Visiting Key Largo in the Upper Keys is a great introduction to the vibe and activities of the Florida Keys. Stretching over 30 miles long and situated between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, this beautiful island is known for its coral reefs, tropical climate, and breathtaking sunsets. With its crystal-clear waters and stunning beaches, Key Largo is a popular destination for visitors seeking outdoor adventures such as scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and fishing.
The island is also home to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, a protected marine reserve, and the first undersea park in the United States. Key Largo offers a unique blend of natural beauty and adventure that makes it an ideal vacation spot for anyone seeking a tropical getaway.
History of Key Largo
Key Largo has a recorded history dating back to the early 1800s when the island was primarily inhabited by the Calusa Native American nation. The Calusa were skilled fishermen and hunters who built their homes on the island’s high ground and utilized the surrounding waters for food and transportation.
In the mid-1800s, European settlers began to arrive on Key Largo, and the island became a hub for the lucrative sponging industry. Divers would harvest natural sponges from the ocean floor and bring them back to Key Largo for processing and shipment to markets throughout the world.
During the early 1900s, Key Largo’s economy shifted towards agriculture, and pineapple plantations became the primary industry on the island. However, the Great Depression brought about the decline of the pineapple industry, and Key Largo transitioned towards tourism.
In the 1960s, the island gained national attention as the setting for the popular movie “Key Largo,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The film was a major success and put Key Largo on the map as a premier vacation destination. And if you’re a Humphrey Bogart fan, when you’re visiting Key Largo you can actually take a ride on the African Queen from the famous film. No, not filmed here, but the boat lives in port here and it’s a great film history tour!
Today, Key Largo is home to a thriving tourism industry and is known for its world-class diving, fishing, and eco-tourism activities. Despite its modern amenities, Key Largo has managed to maintain its laid-back, tropical charm, making it a favorite destination for visitors from around the world.
Was the Film “Key Largo” actually Shot Here?
Yes, the film “Key Largo” was actually filmed on location in Key Largo, Florida. The movie was directed by John Huston and starred Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson, and Lionel Barrymore, among others. The story takes place in a hotel in Key Largo during a hurricane, where a group of gangsters hold the guests hostage. The film was released in 1948 and was a critical and commercial success, earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for Claire Trevor, who won the award. The film’s success helped to put Key Largo on the map as a popular vacation destination, and it remains a classic piece of American cinema.
State Parks and Preserves are on Key Largo
There are two State Parks, a National Park (part of one) and a National Wildlife Refuge on or near Key Largo. These spots are great for seeing wildlife, bird watching and enjoying the natural side of the Florida Keys. Key Largo is a huge island, so it’s got lots of undeveloped land and marine areas to explore.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park This is the first underwater park in the United States and covers approximately 70 nautical square miles. The park includes the only living coral reef in the continental United States, which can be explored through snorkeling, scuba diving, and glass-bottom boat tours. The park also offers kayaking, canoeing, and hiking trails.
Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park
Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park is located just north of Key Largo (after the exit from the island) and features 84 protected acres of tropical hardwood hammocks, mangrove swamps, and wetlands. Visitors can explore the park’s trails, which are home to a variety of native plant and animal species, including the endangered Key Largo woodrat and cotton mouse.
Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge
The Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge is a 6,700-acre preserve located in the upper Florida Keys, including parts of Key Largo. The refuge was established in 1980 to protect critical habitat for the endangered American crocodile and other wildlife species.
The American crocodile is a rare and threatened species that lives in coastal areas, including mangrove swamps, and estuaries throughout the Caribbean, Central, and South America. Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge provides a sanctuary for this species and its habitat, including freshwater marshes, mangrove forests, and saltwater ponds.
The refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is closed to the public except for occasional guided tours and research activities.
Note: I wanted to include the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge here because if you’re looking at a map as you explore Key Largo, you’ll see it and maybe try to visit it. We never want to send anyone on a wild goose (or croc) chase, so it’s good to have all the info before you try to explore.
Everglades National Park
While not located directly on Key Largo, Everglades National Park is situated just a short drive north of the island. The park covers over 1.5 million acres of wetlands, mangroves, and forests, and is home to a vast array of plant and animal species. Visitors can explore the park’s wilderness through hiking, boating, and guided tours.
The Flamingo Entrance located in Homestead is the closest road into Everglades National Park. If you’re spending a week in the Keys and are based out of Key Largo, planning a day trip into Everglades National Park is a great idea. You’ll love the environment and wildlife!
Museums on Key Largo
While Key Largo is primarily known for its natural beauty and outdoor activities, there are a few museums on the island that are worth a visit. Here are some of the top museums on Key Largo:
History of Diving Museum
Okay, you caught me; this museum is just south in Islamorada, but it’s only just off Key Largo so I’m including it. The History of Diving Museum is dedicated to the history of diving and features a collection of artifacts and exhibits showcasing the evolution of diving equipment and techniques over time. The museum also hosts educational programs and events, making it a great museum for families and history buffs alike. It’s basically vintage Florida Keys meet underwater culture. Pretty cool! PS: is also has one of the best murals in the Florida Keys!
Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center
While not strictly a museum, the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center is a non-profit organization that provides care and rehabilitation for injured birds in the Florida Keys. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the center and learn about the different bird species that call the Keys home. There is also a trail into the mangroves, and throughout the day there are staff present talking about the birds onsite.
Bonus: there is an epic strangler fig/banyan tree on property too!
The Art Scene on Key Largo
While the art scene on Key Largo is relatively small, there are a few galleries on the island that showcase the work of local and regional artists. Photography and painting are the most common types of art you’ll find, and if you’re not in the market to buy any, you are always welcome to visit the galleries and studio spaces to support the artists.
- Key Largo Art Gallery and Frame Studio: This gallery features the work of local and regional artists, with a focus on capturing the natural beauty of the Florida Keys. Visitors can view and purchase paintings, sculptures, and other art pieces inspired by the island’s tropical landscapes and marine life.
- Art Box Studio: This studio offers a variety of art classes, workshops, and events, including painting, drawing, and mixed media. Visitors can also view and purchase the work of local artists, including paintings, jewelry, and home decor items.
- Gallery 303: This gallery features the work of local artists, with a focus on contemporary art and photography. Visitors can view and purchase a variety of art pieces, including paintings, prints, and sculptures.
- Island Art Gallery: Located in nearby Islamorada, this gallery features the work of over 50 local artists, including paintings, sculptures, and pottery. Visitors can also attend art classes and workshops, or participate in one of the gallery’s regular art events and exhibitions.
Overall, while Key Largo may not have a wide variety of museums to choose from, these few options offer unique and interesting experiences that are worth checking out during a visit to the island.
Annual Events to Enjoy on Key Largo and the Upper Keys
Key Largo hosts a variety of events throughout the year, ranging from art festivals and seafood competitions to music festivals and sporting events. Here are some of the top annual events that take place on Key Largo:
Humphrey Bogart Film Festival: Held in May, this festival celebrates the life and career of the legendary actor Humphrey Bogart, who starred in the classic film “Key Largo.” The festival features film screenings, panel discussions, and special events that pay homage to Bogart’s legacy.
Key Largo Original Music Festival: Held in May, this festival showcases the talents of local and regional musicians, with a focus on original music. The festival features performances at various venues throughout Key Largo, including bars, restaurants, and outdoor stages.
Underwater Music Festival: Held in July, this unique event takes place on the world-famous coral reefs off the coast of Key Largo. Scuba divers and snorkelers listen to music transmitted through underwater speakers while exploring the vibrant marine life of the reefs.
Humphrey Bogart’s Film Noir Festival: Held in October, this festival celebrates the classic film noir genre with screenings of classic films, panel discussions, and special events. The festival takes place at the historic Tropic Cinema in nearby Key West.
Florida Keys Seafood Festival: Held in January, this festival celebrates the island’s fishing heritage with fresh seafood, live music, and family-friendly activities. The festival takes place at Bayview Park in nearby Key West, just a short drive from Key Largo.
Overall, Key Largo hosts a variety of events throughout the year, offering something for everyone from music and film enthusiasts to foodies and nature lovers.
Frequently Asked Questions about Key Largo?
The best time to visit Key Largo is between November and April when the weather is mild and there is less rainfall. The summer months can be hot and humid, and hurricane season lasts from June to November.
Key Largo offers a variety of outdoor activities, including snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, kayaking, and nature hikes. There are also several state parks, preserves, and museums to explore, as well as art galleries, shops, and restaurants.
Yes, but you shouldn’t. We do not support dolphin tourism where dolphins are in any form of captivity, including dolphins that are recovering from injuries, as their circumstances move them into indenturement versus simply being cared for.
Key Largo is located in an area that is susceptible to hurricanes during the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June to November. Visitors should stay informed about weather conditions and have a plan in place in case of severe weather.
Key Largo is located about an hour’s drive south of Miami International Airport. Visitors can rent a car or take a shuttle from the airport to Key Largo. There is also a shuttle service that runs between Key Largo and the neighboring islands in the Florida Keys.
Yes, Key Largo is a great place for families with children of all ages. There are many family-friendly activities, such as snorkeling, fishing, and kayaking, as well as museums, parks, and wildlife preserves.
Key Largo offers a variety of restaurants serving fresh seafood, Caribbean-inspired cuisine, and other specialties. Some of the top-rated restaurants in Key Largo include The Fish House, Key Largo Conch House, and Pilot House Restaurant & Marina. See our article about dining on Key Largo.
Yes, there are many snorkeling and diving tours in Key Largo that cater to beginners and non-certified divers. These tours typically provide all necessary equipment and instruction.
No, there are no all-inclusive resorts in Key Largo. However, there are several resorts and hotels that offer packages that include meals, activities, and other amenities, but nothing that is specifically called out as “all inclusive.” Visitors can also find vacation rental properties that provide a more flexible and personalized experience.