If you're headed south on US-1 from Miami, Key Largo, home to one of the world's only underwater hotels (and more dive shops than you can shake a snorkel at), is the first key off the Florida mainland. The largest and longest of the island chain, it packs a punch in terms of outdoor activity, but it also has the swaying palm trees and requisite sand to paint a postcard pretty setting for whichever pursuit suits your fancy.
Distances in the Florida Keys are measured in terms of mile markers (MMs), and Key Largo falls between MM 90 to MM 106. A mere 18 miles from the Florida mainland, Key Largo offers ready access to North America's only living coral reef, which stretches along the coast for 200 miles, protected as part of the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary. The greater part of Key Largo remains in a relatively natural state, serving as a sanctuary for wildlife and a breeding ground for the American crocodile. In protected areas, such as Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge, admission is prohibited.
Not surprisingly, sport fishing in these parts is exceptional - on a good day reel in marlin, sailfish, Yellowtail snapper, mutton and tarpon. Diving and snorkeling are also a big draw to the area, thanks to a very respectable selection of dive sites. Some underwater wonders to seek out include the Duane shipwreck, Molasses Reef, French Reef, and the Christ Statue. At the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, patrons enjoy diving, snorkeling and take lazy rides in glass-bottom boats, viewing the 78 square miles of living reef and about 450 different species of fish.
Key Largo, an breezy island paradise, is 18 miles south of Miami on US-1.