It's inescapable: spending time in the Florida Keys is expensive. There are, however, free attractions in the islands well worth a visit. Add these three to your itinerary to enjoy local history and natural wonders without feeling a financial bite.
Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary
Located in Tavernier, the Sanctuary is home to nearly 100 birds from over 40 species. These permanent residents are birds considered non-releasable due to serious injuries. They would be unable to survive in the wild, and so live out their years in this environment.
A wooden boardwalk takes visitors past the birds' enclosures. You can stop to see information about each species, along with a bit about the individual birds.
Visitors can stop in any time between sunrise and sunset 265 days a year. The Sanctuary is free to enter, but you can leave a donation in the box at the gate.
The Keys are not known for their beaches; those looking for wide stretches of white sand would have better luck up the Gulf coast. But, the island chain does have a few notable beaches, including Anne's Beach, a natural sandy beach that is free to visit.
The park stretches along a 1,300-foot boardwalk through the mangroves and has free parking lots and restrooms at each end. There are six pavilions along the boardwalk where you can set up and enjoy a picnic.
The water is shallow; you can wade out several yards and still only be knee-deep. Seagrass is a normal feature along beaches. Wear water shoes if you have problems with the texture.
Anne's Beach is located at Mile Marker 73.5 on the Atlantic side.
Marathon Air Museum
Air travel is an integral part of Keys' history. This free museum has plenty of volunteer docents who are happy to give visitors informative tours about aviation in general and its role in the Florida Keys. Visitors get plenty of personal attention. Most docents are experienced pilots themselves who are passionate about sharing the love of flight.
Displays include a number of aircraft from different eras, such as a restored Cessna, a working replica of a WWII open-air plane, and a retired DC-3 that you can explore.
The museum is open from 10 to 4, Tuesday through Saturday, and 1 to 4 on Sundays.