Moor Up at These Alternative Marinas in the Florida Keys to Avoid the Crowds

Kayaking has long been a popular activity in the John Pennekamp State Park
Kayaking has long been a popular activity in the John Pennekamp State Park | © James Schwabel / Alamy Stock Photo
Damien Gabet

Decked out with white sand islands, glistening azure waters, and a wealth of wildlife, the Florida Keys makes for one of the world’s best sailing grounds. There are more than 1,000 islands to navigate your way around and to dip into as you go. Instead of heading for the big marinas, we reveal some of the lesser-known spots to soak up all of what this sublime region has to offer, without the crowds.

Explore the quieter side of the Florida Keys.

King’s Kamp, Key Largo

Looking for an easy mooring to kick off your tour of the Keys? King’s Kamp opens onto sheltered Blackwater Sound, where you’ll find anglers casting their reels for tarpon, drum, and spotted sea trout. Ideal for sub-20ft (6m) boats, it’s a family-friendly place with an RV park, motel, and beach. Access to the nearby reefs and mangroves of the John Pennekamp State Park are other perks. There aren’t many services here, but the amply-stocked West Marine supply store is a minute’s walk away.

Need a well-equipped, practical marina with easy access to the shallow channels and green keys of the Keys National Park? This 21-slip mooring in well-developed lower Key Largo takes boats of up to 36ft (11m) in length and with drafts up to 5ft (1.5m). Water, fuel, power, supplies, and repairs are all available. If you need an inter-island flight, the marina is next to TavernAero Park airstrip. On the culinary front, it’s worth popping into Habano’s, a Creekside shack selling authentic Cuban food, or the waterside Mar Bar.

Robbie’s Marina, Islamorada

If you’re exploring Islamorada’s six gorgeous keys, Robbie’s is the place to moor. With only four slips for yachts under 20ft (6m), and room for one bigger, reserve ahead. Nestled among a tangled sprawl of mangroves, this spot looks like a movie set with a driftwood bar/restaurant, sailcloth shades between palms, and sunburnt sport-fishers hauling in prize marlin. Hire a kayak, feed the giant tarpon in their sea pens, or take a taxi to Lazy Days, one of the best seafood restaurants around.

Sea Bird Marina, Long Key

For a friendly, professional marina near land and sea attractions, point your compass to Sea Bird. This marina has 20 slips for boats up to 30ft (9m) long and with drafts up to 3ft (1m), while there’s a deeper area that can accommodate 10 bigger boats. Fuel, water, bait, and tackle are among the services on offer, and you’ll find helpful staff with great local knowledge. This spot is also great for nature lovers, with Sprigger Bank prime for anglers, Alligator Reef luring divers, and Long Key State Park home to dozens of bird species to satisfy twitchers.

Adelaide Baker Shipwreck Anchorage

Love wreck diving? Head four miles south-southeast off from Duck Key and cast anchor at the Shipwreck Trail buoy. Below is the iron main mast of the Adelaide Baker, a 153ft (47m), triple-masted wood-and-iron sailing ship that met its end in 1889. Scattered over an area of deep water, her remains act as an artificial reef for vivid sponges and corals. Other local inhabitants include nurse sharks, damselfish and tarpon.

Cudjoe Gardens Marina, Cudjoe Key

Set amid some of the Keys’ most undeveloped keys and biodiverse marine sanctuaries, Cudjoe demands you to moor and explore. Palm and pebble-fringed Cudjoe Gardens Marina has 10 slips and a ramp for boats as big as 40ft (12m). At this marina, you’ll be able to stock up on water, fuel, 30-amp power, bait, tackle and groceries. There are also maintenance facilities if you need repairs. When it comes to wildlife, this spot scores top marks. Highlights include sea turtles, the 250-plus migratory birds of Great White Heron National Park and the colorful fish sheltered in Looe Key Sanctuary.

Key Largo Fisheries Marina, Key Largo

Being sheltered and broad, Fisheries is an easy mooring for novices. There’s a generous scattering of berths and plenty of room to maneuver, even for larger yachts. Once you’ve got here, you’ll want to linger in this laidback nook. Try the easy-going Backyard Café, with fresh fish cooked up and an atmosphere of salt-pitted wood furnishings and old fishing nets. Alternatively, you could nip to the market to buy freshly landed stone crab or grouper and Key Largo’s restaurants, bars and shops are just a short stroll away.

Sand Key Lighthouse

Need an alternative to Stock Island’s big, glitzy and obnoxious marina village? Plot for sedate Sand Key, which lies a super-convenient six nautical miles south of Key West. It’s as close to Havana as Miami. Look for the mooring buoy and plunge into waters teeming with giant grouper, nurse sharks and moray eels. The reef’s spur and groove-coral structures shelter photogenic reef fish like blue-striped grunt and spotfin butterflyfish.

Cruise around the Florida Keys for the day on a yacht.

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