You can fly directly into the Florida Keys’ flagship destination Key West without a problem, but doing so would mean that you’d miss, well, everything else. The Keys stretch on for about 120 miles, with more than 40 different islands dispersed throughout. Here are five things to know about a road trip from Miami to Key West.
It’s the Most Unique Drive in the Country
From Miami, it’s about an hour until you leave the mainland and begin your Florida Keys’ adventure. More than 40 bridges connect the island chain down to its southwest endpoint of Key West.
Americans are no stranger to epic road trips—Highway 1 in California, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the western mountain passes and a myriad of other scenic routes through the country—but a drive that encompasses 40-some islands and 40-some bridges, that carries you over long stretches of open ocean, connecting the dots through an island chain? We’re hard-pressed to find another one like it, here at home or abroad. Check out this short video to get a sense of what’s in store.
There are Services in Abundance
Those who have not been to the Florida Keys might wonder how it works logistically. If these 40-some islands are fanned out off the coast and the road ventures out over open water, does one need to be stocked up and prepared for long stretches without services?
The answer is a resounding “no.” You’ll come across a gas station every 30 minutes or so and many of the islands, like Key Largo, Islamorada and Key West, are well-developed with restaurants, coffee shops and stores. Don’t feel like you have to stock your trunk before you leave—you can get what you need in the Keys.
Budget Accommodations Are Hard to Come By
One thing that is rare to find is budget accommodations. Even the most basic option, a space for your tent at a campground, will cost you close to $60/night. In this way, a road trip down Highway 1 in Florida is much different than your classic cross-country jaunt that’s stocked full of budget, roadside motels. Be sure to plan your accommodations ahead of time to ensure you lock in the best price, especially in high season (winter).
Know Your Geography and History, and the Keys Come to Life
Yes, the Keys shine on the outer surface—shimmering water, sunny days—but it’s the lesser-told aspects that bring out its full personality.
Read up on the Overseas Railroad that once ran down to Key West. It operated from 1912 until 1935, when it was destroyed by a hurricane. After, the tracks and bridges were repurposed into roads for car travel.
When you learn about Indian Key, you will go back to a time when cargo salvaging from shipwrecks was a highly-lucrative business in the Keys. If you are a diver, you might then consider visiting some of the wrecks personally. Ernest Hemingway, who lived and wrote from Key West in the 1930s, captures a glimpse of the salvaging lifestyle in his short story, After the Storm.
In our world of digital navigation, it’s still important to become familiar with a map before you hit the Keys. Understanding the layout and geography will help you connect with the locals. For example, Islamorada, commonly referred to as a single entity, is actually six islands, and having a general idea of how the islands are laid out and lined up will increase your ability to explore, not to mention your street cred at local watering holes.
Sooner or Later, You Need to Go Fishing and Get Out on a Boat
If you want to blend in with the locals, there are two things you need to do.
The first is go fishing. Locals fish everywhere there’s not a “no fishing” sign—off bridges, in small streams by the road, from the shoreline, and from boats of all sizes and statures. Check local regulations for licensing. You can rent rods at any marina or bait shop.
The second is to get out on a boat. It could be a fishing boat, it could be for a snorkel tour, a simple sunset cruise or a kayak rental. The charm of the Keys sits undoubtedly upon its turquoise water, and if you don’t get out upon it, you’re missing the basis of the local lifestyle.
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