When people think about the Florida Keys, most thoughts instantly go to Key West, perhaps most notable for being American author, Ernest Hemingway’s stomping ground. But, there’s so much more to The Florida Keys than Key West and that’s what we’ll cover in this blog!
So, whether you’re a Florida local dreaming of an island getaway close to home or, a traveler searching for a US road trip of a lifetime, your girl Geeves here has you covered! Read on as I share things to do on your Miami to Key West drive, from the upper to middle keys! Let’s start this adventure!
Because there’s so much to do on a Miami to Key West Roadtrip, I’m breaking it up for you in a 2 part series:
Part 1: Upper & Middle Keys (Key Largo to Marathon)
Part 2: Middle to Lower Keys (Marathon to Key West)
In this blog, I share…
- The Miami to Key West drive
- What to do on Miami to Key West roadtrip
- Where to stay
- Where to eat
Miami to Key West Roadtrip: Upper to Middle Keys
The “Keys”, as they are affectionately known, are made up of over 1,700 islands and cover more than 190 square miles. 43 of these islands can be reached via the bridges and roads that make up the basis for this exciting roadtrip ideas I’ll share below.
The Miami to Key West Drive
You may want to know whether the drive from Miami to the Keys worth it… Absolutely! It’s a whole different world down there, so much so that it often feels like you’re outside of the U.S. Whereas Miami is very much metropolitan with a hint of beach vibes, the Florida Keys are all beach vibes with a hint of city vibes (minus the skyscrapers).
Starting from Miami, you’ll head out onto Highway 1. Don’t panic about getting gas, there are plenty of places to gas up along the road. You’ll know you’re heading in the right direction when you reach Overseas Highway or, “the highway that goes to the sea”.
The Florida Keys is measured by mile markers as you’ll see while driving the Florida Overseas Highway. It starts off at mile marker 127 in Florida City and ends in Key West at mile marker 0.
The drive from Miami to the Keys is a few hours. Pace yourself so you can enjoy the beautiful scenery all around. The first thing you’ll notice is how blue the water is!
“Key” literally comes from the Spanish word “cayo” which means “small island”.
Key Largo: Mile Marker 99.2
The first key you will hit is the one referenced in the classic Beach Boys song… Kokomo, Key Largo. The largest of the keys, Key Largo has a lot going on. It’s the self proclaimed Diving Capital of the World and home to one of the world’s largest artificial reefs, the 510-foot USS Spiegel Grove, John Pennekamp State Park and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
This is a good time to stop for water and last minute road trip essentials.
- Publix supermarket
Don’t forget to grab sunblock (in case you forgot to get it) and BUG SPRAY!
You’ll want to stop here for some classic Cuban Coffee and Pastelitos, a Cuban pastry that is filled with a variety of flavors from sweet to savory. Guava is my personal favorite. This bakery is open 24/7 so, no matter what your arrival time is, there’s no reason to ever miss some of this goodness.
Is your Miami to Key West Roadtrip on a Budget?
Calculate the cost of gas for your trip with this handy dandy calculator.
Make sure to pull over safely and take a look at the mural by esteemed artist Wyland. It was the final “Whaling Wall” in a series of 100 murals that the artist painted around the globe. Highlighting the 3rd largest coral barrier reef in the world, that is Florida’s Barrier Reef which borders the Keys.
- John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park: Mile Marker 102.5
If you’re planning on spending the day or some time here, you’ll want to head over to the very first Underwater State Park, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Here, you’ll find activities to fit everyone’s style, be it snorkeling, scuba diving, glass bottom boat tours or, just lounging on the beach. You can also camp for just $36/night.
NOTE: Unlike many stops along the route from Key Largo to Key West, this is paid beach access as it is a state park.
Tavernier: Mile Marker 91
Next is Tavernier, one of my favorite places to stay. For me, it’s centrally located and is technically part of the unincorporated portion of Key Largo. If you’re spending a very long time in the Keys, renting an Airbnb is your best bet! Airbnbs here are mostly located on the canals.
While I promised locals I would not give away the exact location of the canals, I can’t contain my excitement when I tell you that I saw more manatees every morning here than I ever did during my paid tours elsewhere in the state.
These “elephants of the sea” gracefully swam by each and every day for the entirety of my 3 month stay. I would see them at my boat dock, while I was paddle boarding and literally passing underneath my belly as I swam in the late afternoon. It was the most beautiful experience, I literally cried underwater, haha.
- JSK Watersports
You can’t enjoy a Miami to Key West drive without a little adventure. Keep the adrenaline going hop on a jet ski at JSK Watersports. I recommend booking a private tour if your budget and schedule allow. Your tour guide will lead you through the island’s waterways with mangroves, beaches and if you have time, the infamous Toilet Seat Reef. Yes, you read that right. It’s a must see for the quirky tourist in all of us. 😉
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Islamorada: Mile Marker 113
Islamorada will be the next key in this island chain. Made up of 6 islands, Islamorada is known as the Sport Fishing Capital of the World! There is plenty here to stay busy for days.
Here, you can swim with dolphins in their Dolphins Encounter programs.
Diving more your thing? Whether you want to become Scuba Certified or are just interested in diving, there is something for you.
- Mermaid Lorelei
Don’t forget to stop by Lorelei Restaurant and Cabana Bar to view the giant mermaid that pays homage to the original “Legend of Lorelei” created by Natascha Alexandrova in 1983. The original Mermaid Lorelei sits atop the famous rock in the Rhine Valley. But you don’t have to go that far to see this giant beauty. She sits at the entrance of the restaurant, which is routinely voted as “The Best Spot for Sunset in the Keys”. Florida Keys resident and internationally acclaimed artist, Wyland gave the famous landmark mermaid a facelift in 2020.
Get inspired to go 20k leagues under the sea. Ok maybe just a bit of snorkeling or recreational diving. Many shops here to choose from.
Where to Stay in Islamorada: La Jolla Resort
I’ve stayed a few great places in Islamorada on a Miami to Key West roadtrip but, this is my absolute favorite. This no frills resort on the Gulf side of the island offers waterfront access and endless views. It made me feel like I was living inside a Jimmy Buffet song. Lay in the hammock, ride a bike, or use one of the included water crafts like paddle boards or kayaks. The fact that rentals are included in the stay for free makes this my top spot.
Get your camera out, you’ll see lots of iguanas!
Where to Eat & Drink in Islamorada
- Islamorada Beer Company
BONUS! Right across the street is Islamorada Beer Company! I rode my bike right over because… what’s a Miami to Key West roadtrip without a few delicious drinks? You can either grab some great beer to-go or sit back in the palm tree covered outdoor area while sampling some beer or martini flights and enjoying beach treats like ahi tacos, nachos or many other offerings.
On your Miami to Key West roadtrip, you’ll appreciate the easiness of this casual grab & go place. They have everything you could want from sandwiches and pastries to-go to gourmet pizzas and entrees. They pride themselves on being a restaurant, pizzeria, deli, bakery and espresso bar. Phew.. that was a mouthfull! I took some sandwiches and salads to-go, back to my resort on the beach (I mention later).
A bit further down the road is a personal favorite…
- Marker 88 Restaurant
You guessed it.. Marker 88 Restaurant is at Mile Marker 88! The location is absolutely incredible. with stunning waterfront views and gliding tables you can sit at on the beach while enjoying a key lime martini and waiting for your delicious food to be served. The laid back, beach side dining experience is the epitome of the keys. There are even iguanas!
- Robbie’s of Islamorada
You really can’t say you have been to Islamorada without stopping here. From feeding the Tarpon to dining on the water, it’s a one stop shop at Robbie’s You can even book a snorkel trip or a fishing charter.
The tarpon feeding is fun, if not a little bit frightening. These giant fish can’t really bite you but tell that to yourself as you freak out as its gaping mouth closes up around your hand! Not to mention, sharks and pelicans are surrounding you, trying to take fish right out of your hand.
Can’t make it to Robbie’s? Don’t worry. Down in Key West, you’ll see plenty more tarpon!
- Morada Bay Restaurant
The wide, open, beach atmosphere and picturesque waterfront views at Morada Bay Restaurant almost make you feel like you’re at a tiki party on a private lagoon. They serve casual eats and lights bites as well as cocktails and beer (out of plastic cups). It’s a casual place so feel free to walk around with your sun dress and sandals. You can even shop from an airstream! Be prepared to see roosters randomly everywhere. 😉 I recommend coming at sunset!
Shop Florida Keys Style
That’s a Wrap!
This brings us to the middle of the Keys… But, we are nowhere near done with the archipelago adventure! Stay tuned for Miami to Key West Drive, Part 2: Middle to Lower Keys.
I hope you enjoyed my Miami to Key West Roadtrip ideas! Have you taken a Miami to Key West drive? Would you? I’d love to know in the comments below! 🙂
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