Twenty years ago this month, the Spiegel Grove reached its final resting place. The 500-foot Navy dock landing ship, originally commissioned in 1955 and named for the Ohio estate of former President Rutherford B. Hayes, was intentionally sunk off the coast of Key Largo in June 2002. The goal was to create an artificial reef for diving and fishing. Today, the ship sits in 130 feet of blue water. Over the last two decades, the Spiegel Grove has become one of the most spectacular wreck dives off the east coast of Florida. Fisherman also seek it out for deep-water hauls of grouper, snapper and other reef fish. For anyone looking for a weekend in or on the water, the Spiegel Grove offers an exciting option.
A number of dive operations operate out of the Key Largo and Islamorada areas. Conch Republic Divers (90800 Overseas Highway, Tavernier; 305.852.1655; conchrepublicdivers.com) has a top-notch reputation and makes regular runs to the Spiegel Grove, including private and small-party trips. A visit to the former Naval ship drops down to 100 feet below the surface, so scuba divers will need their advanced open water certification. For those who already have their basic certification, an advanced open water course can be folded into a dive on the wreck.
For anglers, the Spiegel Grove offers some of the best fishing in the Keys. Hire a local charter captain who knows the right spots to drop a line. Captain Jordan Edinger at Key Largo Fishing Adventures (99701 Overseas Highway, Key Largo; 305.942.9982; keylargofishingadventures.com) has excellent boats and an even better reputation. He takes his clients to the Spiegel Grove for grouper, snapper and hogfish. At the end of the day, the captain and his crew will clean and bag the fish—just in time for dinner.
Back on Dry Land
When it comes to dining out, the Keys knows seafood. In addition to an extensive fish-focused menu, Lazy Days in Islamorada (79867 Overseas Highway, Islamorada; 305.664.5256; lazydaysislamorada.com) will cook up a fresh catch. Choose between grilled, fried, blackened or broiled, add a side and homemade tropical bread and it’s a feast in this casual waterfront setting.
If you’re in the mood for a break from the island-casual dining options, Chef Michael’s (81671 Overseas Highway, Islamorada; 305.664.0640; foodtotalkabout.com) brings an upscale flavor to this part of the Keys. With extensive experience in fine dining, the restaurant’s chefs bring a gourmet take to local seafood. Don’t miss the lionfish creole, which is not only delicious but helps eradicate invasive lionfish from nearby coral reefs.
Though this part of the Keys has plenty of standard hotel options, a watery weekend away calls for something more distinctive. Airbnb and VRBO have got it covered; with nightly stays in houseboats and private yachts, the water is never far away.