key largo

At 53 km long, Key Largo is the largest of the Florida Keys and a quieter, more laid back town than its cousin to west, the flashy and energetic Key West. So what is there for families to do in Key Largo?

From mangrove swamps to beaches to coral reefs, John Pennekamp State Coral Reef State Park definitely tops the list of places to visit in Key Largo. Whether you want to be in the water or under the water, you can do it here. The coral reef in the state park is the Florida Reef Tract, which, at nearly 150 miles long and about 4 miles wide is the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world behind the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Mesoamerican reef that runs from Mexico to Honduras. Take the glass bottomed boat tour and you can have a close up look without ever getting wet. The large high speed catamaran is specially outfitted with an inner glass viewing area so you can see the reef, take pictures of fish and have a lovely experience on the water. Children ooh and ahh as they catch glimpses of the fish swimming below their feet; it’s truly a unique sensation!

Glass bottom boat tour john pennekamp park key largo florida

But if you want to get your toes wet once you’ve had a go at the reef from the top, try it from the under the sea! Snorkeling, and scuba diving, are hugely popular pursuits in Key Largo. Coral reefs, artificial reefs (sunken ships) and real ship wrecks are just a few of the underwater attractions.

Far Beach, and Cannon Beach, both man made beaches within the state park, are great for sunning and swimming. Located in a lagoon, there are no great waves or currents for little swimmers to fear. And Cannon Beach is a terrific spot for snorkeling over the remains of a Spanish shipwreck about 100-feet from shore.

Cannon Beach in John Pennekamp State Park Key Largo Florida

There is no minimum age for children to starting snorkeling; being comfortable in the water, a well-fitting mask and some fins will get young members of your family into a world beneath the blue. But kids can learn to scuba dive starting at 8 with the PADI Bubblemaker course and can get certified to dive (with an adult) at 10.

Christ of the Abyss is just one example of a dive spot that is frequented by snorkelers. The statue sits in about 25 feet of water, but the shallowest part of the surrounding reef section is about 8’.

Christ of the Abyss Key Largo Photo by Stephen Frink Florida Keys News Bureau

Photo courtesy by Stephen Frink Florida Keys News Bureau

One thing I didn’t try was kayaking or paddle boarding among the mangrove forest. The mangroves have always fascinated me. Not only do they thrive in a salty environment that would kill most trees, but they provide a habitat for fish, birds and smaller mammals and help contain sediment and protect shorelines. They are awkward looking and beautiful all at once and exploring them up close is on my wish list!

Kayaking Penneakamp Bob Care Florida Keys News Bureau

Photo courtesy Bob Care Florida Keys News Bureau

And once you’ve seen the animals in the wild you can have a more controlled animal encounter. Children are always thrilled to get up close and personal with marine animals, especially any child that’s seen Finding Nemo! Dolphins Plus is where you can swim with the dolphins in Key Largo and it has a spacious facility and dedicated staff. It’s a once in a lifetime experience to get up close and personal with these amazing sea mammals.

Dolphins Plus Key Largo Florida

You also have to go to Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen and try their burgers. We went back several times because my rare meat loving husband was thrilled that they would grill their hand formed patties to his specifications. The downside to Mrs. Mac’s is that the burger was so yummy and so filling that we didn’t had room for dessert! Rumored to have the best Key Lime pie in the Keys, we were never able to test that theory, so if you go, try it and let me know!

Also, when you’re leaving Key Largo, try not to pay too much attention to this sign, arguably the saddest part about leaving the Florida Keys:

leaving key largo sign
That woeful looking sea turtle waving goodbye above the words “Back to Reality” is the worst sort of post vacation reality check. Well reality may bite, but Key Largo sure doesn’t!

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