Big Pine Key
Big Pine Key is in the Florida Keys.
There's only one road: US1, the Overseas Highway. All other visitors must arrive by sea, as there is no airport. A small, private airport is available on nearby Sugarloaf Key, and a larger facility in Marathon (roughly 25 miles ENE). The island can be reached by sea, of course, though marina facilities are slim here.
Big Pine Key is bisected east/west by US1, and the other major roadway is Key Deer Boulevard, which angles NW off US1 near the geographic center of the island. There a numerous smaller roads through residential areas.
Big Pine is one of the larger Keys, and is composed of limestone bedrock, rather than being a former coral reef, as the upper Keys are. It has many native hardwood trees, as well as the pines for which it is named. Blue Hole, a former limestone quarry, is quite pretty and contains at least one fairly large alligator. Like most of the keys, there are no sand beaches here. A bridge connects the northeast side of the island to No Name Key, a sparsely-populated island with hiking trails.
While driving on Big Pine Key, care must be taken to avoid hitting the diminutive Key Deer. These tiny whitetail deer, made dwarfs from thousands of years living on the island, are roughly knee-high. From a distance at night, you may confuse them for medium-sized dogs. They have become quite acclimated to humans, and are often seen around residents' yards and grazing on roadsides. Best times to see the deer are at dusk/dawn. They are also active at night, but are most often seen in your headlights while driving (be careful!).
At the Island's main shopping plaza (Winn-Dixie, Beall's Outlet), one can observe feral chickens. Several flocks -- a black/rust-orange rooster accompanied by several darker hens -- can typically be seen pecking at the ground and crowing at each other here.
Other than observing the Key Deer/chickens, and hiking around the Blue Hole, fishing, kayaking, diving and snorkeling are common past times. Fishing charters are abundant. Solo or guided kayak trips in the backcountry are available at No Name Bridge and Sugarloaf marina. Snorkeling and dive trips are available from Innerspace Dive Center, Strike Zone Charters and the Looe Key Resort. While staying in Big Pine Key, a day in Key West is typically part of the itinerary.
There are several stores along US1, and a shopping plaza just off US1 on Key Deer Boulevard. All basic services, including a full grocery store and pharmacy are available. A limited clothing selection can be found at Beall's Outlet. A unique sandal and gift boutique, Bare Sole Sandals, is located on US1 that features "Keysey" decor and a large sandal selection. Out of the Blue Gift Shop also on US1 features works from local artists.
At the Winn-Dixie shopping plaza is a decent sit-down Chinese restaurant. The No-Name pub on the NE side of the island has excellent pizza and sandwiches. Parrotdise restaurant at mile marker 28 features seafood and a waterfront view. There are no dedicated fast-food restaurants on the island. The Wharf restaurant at mile marker 25 offers casual seafood dining and The Square Grouper restaurant at mile marker 23 offers gourmet dining.
The No-Name pub on Watson Blvd. is somewhat famous, and there are several low-key taverns along US1. Rob's Island Grill provides a sports bar atmosphere. Just a few miles down in Ramrod Key you will find Boondocks and the Looe Key Tiki Bar.
Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge has camping -- $50+ a night (a bargain for the keys), with a few gravelly tent sites and numerous RV sites (most seasonal residents fully set-up and decorated). The facilities are pretty good, with large restrooms/shower rooms and a well-stocked camp store. They also have a large/deep boat launch ramp. Key Deer occasionally wander through the grounds at night.
B&Bs include the Key Deer Inn and the Barnacle. Parmers Resort and the Dolphin Marina Cottages are also in the vicinity (Little Torch Key).
Big Pine is located roughly half-way between Vaca Key (Marathon) and Key West, so it can be easily visited while in-transit. Those who choose to camp here can reach Key West in about 40 minutes. There are some more "touristy" bars and restaurants a little further down the Overseas Highway on Ramrod Key.