Roughly halfway between Key Largo and Key West, Marathon is a gateway of sorts to the Middle Keys, a sun-burnished settlement within easy reach of runway, coral reef, shipwrecks and strong mixed drinks. The runway is, of course, attached to Marathon’s modest airport, which makes the place rather convenient, all things considered, though the reef, just a boat-trip away, is by far the more intriguing site.
But before jetting off to spend lazy days kicking past fish schools and shipwrecks, brightly colored corals and the occasional shark, take some time to explore area attractions. Top of the list are the local dolphin research centers, which also serve as rehabilitation refuges for these sleek mammals; particularly popular are the swim with dolphins programs, though plan to make reservations in advance if you’re interested-spots fill quickly. For a further introduction to marine life, leave time for an eco-tour around the Marathon Aqua Ranch on Grassy Key, a facility dedicated to exploring and advancing aquaculture and sustainable fishing with large viewing tanks and fish-feeding on offer. Marathon itself is home to assorted sights like the Turtle Hospital (which services injured sea turtles), sandy Sombrero Beach and Crane Point Museum, which provides a glimpse of peaceful palm jungle and historic Adderley House. Dive operators and charter boats run out of Boot Key Harbor, Marathon’s marina, though there are also angling opportunities to be found off Old Seven Mile Bridge (which parallels the New Seven Mile Bridge). From here it’s easy access to ferries from Knight’s Key to Pigeon Key, the latter host to both an interesting historic district and prime snorkeling (walkers and cyclists can reach the island via the Old Seven Mile Bridge, which is has an exit onto the key).
If it’s beach you seek, try one of the Keys’ sandy hot spots at Bahia Honda State Park in the Lower Keys, an easy drive from Marathon. While you’re in the area stop to see dwarf deer at National Key Deer Refuge and do some diving off Looe Key’s coral reef.
Marathon is in the Middle Keys, 29 miles from Islamorada and 48 miles northeast of Key West.