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Tiki bars you’ll love in the Florida Keys

Last updated on May 28th, 2021 at 12:14 pm

I had a friend who was disappointed in the Florida Keys. He thought the drive down the Overseas Highway passed too many tacky commercial establishments spoiling the natural beauty.

I understand.

The Keys are an acquired taste, like beer.

Fortunately (or not), I’ve acquired a taste for both, and one of the things I love about the Keys is where authentic tackiness meets postcard views. And that is at the Florida Keys tiki bar.

Islamorada tiki bar: The Lorelei in the Florida Keys. (Photo by Bonnie Gross)
Islamorada tiki bar: The Lorelei in the Florida Keys has a beautiful setting. (Photo by Bonnie Gross)

Elsewhere, tiki bars hearken back to the 1950s romanticized view of Polynesian culture — carved wooden masks, hula-girl lamps, that sort of thing.

In the Keys, it’s more of a chickee-bar or cabana-bar culture and it’s all about being outdoors and overlooking the water, particularly at sunset.

Florida Keys tiki bars are some of the best places to eat fresh fish and fried anything. They are usually family friendly, because kids at an outdoor table can wiggle and make noise. And they are the epitome of the Keys attitude — sit back, relax, be entertained by fish snapping up breadcrumbs or the passing clouds.

If a Keys vacation were a college major, Tiki Bar 101 would be a required course.

Here are a few classic Florida Keys tiki bars that will help fulfill your requirements:

Key Largo tiki bar: Skippers Dockside, 528 Caribbean Drive

Skippers Dockside in Key Largo includes a view of a wide canal with boats, pelicans and, the historic African Queen steaming past.
Key Largo tiki bar: Skippers Dockside has a view of a wide canal with boats, pelicans and the historic African Queen steaming past. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Located two blocks off the Overseas Highway at MM100, Skippers has a chickee building on an elevated deck with a postcard-like view of a broad canal.

While you sip your rum drink or craft beer, you watch fishing charters and diving boats come and go. If you’re really lucky, you might see the African Queen, the actual boat from the 1951 Humphrey Bogart movie, steam by and toot its iconic horn. It’s moored a few boats down the canal from Skippers and you can stroll down the seawall and see it after you eat.

And do eat. We had outstanding fish tacos and a yellowtail snapper sandwich. We’d love to come back and try the fish dip and conch fritters, which get good reviews.

In addition to the expansive area under the tiki building there are comfy chairs around sandpits and a large air-conditioned indoor area.

Happy hours are 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays with $2.50 domestic beer, $5 wine and appetizers from $4 to $8.

Skippers Dockside website.

Islamorada tiki bar: Lorelei Cabana Bar and Restaurant, MM 82 Bayside

Lorelei Cabana Bar and Restaurant, Islamorada, a favorite place to watch sunset.
Lorelei Cabana Bar and Restaurant, Islamorada, a favorite Key Largo tiki bar for watching the sunset. (Photo: Anna Blasco)

For years, the big mermaid sign on US 1 at Mile Marker 82 in Islamorada, has said: Relax, you’re finally in the Keys. When people say “Florida Keys tiki bar,” lots of them are talking about Lorelei. 

Beyond the parking lots, Lorelei’s decks, chickee huts, palm trees and sandy waterfront create an expansive and outstanding place to watch the sunset. Lorelei’s is situated on a lovely mangrove-rimmed bay that is pretty to gaze upon any time of day.

Florida Keys tiki bars: The sign for Lorelei in Islamorada
Islamorada tiki bar: You can’t miss the sign for Lorelei’s.

On a hot but breezy summer day, it was easy to get a table at water’s edge and watch the fish battling over bread crusts kids threw in the water as skinny needle fish darted by. An excellent fish dip and a draft of Key West Sunset Ale completed the experience.

Lorelei’s tiki bar is located in a marina that contains an item that belongs in the Florida Funky Hall of Fame — a pink limousine converted into a boat, the famous Nautilimo. It’s parked next door to a mock pirate ship.

Lorelei’s is jammed at sunset in season, but off season, I felt like I had discovered the place. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Happy hour is 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays with $1.25 draft domestic beer and $2.25 draft craft beers. Lorelei website.

Florida Keys: Lobster boats go to sea, view from the Chiki Tiki at Burdines Marina
Marathon tiki bar: Lobster boats go to sea, as seen from the Chiki Tiki at Burdines Marina. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Marathon tiki bar: The Chiki Tiki Bar and Grille at Burdines Waterfront,1200 Oceanview Ave., end of 15th Street

Unlike Lorelei’s, you have to know about Burdines to go there. To find it, you turn east on 15th Street in Marathon, wind past an old trailer park and stacks of lobster traps, and arrive in a large working marina in a protected harbor.

The Chiki Tiki is up a flight of stairs, giving you an excellent vantage point and a superior breeze. Around you are fishing boats, yachts and beat-up live-aboards. In the distance is the broken drawbridge to Boot Key. Across the water, Boot Key is all undeveloped mangroves, populated by the occasional wading bird.

Florida Keys: The bar at the Chiki Tiki at Burdines Marina in Marathon
Marathon tiki bar: Chiki Tiki at Burdines Marina has a second-story view. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

On our visit, just before the start of lobster season, we watched as boat after boat stacked high with lobster traps headed out to sea — a happy sign that this paradise isn’t only about tourism.

Keys restaurants can be expensive, but Burdines is popular for its moderate prices and casual atmosphere — the view and wall-to-wall license plates comprise the decor. Hamburgers are $8; most sandwiches are under $15. Our fresh dolphin sandwich and Fresh Cut Fries were excellent.

Burdines serves wine and canned or bottled beer only with a large selection of craft beers. Be aware: They call themselves a “bar,” but no liquor is served.

Florida Keys tiki bars: The Chiki Tiki at Burdines Marina
Marathon tiki bar: The Chiki Tiki at Burdines Marina.

See what folks on TripAdvisor and on Yelp say about Burdines. Facebook page for Chiki Tiki and website.

Key Largo tiki bar: Alabama Jacks, 58000 Card Sound Road

Alabama Jacks overlooks a canal lined with mangroves next door to a wildlife refuge. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
The first Florida Keys tiki bar you’ll come to is in a remote location near Key Largo. Alabama Jacks overlooks a canal lined with mangroves next door to a wildlife refuge. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Card Sound Road is a toll-road through the mangrove swamps where Miami-Dade County meets Monroe County. It’s a wild and remote location in the middle of crocodile habitat, 15 minutes north of Key Largo.

Alabama Jacks is a popular place to stop on a drive down to the Keys to help acquire that laid-back attitude. It’s also a destination for motorcyclists, who stop for conch fritters, sweet potato fries and live country music and dancing on weekends.

It’s a favorite stop for visitors to the Keys. I’ve written a separate post all about Alabama Jacks here.

Marathon tiki bar: Sunset Grille and Raw Bar, MM  47.7 Knights Key Blvd.

A favorite among things to do in Marathon: Having a beer at a tiki bar at the Sunset Grille & Raw Bar. (Photo: David Blasco)
Marathon tiki bar: The Sunset Grille & Raw Bar, with a view of the Seven Mile Bridge. (Photo: David Blasco)

Many Florida Keys tiki bars have great sunset views, but it’s hard to beat what you get at Sunset Grille: a wide expanse of water and the sun going down behind the elegant and iconic Seven Mile Bridge.

With its outstanding location, the Sunset Grille can’t help being a touristy stop. The afternoon we were there, everybody was taking pictures and there’s a wall of souvenir T-shirts for sale. But it offers good sandwiches, a beautiful setting and the essential Floriday Keys tiki bar experience. And at lunch, at least, prices are reasonable.

Sunset Grille gets and handles crowds. There’s a big bar and restaurant under a tall chickee structure with great views. A few steps below, there’s a pool with a bar and more seating overlooking the water and bridge.

A favorite among things to do in Marathon: Enjoy the view and the pool at the Sunset Grille & Raw Bar. (Photo: David Blasco)
The view and the pool at the Sunset Grille & Raw Bar make it a favorite Marathon tiki bar. (Photo: David Blasco)

Sunset Grille is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The lunch menu is moderately priced. (Sandwiches starting at $11 and there’s a wide choice in the $11 to $15 range.) Dinner is pricier with fresh seafood entries from $20 to $30.

The Sunset Grille gives tourists the whole tropical fantasy drink experience with special $19.95 drinks for two, such as the Titanic, which comes in a 48-ounce fish bowl, and  mojitos and other frosty tropical choices in souvenir mugs.

Reviews are positive on Trip Advisor and a little more critical on Yelp, where some dismiss it as touristy with so-so food.

My take: You can’t beat the location and view. Enjoy breakfast or lunch, bring the kids for a swim or come for happy hour (3 to 6 p.m.) This isn’t where to expect your four-star fine dining experience. Sunset Grille website.

Key West tiki bar: Hogfish Bar & Grill, 6810 Front St., Stock Island

This hard-to-find Key West tiki bar is a favorite with locals, both for its funky, friendly vibe and its fresh, reasonably priced seafood.

With a waterfront setting, a big chickee hut and open-air dining, Hogfish is casual and unpretentious; a t-shirt and flip-flops place with seating at long picnic tables. Those sitting dockside get a kick out of feeding the fish. (This is the best use of shrimp tails you’ll ever find.) On weekends, there is live music (and it can get loud.)

Hogfish is famous for two specialties – fresh Key West pink shrimp and a sandwich called the Killer. Neither disappointed. It also offers a good variety of craft beers.

Here’s a complete post about Hogfish Bar & Grill.

A few more of our favorites Florida Keys tiki bars:

Gilbert’s Tiki Bar, Key Largo (MM107.9 Bayside) — If you are anxious to get into the Keys, it is likely you have breezed right past this Keys institution. Are you missing anything? You betcha. This large palm-roofed tiki bar rocks, especially on weekends as boaters making passage via Jewfish Creek pause for libation. Endlessly entertaining, this crossroads is tucked under the Jewfish Creek Bridge, linking the mainland to Key Largo. Gilbert’s is a comfortable hotel and resort too.

***

Island Fish Company Tiki Bar, Marathon (MM 54 Bayside) — Longest tiki bar in the Florida Keys, this party haven rests on a spit of sand that pokes out into the bay. Often packed to the palm fronds yet spacious and airy, this saloon keeps buzzing all day long on weekends. The heliport next door provides continuous entertainment. Smack dab on the Overseas Highway, you can’t miss it on the bay side as you enter Marathon from the north.

***

Sugarloaf Lodge Tiki Bar, Sugarloaf Key (MM 17 Bayside) — When you are so close to Key West, few would think of stopping at the Sugarloaf Lodge. But those who do stop are in for a treat. Very laid back, the circular bar is nestled below a large palm-frond umbrella, overlooking a tranquil beach and bay. Nightly entertainment includes local musicians or trivia contents, and every hour is happy hour. You might also consider making this your base for visiting Key West with rooms at the lodge that are less expensive than most in Key West.

***

Geiger Key Smokehouse and Tiki Bar (MM 10.5 Bayside at the Geiger Key Marina). You’d never know this cool little tiki bar even existed until you get off the Overseas Highway on Big Coppitt Key at the Circle K (MM 10.5) and wander 1.3 miles south on Boca Chica Road to Geiger Road. I’ve never had a better version of shrimp and grits, because these were delicious Key West pinks. We loved the laid-back tiki-bar atmosphere with waterfront views that hearken to the Keys “the way they used to be.”

After dinner, we took a walk nearby on the closed roadway that runs between the beach and the US Naval Station runway at Geiger Key/Boca Chica Beach. It’s a lovely off-the-beaten track place. Note: A little hand-made sign notes this is a clothing optional beach. When we walked at sunset, there were few people there, all of them clothed. 

Did we miss your favorite Florida Keys tiki bar? 

Of course, we haven’t visited every tiki bar in the Keys: Thanks goodness, there are places still to be discovered. Did I miss your favorite spot? If so, please leave a comment below.

Resources for planning a Florida Keys vacation:

Special places to discover in the Florida Keys

Camping and lodging

  • Best tent camping in the Keys
  • Long Key State Park: Less camping but beautiful spot
  • Camping in Middle Keys: Curry Hammock State Park
  • Camping near Key West
  • Camping at the Dry Tortugas

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From the Editor:

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