When traveling to Miami, you may want to consider taking a side-trip to the Florida Keys. If you drive all the way to Key West, you will have reached the southernmost point in the continental USA!
Between booking last-minute and during a busy school break week, the hotels were quite booked up in Key West, so we ended up doing it as a day trip from Miami. We knew it would be a quite long driving day – and it definitely was! It was a nice intro to the area for us, but we think most people will probably have happier travel memories if they spend at least one night somewhere along the Keys.
Knowing that Key West was a solid 3.5 hour drive from Miami without stops, we got an early start for the day. We were trying to minimize Miami area morning traffic and to maximize daylight. We ended up leaving the hotel at 7am, and didn’t end up returning until 9pm.
Since our hotel’s breakfast didn’t start until later, we picked up some breakfast muffins at a nearby convenience store the night before. This ended up working less well that we hoped – apparently the muffins were “expired,” and the green fuzz made it very obvious. We looked at the other snacks we picked up there – even the Oreos we bought for the car were expired! We tossed the breakfast, though we did end up eating the Oreos later anyway. We grabbed an alternate breakfast a while later at a McD’s drive-through that we stopped at along the road.
Traffic through Miami towards the Keys ended up being fine. The first parts of the Keys, however, were underwhelming – we’d heard of the Keys drive being quite scenic, but the main road at the beginning on Key Largo seemed to be a motley assortment of strip malls, auto body shops, and tourist billboards.
That said, after a while on the road, the scenery started improving. By the time we got to Robbie’s Tarpon Feeding, things were starting to change!
When we visited Robbie’s, tickets to the feeding area were modest – $2.50/person, plus $4/bucket of fish. As you stand in line, you will see lots of dollar bills stapled to the ceiling. Apparently it was a tradition that when fishermen went out to sea, they would staple a dollar to the wall or ceiling of a bar so that they would have money for a drink upon their return.
We bought 4 buckets of fish, but once we made our way to the dock, we realized that the “aggressive” pelicans were a real problem! They were hungry for fish and not afraid to let you know it.
At first, we were really worried about lowering our faces to the holes in the nets, as no one wanted a bit to the face! Fortunately, we quickly learned how to shoo the pelicans away and position ourselves to protect the person feeding the fish.
The tarpons were huge! But even more surprising was when a manatee popped up! Apparently, we did not read the signs all that carefully, and Jeremy got a shock when a monster appeared in the water!
Manatees are vegetarian, so they won’t actually eat your fish, or worse, your hand, but they are very curious and friendly. If you have a breather from the pelicans, spend some time enjoying being so close to these adorable creatures!
Lunch in Marathon
We had heard that Marathon was a good stopping point for lunch, and it didn’t disappoint. There were quite a few options, so we pulled out Yelp and selected Barracuda Grill. We were a little early for lunch, so it wasn’t super crowded, but there were quite a few locals who seemed to pop in towards the end of our lunch. The yellowtail snapper fish tacos were excellent!
Next up was the drive across the 7-mile bridge. While this is no longer considered one of the top 10 longest bridges in the world, it is still a very long bridge and you are unlikely to drive over a longer one any time soon.
As we admired “Fred”, the tree randomly growing out of the middle of the old bridge, we spent a while talking about how miserable this highway might be during a hurricane or hurricane warning.
This was also where part of the movie True Lies was filmed – our teenage boys hadn’t seen that Schwarzenegger movie, so we decided to show it to them when we got home.
Things We Skipped
While there are a ton of other things to see while driving along the Florida Keys, we simply did not have time for them. Since hotel prices/availability forced us into turning this into a day trip rather than an overnight trip, we were expecting a total of at least 7 hours of driving time – 3.5 hours each way. With only a few hours available for actual activities, we had to really pick and choose.
Things we considered doing included: visiting the History of Diving Museum, the Dolphin Research Center, or the Turtle Hospital; hiking in a Florida State Park; and/or stopping at the Blond Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory. So many choices, so little time!
By the early afternoon, we made it to Key West. Parking was a little tricky, but we found a spot.
Key West Lighthouse
Our first real stop was the Key West Lighthouse, which gave us a great view of the area, and had some background info for us (for instance, Key West used to be the biggest city in Florida 100+ years ago).
The views were fantastic and there were signs indicating what you were looking at. My funniest moment was seeing the sign for Mount Trashmore. Apparently, at 225 feet, the highest point on the Florida Keys is a former landfill. Given that the highest point in Florida is only 375 feet, this is quite a tall mountain! Let’s hope the sea levels don’t rise anytime soon…
The signs pointed in the direction of Cuba, only 90 miles away, though you can’t see it.
The lighthouse museum was small, but we found the lives of the lighthouse keepers to be quite interesting. After coming back down the spiral staircase, we wandered the grounds, enjoying admiring one of the many roosters running around town.
If you make the trek to Key West, don’t miss visiting the Southernmost Point in the continental USA! It’s not too far of a walk, and the line to take a picture might be a little annoying, but you will enjoy visiting this checkbox destination!
Next on our itinerary was Duval Street, the main shopping and restaurant area in Key West. It is a little over a mile long and runs north/south from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. If you are looking for boutiques or souvenir shops, this is the street you are looking for!
And of course we had to photograph another rooster hanging out with some chicks!
Since I was the only person interested in Key Lime Pie, we stopped at the Southernmost Key Lime Shop for takeout.
This is a great street to go souvenir shopping!
Many of the guidebooks recommended Ernest Hemingway Home. Even with the prospect of seeing six-toed cats, the boys were not super excited about seeing the home of the author of For Whom the Bell Tolls, so we took a pass. Teenagers!
Drive Back to Miami
After enjoying the afternoon in Key West, we realized we needed to head off for the 3.5 hour trek back to Miami. We enjoyed the sunset as we crossed the many bridges across the Keys.
Having stuffed ourselves on expired Oreos, we weren’t particularly hungry for dinner, so we stopped by a fast food restaurant for full meals for our locust-like teen boys and lighter snacks for me and Jeremy. When you travel with teenagers, expect to make lots of stops for food!
There was a gigantic crab statue, named Betsy, that we had seen in Islamorada on the drive down, but by the time we reached the area, it was too dark to spot her.
Eventually, we made it back to our hotel in Miami Beach and unwound from the drive by taking a walk along Ocean Drive!
If you have the opportunity during your next trip to Florida, don’t miss an excursion down to the Florida Key’s, and particularly don’t miss Key West!
More from Adventures of the 4 JLs
More From Florida: This Trip
- Florida Trip Itinerary: February Break in Florida
- Days 1-3: Miami Beach
- Day 3: A Half-Day of Non-Beach Miami
- Day 4: Kennedy Space Center