Chris and I have longed to visit the Florida Keys for the 18 years that we have been together. Somehow this little string of islands has eluded me, even when I lived near Fort Lauderdale for a stint in my college years. Well, Christmas of 2016 finally brought us to the Keys…and yes, I think we would all be happy to winter here every year.
Our first stop was John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. This was the perfect pause on our drive down from Orlando. Thankfully I snagged two nights at this campground earlier in the year, as all the state parks fill up fast. This was a great stop for us to slow down and transition into island life. Unfortunately, I got sick in Orlando and I was horribly ill while here. We still managed to enjoy our time though. We all decided that Key Largo is a great stop on the way down, but is not where we would want to spend more than a day or two (we like the vibe of the lower keys a bit more).
Pennekamp Park is known to have amazing snorkeling out near the reef, however you must take a boat out…and since we already had some serious fun planned further south, we decided to save the cash and just chill on the beach.You will want plenty of bug spray in this campground though…even in December, the bugs were bad. Kayaking would of been great here if I had not been under the weather. The campground did provide some fun wildlife viewing though…
While there we also took a drive down to Islamorada and had a lovely lunch on the water.
From here we went down to Key West. We stayed at Boyd’s Campground so that we could have full-hookups and be within biking distance to downtown.This was also our home base while we visited the Dry Tortugas National Park, you can read about our trip here. The Tortugas are amazing and satisfied our need to see gorgeous, tropical-turquoise water…at least for awhile!
On our first afternoon at Boyd’s, we hopped on our bikes and headed into Key West…6 miles each way…and one of my absolute favorite urban family bike-rides ever! This is a fantastic activity for families with tweens and teens. We felt that overall it was quite safe for the kids to ride on the paths and streets…and as it was so fun and unique, they had a blast! We parked our bikes near Mallory Square and had drinks at the Sunset Pier to celebrate our family adventure….My kids love “kiddo coladas”…a fun tradition I created on our first trip to Maui when the kids were all pretty small, back in 2010. On that trip we spoiled the kids and had a crab dinner on the lanai of our condo and I served them kiddo coladas….pina coladas, sans the alcohol for my kiddos. The tradition was born! Now once or twice a year, on a really special occasion, we toast with kiddo coladas. Just saying the name makes me smile!….
Back to the keys….we pedaled around town, tried conch ceviche and Mahi bites from the Conch Shack, window shopped and then had the most magical bike ride home. Being that it was December, the town was dressed up for Christmas. We biked through the most adorable neighborhoods that evening, all dressed in their holiday lights, in pitch darkness, as we navigated our way back to camp. I wish I could of stopped to capture a photo of this ride….it was so special!
One gem we found on Stock Island was Roostica Wood-Fired Pizzeria. We biked there from our campground. This pizza is off-the-hook dee-lish! After falling in love with authentic, Italian pizza in Rome, I have been quite particular about this sort of pie (that’s putting it mildly). There are very few places that I would travel far and wide to eat pizza, outside of Italy that is. Roostica ranks right up there with Serious Pie in Seattle and Pizzeria Caldera in Jackson, Wyoming. The later is a less know pizzeria, however just as superb in my opinion. Although we’ve had some amazing pizza in New York and the North End in Boston, these are three of my favorites in the States.
I have to say…I was not expecting much from Key West. In the back of my mind, I was prepared for an overly-partied town. I was pleasantly surprised to find a quaint and vibrant thriving beach community. Visiting in the winter is definitely perfect for our crew. We really didn’t have that much time in Key West as we were gone to the Dry Tortugas for three full days, however we enjoyed every moment of our time there.
From Key West we headed north about 20 miles and set up camp for Christmas at Sugarloaf Key KOA. I must say, all year I tried to get reservations at Bahia Honda State Park, as I was determined that this was where we should be for Christmas…so I wasn’t really planning to keep our reservations at this park…this was more of a back-up plan. Needless to say, I never did find a cancellation at Bahia Honda so we kept our KOA reservations. Well, we loved it! This was a great Christmas stay and we actually had a very spacious site, considering we were in a parking lot in the Keys…we were incredibly happy. The park was very festive for Christmas. The pool was really sufficient for the kids…and the parents. The small beach was well kept and they had a giant inflatable rock-climbing area in the water that my kids played on for hours each day. The park is also in a convenient location, centered right between the state park and Key West.
We totally rocked Christmas in the Keys!
We did take a day to visit Bahia Honda. Unfortunately it was very windy and not a day for snorkeling. We enjoyed strolling along the water and then went over to the swim beach for a picnic.
For our family, the Keys had a little bit of everything. Chris was off of work for over two weeks, providing our family with an abundance of rest and relaxation time. If you follow my Instagram feed, you will know that we move around quite a bit and my husband is on the go for work A LOT. So this vacation was incredibly sweet for us (believe it or not…every day is not a vacation). Although we miss our loved ones on the west coast, there was something very freeing in the absence of planning and schedules for Christmas. It was by far the most relaxed Christmas I have ever had. And that…was the perfect way to polish off a year and keep my focus on the true meaning of Christmas. Celebrating the birth of our Savior is always my favorite time of the year. This year gave us a fresh perspective and provided opportunity to merge tradition and simplicity.