Key West / Florida Keys Kosher Vacation
A few years before this trip I took a day trip from Miami to Key Largo and thought, “one day I want to see all the Florida keys.” In Key Largo we para-sailed and everything looked beautiful at the $400/night+ hotel. I had this vision of beautiful sand beaches and palm trees all over with no problem finding your own beach and some laid back locals here and there in some pockets of civilization as one drove to the smaller islands.
I finally took this trip … I can cross off my list the drive from the southern tip of Route 1 to the mainland. Glad I did that. The keys themselves … a bit of a disappointment.
Key West – To Do There
We started in Key West … which is nice. It has civilization, chain stores in strip malls, and local culture. (One of the chain stores is an Amazon locker where we shipped ‘Key West’ playing cards ahead of time because where else are you going to get them?) There are, in fact, beautiful beaches in Key West on both the North and South side. Don’t expect privacy. Payment is by meter on the street and at the very tip / Eastern end you have a beautiful view of the sunsets.
In the “historic district” at the eastern end of the island are a lot of touristy shops with “shoe outlets” which aren’t really shoe outlets … rather it’s some sort of chain store … all over. Then there’s your trinket stores, jewelry stores, and bars. Bike rentals are also plentiful.
We also took a boat ride South to a coral reef on a “bottomless boat”. The kids liked it so I’ll leave my complaining to a minimum and just say to make sure to go the right time of the year (the summer) so the water isn’t murky and you can see coral and fish rather than … murk. The talk along the way about how seriously it’s prosecuted if you take coral was fascinating to me. Coral grows about an inch per year and people taking it can get you jail time.
Also – roosters. Key West used to be populated by Cubans who brought “cock fighting” to the island. Cock fighting is now illegal … the roosters still roam the streets.
Key West – Minyan and Kosher Food
The Chabad of Key West is hidden at a dead end of a residential neighborhood – right behind the Havana Cubana hotel though you have to walk around the block to get there. There are many other hotels nearby … we chose this one because it had a great rate when we went mid-pandemic. Also … it has a large and beautiful pool which is lit up at night and was completely empty at night but for my family.
The Chabad, when we were there, had very nice minyanim (Shachris, minchah, and maariv) in a very nice modern building. This is basically where you’re going to find your Jewish establishments on the island. They have a mikveh, food on Shabbos, classes …
Believe it or not, there is also a kosher restaurant in Key West. The restaurant is Mam’s Best Food under the “Kosher Keys” hechsur which is basically the Chabad of Key West. The restaurant doesn’t have a website – you can find the restaurant at 405 Petronia St, Key West, FL 33040. It’s run by an older Israeli lady serving Israeli food (falaffel, etc.) and the food was excellent. The seating is outdoors under an awning. Again, the food is excellent … just be warned that since it’s the only kosher restaurant if you’re there during Jewish tourist season (e.g. yeshiva week break), you might be waiting for a table.
As far as I could find, there are no other kosher restaurants until you reach Miami.
While Key West is the key furthest to the west all the way at the tip of Route 1, Key Largo is closest to the mainland and largest. You’ll find here some nice parasailing, some nice beaches, and “Theater of the Sea” with animal shows. We didn’t make it there though I’d like to on another trip … it looks good.
The fancy Hyatt on the water with beach and parasailing, jet skiing, etc, is super expensive … the Marriott across the street is super not expensive and also really nice … it’s just not on a beach and anyone can go to the Hyatt to buy the (expensive) use of the water sport activities.
So this turned out to be mainly a drive through … there’s some nice scenery at bridges between islands … otherwise they seem to have hardware stores all over the place. It’s like 50 islands each need their own hardware store and no one needs a grocery sore. We stopped for a hike along the way as well as a beach along the way. The beach was ‘meh’ – narrow and with seaweed. If Florida is flat, the Florida Keys are the flat of the flat. I was more a humid nature horseshoe shaped walk. On my previous trip, I went to mosquito heaven hike in the Everglades through some rhododendrons which was next to a then-closed highest rated hike which now everyone is complaining isn’t nice anymore because you barely see any animals.
The keys have cool names though … duck key, bahia honda key, sugar loaf key, long key, no name key (that one’s the best name), and garden hose key. I made up the last one.
I’m willing to accept that maybe I just missed the good stuff in the everything-between West and Largo keys … let me know. I feel like I must have missed something. Maybe I didn’t and this is why there are literally places here called “no name” probably next to a key named “and no one cares”.
Everglades Alligator Farm & Homestead, Florida
This one is hugely underrated. I dragged my family here … “come on family, let’s do an activity rather than just a straight long drive to Miami!” I won this one! You never know until you get there if it’s really going to be good or not, and frankly, the star ratings on Google and TripAdvisor for this area seem to be majorly inflated compared to other areas of the country. The Everglades Alligator Farm has lots and lots of alligators. There’s baby alligators of different segregated sizes and lots of huge ones in a big lagoon thing and they have shows with them (basically, watch them eat … it’s good though, really).
In addition to the alligators are lots of other animals of the region that you can get pretty close to including a talking parrot, ostriches, and so on.
Also in the area – animal rehabilitation places and check out Robert is Here, a tropical fruit stand with fruits you haven’t seen anywhere else. I wrote about these in an earlier article.