There is much more than a tropical outdoor playground in the Florida Keys, and you will find that several Florida Keys museums provide fascinating glimpses into the region's rich and colorful history. Because of their location, the Florida Keys are steeped in a rich history, from Ponce de Leon's sixteenth-century search for the Fountain of Youth to the swashbuckling pirate days and Prohibition era rumrunners. In addition to the several smaller museums in the other Keys, you will find that Key West museums are numerous. And they aren't just for visiting when you're bored: A Key West museum provides wonderful rewards, and many of them help add perspective to the natural beauty of the place you're visiting.
Islamorada, about halfway between Miami and Key West, bills itself as the diving capital of the world, with the only coral barrier reef in North America. The History of Diving Museum in Islamorada tells the story of our human quest to explore under the sea. The museum was endowed by physicians Joseph and Sally Bauer, whose love of scuba diving led to their acquiring the world's largest collection of armored suits, diving helmets and accessory gear, photographs and prints, and other memorabilia. Even if you are not a diving enthusiast, you will find that this internationally acclaimed museum is very rewarding.
Other Florida Keys museums include the Natural History Museum at Crane Point on Marathon Key. Here, a 1.5-mile nature trail meanders through the site and reveals the wonderful tropical flora and fauna of the Keys—all with spectacular views of beautiful Florida Bay. A short walk away is the restored Bahamian conch house of the Adderly Village. Here you can see how the settlers from the Bahamas lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In Key Largo, there is the Maritime Museum of the Florida Keys, chronicling the voyages of unlucky ships that have run aground off these islands. It is located in a reproduction of a fifteenth-century castle and contains salvaged relics from Spanish galleons, including ceramics, weapons, and gold coins.
It is the Key West museums that provide the most historic attractions, beginning with the Pirate Soul Museum. This museum in Key West chronicles the exploits of these swashbucklers from Madagascar off the coast of Africa to the Tortugas and Nassau in the Bahamas and elsewhere in the Caribbean. Another Key West museum allows you to visit what was the Little White House, the winter home of President Harry Truman. It is located right on the waterfront in the downtown area near all the best shops, nightlife and clubs, dining venues, and other things to do. Housed in a building constructed in 1890, it originally served as the commander's residence and naval headquarters during the Spanish-American War.
If you're interested in historic houses, you can also visit the Oldest House Museum. This Key West museum in the downtown area has free admission to the oldest house in the Keys, built in 1846. Another beautiful colonial house is the Heritage House Museum, and you can also tour the lovely gardens, and the little cottage that was the winter vacation home of the poet Robert Frost.
Perhaps the most famous of the Key West museums is the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum. Mel Fisher, who died in 1985, was a treasure hunter best known for locating and salvaging the 1622 wreckage of the Spanish galleon Atocha. Some $450 million of booty was recovered, including gold and silver coins and other gold artifacts and jewels. He also discovered the Atocha's sister ship, the Santa Margarita, and the slave ship Henrietta Marie. Much of these treasures are on display in the museum, and it is one of the most popular attractions in Key West.
There are even more Florida Keys museums where you can explore historic lighthouses, the art of the regions, and the history of settlement from the Bahamas, as well as a museum built in the 1870s by settlers from Cuba and even a Coast Guard battleship that was active against German ships during World War II.
Image:The History of Diving Museum