Worth the Trip: Little Palm Island

little palm island
Photo by Thomas Mahr

This luxury resort in the Keys is back—and better than ever

After being walloped by Hurricane Irma in 2017, the legendary Keys resort Little Palm Island opened last spring after a complete makeover.

Everyone’s heard of Little Palm. A private island a few miles off Little Torch Key (about 30 miles north of Key West), the island has long been known as a high-end romantic getaway—no phones, no TVs, fabulous gourmet dining—the island in the stream geared for couples seeking the privacy and luxury of a privileged world apart from ordinary life.

And it’s still like that.

Guests meet at the elegant little visitor’s check-in center on Little Torch and take a private launch to the island (the island is also accessible by private boat or seaplane), which emerges from the aqua water like a British Colonial outpost in the West Indies. There are 30 thatched bungalows amid dense tropical foliage, all rimmed by the ocean, all with vaulted ceilings, cozy sitting rooms and decks, deep “boudoir” tubs, private outdoor showers and long views of the blue ocean. Guests can upgrade to an Island Romance Suite, which includes a large terraced deck with a copper outdoor tub, a couples’ lounger, and a private sand beach with a fire pit, among other amenities. Island Grand suites and Premier suites are yet another option, which offer larger apartments and first-rate amenities on the island.

Neatly kept shell paths meander through the property, and there is a pool and the outdoor Palapa bar, which is where most people I saw spent their days. Of course you can arrange for other diversions such as fishing or snorkeling expeditions, or rev yourself up at the new fitness center. Spa lovers can lose themselves in the indulgent SpaTerre (which, by the way, offers “sound therapy” with Himalayan singing bowls, which you don’t see every day on spa menus).

Still, I suspect most who stay here are happy to plant themselves pool or beachside and simply decompress, the soft Keys breezes a welcome replacement for screen time, phone time, FaceTime. (The island does have Wi-Fi, but it can be spotty.) If you can’t bear another minute without TV, you can always wander over to the stately Great Room where you can catch that must-see game or event, or lounge a little with a book or a board game.

Little Palm now, as always, offers outstanding dining; mainlanders come here sometimes just for dinner. Chef Danny Ganem, formerly of the Betsy and the Raleigh hotels in Miami, is a rock star who has elected to transcend garden-variety culinary school pretentions for genuine mastery of fine cooking, with a profound respect for locally sourced fish and produce. He excels at preparing dishes you want to eat that showcase natural flavors with nuanced combinations.

His menu at The Dining Room (with its seaside magic) changes often and offers a wide range of appetizers, from cold water oysters and Key West pink shrimp to duck Rilette cannelloni and foie gras crème brulee. There are salads and steaks, of course, but the seafood and fish is what Little Palm makes you crave.

We swooned over our grilled tripletail, the mangrove snapper, the black grouper. All were simply prepared and finished brilliantly.

There is local Florida rice on the menu as well, and a sinful corn jalapeño pudding, among other sides. The Dining Room is the jewel in Little Palm’s crown, and Chef Ganem will be your favorite person at the resort, next to the person you came with.

There’s a reason this understated luxury resort is a standard bearer for the Florida Keys at their best; there’s a reason it was voted in 2020 one of the Top 50 Best Resorts in the World, and Number 7 in the United States, by Condé Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Awards. It’s earned a reputation over the past decades, and it’s managed to exceed that now, in its new post-Irma iteration.

Little Palm Island, 28500 Overseas Highway, Summerland Key, 305/684-8341; https://www.littlepalmisland.com/

This story is from the January 2021 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.