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I ♥️ Islamorada: “Key” Takeaways from My Favorite Vacation Spot

This simple slice of island life keeps me coming back again and again. Find out why, so your guests do the same.

It’s been years since my husband and I started vacationing in Islamorada, a beautiful village in the upper Florida Keys that tourists flock to on a year-round basis. The area is quiet, especially when you compare it to its lively neighbors down south in Key West. And with hole-in-the-wall eateries, waterfront dive bars, and tiny strips of beach, it’s nothing short of a Jimmy Buffet song.

What I love most about Islamorada is how it makes me feel. Islamorada provides the slowdown I crave. It’s the getaway from speed and noise and congestion that calms my spirit and allows my mind to open up to new possibilities. I always leave feeling rested and revitalized.

The “key” to the Keys is its simplicity. Is it possible to capture the essence of Islamorada and make guests feel this great regardless of geographical location? What is so special about places that keep us coming back? It’s usually the small details that make a big difference.

Spreading island vibes and good times is easier than you think. I think it helps to “experience” it yourself, so let me introduce you to my favorite spots:

A “come-as-you-are” bar

Our first stop in the Keys is always Lorelei Restaurant & Cabana Bar. It’s not fancy. In fact, it’s the opposite of fancy, and that’s why we love it. A dock overlooking Florida Bay greets you in the parking lot as you walk towards the host stand.

Usually we find a sign reading “Seat Yourself,” and indeed, we do.

There’s a covered bar area connected to a worn deck that offers a few tables. A small bandshell features the nightly entertainment, and usually the musicians are having just as good a time as the patrons. My husband and I opt for the seating beyond that… an area right on the sand. The furniture is cheap plastic patio rejects, and we love it. Our shoes come right off and we dig our toes in as we order a beer. Perfect.

The water and the sunsets are hard to beat, let alone recreate if you’re not right there in that exact spot. It’s a proprietary blend made by Mother Nature. The ambiance, however, is a spirit of comradery from the kitchen to the guests. Everyone says hi to everyone. The servers take it easy. No one’s in a rush. It’s a well known fact that if you’re on a strict schedule, Lorelei is not the girl for you.

Memories are made at a place like this. Why? Amongst splintered wood and cracking furniture, you can truly be yourself, flaws and all. It’s not uncommon for a fellow diner to buy you a shot – and for you to return the favor a couple rounds later. The band may be slightly off beat, but live music is always better than a phone and airpods.

Lorelei makes you connect with reality while escaping it at the same time. You’re in the moment. If the energy is right, any place can do that.

A hidden coffee gem

Café Moka – which is easily missed if you don’t follow a hidden pathway leading to its fairytale entrance – is the coffee shop you’d find only in a dream. It’s small storefront stands amongst mystical landscape and old Florida architecture.

One of only a few businesses that make up a trading post, Café Moka serves up good vibes and good coffee. Is it the best coffee in the world? No. But combined with their breezy atmosphere, it’s what makes them the object of my desire.

The interior is tiny. There’s not enough room to sit, let alone stand and wait for your espresso creation to be made. A refrigerator is stocked with specialty treats, and a case of homemade pastries that are oh-so-yummy stare at you from the register. On an opposite wall they list specials of the day. Another corner houses pretty thermoses, tea sets, and fancy jams.

Although inside is dedicated to making the coffee, Cafe Moka capitalizes on their outdoor space for sipping it. Want to sit under a canopy of leaves? Or maybe at a bar filled with fairy lights? How about near some handcrafted pottery? They have a resident rooster and hen who walk by checking up on things, a fun addition to the environment that invokes sunshine and peace.

Once I finish my coffee, I saunter over to a boutique next door called Miss Monroe and buy a souvenir or two – not that I need that to remember the day.

A magical beer garden

If I had to pick a favorite place in my Islamorada heaven, it would have to be the place where we usually close out our trips: The Florida Keys Brewing Company. Aside from the obvious appeal of a brewery, the main selling point is where you get to drink: They have a beautiful, tropical garden attached to the main house. Stone steps lead you through plants and trees, colorful pastel furniture welcomes you to take a load off, and a back area with outdoor games entertains for hours.

It’s a utopia where music and foliage and sand surround you in a comforting array of sound and colors. It’s a place where kids run around while moms nurse their babies, gray-haired free spirits dance to local live music, and college students analyze the “hoppiness” of their beer flights – a place where everyone from all walks of life hangs out in perfect harmony.

A special factor cleverly featured is that any glass is available for purchase, and they have some cool ones. Designs vary from classic pints to 8 ounce curvy bodies to special tie-dye rubbery ones that are mini works of art.

Their merch sits in the back, out of the way, there for you to peruse as you please. Also on display are unique shirts featuring art from local artists with a tasteful logo of the Florida Keys Brewing Company on the back. Something you’d want to wear and show off to your friends.

Unlocking the Keys wherever you are

What is the “Key” takeaway from Cafe Moka, Lorelei, and FKBC? Serenity, style, and flair that’s not that costly to pull off – as long as you pay attention to the details.

Each one of these guest magnets are what they are because of how they do what they do. It’s not a matter of having a huge budget. Guests feel special. They feel welcome. There’s no pressure to buy anything while they enjoy the atmosphere.

This is not expensive to pull off. It just takes careful thought: What would you want to feel if you were trying to enjoy yourself? Visualize what each guest sees, hears, tastes and touches. Find ways to make every moment more unique, interesting, and laid back. It would serve service industries well to capture the warmth of the Keys in every guest interaction.

The reasons we return to places aren’t a mystery. If you pay attention to the ingredients of the secret sauce, you can cook up your own version.