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9 Best Scuba Diving Spots In The Florida Keys

scuba diving florida keys

Scuba diving in the Florida Keys is like entering a vibrant underwater paradise. To be honest, it’s like walking around a museum—but instead of walking, you’re swimming, and instead of a museum, you’re underwater up close with the work of art you want to see!

There are so many things to do in the Florida Keys that are related to marine life. But what’s more interesting than immersing yourself in it? Other than that, you get to view the structures and ecosystems they live in.

With its warm, clear waters and numerous scuba diving spots, the Florida Keys offer something for everyone, from beginner divers to seasoned pros. Let’s learn more about this underwater activity, shall we?

What Makes Florida Keys Great For Scuba Diving

Diving the Florida Keys in 5K by Fintastic Films

The Keys boast some of the most diverse and colorful marine life in the United States, making it a premier destination for divers of all levels. Learn why the region is considered one of the top diving destinations in the world.

Diverse Marine Life

The diversity of fish and wildlife found in the Florida Keys region is vital to the health of the ecosystem, ecological function, recreational opportunities, and commercial fishing.

Below are some of the most common marine life you’ll find in the Florida Keys:

  • Tropical and subtropical fish and shellfish species
  • Lobster
  • Coral
  • Sponges
  • Stone crab
  • Shrimp
  • Sea urchins
  • Bottlenose dolphins
  • West Indian manatees
  • Turtles
  • Crocodiles

Clear Waters

One of the most significant factors contributing to the clear waters of the Florida Keys is the absence of significant freshwater runoff from mainland Florida. Unlike many other coastal areas, the Keys are not fed by large rivers that carry sediment and pollutants into the ocean. As a result, the waters surrounding the Keys are exceptionally clear and free from sediment, providing excellent visibility for diving and snorkeling.

Warm Water Temperature

First and foremost, warm water is more comfortable for divers, allowing them to dive for more extended periods without experiencing discomfort from the cold. In the Florida Keys, water temperatures typically range from the mid-70s to the mid-80s Fahrenheit (around 24 to 30 degrees Celsius) throughout the year, providing a pleasant and enjoyable diving experience.

Warm water also allows for thinner wetsuits or even the use of rash guards, providing greater freedom of movement and reducing the bulkiness associated with thicker suits needed in colder waters. This flexibility enhances diver mobility and comfort underwater, allowing for more relaxed and enjoyable dives.

Furthermore, warm water temperatures support a rich and diverse marine ecosystem, attracting a wide variety of marine life to the Florida Keys.

Average Florida Keys Water Temperature

water temperature florida keys

The swimming season in the Florida Keys lasts all year round. The water temperature never drops below 73°F in December and January. On average, it is 75.4°F in the winter, 78.6°F in the spring, 85.6°F in the summer, and 82.8°F in the fall.

If you wish to scuba dive in the Florida Keys, choose a season, location, and minimum acceptable sea/ocean temperature that suits you. Learn more about the water temperature in the Keys here.

Scuba Diving Tours in the Florida Keys

Many dive operators in the Florida Keys offer guided tours that cater to divers of all skill levels. These tours typically include transportation to and from the dive sites, rental equipment, and the expertise of certified dive instructors or guides. 

Explore the tours below to learn which are perfect for your group if you’re interested in doing the same thing together!

Half-Day Scuba Diving Trip in the Florida Keys

half-day scuba diving tour florida keys

Image Source: Viator

On this half-day scuba tour, dive beneath the Florida Keys and become fully immersed in the state’s marine ecosystem. Swim among fish, eels, and turtles to explore the numerous living coral reefs in Pennekamp State Park and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. 

Although certified divers with experience are the target audience for this Key Largo diving session, uncertified divers are welcome to call to explore other choices.

Learn to Scuba Dive with a Professional Instructor in Key Largo - All Inclusive

all-inclusive scuba diving tour florida keys

Image Source: Viator

Some of the nicest coral reefs in the nation can be found just offshore Key Largo. During this all-inclusive experience, learn how to scuba dive and develop your snorkeling abilities. This all-day scuba tour helps you become familiar with the equipment and methods. 

You will first receive instruction and practice in the bayside pool. After that, you’ll board a boat and travel to two distinct places for scuba diving experiences.

Half-Day Small-Group 2-Tank Scuba Dive in Key Largo (CERTIFIED DIVERS ONLY)

small group scuba diving tour florida keys

Image Source: Viator

This small group scuba diving experience off the coast of Key Largo is open to PADI-certified divers. Board a boat and prepare to tour the only living reef in the nation and the third-largest barrier reef on Earth. After a trip through Pennekamp State Park, you’ll do two dives into the Florida Marine Sanctuary. Snorkeling equipment and snacks are available.

Where To Scuba Dive In The Florida Keys

The Florida Keys are renowned for their spectacular scuba diving spots, offering divers a diverse range of underwater landscapes to explore, from vibrant coral reefs to historic shipwrecks. Here are some of the top scuba diving spots in the Florida Keys:

1. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

john pennekamp scuba diving florida keys

Location: Key Largo, FL 33037

What You’ll See: A trip to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo is a must for any diving enthusiast visiting the Keys. Here, you can enjoy the vibrant, living coral reef and witness the renowned Christ of the Abyss, a replica of the bronze cast of Jesus Christ in the Mediterranean Sea that is submerged in approximately 25 feet of water and stands 8.5 feet tall. 

Where to Eat Close By

The Buzzard’s Roost

 

Buzzard’s Roost Grill & Pub is a tiki bar and restaurant located in Garden Cove Marina. Enjoy your meal with great views of the waterfront and live music. 

Favorite menu item: Coconut Cake – sweet coconut cake with cream cheese frosting. Served with a decadent warm pineapple rum sauce.

Shipwrecks Bar & Grill

 

Shipwrecks Bar & Grill is a nice waterfront bar and grill with options for dining indoors or outside the dock. You can have your catch cooked by the staff any way you like.

Favorite menu item: Everybody’s talking about their Coconut Onion Rings!

Tips for Diving at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

  • Make sure to explore the living coral formations, marine life, tropical hammocks, and mangrove swamps.
  • If you are a beginner diver or just want a refresher, the seas off Cannon Beach are an amazing place to dive.
  • Within the park is a PADI Five-Star Gold Palm dive shop that offers an extensive range of scuba instruction, from open water to instructor.

2. Molasses Reef

Diving the Molasses Reef by Karim Lounes

Location: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary – Key Largo

What You’ll See: Molasses Reef is home to a variety of large marine animals, including reef sharks, spotted eagle rays, and sea turtles. This stunning reef is located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s specifically designated protected area.

Where to Eat Close By

Italian Food Company

 

The Italian Food Company is committed to providing an authentic Italian flavor. They have curated a selection of the best Italian imports, ranging from authentic hand-painted Italian ceramics, including dinnerware and pottery, to homemade Italian meal bundles and traditional sweets. 

Favorite menu item: Pasta – Penne alla Vodka, Rigatoni Bolognese, Gnocchi Sorentina, and many more!

Key Largo Fisheries Backyard Cafe

 

Enjoy delectable and tasty food with a view of the waterfront and friendly, accommodating staff. Serving up generous portions of delicious fish meals, the Key Largo Fisheries Backyard Cafe is a local favorite. 

Favorite menu item: Lobster BLT – A famous twist on a BLT. Maple bacon, crisp lettuce, fresh tomato, and, of course, lobster! Served on a flaky croissant with homemade spicy mayo, and your choice of side.

Tips for Diving at Molasses Reef

  • There are guided dives offered here.
  • Make sure that the weather is calm when diving because it’s on the edge of the barrier reef.
  • If you’re operating a boat to get here, there are 33 different mooring buoys. Buoys that are nearest the lighthouse are shallower.

3. Sombrero Reef

sombrero reef scuba diving florida keys with kids

Location: Offshore of Vaca Key in Marathon, Florida

What You’ll See: Sombrero Reef is visible from the surface due to its 140-foot tall historic lighthouse. Because of the wide variety of coral (elkhorn, fire, starlet, pillar, sea fans, and more) and fish species (spotlight, rainbow, princess parrotfish, damselfish, and angelfish), the reef is a generally shallow, watery dreamland of color below the surface.

Where to Eat Close By

Upper Crust Pizza

 

At Upper Crust Pizza, you can expect a delightful and extensive dining experience, complete with supper and desserts. Whether you want a plain pizza or something unique with lots of extra toppings, they can always produce a fresh pie for you. 

Favorite menu item: Pizza – Enjoy a specialty pizza, seafood pizza, or another pizza from the menu that has earned the People’s Choice Award every year since 1987. You won’t want to pass this up!

Florida Keys Steak and Lobster House

 

Enjoy delectable and tasty food with a view of the waterfront and friendly, accommodating staff. Serving up generous portions of delicious fish meals, the Key Largo Fisheries Backyard Cafe is a local favorite. 

Favorite menu item: Steak – proudly serves the finest beef, which is hand-selected and wet-aged for 21 days for premium flavor and tenderness.

Tips for Diving at Sombrero Reef

  • This could be the paradise you’ve been looking for if you’re an underwater photographer and/or nature enthusiast.
  • Sombrero Reef is very shallow, according to some divers. But it’s still worth exploring, even if you prefer deeper dive sites.
  • Choose a day for diving where the conditions are favorable because low visibility is possible on some days.

4. Looe Key

Scuba Diving Looe Key Reef by Sand Gravity Adventures

Location: South of Big Pine Key

What You’ll See: Looe Key is a fairly shallow dive site with depths between seven and thirty feet. It is teeming with life, from tiny tropical fish to massive groupers weighing hundreds of pounds, as well as graceful rays and fan coral swaying with the current. 

Where to Eat Close By

Big Pine Rooster
  • Location: 29943 Overseas Hwy, Big Pine Key, FL 33043
  • Price: $$ – $$$
  • Website: bigpinerooster.com

 

Here’s when the Rooster really starts to shine! For breakfast, Big Pine Rooster delivers generous portions of your favorite foods. Whether it’s a simple burger or a fresh fish sandwich, you are in for a delicious break in your day for lunch.

Favorite menu item: You won’t believe this but their fries are quite popular to diners. You can get them as a side.

The Tiki Bar & Grill

 

Looe Key Tiki Bar & Grill is located inside the Looe Key Reef Resort. It hosts live entertainment daily, happy house, and Taco Tuesdays.

Favorite menu item: Tacos – lettuce, tomato, shredded cheddar, sour cream, and salsa. Choose between ground beef, mahi mahi, chicken, brisket, or shrimp.

Tips for Diving at Looe Key

  • There are mooring buoys for vessels to tie up to in order to avoid damaging the fragile reef below.
  • If it’s nice and all the cattle boats go, be prepared to dive with up to a couple hundred other divers.
  • Be sure to swim over, in and out of the channels, and finally go shoreward over the shallowest part to see all it has to offer.
  • Peek under every crack and crevice, as there will be something there.

5. Coffins Patch

Diving Coffins Patch Reef by Scuba Max

Location: Southeast of Bamboo Key

What You’ll See: The area has six distinct reefs, each with a unique coral diversity. Divers can find species such as pillar and boulder coral, lobsters, eels, and jacks. The Thunderbolt wreck, a deep, advanced dive, is also only a mile distant.

Where to Eat Close By

Keys Fisheries
  • Location: 3502 Gulfview Ave, Marathon, FL 33050
  • Price: $$ – $$$
  • Website: keysfisheries.com

 

Keys Fisheries, regarded as one of the best seafood restaurants in the Middle Keys, is a must-visit location for anyone looking to load themselves on freshly caught fish. What sets this restaurant apart is its market; it offers the necessary ingredients or menu items.

Favorite menu item: World Famous Lobster Reuben – Toasted Rye, Kraut, Swiss Cheese, Thousand Island Dressing

Overseas Pub and Grill

 

Overseas Pub & Grill has a wide selection of meals, such as Ultimate Crab Cakes, French Dip Sandwich, Stuffed Portabella, and Arugula Salad. The Florida Keys Country Club is located on Overseas Highway, which is not far from this restaurant.

Favorite menu item: Bang Bang Shrimp is loved by a lot of diners!

Tips for Diving at Coffins Patch

  • You can go off the shore to Coffins Patch from Marathon.
  • This is the ideal spot if you’re a novice driver because it’s shallow.
  • Shallow water diving provides good light. Take advantage of the superb visibility. This is the ideal location for underwater photographers of all skill levels.

6. The Duane Shipwreck

Diving the USCG Duane 4K by T.J. Christmas

Location: One mile south of Molasses Reef off Key Largo

What You’ll See: The mast is visible to divers from 60 feet, the superstructure deck from 90 feet, and the main deck from 100 feet. Admire the wide shoals of snapper surrounding the bow or the barracuda circling the crow’s nest. Also, pay attention to the blue, where bull sharks frequently pass.

Where to Eat Close By

Gus’ Grille

 

Savor plate after plate of delicious local seafood on Gus’ Grille’s outside patio while admiring the vista of the blue-green Gulf waters. Every piece of the food, from delicious dinner specials to traditional breakfast fare, reflects the love and care that has gone into it.

Favorite menu item: Snapper – sautéed or blackened, mild flavor, moist, flaky

Sundowners

 

The Sundowners restaurant in Key Largo has been offering Florida Bay sunsets, sandwiches, steaks, and seafood since 1985. Take in the view from the dining room with its glass walls, or go outdoors and relax on the terrace or tropical patio that faces Florida Bay. Remember to feed the tarpon on the back dock when you’re dining at Sundowners!

Favorite menu item: Shrimp Kabobs – shrimp, onions, peppers, mushrooms, Key lime butter with jasmine rice

Tips for Diving at The Duane Shipwreck

  • Strong currents are unavoidable due to the open sea’s location, but they also provide great visibility and a wealth of marine life. 
  • It can still be an easy dive during favorable water conditions.
  • You can hire a guide if you want to learn where the cool swimming spots are.

7. USS Spiegel Grove Wreck

The Wreck Of The Spiegel Grove: A Scuba Diver’s Tour by Divers Ready

Location: Off Key Largo

What You’ll See: With a length of almost 500 feet (152 meters), many seasoned divers assert that it is nearly difficult to explore this dive site in one or two dives fully. Divers can explore a variety of light-to-light tunnels down to a minimum acceptable depth of 60 feet (18 meters), or much deeper to a maximum depth of 100 feet (30 meters).

Where to Eat Close By

The Fish House
  • Location: 102401 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, FL 33037
  • Price: $$ – $$$
  • Website: fishhouse.com

 

The Fish House is among the few businesses that still exclusively purchase entire fish from nearby commercial fishermen and a chosen group of other suppliers. To ensure the best quality, they fillet the fish right there on the spot.

Favorite menu item: Fish – any fish for different kinds of preparation. Choose fried, blackened, jerked, pan-sauteed, baked stuffed, and more!

Hobo’s Cafe
  • Location: 101691 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, FL 33037
  • Price: $$ – $$$
  • Website: hoboscafe.net

 

Hobo’s Cafe provides an authentic seafood restaurant experience, serving the freshest local seafood. As one of the mainstays of the Florida Keys restaurant scene, National Geographic has recognized the spot as one of the most authentic Keys restaurants.

Favorite menu item: Waffle fries – this is offered as a side, but one of the most famous dishes on offer.

Tips for Diving at USS Spiegel Grove Wreck

  • Divers must have advanced level certification due to the wreck’s depths.
  • All areas of this wreck are safely accessible, even with advanced certifications.
  • Mooring buoys provide easy-to-use, coral-friendly boat tie-offs.

8. USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg

Diving the Vandenberg Wreck by Dive SAGA – Scuba diving

Location: Six miles off the coast of Key West

What You’ll See: Despite being sunk in 2009, the former military missile tracking ship has evidence of coral formations and aquatic life living in its crevices. At 524 feet (160 meters) in length, this ship holds the distinction of being the second-largest vessel in history to be intentionally sunk for the purpose of creating an artificial reef.

Where to Eat Close By

Salute! On The Beach

 

Salute! On The Beach is a sister restaurant of Blue Heaven, which has a very good Key Lime Pie. The pies have a rich, savory graham cracker crust with a scrumptious key lime custard liberally topped with fluffy meringue. 

Dine al fresco on the beachside patio at this restaurant while taking in the expansive views of the ocean and the calming sound of the waves.

Favorite menu item: Grouper Cakes – served with shrimp and chipotle aioli

Louie’s Backyard

 

Louie’s Backyard is an oceanfront restaurant serving Caribbean-American fare. This is one of the most popular Key West destination where you can choose to dine between a fabulous multilevel deck or in the elegant dining room.

Favorite menu item: Shrimp and Grits – Patrons say it’s the best shrimp and grits they ever tastes!

Tips for Diving at USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg

  • Make sure to explore its notable features: 11 elevators and cargo hold shafts, and 18 stairwells.
  • The Vandenberg’s main deck and hull depths make it an advanced dive, but its shallower superstructure makes it an ideal wreck dive for mixed-ability groups.

9. The Wreck of The Benwood

Scuba Diving the Benwood by Swivmaster

Location: 3M29+W5, Key Largo, FL

What You’ll See: In contrast to the Duane, Spiegel Grove, and Vandenberg, The Benwood is a real wreck rather than an artificial reef that has been purposefully sunk. Only the bow and hull structure survived after salvaging (and explosions that were allegedly aerial target practice by the US Army), leaving crevices that were home to fish, eels, turtles, and even Goliath Groupers.

Where to Eat Close By

Pilot House Restaurant & Marina

 

Situated at the center of Key Largo, Pilot House is conveniently close to some of the world’s top diving and fishing locations. A well-known hotspot for the community since 1950, where you can enjoy delicious food, welcoming service, and live music three nights a week!

Favorite menu item: Any shrimp meal – blackened, fried shrimp, peel & eat, etc.

Denny’s in Key Largo

 

Denny’s is a casual diner chain serving classic American dishes. They serve all-day breakfast and is perfect if you’re craving for some homemade breakfast meal while you’re in vacation.

Favorite menu item: People say they have the best Cuban sandwich ever!

Tips for Diving at The Wreck of The Benwood

  • Located in shallow water near French Reef, this dive is a great experience for Open Water Divers and experienced divers alike.
  • The mooring balls are all off to the side of the wreck.
  • The wreck offers an excellent photo opportunity because it is so shallow, especially when the sun shines upon it.

Finding The Best Scuba Diving Spots In Florida Keys

Whether you’re a novice diver or a seasoned veteran, scuba diving in the Florida Keys offers endless opportunities for exploration and adventure. With its stunning reefs, fascinating wrecks, and abundant marine life, it’s no wonder why the Keys are very popular among tourists.

The places we have listed here are just a few of the many incredible scuba diving spots waiting to be explored in the Florida Keys. While you’re there, you can always ask the locals for recommendations–whether it’s about the best diving spot, where to feed tarpons, and/or where to find the best beaches for families.

There are endless activities to do and trust me, one day is not enough!

Related Articles

Crystal-clear waters, vibrant coral reefs, and a plethora of marine wonders – that’s what to expect from a Key West scuba diving experience. Don’t miss out on these top five diving sites!

Marathon is the ideal dive hub for reefs and wrecks, with less traffic than the famous Key West. Find out where you can go for all your scuba equipment needs and some of the best locations for scuba diving in Marathon Key.

From the pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters to the lively communities and diverse wildlife, the Florida Keys offer a tapestry of experiences catering to tourists and locals seeking unforgettable adventures. We’re letting you in on which ones are the absolutely best to visit and sharing a bit of their storied past.

Scuba Diving Florida Keys FAQs

The Florida Keys offer fantastic diving opportunities, but Key Largo is often considered one of the best for scuba diving due to its proximity to the world-renowned John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the first underwater park in the United States. Key Largo boasts vibrant coral reefs, fascinating shipwrecks, and diverse marine life, making it a top choice for divers of all levels.

The Florida Keys offer excellent diving year-round, but the best months for diving are typically from November to May. During this time, the weather is generally mild, and the water temperatures are warmer, ranging from the mid-70s to mid-80s Fahrenheit (around 24 to 30 degrees Celsius), providing optimal conditions for diving and underwater visibility.

Key Largo is known for its vibrant coral reefs and numerous dive sites, including the famous John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Key West, on the other hand, offers a mix of reef and wreck diving, as well as opportunities for night dives and encounters with larger marine life like sharks. Ultimately, the choice depends on your diving interests and preferences.

The cost of diving in the Florida Keys can vary depending on factors such as the dive operator, the type of dive, and whether equipment rental is needed. Generally, a single-tank boat dive in the Keys can range from $60 to $100 USD, while two-tank dives or specialty dives may cost more. Many dive operators also offer package deals or discounts for multiple dives.

Janelle
Author: Janelle

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