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Florida Keys Island Guide

Welcome to the fabulous Florida Keys! Below you’ll find a brief overview of our Middle Keys and Lower Keys island history, geography and offerings. Please let me know if you have any specific questions or interests — I’d be happy to help you find the ideal location for your new home!


Sombrero Beach in MarathonThe City of Marathon incorporated in 1999, which set its boundaries, “from the East end of the Seven Mile Bridge approximately Mile Marker (MM) 47 to the West end of Toms Harbors Bridge, approximately MM 60. Being about 1 hour from Key West and Key Largo, The Islands of Marathon are the Boating Destination of the Florida Keys.

The Islands of Marathon are Boot Key, Knight Key, Hog Key, Vaca Key, Stirrup Key, Crawl and Little Crawl Key, East and West Sister’s Island, Deer Key and Fat Deer Key, Long Pine Key and Grassy Key. These islands are steeped with the rich Florida history of Henry Flagler’s railroad days. The name Marathon came about by the railroad workers who were working night and day to complete the railway. Due to the unrelenting pace and struggle to complete the project, the popular exclamation, “This is getting to be a real Marathon”, is how the name originated. Vaca Key and Knight Key were actual railroad stations for the Overseas Railroad, as was the now named Marathon.

Before the railroad, the settlers here were farmers, wreckers and fishermen. To this day, Marathon maintains its claim to some of the best fishing in the world. Great fishing and diving along with beautiful beaches, warm weather and friendly residents make the Islands of Marathon an attractive place to call home. Along with being a pro-business community Marathon is a great place to open, expand, or relocate your business. In addition, our “quality of life” is one of the primary reasons many people and businesses from all over the world choose to operate out of Marathon. There is something for everyone in Marathon. In the Greater Marathon area, we enjoy life at a slower pace; so, relax and make yourself at home, you are on island time now!

Why Marathon?

  1. Fishing for DolphinQuality of Life – Marathon offers unsurpassed quality of life for business owners, their families and employees/staff.
    • Brand new schools (A rated, top quality teachers and administration)
    • Beautiful City and State Parks, community beaches, and even a new dog park
    • Our own local Hospital and great local private physicians
    • Retail shopping, attractions, Two local golf courses (Par 3 and 18 hole Championship course & country club)
    • Some of the best fishing & diving in the world
    • 365 days of sunshine and warm weather, Surrounded by both the Gulf of Mexico & Atlantic Ocean
  2. Business-friendly City Government & Chamber of Commerce
    • Affordable commercial & residential space for rent, lease, or sale
    • Local government that supports businesses and employees
    • Active & aggressive Chamber of Commerce that supports and advocates for local businesses.
    • Local Community College offers continuing ed and training for employees and businesses.
    • Strong/aggressive local Economic Development Council
    • Local Airport and proximity to Miami International Airport and Key West International Airport.
  3. Infrastructure In-place & at Your Disposal
    • Deep-Water Harbor (Boot Key Harbor) & Full Service (award winning) City Marina, Marathon Airport
    • Fishermen’s Community Hospital, Marathon Fire-Rescue Station, Central-Sewer System
    • A-Rated Schools and Community College
    • Quality Services & Amenities at low tax rate of only 1.99 (as of Aug. 2012)
    • Wireless Connectivity/Services for businesses/residents
    • And much more!

There is only one road in and one road out – the Overseas Highway, or US-1! This famous strip of asphalt has been immortalized in song and book alike. This road is your passage from famed Key Largo to infamous Key West. Sandals and shorts are acceptable attire no matter the venue, and we know you are going to love our laid back atmosphere fish filled waters and sunny days every bit as much as we do. And no, we never grow tired of fish stories, sunshine, palm trees, or
Jimmy Buffet songs. We hope you find yourself here in the Islands of Marathon in the Heart of the Fabulous Florida Keys.

Seafood Dinner MarathonDining in the Middle Florida Keys is an experience not to miss! Places to eat in Marathon vary widely in food selection and offer a vast expanse of styles. From restaurants overlooking the water to fun family style restaurants to more elegant style fine dining, Marathon and the Middle Keys offer it for your enjoyment! You will not be surprised to learn that the fishing capital of the world offers seafood so fresh it practically swims to your table and just about every establishment in town. Many restaurants will even prepare your catch for you in one of their excellent dishes, or you can hit one of the seafood markets for treats to go! Be sure to sample the bounty of our local waters; the catch of the day will usually include: Florida Spiny Lobsters, stone crab claws, dolphin (mahi mahi – not the mammal), snapper, grouper, or tuna!

There is no end to the list of things to do in Marathon and the Middle Florida Keys. You’ll find activities here in the Heart of the Florida Keys for family members of all ages and energy levels! The history of Marathon is firmly anchored to its fishing heritage, so naturally you’ll find the waters surrounding Marathon offer internationally acclaimed action! You’ll find yourself in the center of it all; whether offshore sport fishing, intense battles in reef fishing, or the challenge of backcountry and flats fishing. Book a full or half day fishing charter with one of the local, knowledgeable, talented captains.

Pigeon Key and the 7-mile BridgeWant to get out on the water (or better yet UNDER the water), but not interested in fishing? Check out the kayak tours, paddle-boarding, kite-boarding, wake-boarding or other board sports by utilizing one of our amazing local guides who will provide you with top-notch instructions, tours, and quality rentals right here in Marathon! Our winds, shallow waters, and natural environment make for some of the best board sports in the world!

Are you more interested in staying on land and checking out the local attractions? Visit the Turtle Hospital, historic little Pigeon Key island and museum, the Crane Point Hammock Nature Preserve and History Museum, or the world renowned Dolphin Research Center where you can get up close and personal (even swim with) Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins!

Lower Keys

Lower Keys Palm Trees by OceanThe Lower Keys were sparsely settled in the early to mid 1800’s. Mosquitoes and lack of any particular way of making a living made it difficult to homestead this area. At the same time, Key West had a population of 18,000, making it the largest city in Florida. Some well to do Key Westers had country homes 30 miles east in the Lower Keys and all sailed by boat to their second homes. Although sparsely inhabited today, small lower Keys like No Name and Little Pine had substantial settlements. Many brave settlers survived in the Lower Keys by producing charcoal, farming, fishing and sponging. Back in 1905, a feed sack of coal netted 10 cents.

With the fulfilled lifelong dream of Henry Flagler and the Overseas Railroad, a successful Lower Keys settlement could be realized. This link with the mainland was the culmination of 7 years of extremely hard work. Over 500 railroad workers, as well as most of Flagler’s fortune, were claimed by this project. The train ran from its completion in 1912 until 1935 when the great Labor Day hurricane destroyed it. The railroad left many remnants of its existence in the Lower Keys. Water towers, sumps, sinkholes and sections of the railway bridges are still evident. After the hurricane, damage to the railway was so great that the entire railroad system was sold to the State of Florida and they built the Overseas Highway. This highway incorporated a ferry system, as well. During this time in Keys history, travel time from Key Largo to Key West could take over 7 hours for the 118 mile stretch.
The Florida Keys consist of 42 bridges and over 300 small islands, all imaginatively named. From the Saddle Bunch Keys to Duck Key to Ohio Key and even No Name Key, you’ll enjoy crossing over each bridge and seeing the Keys on both sides of US Highway 1, in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.

Sunset at Bahia Honda State ParkThe Lower Florida Keys offer a wide variety of activities, but the natural beauty of the Lower Keys is an attraction in itself. So much so that our only road in and out of the Keys, US 1, is one of only 30 roadways in the nation to have earned the prestigious title, All-American Road. US 1, Florida’s only All-American Road, begins just north of Key Largo and runs through the Lower Keys to Key West. It is connected by 42 bridges over the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico and provides a stunning drive.

Quiet solitude and the laid-back lifestyle of the area provide a perfect, relaxing get-away. Friendly locals welcome visitors to the islands they love and they are anxious to share information. Except for the fortunate few that can claim to be true “Conchs” (born and raised in the Keys), most residents were once visitors themselves.

Visitors driving through the Lower Keys often see our little natives, Key Deer, in their natural environment, munching low-hanging leaves or nibbling on grass beside the road. The Key Deer are not fenced, but instead have the run of the National Key Deer Refuge, which encompasses approximately 9,200 acres that include pine Rockland forests, tropical hardwood hammocks, freshwater wetlands, salt marsh wetlands and mangrove forests. Most of the Key Deer inhabit approximately 2,300 acres on Big Pine Key, which is set aside as a haven for this protected species. The deer, which grow to just 2-1/2 feet tall and weigh less than 75 pounds, can usually be observed in the early morning and early evening hours. Note: It is illegal to feed or entice the deer. Please drive cautiously at dawn and dusk.

Frangipani flowers in the Florida KeysThe Lower Keys offer a myriad of exquisite colors from crystal blue waters to fiery sunsets. The landscape’s lush bougainvillea, hibiscus, orchid and frangipani paint a brilliant background for our indigenous trees such as the shade-producing mahogany, poisonwood, the aerial-rooted banyans, the peeling gumbo limbo, the delectable sea grape and the graceful mangrove.

Tropical treats like Key limes, tamarinds, mangos, sapodilla, avocados, papayas, coconuts, pineapple and star fruit are grown here. The mangrove tree is one of the very substances that helped to create the fabulous Keys. This “man-like” tree grows in the shallow salt water areas of the Florida Bay or backcountry. Layers of silt and sea grass collect under their branches to eventually make a small island.


The Lower Keys offer a spectacular experience for those who want to enjoy the fundamental aspects of natural living in a sensitive environment. Skimming through the backcountry in a shallow-draft boat, sailing, or rowing allows for a peaceful, sincere appreciation for our native habitat. Visitors quickly recognize the role they play in preserving the many aspects that make the Lower Keys what they are . . . a quiet spot set apart from the rest of the world.

School of Grouper underwaterHere are but a few of the wonderful points of interest in the Lower Keys:

  • Bahia Honda State Park
  • Coupon Bight State Park
  • Jack Watson Memorial Trail
  • Mannillo Trail
  • Bat Tower
  • Blue Hole
  • Water Sports, Fishing and Diving in the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico.