This week, I've decided to share three of my favorite winter getaways in the United States. In the first  post, I explored the makeshift RV community of Quartzsite, Arizona . In the second , I featured the varied diversions of South Padre Island, Texas . In the third and last part of this blog series, I'm focusing on the Florida Keys , where I've spent the past month working on the first edition of Moon Florida Keys.
Although my husband, Daniel, and I have traveled to the Keys many times before (sparking two previous  posts , in fact), that hasn't made this month-long research trip any less memorable. While down here, we've relished the unique character of each of the three main regions – the Upper Keys, Middle Keys, and Lower Keys – and that's in spite of unseasonably cold temperatures on occasion. After all, no matter the time of year, the Florida Keys are an ideal place for family vacations, romantic getaways, and seasonal respites.
If you're driving to the Keys – as we typically do – you'll get here via U.S. Route 1, also known as the Overseas Highway, so named because it crosses more than 40 bridges from the mainland to Key West. The first stop, of course, is Key Largo  – the longest island in the Florida Keys. Here, where outdoor activities are paramount, you can interact with playful dolphins at Dolphins Plus , kayak amid the mangroves at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park  (pictured above), and take a ride aboard The African Queen, docked beside the Holiday Inn Key Largo Resort & Marina . Afterward, you can satisfy your hunger in plenty of casual spots on the island. Some of my favorite treats include the Caribbean-style crab cakes at Mrs. Mac's Kitchen , the Caribbean lobster and conch ceviche at the Key Largo Conch House , and the stuffed artichokes at Coconuts .
Southwest of Key Largo lies Islamorada , an upscale village consisting of four islands: Plantation Key, Windley Key, Upper Matecumbe Key, and Lower Matecumbe Key. Known to many as “the sportfishing capital of the world,” Islamorada boasts a number of water-related attractions, from Theater of the Sea , where you can watch sea lions paint, to the History of Diving Museum , where you'll see a wealth of vintage diving paraphernalia, to Robbie's Marina , where you can feed the tarpons. Islamorada also has a number of popular restaurants, including the casual Morada Bay Beach Café  and its elegant neighbor, Pierre's Restaurant .
Farther along the Overseas Highway, you'll encounter Marathon , home to attractions like the Dolphin Research Center , Curry Hammock State Park , and the Crane Point Museum . As with other areas in the Keys, there are plenty of delicious eateries here, too – from highway stops like The Stuffed Pig  to hideaways like Sparky's Landing .
Beyond Marathon, you'll reach Big Pine Key , a slower, more laidback area than the rest of the Keys. Here, you'll experience relatively quiet places like the National Key Deer Refuge , where you might even be lucky enough to spot the diminutive Key deer. Dan and I observed a couple of them frolicking on Little Palm Island  while we were aboard an island excursion through Strike Zone Charters .
The last stop on a typical Florida Keys journey is, naturally, Key West  – a historic, fun-loving town that often reminds me of a cross between New Orleans and South Padre Island. With its array of museums, restaurants, bars, boating excursions, and festivals, Key West can keep you busy for days on end. Some of my favorite activities include perusing the treasures inside the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum , watching the sunset from Mallory Square , surveying the verdant town from atop the Key West Lighthouse , and strolling amid the six-toed cats who dwell at the Ernest Hemingway Home . Here, too, good food can be found, from the burgers at Johnny Rocco's  to the key lime mousse pie at the burlesque-style Better Than Sex .
To get a true taste of the Florida Keys, you should plan to stay at least a week – if not longer. Luckily, there's a plethora of lodging options along this 110-mile stretch. Some of my favorites include Rock Reef Resort  in Key Largo, The Moorings Village  in Islamorada, Conch Key Cottages  in the Marathon area, the campground at Bahia Honda State Park , and The Eden House  in Key West.
For more information about the Florida Keys, consult the Monroe County Tourist Development Council  (800/352-5397), and keep an eye out for upcoming American Nomad  posts, where I'll be featuring all of the above attractions, restaurants, and accommodations – plus a few more.
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.