Epic road trip from Miami to Key West

Epic Road Trip from Miami to Key West

Florida is one of the awesome tropical paradises in the United States of America. Yet beaches, stunning views, a fantastic climate and wild areas like the Everglades National Park are not everything you will find there. I strongly encourage you to rent a car for an epic road trip from Miami to Key West. That’s how you will also be able to stop along the road. I don’t know if you might be interested, but I particularly liked to take photos of the mail boxes: people here have the cutest marine inspired mail boxes ever!

Epic Road Trip from Miami to Key West
Key West is the Southernmost town in the United States, just 90 miles from Cuba. It is connected to Miami via the Overseas Highway, about 125 miles that extend Route 1 through the Keys. Built by the Florida East Coast Railway, it was heavily damaged by a hurricane, and then sold by the company to the state of Florida. That’s when it was decided that a highway was to be built on the same path. Although there are also buses that drive each day tourists up and down the Overseas Highway, I think the best way to appreciate this road trip from Miami to Key West is by renting a car. It takes about four hours to get to Key West. Yet staying for a few days will also give you the chance to  enjoy the main features along the road.
If you decide to rent a car, I suggest asking for a Sunpass. By crossing the toll-paying areas, the car’s license plate will be photographed. Each rental company offers different deals, however, a flat-rate daily payment is typically the best way to go. If on one day you won’t go through any road toll, then you won’t have to pay your daily fee for that specific day. In case you’re roadtripping Florida with your own car, or if you don’t want a Sunpass, then the toll fee will be charged directly to your credit card.
Epic Road Trip from Miami to Key West

 

What car should you rent? Of course it depends on your budget. We went for a Ford Mustang, first because I’m Mustang-bsessed, and then because we really wanted to open the top: it’s so much fun! If you can, then, think of a convertible or a Jeep Wrangler. You won’t be able to keep the top open for too many hours, because the sun might be too much, but you will definitely have fun (and a nice tan too!). Another bonus of a convertible is that you will be able to take great pictures: the Overseas Highway crosses 42 bridges!

 

 Epic Road Trip from Miami to Key West

Homestead

The first point of interest you’ll find while driving from Miami is Homestead. This getaway to the Overseas Highway has some interesting highlights.
Coral Castle is a famous area not far from Homestead. It’s not really a castle, and not made of coral, but it has been compared with Stonehenge. No, not by me. With all due respect, while I really liked Coral Castle, I don’t think it has anything to do with Stonehenge.
Ed Leedskalnin, its creator, quarried and sculpted over 1,000 tons of sedimentary rock into what looks like a fantasy world. Many sources, and even several tv programs here in Italy, claim that this place is “inexplicable“. At a certain point it became so famous that Billy Idol wrote “Sweet Sixteen” about this place.
Yet the most amazing thing about Coral Castle is probably that the whole site was created just by one person. Ed was tiny, just 5 feet tall and weighed 100 pounds. Not what you’d call a giant! Allegedly he started working on this project when his fiancee left him. He wanted to prove the world he could do something incredible. Coral Castle is thus an uncommon stop on the road trip from Miami to Key West that both you and your kids will enjoy.
Not far from here you can find the Homestead Miami Speedway: if you are a bit of a motorhead like us, you definitely have to stop here! Check their program online to see if there are interesting events you want to attend. This is a Nascar Speedway, which is something that swept my husband off his feat, as we don’t have Nascar in Italy!
Getting some fresh fruit for your road trip to Key West is also a great idea. The best shop you will find along the road is Robert is Here, a fresh fruit paradise where you will also find delicious Key lime milkshakes, homemade jam and fresh produce. Stock up before you move onward, it’s definitely worth your time!
Epic Road Trip from Miami to Key West

Key Largo

The first one of Florida Keys is home to two State Parks, a National Park and a portion of a National Marine Sanctuary. My favorite was the John Pennenkam Coral Reef State Park, because it’s another one of those uncommon and yet engaging places not many people know about. It’s after all the first undersea park in the US, that you can visit with a glass bottom boat tour, by scuba diving or snorkeling. Even if canoeing and kayaking are popular activities, being a reef park, I’d suggest a glass bottom boat tour, in case you don’t want to jump in these blue waters! It’s also the perfect place where you can test your waterproof casing for your camera: underwater photos and videos here are always breathtaking!
At the Visitor Center you will find a 30,000 gallon saltwater aquarium and you can watch nature videos in a nice theater. Nice bonuses are the free beach wheelchairs and a 24 hour free Wi-Fi service.
There’s also another very interesting Marine Sanctuary, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, that protects the waters surrounding the Keys, from South Miami to the Dry Tortugas. Mind that the Sanctuary doesn’t conduct snorkel or dive trips, you will have to book through a third party. Here, because of the sensitive nature of the habitat, dogs aren’t allowed, so if you are visiting with your pet, you might want to go to the John Pennenkam Coral Reef State Park. Leaving your dog in the car is absolutely not an option, because the temperatures are particularly high!

If you are tired of the sea, something you will definitely see a lot on your road trip from Miami to Key West, you can have a relaxing walk in the forest at Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, that covers one third of the island of Key Largo. This park is home to 84 protected species o plants and animals, including the American crocodile.

 

Epic Road Trip from Miami to Key West

Marathon Key

Another stop on  our road trip from Miami to Key West is Marathon Key. Here you can visit a sea Turtle Hospital, reserving an educational tour beforehand. This isn’t a zoo, so please, be respectful both of the animals, the volunteers and the veterinarians. The guided tour lasts about 90 minutes and will include a presentation on sea turtles and a behind the scenes look at the hospital facilities and rehabilitation area. At the end of each tour, guests are invited to feed the turtles who live permanently at the hospital. The tickets cost 22$ for adults and 11$ for children, but make sure to call first!

Another educational facility that you might enjoy is the Dolphin Research Center. This nonprofit corporation wants to ensure the dolphin a home for life, establishing an educational centre where people can learn to understand these beautiful animals. Their ultimate goal is to promote a peaceful coexistence, cooperation and communication between marine mammals and humans, and to preserve the environment. We’ve been here on our road trip to Key West and I remember it as a particularly peaceful place. Not to mention that here I bought a small starfish plush for one of my cats: it’s still his favorite toy ever. My parents already asked me to buy more, should I go back. But I digress!

The most beautiful beach in this area is Sombrero Beach. You can find it about one mile off the Overseas Highway, at mile marker 50 on the Atlantic Side. There’s a particularly nice park here, it’s handicap accessible, with a children’s playground, bathrooms and picnic facilities. This is a good area for snorkeling, and we absolutely loved to watch the sunset on the warm sand: you probably won’t believe me, but there was no one else around!

An unusual but very popular activity on Marathon is fishing for tarpon. The tarpon that visit this area each Spring love to hang out at bridge passes. They can grow up to 8 feet long and weight over 200 pounds. These huge fishes can be also hand feed from the docks of Robbie’s on Islamorada. According to your schedule, see if you want to plan a whole day of your road trip from Miami to Key West there, too. Yet even if Islamorada is very beautiful, I think there are more interesting things to do along the road! Also, if you’re planning to feed the tarpon, make sure you don’t pull your hand back when it’s in their mouth, they have small teeth that might hurt you!

 

Epic Road Trip from Miami to Key West

Seven Mile Bridge

While driving for your road trip from Miami to Key West, be careful not to miss this beautiful bridge. It connects Knight’s Key in the middle Keys to Little Duck Key in the Lower Keys. It is one of the most scenic parts of the drive from Miami to Key West so get your camera ready for some breathtaking photography! The bridge doubles up, as the old part is now used only by pedestrians and cyclists, while the new one is open to vehicular traffic.

 

Epic Road Trip from Miami to Key West

Key West

Your road trip from Miami to Key West is over but there’s still so much to do and see.

Walk over to the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum. It’s the place where he lived until he died. If you love cats you won’t forget so easily this place: about 50 of them live here!

Key West is the perfect place to eat the delicious lime pie, made using the small limes native to the area, which are juicier and way more scented. You can stop over at the Key Lime Pie Company for a generous slice!

Spending a night in Key West is mandatory. One of the hottest activities in the area is bar hopping on Duval Street, one mile long and packed with small bars and old Victorian mansions. The sunset here is spectacular, so grab your margarita and walk towards the Southernmost Point, the red, black and yellow marker at the corner of South and Whitehead streets. The marker itself is one of the most photographed spots on the island. From this point you will be able to watch and photograph breathtaking sunsets… or sunrises, if you’re an early riser!

So, are you planning a road trip from Miami to Key West? Do you want to help other travelers with your suggestions? Either way, drop me a line!

If you’re also going to spend some time in Orlando, you might find some useful info in my article on how to plan a trip to Disney World Orlando saving some money.

 

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 Epic Road Trip from Miami to Key West

37 Comments

  1. LearningToAdventure

    Yes, Yes and YES!! I love a good All-American Roadtrip – Strong choice on the car, although after my Cali experiences I’m now a Camaro girl through and through. That manatee mailbox is too cute for words <3

  2. Kenny T.K. Chow

    I had a great experience from Miami to Key West and thanks for bring me back to those nice memories! Although Key West is a small island but it has many iconic and special attractions that makes it worthwhile to visit! @ knycx.journeying

  3. Incredible pictures first of all! I did the road-trip from Miami to KW in 2010 when I was single, and the drive was breathtaking. But that was a very short trip.Now we are planning a week long itinerary along the Keys (and yes with a convertible!). Will look up to this post for ideas 🙂

    1. Oh yes! I also met like… a lot of very funny pelicans who basically posed for pictures! And depending from how long you do have, I think it’s feasible. We spent almost one month in Florida, touring it from North to South, but you can either get to Key West renting a car and going for the good ol’ road trip, or just hop on a plane to Miami and rent a car there? You could do this road trip from Miami to Key West in one day but you’d miss a lot of interesting things!

  4. Brianna

    South Florida sounds like the perfect place to rent a convertible and just drive. Although it’s probably a little too warm in the summer months. I’d love to make a stop at the Turtle Hospital. I’m a big turtle fan 🙂

    1. My husband loved driving there, even if it was really hot. September is the time of the year when we’re able to take longer trips… it was very hot but we live in Napoli (Italy) so… we’re kind of used to it!
      The turtle hospital is just beautiful. They make sure to organize smaller groups so you really get to know the animals and understand what they do. Feeding them is priceless!

  5. Wenabroad

    This is such a nice article. I am currently looking at flight tickets to go there late August. Is that a good time to go? Or will it be hot? I get even more excited when reading your post about this. I will certainly save it for when I have booked the tickets and the planning can begin.

    1. Thank you very much, I hope it was useful to you!
      Actually August is a bit crowded and humid. So expect it to be very hot. Miami might be packed and expensive. We went late September, so still hurricane season, but we got very lucky. It did rain a few afternoons but it was always good weather. Still very hot but we’re used to it, as we live in Naples (Italy)! 🙂 The only thing I felt bad about was that a lot of restaurants in Key West were closed as it was low season for them. Yet… we got better deals with hotels. ;D

    1. I couldn’t stop taking photos all the way to Key West: best mailboxes ever. 😀 And LOL do you have pictures of the little cow mailboxes? They sound like something I might like… a lot! 😀
      Of course we did! I know it’s not the most “beautiful” part of Key West but you can’t go back without taking a picture next to the Southernmost Point… statue? Let’s say “concrete blob” 😀

  6. Cristina Luisa

    How did I not know about Hemingway’s Home & Museum in Key West?! I’ve only been to Florida once (Miami), and kick myself that I didn’t know that all of this beauty, architecture, history, and fresh fruit was so close! Thanks for the thorough, informative post!

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