Florida’s Unique and Unusual Islands Are Worth A Visit

I love visiting islands. Florida has 4,510 islands over ten acres – some are even man-made creations.  My favorites are those that were once inhabited by man and became deserted for reasons logical and sometimes even mysterious.

If you live in the Tampa Bay area as I do, you must visit Egmont Key State Park on an island blocking the entrance to Tampa Bay.  The island was used to house Seminole Indians on the way to Oklahoma.  The two historic structures on the island are the 1858 lighthouse and ruinous Fort Dade built to guard the Bay during the 1898 Spanish-American War.

floridatraveler EGMONTKEY

You can only reach Egmont Key by ferry from Fort Desoto State Park or private boats. On weekends expects lots of people swimming, fishing, snorkeling for artifacts, and picnicking.  There is no drinking water or stores here.

My favorite habitable island town on the Florida West Coast is Cedar Key, an real fishing village but close enough to Gainesville and Ocala to attract shoppers for art galleries, seafood shanties, and gift shops.  Rent a boat and visit all the surrounding islands with their beaches and wildlife.

floridatraveler docks-st-cedar-key

Cedar Key’s dock area is a maze of restaurants and shops

Did you know that the place with the highest per capital income in America is a man-made Florida island?  Fisher Island, just north of Miami Beach, was dredged out of the muck by Carl Fisher and once owned by Dana A. Dolsey, Florida’s first multi-millionaire African-American.

floridatraveler FISHERISLAND

Fishers Island Is RICH

There is a hotel on this island once purchased as a winter home by the Vanderbilts.  There are a lot of condos where over the years visitors have photographed Oprey Winfrey, Mel Brooks, and Julia Roberts.  Why not hop over for lunch at the hotel?

The Florida Keys are “an island-hunters paradise.”  Indian Key Historic State Park on the bayside for Islamorada is accessible by park boat, private vessel, or even kayak.  It was once the county seat of Dade County, but now it is a ghost town.


Remains of Indian Key Buildings

On the night of August 7, 1840, Seminole Indians raided the fishing and wreckers village, killing former US Consul Dr. Henry Perrine, and driving Indian Key into the historic books.

If you like natural sites, you’ll love Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park bayside at MM 78.5.   This now unoccupied island has rare plants and tropical trees found no where else.  The rustic 1919 cottage of scientist William John Matheson is now the visitor center.

Heading down the keys in a boat will allow you to visit the man-made dream island of Sunset Key, just north of Key West.  The good news is there is a ferry running it seems all day taking people for a meal at Latitudes.

floridatraveler SUNSET KEY

Sunset Key: A Favorite Trip for Key West Residents

Key West is not the southernmost end of Florida.  If you rented a seaplane or took a boat tour, you could travel 67 miles west to the unoccupied Dry Tortugas Islands. The best spot in this national park is Garden Key, home of monstrous Fort Jefferson.  The waters around these islands will match the crystal clear waters of the Bahamas.

floridatraveler Fort-Jefferson

Fort Jefferson And Its Amazing Waters

If you like adventurous trips to mysterious places then you might like to boat south of Marco Island to Cape Romano, the southernmost tip of the Florida West Coast.  Here stands (or tilts) the 1980 space cube cottages that were once the 1980 DIY project of oil tycoon Bob Lee.

floridatraveler CAPE ROMANO domehouses

I guess I better add my favorite mystery spot on the Florida Panhandle.  Undeveloped St Vincent Island, located in the Gulf south of Port St. Joe, is now a wildlife refuge open only to boaters.  It is a strange looking island with huge sand ridges filled with pine forests and populated by Asian Sambar deer and rare red wolves.

floridatraveler STVINCENT

In the 1940’s the Loomis Brothers had the island as their private game preserve and stocked zebra, eland, and black buck.  None of these animals have been seen recently so either the wolves or alligators may have eaten them.



About floridatraveler

Historian and travel writer M. C. Bob Leonard makes the Sunshine State his home base. Besides serving as content editor for several textbook publishers and as an Emeritus college professor, he moderates the FHIC at www.floridahistory.org
This entry was posted in adventure vacation, attractions, conservation, environment, florida history, Florida parks, florida vacations, Historic Buildings, Historic Forts, Historic Lighthouses, Recreational Experiences, travel, Wierd Florida and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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