to your neighbor for Grey Poupon style parking lot. There are genetically altered killer mosquitoes but they’re nothing compared to the impossibly annoying “no see ums” that bite so often we ended up looking like Lepers. The local brews aren’t very good and there’s no site of a quality small batch craft coffee roaster. When you accidentally pick a bad restaurant you still walk out with a $100 bill for two. It’s windy, there’s not any shore snorkeling so you’re forced to pay a charter (or make friends at the marina), it’s nearly impossible to find a decent sandy beach, there isn’t really any hiking and there are loads of tourists lining up for that “I’m supposed to do that” photo like this one below.
But all those downsides sorta melt away when you wake up in the morning, put on a pair of shorts and shades then tell yourself: ”It’s 6 degrees and snowing in Michigan right now, soooo… yea, I’m one lucky S.O.B.”
As I sit under the palapa writing this article Nikki is passed out in a hammock, the gentle breeze is rustling the palm tree canopy above and the cats are rolling around on the sun kissed concrete beside the pool. The sun is disappearing slowly into the water and the weather is perfect…if this isn’t a little slice of heaven I don’t know what is.
I guess the cure for the Keys Disease is to stick around a little longer! Cheers everyone, it’s definitely five o’clock here.
Have you ever wintered in the keys? Share your story and favorite finds in the comments below.
I ended up in the Keys while sailing up north from Indiantown Marina, in Florida, while living aboard a 45 foot Ketch with my dad in my early 20s. After a few weeks of heading north, we got cold and turned her around and ended up in Boot Key, in Marathon. We stayed a few months before my dad was ready to head back north. I stayed behind and moved my fiance down! Now we are married with a son that will have just turned 16 on our next trip down. After watching your video that included a stay at Bluewater Key Resort, we finally booked a spot there for a few weeks in December, after having stayed at the KOA for a few years. Very much looking forward to it, and to a lobster omelette at Blue Heaven, happy hour(s) every day, and every thing else that we love about the Keys! I too, even though I am clearly a tourist, could do without the super-touristy stuff, but in a place that awesome, you’re not going to have it to yourself. So many memories there from when we were young, and now new ones with our son. He loves the Keys every bit as much as we do.
There is no cure you can only treat the symptoms. LOL
Vincent (Flightdoc) Lugg
Hey guys, if you’re still in the Keys you may want to try Geiger Key Marina, RV park and tikki bar/restaurant. Awesome food great location right in the mangroves. MM 10.5 I was staying at the Key West NAS RV park and heard about this place. Went there on a regular basis. Many locals frequent it.
What you described on winter life in the Keys seems to be light years away from your “wild camping” lifestyle. Myself I can’t deal with all the masses, thus causing everything to be 3-4 times the cost of the real world. I’ll stick to the more remote state parks, where one can have a water front site all to yourself. Good luck in your sailing adventures, I hope the right cat comes your way. Since your announcement into the next lifestyle I have started to follow the crew of SV Delos on YT. It is a whole new learning curve on many fronts. I’ll stick with my two inflatable kayaks. http://www.irv2.com/photopost/showphoto.php?photo=29627
Did you guys try the Cuban Coffee Queen? Great breakfast sandwiches and coffee! But I am a dark roast lover. 😉
We didn’t…but we’re headed back so we have another chance!
I just started following your site and I am hooked. Last January my wife and I spent the month in Florida. A trip that started in chilly New England and ended up at Boyd’s campground in the Keys. We routinely will camp even in the cold weather but I can not tell you how frustrating it was trying to find fresh water at a gas station or RV stop. Not until we arrived in Georgia could we get a drop and at that we were mid way through the state.
The road home was filled with cross crossing the state of Florida places we would go again and some we had no problem leaving behind. Key west was by far our favorite stop. Very touristy but having breakfast on an outdoor deck on Duvall street while cruise ships pulled into port in the distance while a guy strums a guitar only a few feet away singing songs of paradise made a great start to every day we spent there.
keep up the great posts and articles you certainly have us dreaming and planning.
Caitlin Morton (Mortons On The Move)
Just got back from a recent 5 day trip to the Keys and found the same mixed experience of “tourist fluff” and insane enjoyment for the weather. Our snorkeling experience ended with jellyfish stings and a touch of seasickness from uncooperative waters – but still can’t beat the color of that water!
We had a local recommend El Siboney Restaurant for some EXCELLENT local Cuban food. We were also tipped off about No Name Pub on Big Pine Key. While not the best grub and brew, it was quite an experience!
We have spent a lot of winters in the Keys and love it.
We stay at the Coast Guard Base in Key West on the water in the RV Park.
By far the best Key West experience for us is Fantasy Fest, Championship Offshore boat races and pretty much any other day in Key West.
Even just hanging out people watching. Enjoy your journey we always smile a little more once we hit the A1A!
Your guys are the BEST! We are planning our route down to the Keys for a summer vacation. We have a ” Trainer For The Day” slot booked at the Dolphin Research Center for our 17 year old daughter. She is just a little excited!! :0
My question is: Do you have any recommendations for places to stay between Jacksonville and key West? We are departing from Texas.
Trainer for the day…that sounds awesome! We did a lot of Wild Camping (which I wouldn’t suggest in summer there) so we don’t have a lot of suggestions other than try to stick to the state parks if you can get a reservation. The everglades national park is cool and on the way.
Mario and Julie Rodriguez
Thanks so much ! This is kinda the trial run for the wife and I full time travels to come. Well…when our daughter starts college a year from now 🙂 We are blessed to have a very nice 2013 landmark San Antonio fifth wheel, but the awesome videos of your motorhome has got us thinking:)
Thank you for returning our message !
Jim at Growing Faith
Thank you for sharing this nice description of the Keys. Some have told me I must go see them when I am in Florida and others have said don’t bother. Now I can make a better decision. Your photos are great!
Beautiful pics !! It IS a beautiful place ! I lived in Key West for 3 years back in the early 80’s.. Every formal occasion was attended in shorts and flip flops !! lol…… Got most of my partying out of my system in that 3 years ☺..
Keep up the great work of sharing your dream !!!
Get a key chain shaped like Florida, then you’ll always have your Florida Keys 🙂 Just a thought. I love your beautiful vibrant photos…and I think I found Waldo!
Still haven’t made it to the Keys despite visiting Paul’s family in Miami umpteen times. One day, one day…
I completely agree with you. The Keys are paradise. As I read this I am currently staying at Blue Water Key RV Resort, it is amazing, just put the kayak in the water right from our site.
I will not drive in lower Florida. Once you get below the panhandle the drivers seem to be more aggressive than most other states. I drive an ’07 Winnebago View and tow a 10′ trailer for my motorcycle. Driving on the interstates at nite it seemed like there were herds of deer in the medians and along the verge, much to scary for this 67-year-old. I’ll take my camping where I don’t run into angry, no-tomorrow drivers and droves of deer, no matter how picturesque it is. I’m glad you had a good time but there are better places for me in the winter.
I dropped y’all a note today about having difficulty with your site closing down prematurely….It is still a problem, but only with my Ipad…no problems with android devices..so many thanks for your prompt reply and concern. And huge kudos for a terrific site. We are in our mid 70’s and still boondock around the Southwest and hope to explore more of the country east of the Mississippi thanks to your blogs…Safe travels and Situational Awareness always
As a native SE (West Palm Beach) Floridian, I totally know what you mean about the allure of The Keys. It’s all about the water and what you can do in it. We used to go to Islemorada, which is about 1/2 way down the Keys every August to go snorkeling for lobster. We would stay in this dump of a motel, but it had easy access to the ocean. What a ball we had! One time my husband and I found ourselves right in the middle of about 20 huge barracuda, just staring at us. We got out and went home to have grilled fresh lobster for dinner! Incidentally, we had the best Key lime pie I’ve ever eaten in a restaurant there. Hope you’ve had some.
Hey, my previous post didn’t properly display the link to our story about the Keys so if this one does, please substitute it. Love your story. We, too, went to the Keys this winter, after our 5500 mile road trip from San Francisco. We had similar experiences of it being chilly and expensive, and we too enjoyed the hospitality of locals (who unfortunately did not have a boat). You can find our story on carolsuestories.com/ It’s the one entitled “Are We Travelers or Tourists?”. After that we did a cool thing – we stored the RV in FT Lauderdale (cheap) and went to Costa Rica and Antigua Guatemala. Loved it. Have you considered traveling internationally? Take a look at my blog post on Costa Rica, too, if you would – I’d like to hear what you think about your doing both kinds of travel living. Happy Trails.
Most of the links are automatically disabled in comments to keep spammers away. We have considered traveling internationally via RV and think it would be great if you’re well equipped.
I love Blue Heaven too! Everybody has to eat there!
Nice to see you are enjoying the fabulous Keys …and the nautical lifestyle!. Weren’t you interested a while ago in doing a Gone with the Wynns on Water? It could be interesting to learn more about what the boating industry has to offer. You see where I am pointing at 😉 Enjoy your “end of the road” tropical paradise in the Keys.
We actually went to the Miami Boat show to see a few potential sailboats, so yes moving to the water is still on the radar.
We came down to Key West and the keys for 25 years every winter. Usually it was just for 10 days. About every 4-5 years you have some 50-60 degree days wind wind and rain. The bad food, auto fumes expensive everything is still there, no matter what the weather. We’ve been fulltime for 2 years and started staying in the Southwest.
When it comes to the RV experience, Florida offers extremely high prices, crowded spots, the inability to just pick up and move anytime. Unless you just want to move your RV and park it for a few months, the most desirable areas of Florida, especially the keys, are not optimal. Boondocking is about out of the question as are the state parks, unless you are lucky enough to stumble upon a cancelation.
I’m sorry to sound so negative, but you’ll have agree that the “life on the road” lifestyle really doesn’t work in Florida, especially in the winter. The southwest and Mexico offer more of everything, and if its the tropical “beachy” lifestyle you want, Mexico is the best choice for RVers.
The last several years before we started our RV adventure, we stayed in Marathon Key at a private complex. It has a beautiful beach, great views sitting on the lanai in the morning, great food if you go into the fishing area independent restaurants. If we ever go back, we will go by car, sit and relax and enjoy the keys the only way we can, without our RV.
We hear you Dave, and we agree the southwest is much easier for RVin.
I can understand how if you do something for 25 years straight you’d become disillusioned with it, but contrary to Dave Davis’s assertions the state parks in the Keys are not impossible. My wife and I got reservations and spent 46 days straight in the four this winter from mid January to the end of February. And at a nightly rate of about forty bucks it beats the heck out any other prices there.
We just spent a week in the Keys. Unfortunately, we flew in as we still need to work and didn’t have the time to take the RV. Can’t wait for the day (4 years!) that we can check out more and take our time. It’s a great place to relax and yes, the weather is perfect.
Curious if you tried Baby’s Coffee? Theyare known as the southernmost coffee roasters and have a loyal following. We enjoyed their coffee.
We did try Baby’s and it was fine but all their roasts were extremely dark and not our preferred taste. Its funny they claim the southernmost roasters when their coffee is actually roasted in New Orleans, but again everything they do is expertly marketed (like the names of their coffee blends) and I believe that is why they are so popular.
Very fun story, you guys. We, too, went to the Keys this winter, after our 5500 mile road trip from San Francisco. We had similar experiences of it being chilly and expensive, and we too enjoyed the hospitality of locals (who unfortunately did not have a boat). Here’s our story – hope you take a look. carolsuestories.com/are-we-travelers-or-tourists/
Then we did a cool thing – we stored the RV in FT L (cheap) and went to Costa Rica and Antigua Guatemala. Loved it. That post is at carolsuestories/costa-rica-made-a-birder-out-of-me/
Love your page and your fun, breezy style. Happy Trails.
I’ve noticed you take many pictures with you and your wife. How do you do that is it a special camera, app or timer gadget?
Most of the time we just set the camera somewhere and use the timer 🙂
Ray and Jeanie Jordan
We enjoyed having The WYNNS in our driveway for a few days in January. We met them at an RV park in California several years ago when they were just starting out on their great adventure. One of the great things about RVers is that if you have a problem with your RV, more than likely someone is there who has had a similar experience and they may have a solution for you. It’s like a big family.
We just came off the road after 13 years of full-timing and are now looking to downsize from our custom two-slide 45′ MCI “rock star” bus to something a bit smaller. We often read about people wanting to go to a bigger coach. If anyone has any interest in a larger luxury coach, Jason and Nikki have been in it and can give you more details on the coach and how to get in touch with us.
By the way Jason, we’re still looking for that link to the G-4 antennae you said you’d send. Since you just turned 31, you know that the mind is just the first thing to go !!
Yea Yea Yea, I hear ya Ray. I’m totally loosing it at my old age 🙂
One of our favorite parts of travel is meeting people on the road then getting to cross paths again and swap stories from the road.
And yes, Ray’s RV is very nice if you’re looking for a bit of luxury in your next rig.
Get out!! Nice! We were supposed to be in Keys for two weeks in January but decided, after 5 months on east coast, we missed southwest so canceled. maybe another year. How fun and this fuels your desires even more for a floating RV doesn’t it? I used to live on my sailboat all along the west coast when I was your age so understand the interest. Keep sending fun pix. OM-Out-Kent
You got it! We drove by several protected coves down there where people were anchored out for free…now that definitely beats the $100+ per night we were paying 🙂