As you drive south into the Florida Keys, you’ll see the signs for the first of the islands … Key Largo. If you’re a fan of old movies, you’ll probably think of Bogart and Bacall, trapped with some gangsters in a hotel during a hurricane. Key Largo was mostly filmed on a Hollywood sound stage, but the script was written in the island’s only hotel at the time, and the 1948 classic helped create the mystique of the keys as the last-chance, tropical end-of-the-road on the Atlantic Seaboard.
Today Key Largo, the longest in the island chain, is a popular bedroom community and a favorite stop for divers, who split their underwater time between several offshore wrecks and famed John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Covering more than 70 square miles offshore, it was the country’s first underwater state park and remains a wonderland of corals and tropical fish (more than 600 varieties).
This being the keys, fishing, kayaking, and eco-tours also have their field days. (Ever seen a manatee or roseate spoonbill? The islands of Everglades National Park are less than 2 miles away.) And that trip into the everglades might just put you into the mood to hop aboard the African Queen … how the rundown steamer used in that Bogie-Hepburn classic ended up as a tour attraction at a Key Largo Holiday Inn is anybody’s guess. But this is the Keys, remember?