TODAY'S PAPER
42° Good Afternoon
42° Good Afternoon
Travel

Florida Keys road trip: Where to stop along the way 

An aerial photo of Key West, Florida, the

An aerial photo of Key West, Florida, the southernmost city in the continental United States and last of the islands in the Florida Keys island chain. Credit: Florida Keys News Bureau / Laurence Norah

The Florida Keys have kicked off the new decade by giving you more ways to go wild. I don’t mean just the kind of partying indigenous to Key West’s infamous Duval Street. Island-hop the 125-mile coral archipelago, hugged by crystal blue-key lime green waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, and hike, bike, paddle, snorkel and dive in natural settings from the edge of the Everglades to mangrove forests to sand and sea.

In the spirit of adventure, why not make a road trip to remember? Rent a car at Miami International Airport and take the 113-mile Florida Keys Overseas Highway (U.S. Highway 1) all the way down through the Keys. The trip takes four hours, but allow at least four days for a Keys-worthy journey. 

“It’s the only tropical destination you can road trip to,” said New Yorker Bob Murray

To help roadtrippers sightsee along the way, the new Florida Keys and Key West Travel App offers southbound and northbound driving tours between Key Largo and Key West. The app alerts you to upcoming scenic and historical points such as parks, wildlife refuges and marinas. IOS and Android. (fla-keys.com/app.)

Don’t want to drive both ways? Fly back to LaGuardia or Newark from Key West International Airport (EYW).

Here are some Key stops to make as you drive south.

Key Largo

Explore and play:

At Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge (fws.gov), glimpse tropical plants and animals in three habitats: tropical hardwood hammock, mangrove forest, and salt marsh. Off Card Sound Road or SR 905.

At John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (pennekamppark.com), snorkel reefs at America’s first underwater park — or hop a 6-mile glass-bottom boat tour. Mile Marker 102.5.

A two-hour Enviro-tour on a Caribbean Watersports (caribbeanwatersports.com) cruises the Florida Bay's Everglades Marine Habitat in a cool inflatable tube craft. Mile Marker 98.

Where to stay: 

To the west, Everglades National Park’s Flamingo region (flamingoeverglades.com) offers overnight camping at 20 new furnished eco-tents and on 42-foot houseboats. Go on a classic airboat tour while there. Bungalows Key Largo (bungalowskeylargo.com) (Mile Marker 99), an adults-only luxury all-inclusive, opened in December.

Where to eat:

Dig into homestyle cooking in a mom-and-pop-arty setting at Mrs. Macs Kitchen (mrsmacskitchen.com). Mile Marker 99.3.

Islamorada

Explore and play: 

Stroll oceanfront Anne’s Beach Park (islamorada.fl.us) along a new elevated 1,300-foot-long wooden boardwalk, then visit its pet-friendly beach edged with new visitor-friendly facilities. Mile Marker 73.5.

At Robbie’s Marina, Sundance Watersports (robbies.com/snuba-the-reef.htm) now offers guided SNUBA, a snorkeling-scuba mix that doesn’t require dive certification. The 2.5-hour dive’s locations include Hen and Chickens, Cheeca Rock and Alligator Lighthouse. Or paddle by SUP, canoe or kayak. Mile Marker 77.5.

A Family Fun Boat Tour Co. (familyfunboattours.com) (Mile Marker 85.9), On the Reef Charters (onthereefcharters.com) (Mile Marker 80.4) and Keyz Charters (keyzcharters.com) (Mile Marker 77.5) offer boat and snorkeling eco-tours around the coral reef and the Everglades, with the chance to see fish, crocodiles, manatees, dolphins, turtles and sunsets.

Where to stay:

Postcard Inn Beach Resort and Marina (holidayisle.com) (Mile Marker 84) and the Islander Resort (islanderfloridakeys.com) (Mile Marker 82) are recently renovated classic Keys experiences.

Where to eat: 

There’s something to satisfy every palate, including Key Lime pie, at Midway Cafe (midwaycafecoffeebar.com) (Mile Marker 80.5). For fresh catch with Instagram views, eat outdoors at sunset at Lorelei Restaurant & Cabana Bar (loreleicabanabar.com) (96 Madeira Road) or Chef Michael’s (foodtotalkabout.com) (Mile Marker 81.6). 

Marathon

Explore and play:

On the site of the old Hidden Harbor Motel, the Turtle Hospital (turtlehospital.org) rehabilitates rescued sea turtles. Visit patients and learn about treatments for animals harmed by litter and pollution. Mile Marker 48.5.

Seven Mile Bridge, among the world’s longest segmental bridges, connects Marathon at Mile Marker 46.75 to Sunshine Key at Mile Marker 40. Just north of the bridge on Pigeon Key, base camp for workers who constructed Henry Flagler's Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad (running 1912-1935), check out the museum.

Snorkel in a 200,000-gallon saltwater tank at new Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters (floridakeysaquariumencounters.com). Mile Marker 53.

Where to stay:

Eco-certified Grassy Flats Resort & Beach Club (grassyflats.com) recently opened in Grassy Key. Mile Marker 58.

Near Marathon on Florida Bay, a “Deadliest Catch” star has opened Conch Key Fishing Lodge & Marina (conchkeyfishinglodge.com), a cozy place with a saltwater pool, beach, Tiki hut, grills, and rental boats. Mile Marker 62.

Where to eat: 

Keys Fisheries (keysfisheries.com) is a locals’ favorite for fresh-off-the-boat. It’s about flavor, not frills. 3502 Gulfview Ave.

Lower Keys

Explore and play: 

The new Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Nature Center (fws.gov) on Big Pine Key showcases four refuges: National Key Deer (Big Pine; opened in 1957 to protect the petite Key deer), Great White Heron (Big Pine), Crocodile Lake (Key Largo) and Key West. Mile Marker 30.5. 

Guides with Key West Eco Tours (keywestecotours.com) can lead you on backcountry mangrove trails by kayak or SUP to track tropical birds and dolphins for two hours. At Geiger Key Marina. Mile Marker 10.5.

Where to stay: 

Within National Key Deer Wildlife Refuge on Big Pine Key, lodge at Deer Run on the Atlantic (deerrunontheatlantic.com), a recently reopened Florida-certified green lodging B&B that is a 100% vegan establishment. 1997 Longbeach Rd.

Tucked in Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, family-owned Sugarloaf Lodge and its locally beloved Tiki bar overlook Sugarloaf Sound. Mile Marker 17.

Where to eat: 

The local couple who opened Milagro Restaurant and Bar (milagrorestaurant.net) in 2017 cooks up cosmopolitan Keys-country fare. Mile Marker 31.

Sugarloaf Lodge’s new gulfside restaurant South of the Seven serves seafood, sandwiches and salads. 

Key West

Explore and play:

Now you’ve reached Mile Marker 0.

The popular historic Old Town district never gets old, from its free daily waterfront carnival to tasty-homey restaurants to its live music, sports, pool and wine bars. An eco and economizing tip: the free Duval Loop Bus (carfreekeywest.com/duval-loop-bus) runs through downtown every 15 minutes 10 a.m. to midnight and every 30 minutes 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Diversity distinguishes Key West’s attractions. The bar scene ranges from storied haunts such as Captain Tony's Saloon (capttonyssaloon.com), on the site of Hemingway’s favorite hangout, to Aqua Key West (aquakeywest.com), a saucy spot where your group can sign up for Drag 101 and learn how to be a drag queen. At Key West Smuggler’s (keywestsmuggler.com) new tasting room, sample its tropical twist on a 136-year-old family bourbon recipe. 

The Key West Art and Historical Society’s (keywest.oncell.com) new Key West Historic Marker Tour maps spotlight 125 self-guided historic sites and list walking tours themed to Maritime an Shipwrecks, Architectural, Cigar, Cuban/Bahamian and Black Heritage. Free “Voices in History” (kwhmt.org) phone tour at 305-507-0300.

Key West Literary Seminar’s (kwls.org/tour) 90-minute Literary Walking Tours depart from Key West’s public library and conclude near on Greene Street. Featured Key West authors include Ralph Ellison,Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams. Fridays and Saturdays. Reservations required.

Work off that Key Lime pie by climbing 88 steps up to vast views at Key West Lighthouse, built in 1825 (kwahs.org/museums). Give in to the urge to snap a selfie at Southernmost Point Buoy, marking the southern tip of the continental United States.

Where to stay:

The Perry Hotel Key West (perrykeywest.com) on Stock Island has opened an outdoor venue for lawn yoga, movies and pool parties. The Reach Key West (reachresort.com) reopened in December with a terrace by the natural sand beach and a gazebo extending over the Atlantic Ocean. IBIS Bay Beach Resort’s (ibisbayresort.com) new supersized Mile High Suite overlooks Florida Bay and pairs 1950s-era furniture with modern kitchen.

On the island’s eastern side, New Town beckons with Smather's Beach and new lodging such as the Gates Hotele.

Where to eat:

Try inventive bites at Garbo’s Grill, brunch at Moondog Café, coastal comfort food at Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen + Bar, and nautical gourmet at Little Pearl. In NewTown: Cuban-accented Rum Row, Republica Bar & Lounge and the Blind Pig food truck’s Conch-fusion tapas. “Conch” is a nickname for Key West locals.

Dry Tortugas

Explore and play:

Seventy miles west, explore the coral formations of Dry Tortugas National Park (nps.gov/drto). Catamaran sailboats navigate shallow waters and uninhabited keys that frame Key West’s famous sunsets.

Where to stay:

High-speed ferries and catamarans can take you to camp overnight at the Dry Tortugas.

Getting there: 

The Florida Keys island chain is linked to mainland Florida by the Overseas Highway. You can fly to and from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Key West, including some new nonstop flights.

INFO: fla-keys.com, 800-FLA-KEYS

Comments

We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

Travel Extras