Miami has long been a popular vacation destination thanks to its long beaches, all-day pool parties, and that year-round Florida heat. But if you’re looking to escape the busyness of the city and find a real Florida retreat, head south of Miami to the Florida Keys. Here you’ll find one of the most beautiful and fun drives in the United States. This article will tell you exactly how to have the perfect road trip down the Florida Keys!
1) GETTING STARTED
The drive down the Florida Keys is simple, consisting of one way down and one way back on the highway US 1. Because there is only one main road down the Keys, it makes it much easier to find particular stops along the way: by their mile markers. Follow US 1 down the Keys and you will eventually get to your final destination at Mile Marker 0 in Key West.
You can make it to Key West in one day from Miami, but if it’s your first time taking this drive, I highly suggest stopping at one of the other Keys for the night (or two!) and making your way down slowly. Here are some of my favorite ways to enjoy the journey.
2) TRY FAMOUS FLORIDA KEYS FOODS (ANYWHERE)
Conch fritters are one of the Keys’ most popular dishes. These fritters are made with conch meat, flour, egg, milk, peppers, and onions, and are usually rolled into a ball and fried. You can find them at just about any restaurant on the way down, so take your pick! They are the perfect snack to keep on hand for the drive, and are some of the freshest, tastiest conch fritters you can find in the country.
Another can’t miss food is Key Lime Pie. Key limes thrive in the tropical weather in the Florida Keys and have become a staple of the island chain. Despite key limes being green, the juice is yellow, and an authentic key lime pie is yellow. There are stores in the Keys that serve only key lime items, but you can get a slice of pie just about anywhere.
3) SNORKEL OR DIVE AT JOHN PENNEKAMP KEY LARGO (MILE MARKER 102.5)
The first Key you will come to is Key Largo, which is famous for having the first underwater park in the United States. John Pennekamp is a Coral Reef State Park where you can do nearly any water tour you want. Kayaking, paddle boarding, scuba diving, snorkeling, and even a glass bottom boat are just some of the activities offered at the park, or you can of course relax in the sun on the beach. The Florida Keys, and Key Largo in particular, is a great place to check out the vibrant underwater life, colorful fish, and shipwrecks characteristic of the area.
4) TAKE A QUIRKY PIC AT RAIN BARREL SCULPTURE GALLERY (MILE MARKER 86.7)
There are many places to take a quirky pic while driving down US 1. Whether it’s an oversized purple beach chair or the underwater murals at the scuba diving museum, there are lots of options to choose from. One popular place to stop is at the Rain Barrel Sculpture Gallery where you can pose with the gigantic lobster out front.
5) FEED THE TARPON AT ROBBIE’S MARINA (MILE MARKER 84.5)
For a truly unique experience, stop at Robbie’s Marina to feed the tarpon. Tarpon are giant, silvery fish that live in the Atlantic Ocean and can measure up to 2.5 meters in length. Because of their strength and fighting spirit, tarpons are generally caught for sport and then released, rather than eaten. There are more than 100 tarpon that come to Robbie’s Marina daily and you can pay a few dollars to feed them some small fish. If you’re lucky, you may catch them when they jump out of the water you’ll see just how big they are. While there, you can also learn about the excitement that is tarpon fishing!
6) STOP FOR LUNCH IN ISLAMORADA (MILE MARKER 81-82)
Islamorada is the perfect place to stop and take a break for lunch. One great options is Islamorada Fish Co. at Mile Marker 82. This lunch spot is right on the water and serves fresh seafood and sandwiches. There is a nice sandy area to sit down and relax under the palm trees.
You can also enjoy a delicious oceanside lunch at Morada Bay Beach Cafe at Mile Marker 81.6. This café has the tables right on the sand next to the water and is another fun place to take a break from driving. Soak in the sun and salty ocean air before hopping back in the car to continue on your journey.
7) WALK THE SANDBAR AT ANNE’S BEACH (MILE MARKER 73.5)
Anne’s Beach is a spot you can easily miss if you don’t keep your eyes out for it. In fact, I didn’t even know it existed until I was driving down the highway and noticed people standing in shallow water far out into the ocean. Anne’s Beach is essentially a giant sandbar. You can walk quite far out from the shore and only be up to your knees in water. Since the water is so shallow, it is extremely warm and feels like bath water. However, since 2017, Anne’s Beach has been under construction after Hurricane Irma destroyed most of the boardwalk along the shore, so check for updates before you go!
8) STOP TO ADMIRE THE WARM TURQUOISE WATERS OF THE FLORIDA KEYS (ANYWHERE)
One of the best things about the Florida Keys is the vibrant turquoise color of the water. Since it’s easy to make a pit stop off of U.S. 1, keep your eyes open along the way for spots of turquoise and pull over for a photo or to dip your toes in and admire your beautiful surroundings.
9) DRIVE THE SEVEN MILE BRIDGE (MILE MARKER 47)
If you’re driving all the way down to Key West, you will eventually hit the Seven Mile Bridge. Aptly named, it will take you on a seven mile drive over the ocean. If you want to stop and stretch your legs, you can walk part of the old bridge. While the main part is currently under construction, you can still walk part of the south end or you could take a walk on the Long Key Bridge, which is the second longest bridge in the Keys. You’ll find the Long Key Bridge just after the Seven Mile Bridge.
10) SWIM AT BAHIA HONDA (MILE MARKER 37)
Bahia Honda State Park is one of my favorite stops in the Keys. The beaches are beautiful and it’s a great place to swim, snorkel, bike, or even camp. Like Anne’s Beach, the water is warm and it’s easy to spend several hours here. Take the short walk up to an old bridge to get views of the beaches from above, and maybe even stay the night to sleep under the stars and wake up to the sound of waves.
11) VISIT ERNEST HEMINGWAY’S HOUSE (KEY WEST)
Renowned writer, Ernest Hemingway, owned a house right in the heart of Key West, which is now a museum open to visitors. The house is quite charming and Hemingway lived and wrote here for more than ten years. If you’re a Hemingway fan, you’ll get a glimpse into the world and culture that influenced so many of his writings. But the best part? The place is filled with cats. More than 40 six-toed cats. Apparently, Hemingway owned a six-toed cat, and this cat’s dependents continue to live at and roam freely around the house!
12) LAY ON THE BEACH AT FORT ZACHARY TAYLOR STATE PARK (KEY WEST)
One thing to know about Key West is that many of the beaches are not great. It’s a bit surprising considering how beautiful the water is, but a great place to go instead is Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. While it is a bit rocky, the water is turquoise and the beaches are pretty. You can also tour the fort, which has many Civil War cannons in the walls and displayed around the grounds.
13) BAR HOP ON DUVAL STREET (KEY WEST)
Duval Street is the famous bar street in Key West and is filled with all sorts of different bars, restaurants, and live music. Here you will find some quirky Key West gems, such as The Smallest Bar in Key West, as well as a bar with money stapled all over the inside. Wherever you go, you’ll be sure to find something unique and to have a great evening in celebration of completing your journey.
14) ATTEND THE SUNSET CELEBRATION AT MALLORY SQUARE (KEY WEST)
Key West has a Sunset Celebration every single night, and for good reason. Every sunset I’ve seen here has been amazing. Mallory Square has no shortage of entertainment while you stroll along the water waiting for the sun to go down. Enjoy magicians, jugglers, clowns, musicians, and artists while sampling some of the food from local vendors. Or you can take a sunset cruise or even a sunset flight around the island just as the sun sets.
15) TAKE A PICTURE AT THE SOUTHERNMOST POINT IN THE U.S. (MILE MARKER 0)
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the final stop on your road trip. Key West is as far south as you can get in the Continental United States. You can document that moment by taking a picture at the Southernmost Point where you will be only 90 miles from Cuba! You can also find Mile Marker 0 at the end of U.S. 1 for a photo op by the sign.
While Miami might be the place to visit for sunny beaches and city nightlife, if you’re looking for an escape from the crowds and tourists, don’t miss a road trip through the Florida Keys. You’ll find delicious local seafood, stunning ocean parks, quirky bars, and lots of history, culture, and breathtaking sunsets along the way!
We hope that this article has inspired you to take a road trip down the Florida Keys. If you have any questions about the destination please leave these in the comments below.
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Read More About Florida:
- 5 Fantastic Florida Kayak Escapes
- The Best Of Key West – Beyond Duval Street
- Dry Tortugas National Park: A Fortress In The Sea