By: Mandy Mizell, The Flohemian
A 90-minute drive from Miami can transport you to a slice of the laidback American Caribbean. Islamorada is a village of five islands in the Florida Keys, stretching from Mile Markers 91 to 75. It is known as the “Sportfishing Capital of the World,” but if heading out to sea is not your forte, this Keys community is my favorite for its beachy, Bohemian art scene. You do not need to have a seafaring schedule to enjoy the islands and its namesake purple sunset skies. I rounded up 3 free roadside destinations for you to explore Islamorada the Flohemian Way.
Rain Barrel Village (Mile 86.7, Plantation Key)
As you enter Islamorada, you may swerve at the site of a colossal crustacean,“Big Betsy.” The 40-foot long Caribbean Lobster sculpture is a popular Roadside Florida oddity and welcomes you to the Rain Barrel. This artisan village is composed of an eatery, The Lobster Shack, and local artist galleries. It is a pinnacle stop for coastal kitsch, ranging from sea-inspired kitchenware to buoys painted to celebrate your favorite sports team. I brought my dog along for a visit, she welcomed with water bowls from affectionate artists. Just keep your social distance from the resident cats, although they are cute, they get cranky with canines and kids.
The property is often used as a filming location, making it an InstaPerfect backdrop for epic vacation photos. Grab a Signature Piña Colada at the The Bug Bar, then enjoy a breezy walk on the courtyard path shaded by native flora.
Morada Way Arts & Cultural District (Mile 81.6, Upper Matecumbe Key)
The 6-block stretch from the Hurricane Monument to Morada Way is a local gathering place for cookoffs, festivals and Art Walk that takes place on every third Thursday of the month. Morada Way hosts a handful of resident artists in studio spaces. Take the back alley from the Florida Keys Brewery to the Tasting Room for what I like to call “The Rum Brush Ramble”. This scenic stroll is painted with colorful mixed media murals by local artist Kieth Qusley, better known around town as Keef Paints. Take a flight while in paradise by sampling five of Florida Key Brewing Company’s local suds, my favorite was the Iguana Bait Honey Hibiscus Kolsch. The tasting room hosts both an air-conditioned psychedelic taproom or you can groove to live tunes with community hula hoops in their backyard beer garden.
Robbie’s Marina (Mile 77.5, Lower Matecumbe Key)
Consistently voted as the #1 Keys Attraction because Robbie’s of Islamorada provides a true Keys experience that is touristy with a local vibe. Rise and dine at the Hungry Tarpon Restaurant for prime people watching as patrons dodge preying pelicans on the dock trying to feed the tarpon. For a couple of bucks, you can buy a bucket of bait and to feed “The Silver King” yourself. The marina offers fishing charters, watercraft rentals and is just a quick paddle away from a mangrove-cavern kayak trail. When you get off the water, grab a cold one to roam the grounds shop the open-air market. Be sure to meet resident artist, Barbara Weingardt, known for her technicolor acrylic paintings of Keys wildlife. If you are like me, you’ll leave with several of her masterpieces to create a paradise in your home.