Marathon - Sunset Grille

Weekend in the Florida Keys – Marathon

Living in South Florida has its perks, we are driving distance to the Florida Keys!  If you haven’t been, the Keys are like going to the Caribbean without the hassle of grabbing your passport and boarding a plane or a boat.  After you drive through Homestead, FL, basically the last stop on HWY 1, your pulse slows because you are on island time now!  This is the only road in or out of the long stretch of the Keys and at times you can see crystal clear blue water on either side – a sight that almost brings me to tears!  Just think of the drive in as an adventure in itself.  There are tons of shops selling brightly colored island ware, conch shells and yard art to entertain your eyes as you drive down.  Resist the urge to stop at the first bar you see with a thatched roof.  It was so entertaining that the kids put down the iPads to look out the window!  The drive is so scenic that Travel & Leisure Magazine voted it one of the most scenic drives in the US.  T&L Scenic drives  Don’t miss the Seven Mile Bridge, just past Marathon.

On the way down we stopped for lunch at Key Lime Cafe, an outdoor cafe with excellent fresh fish and the best conch fritters I’ve had (and I’m not a huge fan of conch fritters).  You can explore their outdoor shop of garden accessories while you wait for your food.  Grab a key lime pie on your way out.  They are frozen, ready for travel and are divine!  Check out their web site to order key lime products.

Key Lime Cafe
Laid back fare at reasonable prices

After lunch we drove from Key Largo through several small Keys and Islamorada to our destination at Marathon.  Marathon is one of the more developed areas of the Florida Keys and has several resorts, grocery stores, gas stations and all of the basic needs for harmonious travel with kids.  We thought it would make a great home-base for exploring.  Key West is about 50 miles south from Marathon – another stop on our “to do list” for a future trip.

We stayed at Tranquility Bay, a resort with all of the comforts of home in a stunning backdrop.  It would make a great stop for a longer trip to the Keys because they have “beach houses” with full kitchens, equipped enough for simple dinners when you just don’t want to deal with corralling your kids at a restaurant.  Or maybe you’d like an early to bed night so you can enjoy some quiet time on the back porch with a cocktail.  Being near a grocery store comes in handy if you didn’t stock up before you arrive.  We found a few fish markets that sell fresh fish and seafood.  You can’t go wrong with any of the specials.  If you don’t enjoy cooking while on vacation, (is it really a vacation if you are cooking?) not to worry, there are plenty of restaurants nearby and several that deliver!

The hotel has a giant pool with lots of shade for a break from the sun and an area with zero entry, great for younger kids and moms who don’t want to get their hair wet.

Pool at Tranquility Bay
A relaxing day at the pool
This one we named Sammy.
So, about the gecko/iguana situation…they are everywhere.  If you haven’t seen one up close, they are beautiful and entertaining to watch while swimming at the pool.  The kids were mesmerized!  Parent note, they can climb, but there are several cats on the property that help keep the population in check.

There’s also a beautiful beach area for swimming with water so clear you can wear goggles or practice snorkeling.  The beachfront tiki bar is a great stop for afternoon refreshments and the resort has all of your watersport needs covered, including sailboats, Waverunners, kayaks and paddle boards.  We rented a kayak and tried paddle boarding with the kids on the front of the board.  The boards are very forgiving so they are great for wiggly children.  If you are lucky, you may encounter a manatee or sea turtle while paddling.

Tranquility Bay
It’s hard not to relax here
I know you’ve seen a beautiful sunset but, there’s just something about the sunsets in the Keys that takes your breath away.  To catch the nightly sky entertainment we went to the Sunset Grille & Raw Bar, just north of the Seven Mile Bridge.  The restaurant gets crowded so you may want to show up about 30 min before sunset to make sure you get a seat.  They have an extensive menu with plenty of seafood and bar fare but, it’s really not about the food here.  As you can see, the view is simply amazing and they have a pool!  If you sit on the lower level you can enjoy a drink while the kids swim happily in the light-filled pool.  Usually they have a band poolside and there is a bar as well.  The guys in our group enjoyed the cold beer and the gigantic TV by the pool that was showing football games.  Really, this restaurant has something for everyone and that sounds like paradise to me!  Parent tip – pack towels and come in your coverup.
Sunset views at Sunset Grille
Everyone wins at Sunset Grille!
Snorkel Sombrero Reef
Snorkel at Sombrero Reef and see fish you only read about in books!

There are plenty of opportunities to fish, snorkel or scuba in the Florida Keys.  Check out one of the several active coral reefs just minutes from Tranquility Bay. Although they have diminished over the years there are still spots to see active and colorful marine life.  We chose to take a snorkeling trip to Sombrero Reef with the Starfish Snorkeling crew.  They specialize in families and everyone in our group loved it!  It was some of the best snorkeling I’ve done and they really took the time to explain the safety rules but also, have a little fun too.  Ask my 5 yr old how many pirate jokes he picked up along the way.  Argh!  The ride on the catamaran was an experience in itself. They let the kids sit up front for maximum splash potential.  Before getting in, they showed us pictures of fish that we might see while snorkeling.  They have all the gear you need including life jackets and pool noodles which came in handy when swimming with the kids.  We buddied up and held on to the noodle together.  The crystal clear water was like swimming in a fish tank and you really didn’t have to go far to see fish.  We got up close and personal with all kinds of colorful marine life, and even saw an eel and a sea turtle.  Our favorite were the parrot fish and yellowtail snapper.  Not only did we learn about different kinds of fish, but also learned a lot about the coral reefs and how to take care of them.  

We will definitely be back for another trip to paradise so stay tuned for more adventures down south.  

Quick tips for busy moms:
1.  Hotel and resort prices go up dramatically in the winter.  It’s actually pretty affordable in the fall and late spring.  Price shop.
2.  Dress is very casual.  Bring bathing suits, cover ups and dry clothes for when you aren’t in your bathing suit.  90% of the restaurants don’t care if you come in in T-shirts and shorts.
3.  If you are flying, check flights into Key West and Miami.  If you fly into Miami, the first Key is about 60 miles away.
4.  Consider a rest stop in Homestead before you hit the main drag because you can get stuck in traffic and there aren’t many places to refuel or use the restroom.
5.  Try some key lime pie!
6.  When in Florida, don’t forget the sunscreen!

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