This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)
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 in fact strongly encourage you to rent a car to treat you to a road trip from Miami to Key West.
While there’s a Miami to Key West bus, in fact, it won’t let you stop to all the places we’re telling you about in this article. Having your own car, on the contrary, will allow you to have much more fun, as you’ll be able to stop along the road: believe me if I tell you that there are so many things to do and see on this Florida road trip itinerary. An example? I don’t know if it’s your thing, but I particularly liked to take photos of the mail boxes: people here have the cutest marine inspired mail boxes ever!
Distance 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.
The driving distance from Miami to Key West is about 125 miles. Route 1 goes through the Keys in a scenic and sunny trip.
The first bridge was built by the Florida East Coast Railway, but it was heavily damaged by a hurricane, and then sold to the State of Florida. They 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. If you have limited time, then consider at least a Key West day trip from Miami. If on the contrary you’re planning to stay on the Keys for a few days, then you’ll have all the time you need to enjoy the many things to do during this Florida road trip itinerary.
Sure, the driving distance from Miami to Key West might not look huge but it’s really packed with nice things to see and do!
If you have decided to rent a car, I suggest asking for a Sunpass. Even if you’re only planning a Key West day trip from Miami. By crossing the toll-paying areas, the car’s license plate will be photographed and checked.
Each rental company offers different deals, however, a flat-rate daily payment is typically the best way to go. If one day you won’t go through any road toll areas, then you won’t have to pay your daily fee for that specific day.
In case you’re going through a Florida road trip itinerary with your own car, or if you don’t want a Sunpass, then the toll fee will be charged directly to your credit card. It’s up to you!
What car should you rent for a road trip to Key West?
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!
You can opt for a convertible or a Jeep Wrangler if you like to open the top once in a while (be careful, you can definitely get sunburned!).
Another bonus of a convertible is that you will be able to take great pictures and awesome videos: the Overseas Highway crosses 42 bridges! So yes, in case you were wondering, the Route 1 in Florida is definitely one of those cool Instagrammable places so keep your camera at hand.
What if you don’t want to drive?
In case you don’t feel like driving or renting a car, you can book a day trip to Key West from Miami. This one for example has a pretty useful pick-up service from many hotels in Miami, and will let you explore at your own peace.
It’s the best option in my opinion because you won’t have to get stressed if the drive to Key West is not your thing, and yet you’ll still be able to plan your day according to your schedule. It’s like having a private driver… on a budget!
Check out rates and availability here.
The getaway to the Overseas Highway: Homestead
The first point of interest you’ll find while driving from Miami to Key West is Homestead. This getaway to the Overseas Highway has some interesting highlights.
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. Yet it’s an interesting spot with a pretty interesting story, that also your kids will appreciate.
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.
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 Aldo off his feet, 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 on 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, even if yours is just a Key West day trip from Miami, it’s definitely worth your time!
Key Largo: parks and a marine sanctuary
The first island 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 always a chance, how can one resist?). 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.
You will have to book a snorkel tour or dive trip through a third party, because the Sanctuary doesn’t offer this kind of services.
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 in stead. Leaving your dog in the car is absolutely not an option, because it’s always pretty hot!
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 of plants and animals, including the American crocodile.
Marathon Key: tarpon, beaches and dolphins
Another interesting 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 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 tour of 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 costs 22$ for adults and 11$ for children, but make sure to call first before you go, to make sure they’re open and that you can go for a tour.
Another educational facility that you might enjoy is the Dolphin Research Center.
This nonprofit corporation wants to offer a home for life to the dolphins, 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 there 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 been his favorite toy until his very last day.
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 and it was the most romantic evening ever!
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 tour from your road trip from Miami to Key West. If you are on a Key West day trip from Miami, you might not have enough time to stop at Robbie’s. I suggest you actually write down all the things you want to see on your road trip: if you have the chance, why don’t you stay for a few days to enjoy one of the most beautiful areas in Florida?
Oh, before I forget I have a very important note I feel I need to add!
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!
Must-see spot: 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’s one of the most scenic parts of the drive to Key West so get your camera ready for some breathtaking photography! Instagram, here we come!
A little curiosity: the bridge splits at a certain point, as the old part is now used only by pedestrians and cyclists, while the new one is open to vehicular traffic.
Key West: vacations, great food and lazy days
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 the writer lived until his death.
If you love cats like us, you won’t forget so easily this place: about 50 of them live here! I remember going to the ticket booth and finding this beautiful (and chubby) black and white cat at the window. He was probably selling tickets to the Ernest Hemingway Home.
Cats will clearly take over the world!
While you are in Key West don’t miss the chance to do some super-awesome reef snorkeling with a professional, or if you are feeling adventurous, treat yourself to a jet ski ride to see Mallory Square and other attractions from the ocean!
A slice of Key lime pie in Key West is a must. They make this pie using the small limes native to Key West, which are juicier and way more scented. You can stop at the Key Lime Pie Company for a generous slice. Believe me if I tell you that you’ll never forget their lime pie!
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 at Key West 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!
What to eat on the drive to Key West: a foodie guide
Fresh fruit, jam and milkshakes
Stop at Robert is Here, in Homestead! The locals know it as the “Disney World of fruit stands” and for a good reason! This huge shop opened in 1959 and has been selling tropical fruit, milkshakes and yummy treats to the foodies ever since.
It’s the perfect stop on the road trip from Miami to Key West if you’re looking for vegetarian or vegan options for lunch. We always make sure to stop here because we absolutely love to snack on crunchy fruit and veggies on the scorching hot Florida summer days!
Key West pink shrimps
The “Key West Pinks” are one of the all time favorite Florida Keys foods you should experience on your Key West vacations.
They mature on the coral sand bottoms of the Dry Tortugas, where they develop their distinktive pink color. This kind of shrimp is tender and sweet.
You can eat them at the Schooner Wharf Bar in Key West (the locals favorite here is coconut dipped shrimp with mango sauce), or at the Island Fish Company in Marathon (deep fried with hot pepper sauce and ranch dressing). If you’re in for a different kind of treat, the Islamorada Shrimp Shack in Islamorada serves Shrimp and Grits: shrimps sautéed with peppers and onions in a creole sauce, on a bed of grits.
I will admit that before we experienced our first drive from Miami to Key West we had never heard about conch fritters.
We cook different dishes in Italy and while we eat mussels and clams, we never really tried the large Queen Conch snails.
While they’re no longer harvested in the Florida Keys, almost every shack or restaurant on the drive to Key West serves conch fritters. They’re basically small balls of chopped conch, mixed with cheese, chives, bell peppers and onions, deep fried in batter and served with seasonings. It made us think of the Japanese Takoyaki!
The best conch fritter you can eat on your trip from Miami to the Keys is served at the Conch Republic Seafood Company in Key West. They serve it with homemade lime mustard. We also found a cute little place in Marathon, the Sunset Grille and Raw Bar which serves them with a delicious pickled ginger sauce.
This popular delicacy is the one thing you should make sure to eat on your road trip to the Florida Keys.
Almost every restaurant on the islands serves stone crabs with drawn butter or mustard sauce. The best crabs are usually harvested from mid-October to mid-May.
In case you have some time in Key Largo, you should stop to one of the spots the locals absolutely love. Key Largo Fisheries sell fresh crabs that you can cook at home, and serve delicious bowls of Stone Crab chowder soup. In case you’re planning a Key West vacation, note down that the best stone crabs are served at the Half Shell Raw Bar.
Florida spiny lobster
The Spiny lobsters in the Florida Keys are sweet and tender. We enjoyed a delicious dish at A & B Lobster House in Key West. It was the Lobster Thermidor: medallions of lobster meat served in a sauce of thyme and sherry, with wild mushrooms. It’s an historical recipe that has made this restaurant famous since their opening in 1947! In Islamorada you’ll find the Hungry Tarpon restaurant, where they serve broiled spiny lobster tail with tropical rice and a side of asparagus with garlic butter.
Key Lime Pie
Last but not least, the one thing everyone should experience at least once on this road trip from Miami to Key West. The absolutely delicious Key Lime Pie!
I swear I’ve never, ever tasted such a delicious pie anywhere else in the world, so whenever I manage to visit Florida, whether I can fit in a few day trips from Miami or not, I make sure to eat plenty of Key Lime pie!
The best ones are made with the wild lime from the Keys. You will find two types of lime pies. One uses a standard pie crust and a meringue topping. The other uses a Graham cracker crust and whipped cream topping: this one is our favorite!
The lime pie is the official Florida State pie, and you will find it everywhere. The best Key lime pie slices can be found at the Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe (two locations in Key West, at the Key West Bight and on Duval Street), where you can eat the lime pie with Graham cracker crust and whipped cream topping, and the Midway Café in Islamorada, where they make a delicious Key Lime pie with meringue topping.
Do you want to experience the Florida Keys like a local foodie? This awesome Key West food tour is perfect for you! You will spend about 3 hours walking around at leisurely pace, with an experienced local guide who will tell you everything about the history, architecture and cuisine of Key West.
During your exploration you’ll be brought to one of the most popular restaurants among the locals (not a tourist trap!) to enjoy a secret dish which will only be revealed to you on your tour. It will be like a treasure hunt! Food and drinks are all included, doesn’t sound awesome?
Here you can check prices and availability.
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 to save money without giving up on the fun.