Divers love the Keys, where you can see magnificent formations of tree-size elkhorn coral and giant brain coral, as well as colorful sea fans and dozens of other varieties, sharing space with 300 or more species of rainbow-hued fish. Reef diving is good all the way from Key Largo to Key West, with plenty of tour operators, outfitters, and dive shops. Particularly worthy are John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, and Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary off Big Pine Key. Skin Diver magazine picked Looe Key as the number-one dive spot in North America. Also, the clearest waters in which to view some of the 4,000 sunken ships along Florida's coast are in the Middle Keys and the waters between Key West and the Dry Tortugas. Snorkeling in the Keys is particularly fine between Islamorada and Marathon.
In Northwest Florida, the 100-fathom curve draws closer to the white, sandy Panhandle beaches than to any other spot on the Gulf of Mexico. It's too far north here for coral, but you can see brilliantly colored sponges and fish and, in Timber Hole, discover an undersea "petrified forest" of sunken planes, ships, and even a railroad car. The battleship USS Massachusetts lies in 30 feet of water just 3 miles off Pensacola. Every beach town in Northwest Florida has dive shops to outfit, tour, or certify visitors.
In the Crystal River area, north of the St. Petersburg and Clearwater beaches, you can snorkel with the manatees in the warm spring waters of Kings Bay.
If you want to keep up with what's going on statewide, you can subscribe to the monthly magazine Florida Scuba News (tel. 904/783-1610; www.scubanews.com). You might also want to pick up a specialized guidebook. Some good ones include Coral Reefs of Florida, by Gilbert L. Voss (Pineapple Press; www.pineapplepress.com), and The Diver's Guide to Florida and the Florida Keys, by Jim Stachowicz (Windward Publishing).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.