Some people think of the Florida Keys
as just a place to party, dance and drink to your heart's content. While it is true you can do all that here, many people do come just to relax and get away from it all. Big Pine Key is the ideal place for this, a little less crowded and more natural than some of the other Keys. Big Pine Key, considered the start of the "Lower Keys," starts at MM 33 just a short distance past the famous Seven Mile Bridge, where the Keys take that gentle westerly turn.
Places to See in Big Pine Key
Big Pine Key is a quiet place of small resorts, down-home restaurants, private homes, and untrammeled wildernesses. If a little solitude is what you’re after, just turn down one of the side roads and you’re in a wilderness of water and nature. Charter a boat from the Looe Key Reef Resort and Dive Center
(MM 27.5) to snorkel and dive the Looe Key coral reef, a National Marine Sanctuary since 1978. You can also charter a fishing boat to take you through the back country, or to troll the deep waters beyond the reef
Looe Key Reef is also the site of the Looe Key Underwater Music Festival, usually held in the summer. People come from all over to dive the reef and listen to a quirky underwater concert blasted from speakers attached to the undersides of the boats above. By some counts, there were 600 divers at the last festival. As you can imagine, it’s a party atmosphere on top of the water, too, with people dressing up as Merpeople or their favorite sea creatures.
At MM 40, on Little Duck Key, is Veterans Memorial Park. The park's pet-friendly beaches are a perfect place to get out of the car, take a stretch and relax, or to enjoy a picnic with your family,
Places to See Key Deer
One of the biggest draws to Big Pine Key is the National Key Deer Refuge
, home of the adorable Key deer. The Refuge was established in 1957 and covers approximately 9,200 acres. The Key deer, the smallest of the Virginia white-tailed deer, is in danger of extinction and therefore federally protected. The current herd is estimated at between 600 and 750. Other unusual species here are the Keys marsh rabbit and the silver rice rat; there are 17 federally listed species in all. The best time to see deer is at dusk or at dawn. When you go through Big Pine Key, be aware of the speed limits, which are strictly enforced for the deer's protection.
Places to Eat in Big Pine Key
At the end of the day, when the brain is full of memories and it’s time to fill the stomach, there are several fun places to go.
Eat inside or outdoors at the Parrotdise Waterfront Bar and Grille
, either on the waterfront or on the beachfront. They are located at MM 28.5 and accessible by land or by sea. The menu consists of sandwiches, soups and seafood. Try one of the specialty drinks, and enjoy parties on the beach and live entertainment.
View Website »
Boondocks Grille & Drafthouse
boasts the largest Tiki hut in the Keys and a full liquor bar. Located at MM 27.5, they open at 11 a.m. and have live entertainment seven nights a week. Did I mention the miniature golf course? Fun for the whole family. The menu has chicken wings and conch fritters for starters, soups, fried baskets, burgers, steaks and seafood for lunch or dinner.View Website »
The out-of-the-way No Name Pub
, known as "a nice place . . . if you can find it," was established in 1935 in a former bait and tackle shop, in 1940 the upstairs was converted into a brothel, but that didn’t last long. Today's it's recognized for casual dining and for the Key deer that walk right up to the place in search of a scrap or two. Stop by and enjoy a pizza, sandwich, cold beer and a fishing story or two. The pub has a honky tonk feel and pool tables; they have a nice private garden and are open seven days a week.View Website »
Sports fans headed to the Keys will love the atmosphere at Rob’s Island Grill
. Located at MM 31.2, Rob's has 12 satellites and 15 TV’s, including a 95” Big Screen. They also have dart boards and pool tables, and they host pool tournaments several days a week. The menu is traditional pub fare: pizza, nachos, wings and sandwiches, with some fresh, local fish for good measure. They serve beer and wine, and are open until midnight on the weekends.
As you’re making your way through the Keys, Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys are the perfect places to take a break and take time to appreciate the natural, unspoiled beauty. While there, stop and get a picture of a Key deer--but remember not to antagonize or feed these endangered and protected creatures.
By Beverly Martinez-Collins – PlacesAroundFlorida.com