One of our favorite vacations in recent years was a Florida Keys road trip. The Miami to Key West drive took us to 3 unique national parks and exploring the beauty up and down the Keys. This trip is filled with nature, adrenaline pumping activities and so much time on the water. Below we share our road trip, where we stayed and why you will love this as an active outdoors family holiday too.
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What & Where are the Florida Keys?
What exactly are the Florida Keys? The “Florida Keys” refers to an archipelago with around 1700 islands at the southern tip of Florida, only 90 miles from Cuba. The Keys officially begin around 12 miles south of Miami, extending south and south-westward more than 137 square miles. Many of these keys are actually just mangrove forests on fossilized coral beds, while others have been developed into commercial centers and vibrant holiday destinations.
You may be wondering how exactly you can visit the Florida Keys if they are a collection of islands. The coolest thing about this area is that it is possible to drive from the top of the Keys all the way to the bottom via the Florida Keys Overseas HIghway which covers around 113 miles from mainland Florida to Key West. Thus, one of the best way to visit is to plan a Miami to Key West road trip that takes in all the best spots on your Florida Keys trip.
Flying into Florida
If you are visiting Florida only for this road trip like we were, you will most likely need to fly in unless you live close enough to drive. While there is an airport in the Florida Keys in Key West, most flights that arrive to this small airport are from the East Coast or smaller airports.
Instead, the bulk of visitors will need to fly into either Miami International Airport (MIA) or Fort Lauderdale. Miami is only about 1 hour from Key Largo, the northernmost town in the Keys. Flying into Fort Lauderdale adds another half hour to your drive.
If you are flying from out of state you will need a rental car for your Miami to Key West drive. We rented a compact car and it was perfect. Our rental company tried to upgrade us to a bigger SUV but I am so glad we stuck to the smaller vehicle as many of the parking areas were small, which worked better with a smaller car. And gas mileage of course!
When to Take a Florida Keys Vacation
Really there is no bad time to visit the Florida Keys.. well OK maybe during the height of hurricane season, but with an average temperature in the 80s you can’t go wrong for much of the year. The coldest month is January where it can get down into the low 70s with August being the hottest month with temperatures in the upper 80s and low 90s.
Hurricane season officially is considered June 1 through November 30 in the Florida Keys, with the most active time being between early August through the end of October. Obviously it makes it difficult to plan a holiday far in advance during this time period as you have to be prepared to cancel due to a hurricane developing, but overall, there is a decent amount of notice if you do need to cancel. This is why it is especially important to get travel insurance if you are planning your holiday during the hurricane season.
Our road trip was in mid-June which meant hot and humid days with a chance of rain/thunderstorms most days. That said, we only got rained out on an activity once – on our last day.
How Many Days in the Keys?
Planning your Florida Keys trip is never easy when it comes to deciding how many days you should stay in the Keys. Even though, Even though the distance from on a Miami to Key West road trip itinerary is only about 165 miles, it is highly recommended to stay in a few different places along the Keys to fully experience it all. If you want to move quickly, you could do it in as little as 3 days, but you would be missing out on a ton. Ideally, I would suggest at least 7 days but you could easily fill your days up to 10-12 days. Our trip was 8 days and I would have been happy with another 2 days to slow things down a bit.
For more help planning your Florida Keys trip, check out the tourism website that has a ton of information to help guide you along!
Where to Stay on a Miami to Key West Drive
Ideally, you should consider splitting up your trip between a few different hotels to maximize your time in the Keys and reduce your driving time each day. During our visit, we stayed in 3 locations – the Upper Keys, Key West (lower Keys) and in Homestead between the Keys and Miami.
Key Largo is located in the Upper Keys and is split by the Overseas Highway. Key Largo is home to many beautiful resorts, but is much more spread out. The vibe is super chill. It feels more like you are passing through a small town, than being in it, if you know what I mean.
During our visit, we stayed at the Bay Harbor Resort / Coconut Harbor Resort. This place is a true gem that is perfect for families, couples and solo travelers. We absolutely loved the adorable cottages steps away from the water. Included in your stay is complimentary coffee and amazingly delicious homemade scones as well as kayaks and paddleboards. This place is THE place to stay in Key Largo. Highly recommend!
Key West, located at the southernmost point of the Keys definitely feels like a city – not LA or Miami, but compared to the laid back nature of the rest of the Keys, Key West is a city. This vibrant town is the perfect base for all of your water adventures and for visiting the Dry Tortugas National Park.
While there are a ton of unique and hip places in Key West, we stayed a bit out of the main area at Oceans Edge Key West. This luxury property is larger than most in Key West, but offers beautiful suites, 6 pools, games, free kayak usage and so much more on property. It definitely has a resort vibe. While we loved the property, it wasn’t the most convenient for all of our activities that were based in the Old Town. If I wanted more hotel/pool time, I would stay here again for sure, but if you are just sleeping in your room like we normally do, I would consider staying closer to the action. Just remember parking is expensive and not easy to find so make sure it is included in your hotel.
If you have plans to spend time at either Biscayne National Park or the Everglades National Park, you might consider staying a night or two in Homestead or next door in Florida City. It’s cheaper than staying in Miami and is convenient for any tours you might want to take of these parks. During our visit, we stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn. It offered free parking, free breakfast and modern spacious rooms for a good price. In general this area is chock full of chain hotel options like the Hilton, offering similar amenities. We were hardly in our room, so it was perfect for what it was.
Check this map below to see what options are available throughout the Keys during your visit.
20 Exciting Places to Stop on Your Miami to Key West Drive
Our motto while hiking is the best part is often the journey not the destination. This holds true on road trips as well. Heading out on a Miami to Key West road trip is where you will test out this adage as the journey to the end of the Florida Keys is just as good as the final destination.
Driving on the Overseas Highway, you will encounter beauty, quirky stops and of course a ton of great places to eat and drink.
Below is a collection of some of our favorite stops from Miami to Key West road trip itinerary – north to south as you would drive from Miami to Key West. We have used the ubiquitous mile marker system when we can to help you plan your journey. Even though we list this in order heading south, you can always do some of these on your way down and some on your way back up to Miami, which is actually what we did. I make note of places that require reservations or advance notice as well.
Map of Your Miami to Key West Road Trip Stops
Miami – Wynwood Walls or Little Havana
If you are like us and most out of state visitors your journey probably begins by flying into Miami. While it is easy to bypass this massive metropolis, there are actually some great things to check out if you can budget the time in your itinerary.
During our visit we had only 1 day to check out Miami and sadly it was pouring rain. Since the weather wasn’t on our side to make a visit to South Beach, we headed to Wynwood to check out the “Wynwood Walls“, beautiful murals that adorn this hip neighborhood. We walked around, had lunch and enjoyed window shopping in this vibrant area. With more time, I would have checked out Little Havana. to visit Calle Ocho, try some Cuban coffee, visit a market, or even take a walking tour to learn about the history and culture of Little Havana.
If you have arrived in the day with time, your first stop should be the Coral Castle situated in Homestead, Florida. This quirky stone sculpture garden was built by a Latvian immigrant named Ed Leedskalnin. What he accomplished by himself is actually quite a feat! If you have an appreciation for quirky roadside attractions, this is a fun stop.is quite a sight to see. Some compare it to a sculpture garden, while others think it looks like more of a castle, but real beauty of the Coral Castle Museum is the story of how it was built.
Biscayne National Park
One of our favorite things to do in the US is visit national parks. We were so excited to be able to visit 3 different parks on this one road trip. Biscayne is one of the most interesting parks to visit as it is almost entirely underwater. The best way to experience the park is to schedule a tour out on the water. During our visit, we did a snorkel and eco paddle tour which was amazing. Our guide Jessie D was so enthusiastic about her job, sharing so much information about the park, the area and underwater life that you couldn’t help but be inspired to see and do more. For families with kids, you can pick up a Junior Ranger booklet here which includes Biscayne, Everglades and Big Cypress National Preserve. If you complete all 3, you get a cool path in addition to your well earned badges.
Everglades National Park
The Everglades National Park covers over 1.5 million acres and as such is quite spread out. With 4 visitor centers, you really need to consider what you want to do and see to make the most of your visit. For those just passing through on their way to the Keys, we would recommend a stop at the Royal Palm Visitor Center where you can walk along the boardwalks in the hopes to spot an alligator. The short Anhinga Trail is a perfect introduction for visitors with limited time. This visitor center also often has talks and guided walks through the day as well.
Stop for Conch Fritters in Key Largo
There are a ton of cool options in Key Largo if you are just passing through, but one that stands out for a quick bite to eat is Alabama Jacks, which is famous for its conch fritters. As with most places in the Keys, it is a laid-back, open-air restaurant with license plates on the wall and a roll of paper towels on the table. The conch fritters were amazing!
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Situated on the famous island of Key Largo, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park holds the title of the first undersea state park in the United States. How cool is that? Even though we did a ton of snorkeling on our trip, we were really sad to have missed this amazing park as we have heard the coral reefs here are stunning. Adding it to the list for our next visit! If you aren’t into snorkeling, here you can also check out renting a glass bottom boat tour.
Coral Restoration Foundation Education Center
During all of our trips we try to educate ourselves on the local area, whether that be through the local culture, people or history. It only makes sense that while visiting the Florida Keys that we take time to learn about the Coral Restoration work that is being done in this area to revitalize the coral reefs.
The newly developed Coral Restoration Exploration Center allows visitors to engage with interactive exhibits that demonstrate the importance of global coral reefs and CRF’s initiatives and actions to restore coral reefs. Visitors can also get hands-on training to work in coral nurseries and learn how to plant a coral. A must visit for even half an hour to educate yourself on what you will surely be seeing while under the water!
Feed Tarpon at Robbie’s of Islamorada (Mile Marker 77)
If you are with kids, this is a must visit on your Miami to Key West road trip. Robbie’s Marina is the place to go for that Instagram worthy photo of you or your child feeding a massive tarpon! We were coming here for a tour and ended up having a blast.
There are a variety of small tourist shops selling magnets, bracelets and other tourist knick knacks, a restaurant, a photo gallery and what its most famous for – feeding tarpon fish from the dock! For $5 you can purchase a bucket with a few fish to waggle over the ocean teeming with massive tarpon. Be careful, they jump for any sniff of food!
We ate lunch here and while I wouldn’t say it was the best, it was decent enough, albeit a bit overpriced compared to some other places. However, we are always happy when we can make one stop for many activities.
Get in the Water at Sundance Watersports (Mile Marker 77)
If you are making the most of your Florida Keys road trip and looking for something to do in the middle keys, check out Sundance Watersports. Here you can try your hand at SNUBA or snorkeling. Located at the same location as Robbies of Islamorada, makes it an easy one stop for a full day of adventure, fun and food. Their boat BLUE is a massive, comfortable boat that holds up to 100+ people. While most people snorkel, you can also try your hand at SNUBA where you are connected to your oxygen supply, but have the opportunity to dive down up to 20 feet. It’s a great way to test out whether or not you would like scuba diving. I did not love SNUBA, but my son really enjoyed his experience and hopes to try it again!
The Sea Turtle Hospital (Mile Marker 48.5)
One of the things I had heard most about visiting the Keys was the Turtle Hospital, so of course it had to be on our to do list. The Turtle Hospital was established in 1986, and have released more than 1,500 sea turtles back into the wild since. As you make your way on your Miami to Key West drive, this is a great place to visit to learn more about the work that is being done and how we as regular citizens can help protect these magical animals out in the wild. Tours are 90 minutes and start on the hour from 9-4 pm daily. Don’t get caught out without a reservation as you will need to book ahead to get on a tour. During our visit we had the cool opportunity to see a baby leatherback they were working on – only the 3rd they have ever had here.
TOP TIP: While you are here, make sure to try a slice of fried key lime pie at Burdines. This is one of the only places that we saw this on the menu!
Seven Mile Bridge (Mile Marker 47-40)
One of the most impressive bridges you’ll ever drive across is located on the west end of Marathon in the Middle Keys. As the name implies, this bridge spans seven miles across the sea, and in some spots, it’s so long and straight you can’t see the end of it.
Here you’ll also find a walking bridge that was once a railway – it spans this stretch too. However, it is only open for about 2 miles. Here you can walk or bike. I
Travelers Tip: If you are spending some time around here and looking for great views of the bridge, head to Sunset Grille & Raw Bar in Marathon.
Tram Ride to Pigeon Key via the Old Seven Mile Bridge (Mile Marker 47)
One of the coolest ways to experience the Old Seven Mile Bridge without walking or biking it is by taking a tram ride to Pigeon Key. Pigeon Key is one of the Key’s most historically significant locations. The island housed over 400 workers in the early 1900s – the workers who built the Over-Sea railroad. Today it serves as a historic site where you can have a quick guided tour and then explore the island on your own. Bring your snorkel gear as you can snorkel too!
Bahia Honda State Park (Mile Marker 37)
When putting together your Key West drive, try to set aside time in your itinerary to explore Bahia Honda State Park. Located only 30 minutes from Marathon in Big Pine Key, this state park is one of the best state parks in the Florida Keys and has some of the best beaches! The entire state park is over 500 acres and offers some really good snorkeling opportunities.
If you want to do more than laze on the beach, you can rent kayaks at the concession stand and find our more about their snorkeling tours that go to Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary.
For those of your camping along the Keys, Bahia Honda is one of the best places to base yourself. There are 80 campsites here that must be booked WELL in advance as they are in high demand. Reservations open 11 months in advance.
Kermit’s Key Lime Pie (Mile Marker 118)
We were told the thing to do on a Miami to Key West drive is to try a slice of key lime pie everywhere we could. Tons of people recommended that we try Kermit’s key lime pie dipped in chocolate. I was sick so couldn’t try it, but my son loved it! I am dying to go back again so I can try it too. He said it was nice and tarty as opposed to some of the much sweeter versions we have tried along the way.
Dolphin Watch & Snorkel Tour with Honest Eco
One thing you will find while visiting the keys on a Florida road trip is that it is difficult to go a day without being on or in the water. One of the best ways to experience this magical part of Florida is through the water exploring all of the amazing marine life on offer. A unique way to experience the Florida Keys in an eco conscious way is to go out on an electric boat to see dolphins and snorkel with Honest Eco. We loved the boat, the tour and the fact that we weren’t adding more harm to these busy waters, but I will say, the boat goes so much slower than regular speed boats, so much of your time is actually just being out on the water, enjoying the scenery! Regardless I am so happy to support this type of eco-tourism!
Seaplane (or Ferry) to Dry Tortugas National Park
You can’t come all the way down to Key West and not make a day trip to one of the coolest national parks in the US – Dry Tortugas. Located about 70 miles west of Key West, it’s not easy (or cheap) to get here, but it is well worth it. Bookings for the much more reasonably priced ferry sells out well in advance, which is why we were left with no option but to take the seaplane. Besides, the cost of the plane, I really can’t complain as this is a top way to get to the island for the day and is its own adventures itself.
Spend an Adventurous Day on the Water with Fury Key West
There are so many amazing tours to do out on the water in Key West and throughout the Keys it is difficult to figure out what is the best. For our trip, we tried to do unique things that got us out of our comfort zone a bit. One of those was the Fury Key West Ultimate Adventure h2.0. It included a ton of adrenaline sports that we would never consider on their own, but in this format we were able to give them a try without dedicating a whole day to one thing. We absolutely loved it! Our favorite of the day was the parasailing adventure. You can see our whole video above from take off to set down! The tour included breakfast, lunch and all the equipment we needed other than a towel. Perfect for those who want to try their hand at a few things!
Key West Aquarium
Located in Key West’s famous Mallory Square, the Key West Aquarium is one of the island’s most popular attractions for people of all ages. Home to alligators, jellyfish, sharks and many other marine animals, guests can enjoy interactive conservation talks as well as animal feedings. We were there for the sea turtle talk which was fascinating. We even got to see the prosthetics that the turtles use. The aquarium touch tank features a variety of beautiful creatures, including conchs, sea stars, sea urchins, giant hermit crabs and horseshoe crabs. Guests also have the unique opportunity to meet live sharks and stingrays. of the most fascinating creatures in the Florida Keys!
Southernmost Point Marker
Just like we did on our Hawaii road trip, visiting the southernmost point of the island, you can’t not visit the Southernmost point marker here in Key West. If you don’t go early, expect to wait a while for one quick snap! We arrived at 9 a.m and there were only a few other people in line so it moved quickly. Pay parking is required on the streets surrounding this, so be aware if you lines are long, it will be best to pay. (I believe payment was done through the PaybyPhone app which we used a few times while in town).
Other Key West Attractions to Check Out
There are so many cool places to check out in Key West, that you can easily spend most of your time here exploring both on the water and off! Some of our favorites here include the Ernest Hemingway House, the Key West Shipwreck Museum, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, the Mile Marker 0 sign and of course spending time walking down Duval Street. Something on our to do list for next time we are in Key West is the Key West Butterfly Nature Conservatory.
If you don’t have a lot of time to stop at other places that have beaches, Smathers Beach in Key West is one of the best beaches in the Florida Keys and an easy place to pop into for a quick dip and some sand play. You might be surprised like i was if you were expecting powdery soft white sand beaches all along the Florida Keys like in Clearwater. Here the beaches are not long swaths of white sand as many of the beaches are man made or sand brought in. But.. this beach feels like what you would expect in Florida!
Where to Eat in the Keys
The Fish House
One of the absolute best places to eat on our Miami to Key West drive was the Fish House. This restaurant is hands down our favorite meal of our trip in the Keys. Always bustling, expect to wait for a table as they do not take reservations. Trust me when I tell you the food is worth the wait. The extensive menu may take a while for you to go through to figure out what to order! During our visit we had the Hot Crab and Artichoke dip that was DELICIOUS followed by our main meal. I ordered the Hemingway that had a luscious butter garlic cream sauce over Mahi Mahi while my son had the coconut shrimp. We polished off our meal with a slice of their famous key lime pie. Expensive and busy but a must stop on any Florida Keys road trip itinerary.
Cuban Coffee Queen
One of our other super favorites while in the Florida Keys was Cuban Coffee Queen in Key West. There are a few locations, but we tended to frequent the one by the marina every morning as we headed out on our boat tours. We LOVED the iced Cuban coffee and the Cuban bagel which was bread, soaked in butter and honey, toasted and then slathered with more butter on top before getting a sprinkle of Everything but the Bagel seasoning. Delish!!
The Breakfast Club, Too
We don’t often have time to eat breakfast out as we are in a hurry, but once my son heard about the Breakfast Club we had to visit. The speciality here is the pancake charcuterie board! The board comes with 14 pancakes and all kinds of toppings including Nutella, peanut butter, whipped cream, jam, and maple syrup, along with tons of fresh fruit like pineapple, strawberry, and blueberries. It is huge and worth sharing.
The Waterfront Brewery
One of our favorite places to eat in Key West was the Waterfront Brewery. Not only was is super convenient to all of our boat trips, it also was where the shuttle for our hotel picked up. But, really we loved the food here. The cajun shrimp over pasta was our favorite. If you are in the area, looking for lunch, it’s a good go to. Be warned, there are video games and air hockey tables in the back so you will be sucked in here for a while if you are with kids!
Half Shell Raw Bar in Key West Historic Seaport
One of the best key lime pies that we tried during our week in the Keys was here at Half Shell. My son also really loved his shrimp scampi. I was not feeling well so didn’t get to try much other than their garlic bread which I ate a whole bunch of! And a good sampling of the Key Lime Pie! If you are in the area, it’s a great spot to grab a bite to eat.
Midway Cafe & Coffee Bar (Mile Marker 80.5)
Located in Islamorada, the Midway Cafe was highly recommended to us by several of our Instagram followers. Sadly, they were closed as we made our way through one way and I was sick the other. It is on my list to try on our next visit. This funky counter serve spot has an outdoor patio and has both breakfast and lunch on offer. We were recommended to try the chocolate croissants.
As you can see a Miami to Key West road trip is an amazing vacation destination as it’s filled with beautiful beaches, a variety of outdoor activities like kayaking in mangrove swamps to scuba diving in clear water. It really is a bucket list trip that you will want to return to over and over and over again.