When I first decided to check the Keys off my bucket list, it seemed crazy to drive thirteen hours. Was this the best type of transportation? Absolutely! I spent eight days exploring the Keys, and visiting all the well-known landmarks, and finding hidden gems throughout the Keys.
Tips for when you start planning your road trip: First decided how you will get to the Keys. If you only have a few days, still fly into Miami, and rent a car so you can experience all the beauty that the Overseas Highway offers. If you have more than a few days, Road Trip! I love to fish and kayak, and road tripping was my way of having my beach day essentials and fishing gear. The second decision is where to stay, I knew that I would be Key hopping, and I wanted an authentic Keys experience. I chose to stay on Conch Key. A tiny island located in the middle of the Keys, and a place where I felt like a local. The third decision you need to make is when you will visit Dry Tortugas National Park during your time in the Keys. This is a must for all Key vacations, and you need to book your trip at least six weeks out, and eight weeks if you can.
Breaking down of locations South to North:
Dry Tortugas: A Must Destination! I could write for days on the beauty of Dry Tortugas National Park. Pure magic and pure paradise. Only accessible by boat or seaplane, Fort Jefferson offers so much history to explore. You can choose from the South beach or North beach to spend the day snorkeling, and swimming in the seas. Camping is also allowed but with four days maximum, and camp sites go fast, so I cannot stress enough, Book Early. If you stroll up to the second floor of the fort, you can snap an epic view of the moat, and the sea beyond. Best part, no cell phone service, so this dream location is where you can truly unplug and escape all the noise in the world.
Key West: Three Tourists Traps, and Worth It.
Key West provided three must do’s, and I do not usually fall into tourist traps, but when I do, they are larger than life. Southern Most Point in the Continental United States Buoy is an iconic spot when visiting Key West. The wait to snap a photo was about 20 minutes, so be prepared to stand in line. Another spot that was on my list was the Zero Mile Marker. How cool is it to see where the road ends, or where the road begins? (You get to decide) Sunset at Mallory Square was spectacular, and so many vendors come out each night to make sunset fun, and unique. I also stopped at The World Famous Key West Conch Fritters Stand and grabbed a drink at Key West’s Smallest Bar to avoid crowds.
Big Pine Key: Bahia Honda State Park & Keys Deer Refuge
It is easy to see why Bahia Honda State Park remains one of the top twenty-five most beautiful beaches in the United States. Access to both the Bay and Ocean, there is plenty of room to roam, snorkel, sun bath, and have a perfect beach day. The Park fills up fast, so get to the park early in the morning to ensure entry. Tip: Tarpon love to hang out around the bridge, and if you have the bait of choice, you can catch these sought-after fish. Big Pine Key is also home to the Key Deer Refuge, and if you stay vigilant, you can spot these tiny deer while driving throughout Big Pine Key.
Marathon: Dolphin Research Center, Coco Plum Beach, Curry Hammock State Park
Dorsal fin swim with dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center was the highlight of the trip for my daughter who was celebrating her 17th Birthday. My daughter has a passion for marine life and wants to pursue a career working with marine life. Educational and making lasting memories, and she was able to speak to the staff about internships available at the center. Sombrero Beach seems to be a highlighted beach when reviewing Marathon, and it is one of a few beaches that has the white powdered sand you think of when a beach comes to mind. However, the large crowds were a turn off for me, and I stumbled upon Coco Plum Beach. This hidden beach was a gem, no large crowds, and located on the Atlantic Ocean. Coco Plum Beach was the perfect beach for Sunrise. Curry Hammock State Park was also a nice retreat from large crowds and made for an excellent afternoon of beaching it. This natural beach was full of mangroves located along the shoreline.
Long Key: Long Key State Park
Long Key State Park was a favorite and for good reason. We spent two different days here. A shallow lake for newbies to kayaking, and plenty of wildflowers that line the coastline, baby iguanas, and if you take a right at the fork, you can find your own tiki hut. If you take a left at the fork, you can find nature trails to explore. Kayaks can be rented, but we brought our own.
Islamorada: Leatherneck BackCountry Fishing with Captain Ben Trainer, Founders State Park, Anne’s Beach, Sunset at Lorelei Restaurant and Cabana Bar, and Robbie’s’ of Islamorada.
Disclaimer: Islamorada was my favorite Key, and I could see myself living there. So much is located on Islamorada. Robbie’s of Islamorada, home of the hungry tarpon and feisty pelicans. Do not worry, plenty of bloody marys to get your confidence up to keep the pelicans away. Dinner and sunset at Lorelei Restaurant and Cabana Bar were such a sweet treat, and the Key Lime Frozen Colada was delicious. Anne’s Beach located on the Atlantic was a true hidden gem. Parking is limited, so get there early. Founders State Park was another hidden gem where snorkeling, and swimming offered a relaxing day in paradise. As an avid fisherman, fishing the sport fishing capital of the world was a dream and a bucket list must do. Captain Ben Trainer, owner of Leatherneck BackCountry Fishing, was an amazing guide and provided an extraordinary day on the water. We landed snook, jacks, and sheep’s head. Ben will always be my go-to guide for fishing in Islamorada.
Key Largo: Amoray Resort, and Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen
After driving for 13 hours, Amoray Resort offered a nice welcome to the Keys, and a great place to catch my first Florida Key Sunset. Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen was a fun place to have dinner and had license plates from across the Untied States. Largo Cargo also was a neat shop to stop on the way back home, and grab souvenirs for my loved ones back home.
Tavernier, Florida: Blonde Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory
A must stop for your Key Lime Fix. The Key Lime Pie was the best I have had, and I enjoyed my pie and other key lime goodies in the patio area where Adirondack chairs and love lock way are located. Quirky location for enjoying dessert.