One of the nation’s most renowned road trips involves cruising from one island to another, and it’s right here in the Florida Keys from Key Largo to Key West. With your Florida vacation at Parrot Key Resort sparkling on the horizon, we have some of the best insider tips for making the most of your drive along the Overseas Highway to reach Key West. The trip of over 100 miles takes around three hours, however with so much to see along the way, we recommend allowing a whole day to soak up the spectacular scenery of the Sunshine State’s stunning island archipelago. After all, there are some important pit stops to make along the way to sample the delights of freshly-caught seafood and Key lime pie.
Ready, Set… Key Largo!
Once you’ve entered Key Largo, you’re officially in the Florida Keys and the unbroken blue horizons of ocean and sky will stretch out before you. Start your road trip off in style with a leisurely breakfast at some of Key Largo’s most talked about dining spots, including Harriette’s Restaurant (Mile Marker 95.7) which offers a warm and welcoming service, wallet-friendly prices and huge muffins to help keep you refueled until the next stop. Doc’s Diner (Mile Marker 99.6) is another tempting breakfast option, popular among locals for its generous portion sizes including tropical French toast and breakfast burritos.
Next Stop: Islamorada
Continue your drive from Key Largo to Islamorada, which sits between the saltwater wilderness of the Everglades National Park and the deep waters of the Florida Straits. Stop at the Rain Barrel Artisan Village (Mile Marker 86.7) which is impossible to miss with its giant fiberglass lobster standing proudly at the entrance of this fascinating sculpture art gallery. There are individual shops all nestled under a canopy of giant Banyan trees selling a tempting selection of unique homemade gifts including unusual jewelry, pottery and ceramics, so allow enough time for some all-important perusing.
Is your stomach rumbling again? It’s nearing lunchtime after all, and if there’s one place in which to indulge over a memorable lunch in Islamorada, it’s Lorelei (Mile Marker 82). As popular for its daytime menu as its evening sunset celebrations, this restaurant and Cabana bar offers one of the best views of Florida Bay which you’ll no doubt happily soak up over seafood tacos or the “Lorelei’s World Famous Fish Sandwich,” all washed down with a Keys-style frozen drink.
The sparkling ocean is looking calm and the afternoon sun is stretching its rays across a cloudless sky; it’s looking too good outside to hop back into your car, so take some time to unwind on one of Islamorada’s finest beaches. Anne’s Beach (Mile Marker 73) is a perfect stretch of paradise, conveniently located next to the Overseas Highway so you won’t struggle to find it. The beach is an ideal spot for sunbathing, switching off for an afternoon nap, cooling off in the shallows, or just taking in the beautiful ocean views.
Marathon or Bust
Your relaxing lunch will set you up for the next stretch as you cruise down Highway 1 to the Middle Keys which are anchored by Marathon, a 10-mile-long island with a family-friendly reputation and a rich fishing heritage. Take a break from your car and stretch your legs by taking your pick of several attractions in Marathon. First, you will come across the Dolphin Research Center (Mile Marker 59) in Grassy Key where you can interact with dolphins and learn about exciting dolphin research. Also nearby way is the new Aquarium Encounters (just after Vaca Cut Bridge at Mile Marker 53). Here, you will find an interactive Florida Keys aquarium experience with daily shark feedings, stingray encounters, and the opportunity to swim among fish on the attraction’s coral reef. Or if you prefer an outdoor nature experience, nearby at Mile Marker 50 is Crane Point, a nature center with walking trails through a tropical hardwood grove.
Further west is a wildlife lovers’ paradise at the Turtle Hospital which is dedicated to helping injured sea turtles return to the wild. If you need to wet your whistle or just bask in the glory of the sea, pop into Tranquility Bay Resort’s beachfront TJ’s Tiki Bar for an island drink (right next door to the Turtle Hospital at Mile Marker 48.5).
Seven Mile Bridge
The Middle Keys not only signal the halfway mark in your Overseas Highway road trip; it is also the point at which you can stop to capture images of the impressive Seven Mile Bridge soaring over the Gulf of Mexico. Running alongside it is the Old Seven Mile Bridge, the hurricane-battered railroad built by Henry Flagler in the early 1900s which is now a popular spot for fishing. After its destruction in the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, it was later rebuilt in 1978 and features a rising arc in its center so you’ll feel like you’re driving right off into the sky! There are plenty of places to pull over and take some photos, enjoy a stroll and watch the wildlife fly by.
Just south of Marathon lies the tiny island of Pigeon Key which is well worth a stop, particularly if you’re after a taste of Florida Keys history. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Pigeon Key is a five-acre property which served as a home base for railroad workers operating the Old Seven Mile Bridge. You can reach Pigeon Key by bicycle or foot along the historic bridge (a 2.2 mile trek) or by ferry service which departs from the Pigeon Key Visitor Center and Gift Shop on Knight’s Key (Mile Marker 47).
The Lower Keys
The further south you drive, the more beautifully remote the scenery becomes in the Lower Keys. For some much-needed leg-stretching, stop off at Bahia Honda Key (Mile Marker 37), a tropical island home to one of Florida’s southernmost state parks with beautiful beaches, magnificent sunsets and excellent snorkelling. As you drive south into Big Pine Key (Mile Marker 29) there are plenty of places to pull over for a pit stop if your hungers pangs start kicking in, including No Name Pub on Watson Boulevard which serves up great pitchers of beer and pizza.
For classic Keys-style dining, try The Wharf Bar and Grill at Mile Marker 25.5 on Summerland Key where you can enjoy freshly-caught fish and vegetables grown from the restaurant’s organic garden, all served up in a peaceful waterfront setting with indoor and outdoor seating. If you need to satisfy your sweet tooth, head further south in Sugarloaf Key at Mangrove Mama’s (Mile Marker 20) for a generous slice of Key lime pie on the sun-baked, palm tree-lined patio, or try Baby’s Coffee (Mile Marker 15), which is famous for its Cuban roasts and Key lime pie to-go.
Final Destination… Key West
As the afternoon starts merging into evening, your last leg of this world-renowned road trip will end in Key West just where the party begins. You’ll arrive just in time to find a spot for your first Key West sunset, and you won’t be disappointed.
Check-in at Parrot Key Resort and refresh before stepping outside to celebrate the moment the golden sun dips into the ocean. Tomorrow marks the start of your vacation in this place known as paradise, so dine out and enjoy the moment until it’s time for a much-needed sleep surrounded by the simple luxury of your Parrot Key guestroom or suite. Sleep tight and let the Key West fun begin tomorrow!