Category Archives: Florida Keys Attractions

Florida Keys Birding & Wildlife Fest

Florida Keys birds

Cormorant sunning in the Florida Keys

Florida Keys Birding & Wildlife Fest is now in it’s 15th year!

The 15th annual Florida Keys Birding & Wildlife Festival is Tuesday, Sept. 24, through Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013.  The festival offers a variety of programs, field trips, workshops and speakers guaranteed to enthrall nature lovers of all ages. Festival activities span the length of the island chain, from Key Largo to the Dry Tortugas, and give participants a unique perspective on the terrestrial and marine habitats of this subtropical paradise.

The festival is anchored at Curry Hammock State Park, mile marker 56.2, which is also home to the annual Florida Keys Hawkwatch, a citizen science effort that monitors the fall raptor migration over the islands.  Hawkwatch coordinator Rafael Galvez will be this year’s keynote speaker. The festival features field trips to Dry Tortugas National Park, the National Key Deer Refuge, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock State Park and other national, state and private natural areas. The week’s events include several talks and walks covering the flora and fauna of this one-of-a-kind subtropical island chain.

While the festival explores many of the islands’ public lands during its run, Curry Hammock State Park is a home base of sorts for the week, because of our close connection to the Florida Keys Hawkwatch. This park in the heart of the Keys was awarded third place in the 2012 America’s Favorite Park contest sponsored by Coca-Cola. The park garnered more than 8 million votes and received a $25,000 grant from the Coca Cola Live Positively initiative to help enhance the park’s recreational areas. Thanks to the Hawkwatch, the park is also now known as the Peregrine Falcon Migration Capital of the World. That’s because the Hawkwatch tallied a record one-day count of 3,242 of the birds on Oct. 16, 2012

Join us for an all-day birding excursion to the magnificent Dry Tortugas National Park and Fort Jefferson for the spectacle of fall migration. There are two guide-led groups, and each one is limited to 20 participants, so sign up early!  This all-day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park leaves the Key West ferry terminal on the Yankee Freedom III at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 29, and returns around 5 p.m. The $25 cost is separate from the cost of the ferry, which must be booked directly with on the Yankee Freedom‘s website or by calling 305-294-7009. Ferry cost depends on residency and whether you have a federal lands pass.

Join avid Florida Keys birder and ecotour guide Mark Hedden for an opportunity to learn about the role this isolated island plays in nesting and migration, or shadow wildlife photographers Dick Fortune and Sara Lopez to learn some of the secrets of professional wildlife photography.

Saturday, Sept. 28, offers a full day of activities, environmental booths, food and special music appropriate for the entire family at the Wildlife Festival, 10 a.m. to  3 p.m. at Curry Hammock State Park.

The festival features dozens of booths designed to showcase the spectacular Florida Keys environment and wildlife. Hands-on activities include a guided beach hike with keynote speaker Rafael Galvez and self-guided kayak tours. Participate in our scavenger hunt for a chance to win a festival t-shirt (while supplies last).  NASA Solar System Educator Elizabeth Moore will offer a free astronomy program from 7 to 9 p.m. at the park.

Admission to the state park is free for festivalgoers the day of the festival, which is sponsored by the Friends of Islamorada Area State Parks.


Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center

Entrance to the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center.

Entrance to the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center.

The Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center is located in Key West.  Rain or shine, this 6,000 square foot facility is open to the public free of charge.  Through it’s numerous interactive exhibits, learn about the complex ecosystem that is the Florida Keys.

The Terrestrial exhibits highlight the above-water eco-systems, including hardwood hammocks, mangroves, and beaches.  Here you can explore how our plant life contributes to the undersea life. The Marine exhibits provide a glimpse of the undersea environment that the Keys are famous for.

Be sure to check out the Mote Marine Laboratory Living Reef  exhibit, which includes a 2,500-gallon reef tank with living corals and  tropical fish, a live Reef Cam, and other displays that highlight the coral  reef environment.

A mock-up of the Aquarius – the only undersea laboratory dedicated to marine science.  Aquarius is an underwater laboratory and home to scientists for missions up to 10 days long, but to call Aquarius a home is like calling the space shuttle Discovery a mode of transportation. Aquarius is made to withstand the pressure of ocean depths to 120 feet deep. Presently, Aquarius is located in a sand patch adjacent to deep coral reefs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, at a depth of 63 feet. The laboratory is attached to a baseplate that positions the underwater habitat (underwater laboratories are also called habitats) about 13 feet off the bottom. This means that the working depth of those inside the laboratory is about 50 feet deep. Located inside the 81–ton, 43 x 20 x 16.5–foot
underwater laboratory are all the comforts of home: six bunks, a shower and toilet, instant hot water, a microwave, trash compactor, and a refrigerator even air conditioning and computers linked back to shore by wireless telemetry! Using Aquarius as a base for research diving expeditions definitely has its advantages.

The high-definition Theater features a 17 minute video on the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary by world-renowned filmmaker Bob Talbot.

If you plan to be in Key West, you can visit the Center Tuesday – Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Parking and admission are free.  It is located at 35 East Quay Road, Key West, FL 33040.

The Center is sponsored and operated by Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA, the South  Florida Water Management District, Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks, the National Wildlife Refuges of the Florida  Keys, and Eastern National.

Harry S. Truman Little White House


A must see for history buffs.  Harry S. Trumans Little White House in Key West, Florida

A must see for history buffs. Harry S. Trumans Little White House in Key West, Florida

The Harry S. Truman Little White House was originally constructed in 1890 as the first officer’s quarters on the submarine base naval station in Key West.  The wooden structure was made up of Quarters A for the base commandant and Quarters B for the paymaster.  Originally, the building was waterfront.  In 1911 the home was converted into a single family structure for the base commandant and fill was brought in to provide additional land in front of the home.  As new buildings were built, the waterfront view was blocked.
In 1912, William Howard Taft would be the first President to visit the property.  His transportation was by way of Flagler’s Overseas Railroad.  During his visit President Taft sailed to Panama to inspect the canal which was under construction.  During World War 1, Thomas Edison was a guest at the house while he donated his services to the war.  He perfected 41 weapons during his visit of six months.

President Harry S. Truman had just completed 19 months in office, was physically exhausted, and ordered by his doctor, Wallace Graham, to take a warm vacation. Truman arrived at the Little White House in November of 1946.  When he was leaving he made a promise to visit whenever he felt the need to rest, which would be his second visit in March of 1947.  A pattern developed and future visits would follow every November to December and February to March.
As technology changed, this allowed the President to with multiple political or world leaders at one time.  He was also able to request staff be sent down from Washington to Key West, which was only a three hour flight.  During one of his visits, President Truman realized that where the President was, the White House was.  Documents are on file from the Little White House that read, The White House, US Naval Station, Key West, Florida.  President Harry S. Truman spent 175 days of his presidency at the Little White House.  During his visits, he would invite foreign officials, Cabinet members and staff for fishing trips and poker games.
President Truman returned to visit Key West several times after he left office.

In 1948-49 General Dwight D. Eisenhower held meetings that eventually created the Department of Defense.  He returned to Key West in December 1955 and January 1956 as President to recuperate from a heart attack.

John Kennedy and British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan held a one day summit in Key West at the Little White House for one day in March of 1961.  President Kennedy returned for a second visit in 1962 following the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The house served as the Naval Station commandant’s home until March of 1974.  This is when the Navy conversion from diesel to nuclear submarines took place.

In 1974 the Little White House was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
The house was deeded to the State of Florida on January 1, 1987 and is held in trust as a public museum.  Just under one million dollars has gone into restoring the house to it’s 1949 appearance. This project began in 1990.
Former President Jimmy Carter, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Former President Bill Clinton are among others who have visited the Harry S. Truman Little White House.

Learn where the Little White House is located, it’s hours of operations and see photos of the property at Best of The Florida Keys Internet Guide.

Key West Aquarium

The Key West Aquarium, from then to now:

During the Great Depression, Key West had turned over it’s charter to the federal government.  Economic disaster had hit the island.  The federal government saw Key West as a perfect tourist destination with it’s great weather and location.
Beginning in 1933, the Works Progress Administration Program came into town and built the Key West Aquarium, providing jobs to many locals.

It took two years to build and the Key West Aquarium opened it’s doors to the public in 1935, charging 15 cents for adults and 5 cents for children.  Another purpose for the aquarium was to provide sea life to other aquariums throughout the country.
Just seven months after opening, the great Labor Day hurricane hit the Middle Keys.  It was 1935 and the Overseas Railroad was destroyed.  It also took with it any success for the Key West Aquarium attraction to survive.  For at the time, the railroad was the only way to reach Key West, other than by boat.
The U.S. Government leased the Key West Aquarium building in 1943.  It was to be used by the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard as an indoor rifle range.  All of the hard work put in to the Aquarium displays were leveled for the military.

1946 brought new life back to the Aquarium.  It was returned to the city of Key West and also returned to it’s former glory.  In the 1960′s it was decided that the open air Aquarium should have a roof, which would  cut down on algae growth in the exhibits.
Today, the Key West Aquarium offers various exhibits.  You can visit the touch-tank and actually pick up a conch, sea star or horseshoe crab.  How about petting a shark or sting ray!  You can also see a shark feeding at different times throughout the day, or take a tour to learn about the habitats of our sea life.  Be sure to look for the eel.  He’s bright green and hides in the rocks, only swimming out to feed.  They also have an area with young alligators and a few other reptiles.
The Key West Aquarium is actively involved in conservation of the delicate Florida Keys eco-system.  Come see how you can help make our underwater world a better place.  This is a great place for all ages to visit.

Open daily 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m..  Located at 1 Whitehead St.