Key Largo to Key West… A Drive to Remember

97 miles on a two lane highway, 42 bridges to cross and some of the quirkiest stops along the way. Who wants to come on a road trip? The ride from Key Largo to Key West is a true adventure…. and the final destination is like the grand finale in a firework display.

Getting There

Flying into Miami is easy breezy from most cities in the USA. We rented a car at the airport. The ride from Miami to the very beginning of the keys takes about an hour….. if you survive sharing the road with Miami drivers.

Key Largo

First stop; Key Largo! There is a lot to do in Key Largo if you have some time to spare. My top pick is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. It’s a fantastic place to kayak through the mangroves , snorkel, hike or even take a ride on a glass bottom boat. There’s also an aquarium inside the park . If you want to camp inside the park, reservations can be made at reserveamerica.com. I would assume that spots fill up extremely fast in season, so making them as far back as allowed is advised.

Where to Eat

Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen

It’s small, no frills and had the best Chile !!! The atmosphere is the definition of quirky. Mile marker 99.3 .

Where to Stay

Marriott Key Largo

This hotel is in a great location, has a private beach, outdoor pool and a really cool tiki bar.

Shopping in Plantation Key

Continue driving south on US 1 until you come to Plantation Key. This is where you will find an eclectic collection of shops called The Rain Barrel Sculpture Gallery. You can find anything here from magnets to sundresses to blown glass and ceramics. The ridiculously large lobster out front can’t be missed….but just in case, it’s at mile marker 86.7.

Islamorada Key and the Feeding of the Tarpons at Robbie’s

This was my 2nd favorite thing to do along US 1. It involves a bucket of dead slimy fish, aggressive, savage pelicans and fish that resemble Mick Jagger… I have your attention now, don’t I? I cannot forget the manatee! They were an added surprise! So… step one; Line up and pay for your slimy bucket of dead fish . $4.00 a bucket. Read the hand scrawled rules and take notice of the ominous signs saying BEWARE OF THE PELICANS. Who knew? Step 2; Walk out on the pier as you guard your dead fish from the pelicans. My son was traumatized. After being bitten by a deer in Japan, He has an exaggerated fear of wildlife. And kayaks. And bees. And now pelicans. Step 3; Sit on the pier and dangle a dead fish right over the water…this is when the Mick Jagger mouth appears . It doesn’t sing, although if it did it might sing, “you can’t always get what you want” … That’s what I’d sing if people kept feeding me dead slimy fish. So the real challenge is to drop it into the Mick jagger fish mouth before the tarpon takes your hand off while simultaneously guarding your bucket with pelicans closing in. The best part? When the manatees float by! Robbie’s is at mile marker 77.5

Fun fact: manatee are herbivores so you should not attempt to feed them the slimy dead fish. There were signs everywhere but I saw many annoying people ignoring the signs. Another fun fact: tarpon grow to be about 8 feet long!

The Turtle Hospital on Marathon Key

Continue on US 1 south until you reach mile marker 24. Even I could not get lost here! Well…. maybe. Now we have come to my favorite stop along the drive. The Turtle Hospital! The hospital gives 90 minute tours for $27.00 and the ticket proceeds go to rehabilitating sick or injured turtles that they have rescued. We learned a lot from our tour guide and got to visit with many turtles that are being rehabilitated. We even got to feed them! They did not have Mick Jagger lips. They did not sing either.

I title this photo The Slow Poke

Driving across 7 Mile Bridge

This is pretty self explanatory… it’s a bridge that spans 7 miles (the longest in the keys) but the color of the water as you drive over this bridge is hypnotizing, if not altogether distracting!!!!!

Visiting with the deer in Big Pine Key

There is actually a nature preserve in Big Pine Key where tons of these tiny Key Deer live, but the mere mention of deer caused my son to break out in hives. We skipped this attraction !

Finally…Key West….the grand finale!!!!!

Finally you arrive. The end of US 1. Mile Marker 0. The southern most point in the continental USA. A place loved and written about by both Jimmy Buffet and Ernest Hemingway. Key West.

What to Do

Take a tour of Hemingway’s house . It cost $14.00 to enter and that includes a live tour of the house. The tour was fantastic and the 6 toed cats that roam the property were almost as entertaining as the tour guide . These cats are descendents of Hemingway’s very own 6 toed cat! There is a cute little book store on the property where you can find many (if not all) of Hemingways classics. When the half hour tour is over, you are allowed to roam around the property, pet the cats and visit his studio.

Climb the lighthouse

For $10.00 you can climb the 88 steps to the top of the lighthouse for spectacular 360 degree views of the island. The lighthouse is across from the Hemingway House and a block away from the iconic “Southern Most Point in the USA” landmark so you can spend a morning in this area stopping at these sites.

Visit Smathers Beach

This was a nice little beach to spend an hour or two. Key West is not known for its beaches, but this one was worth a visit. Especially with my newly bought Hemingway book to read!

Rent jet skis

We took a one hour tour with Fury’s Jet Ski Tours . The seas were really unusually rough that day and while we were out on the water there was also a downpour. I cannot explain how a boy who is terrified of tiny deer and pelicans can race way ahead of me at 50 miles an hour in torrential rain with 4 foot waves coming at him while operating a jet ski for the first time….. but there he was! This was HIS favorite activity. Go figure. I learned that no matter how loud you scream that you are going to die while riding a jet ski in 4 foot waves, no one can hear you! Fun fact; If you don’t keep the speed consistent on a jet ski, or if you go too slow, you completely lose control of the steering and the jet ski swerves all over the place and sometimes capsizes.

Rent bikes and ride around the island

We rented from We Cycle . It was such an easy process. I booked the bikes online, went to the shop the next day and they were ready! $10.00 per bike for 24 hours!!! My best deal of the trip!! Comes with locks and baskets.

Where to Stay

Hyatt Centric Key West

Amazing location. Nice hot tub . Beautiful rooms with balconies. On the water. Expect to pay for it.

Experience a sunset at Mallory Square!

Jugglers, musicians, food and a guy doing tricks on a 10 foot tall unicycle…..this place is FUN. Everyone applauds as the sun sinks beyond the horizon before most of them head off to get drunk on Duval Street. Don’t judge.

Take a sunset cruise

We went on a sunset cruise and it came with unlimited champagne and drinks! They were fabulous! I meant the drinks, but the tour was good too! I booked mine through Viator. It was a 90 minute cruise on a sailboat for $60.00 pp including the drinks, but not including the sunset. Travel tip; go on a clear evening.

Visit Fort Zachary Taylor Beach and fortress

Worth an afternoon. There’s a snack bar at the beach and chairs for rent. The beach is rocky so be prepared to stumble around in pain if you don’t wear shoes. The fort played an important role in WW 1 and 2 and again during the Cuban Missile Crisis. We did a self-guided tour and found a neat little write up about the Key West resident, Howard English who was responsible for starting the excavation of the fort . It cost 7.00 cash to get in to both the beach and the fort. Another good deal. I love my good deals!!!

Where to eat

Antonia’s Restaurant had really good Italian food

Miso Happy had an amazing selection of sushi and Thai…but more importantly ; The name is genius!!

Two Friends is one of the oldest restaurants in Key West. We had a great breakfast here.

Amigos Tortilla Bar. They offer a pie taste off on their menu between the two “best “ key lime pies in town. My son and I both vote for Kermits. Excellent place for a beer and some reasonably priced Mexican food. We went there for an early dinner before we went out on the sunset cruise.

Well, as US 1 comes to an end, so too must this post. There were too many other things to do in Key West to mention, but I tried to list some of my favorites. I feel it is appropriate to leave you with a quote from Ernest Hemingway… “I drink to make other people more interesting”. Perhaps you should grab a few drinks before reading my next blog… you will think I am fascinating!

suggested reads;

Tales from Margaritaville by Jimmy Buffett

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (yes, if I had to suffer through 140 pages about an old man’s minute by minute struggle to bring back the biggest fish he ever caught, then so should you.)

Fun fact: Key West considers itself the “Conch Republic”. This goes way back to a time in Key West history when the mayor at the time “declared” that Key West was an independent nation known from then on as the “Conch Republic”. The citizens of Key West are therefore known as “Conchs”.

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