It is enough a couple of days, a car and a short itinerary like this to enjoy and discover the Florida Keys at their best.
To be swallowed by thrilling landscapes and get lost into the marinas and into the beaches of the hundreds of islands populating this magic part of the world. Suspended as if by magic between ocean and fragments of land.
Many people drive along 300km about of the Florida Scenic Hwy 1, best known as Overseas Highway – through the wonderful Upper, Middle and Lower Keys – without practically never stop.
The goal is to reach quickly Key West to enjoy a “touch and go” day in the Southernmost continental point in the United States.
Do you want an impartial tip?
Consider to stop a couple of nights in this area and turn your journey through the Florida Keys into a unique and unforgettable experience.
Discover the Florida Keys: the Overseas Highway
From Miami the Florida Scenic Hwy 1 develops for about 260km before to reach Key West.
260km of breathtaking views and marshes soaked in the vegetation that progressively leave space to a series of islands, one more beautiful than the other.
And lagoons, little centers, inlets, small harbors for the berth of the fishing boats from which it’s possible to organize leavings for snorkelling, fishing and kayaking. Some luxurious residential complexes and beaches, many beaches of really fine white sand almost always neighbored by the local suggestive formations of mangroves.
In the middle there’s the Overseas Highway.
It’s a long, charming road – side by side with the old railroad line (by now into disuse) to Key West – going southwards, for a stretch completely neighbored by the ocean and that, as far as the eye can see, tends to mingle with the horizon line, almost it ends who knows where in an indefinite point between sky and sea.
Discover the Florida Keys: itinerary
Leaving from Miami in about 90km – passing before by Florida City and then through the east side of the Southern Glades marshes – you reach the Upper Keys.
The exploration of the Florida Keys starts exactly from here.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
One of the first legs to recommend is certainly the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, among the most wonderful undersea parks in the USA.
About 200km of paths (and really many beaches) – coral reef and Mangrove Trail included – snorkelling, diving, canoeing, kayaking or (for the laziest people) simple excursions by boats with transparent bottom to allow admiring the seabed comfortably sit.
Many tourist agencies in Key Largo organize several planned trips. My tip is to go before to the Visitor Center of the park (it is opened all days from 8am to 5pm) to value together with some Rangers (they are usually well prepared and extremely kind) the best path to set out on according to the season and your own interests.
Islamorada, the Village of Islands
30km of islands and bridges and some among the most fascinating stretches of the Overseas Highway to drive. Imagine to drive literally on a strip of land with the ocean around.
What to do? And what to see hereabout?
I’d begin with a short stop at the Hurricane Memorial, the monument – a palm bent by the wind – commemorating the almost 500 victims of the terrible hurricane that ran over the whole area in September 1935.
From here, keep going south-eastwards, you’ll run into a series of piers, open spaces linked to little beaches invaded by mangroves (Anne’s Beach is one of my favourite beaches), odd museums and improbable souvenirs stores dedicated to the sea life, the divers and the scuba divers world, and to the fishing lovers. You choose!
Then you cannot miss the stop for lunch (and also for some interesting sea excursions) at the nice Robbie’s Marina: it’s the most original marina in the Keys according to me.
You can decide to go out by kayak discovering the near islands, snorkelling, eating really fresh seafood for few dollars at the Hungry Tarpon Restaurant, located right on the pier of the little fishers’ bay invaded by Atlantic tarpons, pelicans and giants sea lions. And maybe go shopping to the near little market, the most eccentric, funny (above all due to the characters populating it) and kitsch of the southern Florida.
Duck Key, Turtle Hospital and Sombrero Beach
Duck Key is a nice “residential” islet linked to other smaller islands.
My tip is to drive and go around to enjoy some suggestive views of the ocean and so get an idea about how locals live. Have a look at the very cared alleys and gardens, the very big two story-houses with the typical marine architecture and at the very funny mailboxes with the “local fauna” shape: crocodile, sea lion, dolphin, etc.
About 25km to the south you’ll run into one of the most beautiful beaches of the Keys, Sombrero Beach, near Marathon.
A real paradise corner, completely free from the omnipresent mangroves, with a view (maybe go there at sunset) of a series of islets, that perhaps it would be better to call rocks, opening on the ocean.
The Turtle Hospital – where the turtles needing assistance are cared and rehabilitated – is about 6km far.
It’s possible and it’s advisable to take part into one of the 3 daily educational tours (above all if you’re travelling with kids) including the direct contact with the very sweet turtles, too.
Discover the Florida Keys: the Seven Mile Bridge
It’s one of the most suggestive points of the whole Overseas Highway.
It’s an 11km (7miles) bridge that in some traits runs side by side with the old railroad line to Key West.
It’s also possible to stop the car and walk a bit on the Old Seven Mile Bridge, a part of the old bridge turned into a sort of panoramic promenade.
What’s the best moment to run the Seven Mile Bridge super elevated stretch?
If you want to get an idea about how this area should be before tourism and the building trade discovered the Florida Keys, then you must allow yourselves some hours among Big Pine Key, No Name Key, Bahia Honda and Looe Key, the last group of islands before to reach the final leg of your journey: Key West.
And the snorkelling and diving paths of the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary protected area, offshore Pine Key.
Drive along this last stretch without hurry, maybe stopping in the open spaces at the sides of the road that usually hide little, nice beaches crowded mostly by locals, giving unique views of the ocean and of the near islands.
If you love vintage and the so-called fleas little markets, you cannot miss the Big Pine Flea Market, which takes place every weekend in Big Pine.
A little tip.
A refreshing stop at No Name Pub – a downright institution for the locals – will allow you to arrive to the near Key West with a full stomach and in a perfect physical form!