The 150-mile Miami to Key West drive is one of the great American road trips. This epic Florida Key West road trip takes you from the mainland and through the fabled Florida Keys to an island that has been a refuge to many writers, presidents and everyday folks who love the slow life and stunning sunsets.
While visiting Miami for a few days we had this idea of driving up to Key West for a slice of their famous Key lime pie. While it is best to stay 2 to 3 days or at least the weekend to explore the Keys, you can also do the Miami to Key West drive in a day. Our kids love the sweet and sour taste of it so much we decide to go on a road trip to get a taste of the best slice of pie at the very source!
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Miami to Key West Drive on the Overseas Highway
The Florida Keys feels like a world away from the vibe of Miami, it almost feels like you are somewhere in the Caribbean. We have done this trip a few times since Miami is one of our favorite beach destinations. The drive takes you from Miami to Key Largo through Islamorada and eventually to Key West. Once you leave Miami, for the most part, you will be driving on the Overseas Highway, a 113-mile highway which is U.S. Route 1 through the Florida Keys. Large parts of it were built on the former Overseas Railroad, the Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway. Here are some of the stops along the Miami to Key West drive.
ROAD TRIPS AREN’T MEASURED BY MILE MARKERS, BUT BY MOMENTS.UNKNOWN
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was the first underwater park established in the United States. At this Florida State Park, you will find mangrove swamps that you can kayak in and hammocks to lounge in. But the main attraction is what lies beneath the surface. Underwater, you will find beautiful coral reefs, plenty of sea life, and there is even an underwater sculpture. It covers about 70 square nautical miles and was established to protect and preserve a portion of the only living coral reef in the continental United States. Even if you are not up to swimming or snorkeling(there are many tours you can go on), at the visitor center you can see a 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium filled with some of the same sea life you will find in the park.
A stop at the Tiki Bar & Beach, Islamorada
Our first stop on our Miami to Key West drive is always at the Tiki Bar in Islamorada. You can soak in the tiki vibes at this iconic location. In 1969, this open-air bar, located at the edge of the Holiday Isle’s marina, began serving up cocktails under the original name of The Hapi Hula Hut. And somewhere in 1971 it was officially known as the Tiki Bar. And they claim to have invented the famous Rumrunners.
The beach and Tiki Bar has unobstructed views to the west, this is also a great spot for sunset and a few cocktails. If you would rather catch a sunset then plan to stop on the way back on your Miami to Key West road trip. You can stay right here at this nostalgically beautiful beach resort (it is voted top 10 places to stay in the Florida Keys). Islamorada is situated halfway between Miami and Key West along the Overseas Highway. It has a relaxed and luxurious vibe and makes for an ideal place to stay in the Florida Keys.
Selfie with a Lobster Statue & see some art
It is hard to miss the giant lobster sitting out front at the Rain Barrel Artisan’s Village. Betsy is the name of the Florida Keys Spiny Lobster and she is the symbol of Florida Keys wildlife. Stop for a quick selfie with the lobster and take a break to wander through the art village at mile marker 86 on the Miami to Key West drive. Betsy is among the most photographed landmarks in the Florida Keys, second only to the Southernmost Point Buoy in Key West. You can find cool art, artisan made crafts and plenty of photo spots here.
Dolphin Research Center
The Dolphin Research Center provides a home for dolphins and that have been recused and rehabilitated but can’t be released back into the wild. The research center was established by Jayne and Mandy Rodriguez in 1984 as a non-profit to provide a habit for dolphins and educational experiences for visitors. Whether a dolphin or sea lion is born here or comes from a rescue or other situation, they provide a healthy, happy, home for life.
The Turtle Hospital was started in 1986 and since then they have rehabbed and released more than 1,500 turtles back into the water surrounding the Florida Keys. On your Miami to Key West road trip, stop at the Turtle Hospital to see the turtles that are currently being treated at the center. You can go on one of their 90-minute tours that start on the hour from 9 am to 4 pm every day. You can adopt a turtle, educate kids about the importance of recycling and reducing plastic use and why you shouldn’t discard the fishing line in the water.
Seven Mile Bridge
One of the most impressive bridges you will drive across on the Overseas Highway is located on the west end of Marathon in the Middle Keys. This longest bridge in Florida is between mile markers 47 and 40. The Seven Mile Bridge links Marathon with the Lower Keys. As the name implies, the bridge spans 7 miles across the sea and it quite a thrill to drive on it. During some parts of this drive, the road is so long and straight you can’t see the end of it and it feels like you are driving over water. The drive over the seven mile bridge is super scenic with turquoise waters on either side. Savor this part of the road trip in the Keys! This is the best part of the Miami to Key West drive IMO!
There is also a walking bridge that once used to be where the railway tracks were. While it spans the entire stretch some parts were under construction and not open the entire length. There are pull-offs at both ends of the bridge where you can walk up to the fishing piers to enjoy the views and take some photos.
What you see above is the ‘parallel bridge’, the remains of the Florida East Coast Railway Line that was built at the turn of the last century to link the Keys to the mainland. The railroad was destroyed in a hurricane in 1935. There are portions of the half-drowned, with some gaps and arches that still remain.
Visit the Historic Pigeon Key
Pigeon Key is a nice detour if you have time. At the far end of Seven Mile Bridge is the separate wreck of an iron bridge that veers off towards an island called Pigeon Key. Pigeon Key nestled under the bridge is an interesting historic site. It is a tiny island that was a base for railway workers during the early 1900s. The old buildings are still preserved and there is also a small museum you can visit to learn about the island and the workers that lived on the island.
It used to be possible to access Pigeon Key from the old Seven Mile Bridge but the entrance is currently closed due to the restoration of the old bridge. The only way to reach Pigeon Key is by ferry. The Pigeon Key Foundation runs daily historical tours which include ferry tickets and tour costs. Daily historical tours run at 10 am, 12 pm, and 2 pm and the Pigeon Key Ferry leaves the Visitor’s Center located at 2010 Overseas Highway Marathon, FL 33050.
Bahia Honda State Park
Bahia Honda State Park is home to one of the best beaches in the Florida Keys and is worth a stop. There aren’t many natural sandy beaches in the Keys! This postcard-perfect park with palm trees and soft sand is a lovely place for a swim. The park is said to have one of the largest remaining stands of the threatened silver palms. You can just enjoy balmy sea breezes on the shores or rent kayaks and snorkeling gear and go on boat trips to the reef for snorkeling excursions. The entrance to the park is located between Mile Markers 37 and 36. Don’t miss the Old Bahia Honda Bridge which offers a panoramic view of the water and the islands.
UFO sighting near Marathon
Somewhere along the Overseas Highway, Mr. Suburbia who watches way too much Sci-Fi movies thought he saw a UFO. One minute he was driving down the highway 1 to the Florida Keys, and the next he stopped, got his camera out. He pointed at the sky to get a closer look at the motionless and metallic object he saw high in the sky, that looked like a UFO. He kept tracking the object and driving again till he stopped at one of the parking lots nearby. He stopped a local who was getting into his car with some supplies from a hardware store to ask – “Sir, do you see that shiny object in the sky?” For which the man quietly replied – “you mean the blimp!”.
We later read online that the shiny UFO, in fact, is a blimp, called Fat Albert a radar aerostat that the US Drug Enforcement Administration used to keep an eye on shipping hereabouts. Fat Albert has been out of commission these days. Mr. Suburbia is still not convinced though, he thinks it was shiny, motionless and didn’t move like a blimp, we still tease him about it!
As you make your way further south, into the Lower Keys the scenery gets more natural and less populated until you get to the popular keys like Key West. While there may not be as many signs there are still many places to explore in this more rugged and wild stretch of the Florida Keys. Keep your eye out for wildlife, pelican, and other birds.
Best Things To Do in Key West
Once the vacation getaway for Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and President Harry S. Truman, the island is home to more than a few historical treasures. Museums are scattered throughout, but the most activity is concentrated on the island’s western half. Duval Street is a particularly lively area for souvenir shoppers, dining and nightlife. And you have to stop at the Mile Marker Zero where the Highway 1 officially ends.
Key West, the tropical island city that lies in the southernmost point of the continental United States. It offers plenty of ways to enjoy its coastal spot, including sailing, snorkeling and kayaking tours and has several nice beaches. But beyond its outdoor pursuits, Key West also lays claim to have the best key lime pie and we have to agree!
Our first stop in Key West was the bright concrete buoy that marks the Southernmost Point of the US. We then went to check out Smathers Beach and spent some time exploring Duval street. I loved walking through the historic district and seeing all the colorful houses. There were roosters running around the streets and fresh coconut stands. We, of course, had to stop and get a few fresh coconuts… So yummy and refreshing!
Then it was time for the best Key Lime pie in all of the land. We got to enjoy a perfectly sweet and tart slice of Key Lime Pie at Roof Top Café, one of the top restaurants in Key West! My kids vouch that this was the best slice they have ever tasted and still talk about it every time they get to eat a slice of key lime pie! Kermit’s Kitchen Cafe (200 Elizabeth St, Key West, FL) is another great spot for a quick breakfast or lunch. It has that unique Key West charm plus they have key lime printed table tops on the patio.
Ernest Hemmingway called Key West home from most of 1930s. While visiting Key West, you can visit the home he shared with his wife Pauline. We visited the Ernest Hemingway house that now is a museum. He wrote many of his best-known novels in this house, surrounded by his books and his large tribe of cats. Among the things he abandoned in the house, when he left for Cuba was a little sculpture of a cat, given to him by Picasso. We saw his writing desk, furniture and other items like his hat and also some posters of his work on the wall. If you can stop at only one place, I recommend adding this to your Florida Keys road trip itinerary.
This sandy beach located on the southern shoreline of Key West is considered the best beach on the island. It has white sand and not usually that crowded. Just bring a beach towel and find a spot to lounge around and enjoy the sun and sand.
Southernmost Point Buoy & Marker
This painted concrete buoy is a popular photo spot in Key West. It marks the piece of land furthest south in the Continental United States. From here Cuba is only 90 miles away. Taking a photo here is a must on you Miami to Kew West road trip. Did you know that 1,700 islands make up the Florida Keys and the spot where the buoy sits is not really the southernmost point?
A more southern part of Key West Island exists and it is the beach area of Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. Also, technically the Big Island of Hawaii is farther south than Key West. The true southernmost point in Florida (as well as in the continental United States) is actually 10 miles away at Ballast Key (24°31’15.9″N 81°57’49.5″W), an island south and west of Key West.
Mile Marker Zero
Another spot to visit to mark the end of your Miami to Key West drive in the Mile Marker Zero. This officially marks the end of the road Highway One. Mile Marker Zero. There are actually two signs, one on each side of the road, one that marks the beginning and one that marks the end of the road. Go ahead and take a photo in each to celebrate your Florida Keys road trip!
Driving down south on the Florida Keys on the Florida Scenic Highway 1, the mile markers descend in numbers like a rolling countdown and eventually end at Mile Marker 0 in Key West.
The mile-long Duval street was the main thoroughfare for Old Town with shopping and entertainment. It was named for Florida’s first Territorial Governor, William Pope Duval, when Key West was the largest and richest city in the state. It still retains that old-world charm. Duval Street is much like Bourbon Street in New Orleans. There is always some live music and entertainment going on and Duval street has a reputation for great nightlife. Duval Street also has some of Key West’s most popular restaurants and boutique shops.
Walking tour of Key West
A walking tour of Key West is one of the best ways to explore the Old Town area. Better known as the Key West Historic District, Old Town comprises of Mallory Square, Duval Street, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, and few other historic homes. The streets are lined with bungalows including Ernest Hemingway House and Harry Truman Winter White House.
You can download a free app called Explore Historic Key West before leaving home and use it as a guide for your walking tour. There is also a printed guide, Pelican Path Self-Guided Tour of Key West, which you can print out and bring along. If you are short on time, you can always take the trolley tour.
Truman’s Little White House
The Little White House was originally built in 1890 as naval command headquarters during the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II. In 1946, President Harry Truman used this house as his winter vacation home and because he spent so many working vacations here, it became known as the Little White House. Since Truman’s days, many other presidents have also vacationed here, including Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Today, the Little White House has been restored and turned into a museum.
Sunset cruise in Key West
If you are spending the weekend in Key West and have a few days in town one of the best things to do is a sunset cruise. From sailing to sunset catamaran cruises to renting your own boat, the options are endless for sunset cruises in Key West. As the sun begins to sink, you will sail past Mallory Square, Sunset Pier, and Sand Key Tower Lighthouse while on a sunset cruise. Most cruises departing from the Historic Seaport. While it was on our wishlist we didn’t have the time for it.
Sunset at Mallory Square
If you can’t make it on a sunset cruise in Key West the next best thing is watching the sunset at Mallory Square. It is a Key West tradition! At Mallory Square a sunset is not just a sunset; it’s a toast to the day that went exceedingly well and is in anticipation of the incredible day to come. Because there is no bad day in Key West and every sunset is the reason for celebration. Be warned though, Mallory Square is one of the most popular Key West attractions is extremely crowded, especially with cruise ship passengers.
The Dry Tortugas National Park
The Dry Tortugas are a group of 7 uninhabited islands that lie about 70 miles west of Key West. The islands are home to abandoned Fort Jefferson and preserved as a part of the Dry Tortugas National Park. You can visit the Dry Tortugas National Park as a day trip From here, you can choose between the Yankee Freedom III ferry ride or go in by seaplane. Dry Tortugas is the most remote and least visited national parks in the country.
It is possible to reserve a camping spot in Dry Tortugas; however, please know that it will be a primitive camping experience with no access to Internet or cell connectivity, electricity, running water, or even food and water. You have to bring everything in yourself.
Dry Tortugas once served as a naval base for the United States Government then as a Marine Biology Laboratory. Fort Jefferson was the largest all-masonry fort in the United State and was built to protect the nation’s gateway to the Gulf of Mexico. The strategic location of the Dry Tortugas brought a large number of vessels through its surrounding waters as they connect the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The fort was used as a prison during the Civil War and as a seaplane base during World Wars.
Once you make it to Dry Tortugas NP there is plenty to do including touring the historic Fort Jefferson, walking on the moat built around the castle, snorkeling in its crystal clear waters, and going on a moat walk. The moat walk is a flat and less than .5 miles long on a concrete sidewalk that frames Dry Tortugas’ Fort Jefferson. You will be surrounded by breathtakingly turquoise water making it the most beautiful moat walks you’ll ever do!
Best Time for Florida Key West road trip
The best time to visit Key West is said to be between March and May. The winter crowds will taper off, and the weather is remarkably is in the pleasant 70s and 80s. Winter is the island’s busiest and priciest season. Usually, hurricane season runs from June to November. The best time to plan a Miami to Key West drive is from November to May.
I hope you find this Florida Key West Road trip Itinerary useful when planning your Miami to Key West drive. While I highly recommend spending at least a weekend in Key West, you can also do the drive in a day, if you are desperate for that authentic slice of pie. Of course, you can’t stop at all the locations and mile markers mentioned above, just pick and choose the ones you want to visit.
How far would you go to find the very best slice of Key lime pie?
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