With Mother Nature the big attraction here for families, try activities including swimming and snorkelling at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo; visiting sick turtles recuperating at the Turtle Hospital (formerly a motel!) on Marathon, which hosts three guided tours a day; and feeding the wild silver tarpon fish at Robbie’s of Islamorada.
Trade sandals for real shoes and walk the trails traversing Crane Point, then tour its Children’s Museum and Museum of Natural History. View tropical fish without getting your feet wet on a daily glass-bottom boat tour to Looe Key Reef run by Strike Zone Charters on Big Pine Key. With older kids, you might also snorkel or dive. (Note: the water is clearest and viewing is best between spring and autumn.)
Pack a picnic and head for Sombrero Beach in Marathon (MM50) or Bahia Honda State Park (MM37). Both have picnic tables, loos and stunning views; palm trees provide shade.
Head out early morning or at dusk to see the region's unique key deer on Big Pine Key, and the alligators, iguana and various species of shorebirds that live in in Blue Hole (an abandoned rock quarry) there.
If you do nothing else in Key West, spend a couple of hours at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center (3500 East Quay Rd, next to the entrance of Fort Zachary Taylor), part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Watch a film, interact with the exhibits, talk to naturalists, and learn a thing or two or a hundred about the unique Keys ecosystem. Key West is also the departure point for fishing trips, sunset sailing cruises, and day-trips aboard the Yankee Freedom III ferry to the Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson.
Fall under the spell of the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, a climate-controlled environment where you can glimpse up to 60 exotic varieties of winged beauties. Don’t be afraid if one lands on you – it’s supposed to bring good luck.
Celebrate the Florida Keys' famous sunsets at Mallory Square in Key West, arriving half an hour before the nightly celebration – as the sun dips below the horizon, jugglers, fire-eaters, high-wire artists, musicians and others do their thing. It’s the best show in town, and it’s free.