• Florida's Adventure Coast

Islamorada: Small Town Island Charmer

Islamorada: Small Town Island Charmer

Written by Authentic Florida Guest Blogger/Author Laura Albritton, her latest book is Hidden History of the Florida Keys

Long known as the “Sport Fishing Capital of the World,” the Village of Islamorada spreads across the beautiful, tropical isles of Plantation Key, Windley Key, Upper Matecumbe, Lower Matecumbe, and Teatable Key, starting at Mile Marker 90.9 in the Upper Florida Keys. Pastel-painted shops and restaurants greet you as you roll into town on the Overseas Highway. Whether visitors come to fish for bonefish on the flats, snook in the backcountry, or mackerel out in the Gulf, the fishing is certainly world class. But Islamorada’s charms don’t end once you’re back on land. In fact, some of the Florida Keys’ most entertaining road-side attractions and best museums can be found in this small Florida village, population 6,600.

 
Robbie’s Marina, an Islamorada institution.

You can start the morning off right at Robbie’s Marina, a local institution on the bayside. At Robbie’s restaurant, the Hungry Tarpon, enjoy breakfast with a view, while you ponder which of the activities most appeals.


The view from the Hungry Tarpon restaurant.

Tourists love feeding the silvery tarpon from the dock, while others browse the stands of hand-crafts and souvenirs. Maybe you’ll want to head out on a snorkeling trip or fishing charter. One of the most intriguing expeditions will necessitate renting a kayak from Robbie’s and taking a comfortable 20-minute paddle.

 indiankey
The 11-acre island Indian Key has an outsized history.

Kayaking gives you the chance to observe fish and bird-life up close, while you head out to Indian Key, a state historic site. There you will pull your kayak ashore, and walk through paths that have existed since the 1830s, when wreckers lived here in a thriving town. Stroll by foundations of buildings that once stood here, as you picture what life was like almost two centuries ago, and absorb the endless views of sky and sea.

 
Kayaks pulled ashore on the banks of Indian Key.

After paddling back to Robbie’s marina, you may want to head to the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center. Here you can view exhibitions such as Legends of the Line – chronicling the extraordinary fishermen and women who became local legends. Be sure to look at the Indian Key exhibit, which offers an excellent sense of how people once lived on that tiny 11-acre island in the 19th century.

 
The permanent exhibition Legends of the Line at the History & Discovery Center.

The History & Discovery Center is located within the grounds of the Islander Resort, a family-friendly place to base your Islamorada stay. On the ocean side, the Islander boasts a (man-made) beach, restaurant, and large pool, while their townhouses on the bay side are perfectly situated to watch the sunset. If you boated to the Keys, you’ll also find convenient dockage at the bayside property.

 
The Islander Resort’s sandy beach.


The Islander’s townhouses on the bayside.

For more history – of the underwater kind – cruise on over to the History of Diving Museum. Even if you have never donned a mask and fins, this thoughtfully designed museum proves worth a visit. From the early age of primitive diving equipment to incredible modern technology, the interactive exhibits and extensive collection tell a fascinating story of undersea exploration.

 
The History of Diving Museum is a fascinating place to visit.

At lunchtime, consider the waterfront restaurant The Beach Café at Morada Bay. Some of Islamorada’s best bayside views can be appreciated here, with dining that is literally “toes in the sand.” From classic conch fritters to mussels, crab cakes, and tuna tartar, this spot offers quality cuisine in a laid-back atmosphere. It’s also a prime viewing spot to watch the sublime Florida Keys sunset.

 
Tables in the sand at the Beach Café at Morada Bay.

Founded in 1946, Theater of the Sea is a classic attraction that appeals to children – and many adults, too. Its giant conch fountain out front is an Islamorada landmark.

 
Theater of the Sea’s conch foundation is a local landmark.

Here you can enjoy entertaining and educational dolphin, sea lion, and parrot shows. The dolphins swim in a huge saltwater lagoon, carved out from limestone. It’s fun to take their small boat on a short lagoon excursion and watch dolphins race beside you. Other exhibits at this aquatic park include sea turtles, sharks, and crocodiles. With a wonderful “old Florida” charm, Theater of the Sea welcomes hundreds of repeat visitors every year.

 
A dolphin leaps at Theater of the Sea.

 While the Village of Islamorada offers so many ocean-related activities, it is also becoming well-known throughout the Keys for its Morada Way Arts and Cultural District. A number of art galleries have sprung up, featuring painting, sculpture, and other hand-crafted objets d’art.

 
Gallery Morada in the Arts and Cultural District.

If you are fortunate enough to be in the village on the third Thursday of any given month, be sure to check out the Art Walk. This street festival spans the distance between the 1935 Hurricane Memorial and one of the Keys’ most beloved dining spots, the Green Turtle Inn. With live music, performance artists, and artisans selling artwork and jewelry, the Morada Way Art Walk is a perfect way to round out an ideal Islamorada escape.

All photos are by Laura Albritton, except the dolphins at Theater of the Sea (by Steven Depolo, Flickr, CC BY 2.0), and the Islander’s fishing pier (by Zickie Allgrove).

Fifth generation Florida native Laura Albritton is the co-author of the book Hidden History of the Florida Keys, just published by The History Press. With Keys historian Jerry Wilkinson, she has also written the books Marathon: the Middle Keys and Key West’s Duval Street.

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