Today we’re joined by award-winning debut author Micki Browning, who has set her new mystery series in Key Largo. Micki is an FBI National Academy graduate who worked in law enforcement for more than two decades and retired as a division commander. Learn more about her and her book at her website.
South of the Florida mainland, the Florida Keys dot the ocean like the spine of a massive sea dragon. Home to an eclectic mix of adventurers, families, and pirates, the archipelago stretches 135 miles from the tip of Key Largo to the southernmost point of Key West.
Each of the many keys has developed its own identity. Key Largo proclaims itself The Dive Capital of the Nation, while Key West invites the weird to go pro. In between are Key deer refuges, fishing meccas, resorts, mangroves, palm trees, and tiki huts.
Best of all? This paradise doesn’t require a passport.
I set my debut mystery, Adrift, in Key Largo, the first and largest island in the chain. The only problem visitors encounter upon arrival is what to do first. Here’s an insider’s view.
While the view of the ocean is beautiful from a waterside tiki bar—and those are numerous—it’s what’s beneath the surface that will take your breath away. Want it back? Strap on a tank. The third largest barrier reef runs the length of the Keys and it is the only place in the nation to have coral reefs.
Key Largo is such a beautiful place to dive that in 1963 John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was established as the first undersea park in the United States. The park is home to 40 of the 52 species of coral found in the Atlantic Reef System—providing shelter to more than 600 varieties of fish and a 2-ton statue Christ of the Abyss (A little advice: don’t touch the statue. It’s covered in fire coral—imagine poison oak that burns.). The park runs glass-bottom boat tours, and snorkel and scuba trips for the more adventurous. The park also rents kayaks for leisurely paddles through the mangroves. There are even trails for those who don’t want to get their feet wet.
Enjoy the wildlife
No, I’m not talking about the club scene. Instead, consider a dip with dolphins at Dolphin Cove or get up close and personal with some tropical birds at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Refuge (bonus, it’s free!). Hike the trails at Dagney Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, and enjoy the habitat of many endangered species of mammals, butterflies, and birds.
Eat (and drink) like a local
Alabama Jack’s on Card Sound Road is a perennial favorite where the eclectic clientele can eat heavenly conch fritters and catch the occasional glimpse of a crocodile in the canal. Yes, you read that correct. The Keys have both alligators and crocodiles.
If you want to dress up a bit (which in the Keys means breaking out the sparkly flip flops), try The Fish House. Order the grand piano for dessert. It’s a white chocolate baby grand filled with chocolate mouse.
Speaking of chocolates… visit Key Largo Chocolates and Ice Cream for homemade confections that won’t last long!
Locals are split on breakfast and favor either Harriette’s Restaurant or Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen. Throw in the Conch House and you’ve got a triumvirate of good choices. Try the coconut muffin at Harriette’s. You’ll thank me.
The best of the Keys is often found outdoors, but sometimes you just want to take a bit of paradise back home. Two words: Shell World. This sprawling mecca offers everything from tchotchkes to tasteful home design, artisan jewelry to the ubiquitous t-shirts for the grandchildren.
Savor the sunsets
You’re on vacation. Take a breath. Relax. Nothing reduces stress quite like taking in the sunset as it dips below the Florida Bay. It’s even better when shared with the one you love.
Every place you visit in Key Largo will have a bit of quirk, a lot of attitude, and natural beauty. One thing’s certain. Key Largo offers the perfect place to spin a yarn–especially if it involves the gin-clear waters off the coast, a fish-out-of-water character, and a mystery.
A Mer Cavallo Mystery
Marine scientist Meredith Cavallo thought adjusting to a laid-back life in the Florida Keys would be a breeze after life in the Arctic, but when a ghost-hunting documentary leader vanishes during a midnight dive, she’s caught in a storm of supernatural intrigue. Determined to debunk paranormal explanations and salvage her reputation, Mer launches her own investigation. When someone tries to kill her, she knows the truth is about to surface. Maybe dead men do tell tales.