Key West – A road-trip we just had to do!

Key West in the amazing Florida Keys has been on our ‘to do’ list for so long that when planning a recent trip to the United States we decided to tick it off our bucket list.

Leaving our Caribbean Cruise in Fort Lauderdale we hired a car to continue our journey through Florida by road.

Florida is the tropical end of the United States, well known for it’s beautiful beaches, balmy climate, great tourist attractions and very friendly people.  That is what we came to see!

How to get to Key West

Driving in the States is very different from driving in Australia!  First thing of note was that they drive on the other side of the road.  The wrong side!  Trust me, its alarming for a first-time passenger to be sitting on the right side of the car with no steering wheel!

Whilst there’s a daily bus service that travels from Miami to Key West, we hired a car to do this trip, as we wanted to stop and explore along the way.

If you’re hiring a vehicle, make sure you ask for a Sunpass.  This will cover your toll costs along the way. Each rental company offers different deals but generally a flat-rate is the best way to go.

Depending on your budget, select a vehicle that you will enjoy driving!  Consider a Ford Mustang convertible you’re arriving in summer.  This is one of the most unique drives in the world.

One of the bonus of driving a convertible is that you will be able to take great pictures and awesome videos of the trip over the keys.

It takes how long?

Key West is the Southernmost city in the United States and just a 4-hour drive from Miami on the scenic Overseas Highway.

The Overseas Highway crosses 42 bridges!   Definitely one of those cool Instagrammable places so be sure to keep your camera close at hand.

Take your time to drive the Florida Keys and don’t rush this amazing road-trip!

[bctt tweet=”Have you done this amazing road-trip yet? Can you believe it takes 4 hours and crosses 42 bridges? ” username=”territorymob”]

The Florida Keys

Florida Keys - Key West

Key Largo

The first island of the Florida Keys is home to two State Parks, a National Park and a portion of a National Marine Sanctuary. The John Pennenkam Coral Reef State Park, is the first undersea park in the US.  Visit with a glass bottom boat tour, go scuba diving or snorkeling.

Explore Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, covering one third of the island of Key Largo and is home to 84 protected species of plants and animals, including the American crocodile.

Islamorada Key

In Islamorada, check out the Keys History & Discovery Center to discover the first Florida Keys inhabitants, shipwrecks and salvage, pioneering families of the Keys, sports fishing legends, Henry Flagler’s Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad and so much more.

Fishing is one of the most popular activities in the Florida Keys, with Tarpon being some of the popular catches in the region.  FYI: Tarpon can grow up to 8 feet long and weigh over 90 kilos!  These huge fish can be also hand feed from the docks  of Robbie’s on Islamorada.  

Marathon Key

Stop off at Marathon Key to visit the Turtle Hospital. Make sure you book ahead for the tour which 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, visitors are invited to feed the turtles who live permanently at the hospital.

The Dolphin Research Center.  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.

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.  This is a good area for snorkeling and watching the sunset.

Seven Mile Bridge

The Florida Keys - Key West

While driving for your road trip from Miami to Key West, watch out for Seven Mile Bridge. Connecting Knight’s Key in the Middle Keys to Little Duck Key in the Lower Keys this bridge is one of the most scenic parts of the Key West drive.

The old bridge is now only used by pedestrians and cyclists, while the new one is open to vehicular traffic.

Key West

Key West is a fun place to visit.  There’s so much to see and do.  Historically, with it’s unique maritime history, Key West has been a major player in commercial and recreational fishing, treasure diving as well as the US navy and Government.

We stayed in Duval Street at the fabulous Wicker Guesthouse where Miss Pat, our host charmed us with her lovely southern manners.

What to see in Key West

The Key West Bight:  the Historic waterfront is the home port of the working fleet in Key West.  Once filled with fishing boats and shrimp trawlers, the marina now houses sports fishing vessels, dive boats and sailing schooners.  Where there were once shrimp processing plants, turtle canning factories and fish houses, these are now thriving seafood restaurants, saloons and gift shops.  A great place to wander.

Key West

The Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum:  Treasure-laden Spanish galleons and piracy brought on the glory days of wrecking. Key West was at the heart of the treasure salvage industry which thrived on shipwrecks and the salvage industry.  This museum is full of interesting stories and recovered artifacts.

Key West

The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum:  Ernest Hemingway led a colourful life. His home in Key West is an interesting museum full of memorabilia.  Hemingway was a prize winning novelist, playboy and cat-lover!  At the time of our visit there were 53 cats living at the house – see my post about Ernest Hemingway to learn more.  Our Hemingway House guide was well versed in Hemingway’s life relayed a number of amusing anecdotes and stories of his escapades.

[bctt tweet=”Did you know Hemingway was a prize winning novelist, playboy and cat-lover!  How many cats live at Hemingway House on Key West?” username=”territorymob”]

Key West - Hemmingway's 6 toed cats

Little White House:  The residence of Harry S. Truman.  Built in 1890 as Naval quarters, this house was used as a presidential retreat and summit site by seven US presidents and was the winter White House under President Harry Truman.  A very interesting tour and museum shop with a great assortment of books, gifts and presidential keepsakes.

Key West Lighthouse:  Originally built in in 1848 with a woman as it’s keeper – unheard of during the 19th century.  The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1969 as it was no longer required.  Today, this lighthouse stands as a museum dedicated to Key Wests’s maritime heritage.  Walk the 88 steps to the top for unequaled views over Key West.

Key West Lighthouse

Fun things to do in Key West

Duval Street:  One mile long, Duval Street is packed with art galleries, small bars, cosy restaurants, great shopping and old Victorian mansions.  A walk along Duval Street at night will show you this street at it’s liveliest.

Old Town Trolley Tours:  One of the best ways to ‘see it all’.  Taking in the best of Key West, this hop-on hop-off guided bus tour will lead you to the favourite stops across the city.

The Key West Aquarium:  Home to sharks, turtles, stingrays, alligators, and various types of tropical fish, the aquarium is one of key West’s most popular attractions.  The aquarium is actively involved in conservation of the eco-system of the Florida Keys.

Mallory Market:  The hub of Key West Harbour to catch a range of attractions including nightly sunset celebrations, shopping and fine dining.  The Pier is where everyone gathers as the sun goes down over the horizon.  Arts and crafts exhibitors, street performers, food carts, psychics and thousands of visiting tourists gather for the sunset experience as the sun sinks into the Gulf of Mexico.

Southernmost Point:  The red, black and yellow marker at the corner of South and Whitehead streets. The marker is one of the most photographed spots on the island.

Ghosts & Gravestones Frightseeing Tour:  How is this for a bit of fun!  Explore Key West’s darker side.  The Trolley of the Doomed takes you on a journey where you’ll hear about all things shadowy and sinister.  Mysterious history, it’s gravest moments and it’s ghastly folk.  They swear it’s all true!

Where to eat & drink in Key West

Old Town Mexican Cafe:  A great little mexican restaurant, fantastic margaritas, delicious fajitas with home made tortillas and amazing guacomole!  This is now one of my favourite Mexican restaurants!

Juan loves Lucy:  A Cuban street food cafe with mamma cooking up a storm in the kitchen.  An authentic little restaurant, serving traditional food cooked the Cuban way.

Rooftop Cafe:  Great little rooftop restaurant across from Mallory Square serving contemporary ‘island tinged’ new american style food.  The outlook was perfect, the meals lovely and the margaritas were great!

A & B Lobster House:  One of our favourite dining experiences overlooking the harbour in Key West.  A very posh setting for perfectly prepared lobster.

Alonzo’s Oyster Bar:  ‘to die for’ Oysters of choice.

La Grignotie:  One of our best finds, this beautiful little french bakery was our ‘go to cafe’ for coffee, brunches and lunches.  10 out of 10 for this friendly cafe!

The Rum Bar:  Great Mojitos!

Sloppy Joe’s Bar:  We wandered in for a look at this infamous bar, made famous by Ernest Hemingway as his favourite watering hole.  Named after one of Hemingway’s favourite bars in Cuba this bar is open all hours and offers live music and dancing. This popular bar was covered in Police & Emergency workers memorabilia.  We added to their collection with some Aussie patches.

Key Lime Pie:  You absolutely must try this pie!  The limes are a variety native to Key West.  Go to the Key Lime Pie Company for a generous serve. This pie is lip smacking good!

What we loved about Key West

In short, we loved our short stay in Key West and will travel back again sometime to stay a while longer.  Strangely we felt it was much like our hometown of Darwin in Australia.

We loved the warmth of the people we met in Key West.  The lifestyle is a much slower pace – much like ours at home and the weather was warm.  We did find tourism was their focus though, but when visiting the museums like the Little White House & Hemingway House we loved the reality that was bought into the story telling.

No visit to Florida is complete without taking a road-trip through the amazing Florida Keys.

Why not pin this for later …

Do the Key West road-trip in the amazing Florida Keys

Have any questions about Key West?  Have you any other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!