The Middle Keys
Geographically, the Middle Keys stretch from the southern tip of Islamorada at the high-rise Channel 5 bridge – which has, in both directions, perhaps the most beautiful and stunning views in the Keys – to Marathon’s improbable, spectacular Seven Mile Bridge connecting Marathon to the Lower Keys. Most of us have seen this famous 7 mile bridge in movies (True Lies) or television commercials. It neatly divides the Atlantic Ocean on the East from the Gulf of Mexico to the West, a mere thread of concrete across the 75-100 square miles of azure and green seas and “flats” and islands that your eyes encompass simultaneously.
As a practical matter, the Middle Keys basically refer to the “large” incorporated town and bustling commercial center of Marathon and the nearby expensive housing areas of Hawks Key (Duck Key), Key Colony Beach, and Long Key. The other islands in the Marathon region are Boot Key, Knight Key, Hog Key, Vaca Key, Stirrup Key, Crawl and Little Crawl Key, East and West Sister’s Island, Deer Key and Fat Deer Key, Long Pine Key and Grassy Key. Marathon’s metro area sits between mile markers 48 and 55 and has a non-tourist residential population of more than 13,000 (it feels bigger than that), with a median age of 44.
Marathon is centrally located 80 miles south of mainland Florida and more or less just 50 from Key Largo and 48 from Key West. Marathon is served by bus lines to Key West and the Mainland, and by the sleek Marathon airport offering connections to Miami and Ft Lauderdale and from there to anywhere in the world.
The primary industries here are:
Arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food services
Educational,health and social services
The Marathon area is definitely a destination point and has hundreds of small and medium size business to support it. It is fairly self-contained, too. It’s not necessary to go anywhere else, because everything you really need is right there, including shopping and services, police and fire, healthcare facilities including a modern full service hospital, all the usual municipal functions, and outdoor recreational activities like boating, fishing, and diving.
If you want to work in the Keys in the construction trades or certain kinds of services or consulting, Marathon can be a good location, because it is centrally located – jobs and commissions from Key Largo to Key West are pretty easily reached on a within-day commuting basis.
This sense of Marathon as a sort of “hub” for the whole middle section of the Keys, including the edges of the Upper Keys and Lower Keys, goes back a long ways. In the early 20th century Henry Flagler built a large work camp and supply base at Marathon while constructing his “railroad that went to sea”.
The Marathon area is primarily an outdoor community; there’s no reason to relocate here, in my opinion, if you don’t love the water, either for play or for work, whether on weekdays or weekends, since you can’t get away from it even if you wanted to, and if you work you’re going to drive across a lot of it whether headed up or down the Keys.
And Marathon thrives on its central Keys, watery environment. Marathon has excelent swimming beaches (not common in the Keys), and good diving and snorkeling, from novice to experts, at all water depths. Some divers think that some of the best parts of the coral reef along the Keys are right here. The Sombrero Key Lighthouse area is an example.
Fishing can be either oceanside or Backcountry (gulfside), with your own boat, on party boats, or with a personal guide. There’s plenty of flats fishing, as in the rest of the Keys, but oceanside offshore fishing (excelent) prevails, since there’s not quite the same extensive range of backcountry options as elsewhere in the Keys, given there’s fewer islands and the area isn’t quite as wild as having Everglades National Park for your backdoor neighbor (like Key Largo).
Boating in general is a little different here. Most boating is fairly open water or along the Overseas Highway and Keys chain; there aren’t as many protected areas (think multiple islands for kayaking or canoeing) as there are in either the Upper Keys or the Lower Keys or Key West. And waters seem to have more of a chop more of the time here, too. On both sides the water gets deeper faster.
But if you want to be on a canal with a big boat tied up at your back door, this is a good part of the Keys to be in: lots of deep canals, and easy Ocean access. (Most of the deep canals and good big boating access is on the south, or Oceanside, part of the islands.) It’s also one of the few spots in the Keys where you can easily get a big boat or a sailboat back and forth from Bay to Ocean.
In addition to these water-based sporting activities, there’s 9-hole Par 3 golf at Key Colony Beach, plenty of tennis, some nightlife particularly at the resort hotels, and a variety of restaurants where you can eat outside under the sun or indoors in air-conditioned comfort. There’s also Islamorada and Big Pine just short drives away for variety.
In conclusion, Marathon has a variety of housing stock, and its central location gets you to Miami in 2 hours and Key West in just over an hour. So if you really want to get away from it all, and yet be relatively close to things either direction, this could be the best of the Keys areas for you. You can enjoy outdoors but still have good options of restaurants and shopping nearby.