Summer in the Keys

The best places to stay aren't always in Key West

It’s that time of year — when Florida residents flock to the land of Hemingway, hammocks and sunset celebrations. The 110-mile highway to Key West is peppered with attractions, restaurants and shops to explore, but you’ll need a place to stay and there are many good options. Here are a few suggestions you may not have considered. Some are old — tried and true — others have been made new by massive renovations, and others really are brand-new.

If you areas comfortable in mask and flippers as T-shirts and shorts, check out (or check into) Amoray Dive Resort in Key Largo (MM104). A top dive destination with breathtaking sunset views and 45-foot catamaran dive and snorkel boats, Amoray offers PADI scuba diving courses and certifications, eco tours, snorkeling, kayaking and even underwater weddings. Besides coral reefs (and perhaps a wet bride and groom), divers will find schools of parrot fish, dolphins, whitetip sharks, stingrays and sea turtles. Be sure to bring an underwater camera. Summer rates start at $149. 800-426-6729.

Looking for something new in Key Largo? Try Playa Largo Resort & Spa (MM97), the first resort to be built in the Upper Keys in two decades. A member of Marriott’s Autograph Collection,Playa makes its home on 15 acres and boasts 745 feet of beach. The resort has a beach house feel with an open-air lobby and “sunset on the bay” design. Playa’s167 rooms, 10 private bungalows and a three-bedroom beach house offer views of the Florida Bay. Besides luxurious accommodations, Playa has three restaurants,sunset celebrations and beachside fire pits. The resort is slated to open late summer and starting rates will be $254. 305-853-1001.

Rainbow Bend Resort in Marathon (MM58) gives guests a half-day free use of one of its Boston Whalers, an attractive incentive for boaters and anglers. If you prefer taking to these in something without an engine, you will be happy to know that use of kayaks and paddleboats is also complimentary. You can swim in the resort’s freshwater pool, stroll around a sandbar island, dine in an oceanfront restaurant, barbecue on the beach, or sunbathe at a private beach. If all of that is not enough, breakfast is free, too. Summer rates start at $156. 800-929-1505.

"Whether bare feet-friendly or upscale luxe, lodging options abound here."

Two recently remodeled hotels in Islamorada — Amara Cay (MM80) and Pelican Cove (MM84) —quickly are becoming Keys hot spots.

A former Hampton Inn with an Outback Steakhouse, Amara Cay promotes a laid-back experience with its 110 rooms, pool, restaurant, sandy shoreline (with thatched-roof huts and lots of hammocks and lounge chairs) and marlin fishing opportunities. Islamorada, after all, is known as the sportfishing capital of the world. Summer rates start at $239. 305-664-0073.
Pelican Cove was remodeled a year ago and offers 63 modern-rustic rooms with walk-in showers designed with subway tile. Besides a pool and marina, the hotel provides paddleboards, kayaks, saltwater lagoon and an oceanside restaurant, Wild & Lime. Summer rates start at $188. 305-664-4435.

Two new hotels opened in Key West about a year ago and are worth checking out. The comfortably chic Gates Hotel at the entrance to the island debuted in April 2015 and creates an intimate setting for travelers to discover the soul and the history of the island. Note: You’ll need to drive, take a taxi or bike to Old Town. The boutique hotel (a former chain hotel) has 100 rooms (with views of the North Roosevelt Boulevard or U.S. 1) and plans more. There’s a food truck, The Blind Pig, on-site serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner. Bikes are available to take to OldTown or on daily tours. Summer rates start at $224. 305-320-0930.

Those who want to be closer to the action on Duval Street should know about The Marker Waterfront Resort at 200 Williams St. (three blocks from Duval). When it opened in December 2014, The Marker Waterfront was the first hotel built in the OldTown district in 20 years. The 96-room resort, on two tropically landscaped acres at the historic seaport, ushers in a new, modern Key West, falling in tandem with a fresh crop of new restaurants and experiences that are contributing to a renaissance of the destination. Rooms come with private balconies and are stocked with Key West Aloe toiletries, locally distilled rum and books by local authors. Summer rates start at $228. 844-239-8312.

Insider Tips

• It’s hot and humid in the Keys during the summer, so stay hydrated and cool off under a shady tree or by taking a dip in the pool or sea.

• Take a sunset cruise, have a margarita and chow down on local seafood. Soon you’ll have that “don’t worry, be happy” feeling Keys residents are known to enjoy.

• Pack your patience if you’re driving. There are many no-passing zones on the Overseas Highway.

Where to stay:

The Marker Waterfront Resort, 200 Williams St., Key West. 844-239-8312.

Where to eat:
Louie’s Backyard, 700 Waddell Ave., Key West. 305-294-1061.

What to see:
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, 102601 Overseas Highway, Key Largo. 305-451-1202.
Theater of the Sea, 84721 Overseas Highway, Islamorada. 305-664-2431.
Sunset at Mallory Square, 400 Wall St., Key West.
The Turtle Hospital, 2396 Overseas Highway, Marathon. 305-743-2552.