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Best Places to Stop on the Way to Key West

If you’ve never done it before, you might wonder, is the drive worth it from Miami to Key West? Take it from someone who has made this trip multiple times, the answer is definitely yes. A Miami to Key West road trip is not only filled with stunning scenery, it’s also filled with interesting things to do, great places to eat, and unique sights. Do yourself a favor and start planning your road trip from Miami to Key West today!

This article will give you all the information you need to plan your Miami to Key West drive. We’ll tell you the best stops to make along the way, give you recommendations on where to eat and where to stay in Miami and the Keys, and answer any questions you may have.

1. Miami

Whatever you do, don’t just fly into Miami International Airport, rent a car, and hit the road to Key West! Be sure to take a few days to explore Miami, a vibrant city with cool architecture, hip hot spots, amazing shopping, beautiful beaches, an incredible foodie scene, and beauty around every corner.

Great things to do in Miami include exploring historic neighborhoods like Coral Gables, browsing galleries and shops in the Design District, cruising Ocean Drive on South Beach with its stretch of pastel-colored Art Deco hotels, and checking out the nightlife.

Tour the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, which features a restored Gilded Age mansion and breathtaking formal gardens on the 10-acre estate set along Biscayne Bay. When you’re hungry, head to Little Havana for some fantastic Cuban food. One of the best Cuban restaurants in Miami is Versailles Restaurant. Be sure to get a café con leche, and some flan for dessert. You can also sample Cuban burgers at El Rey de las Fritas.

Speaking of restaurants, Miami is a foodie favorite. The restaurant scene is lively, with new hot spots popping up constantly and plenty of Michelin-starred eateries offering innovative cuisine. Some top restaurants in Miami include The Surf Club Restaurant by Thomas Keller, Boia De, Cote Miami, Amara at Paraiso, Zuma Miami, Stubborn Seed, Carbone, and Joe’s Stone Crab.

If you like nature, take a day trip from Miami to Everglades National Park for a wildlife tour. Keep your eyes peeled for alligators, dolphins, and the sleek Florida panther as you cruise along the waterways of this remarkable nature preserve in either an airboat or kayak.

If you want to make this a quick visit, just go to the visitor center and walk the short Anhinga Trail boardwalk through the marsh to see some alligators. Be sure to wear plenty of mosquito repellant!

Where to stay in Miami

The Fontainebleau in Miami Beach offers sleek modern accommodations in a glamorous oceanfront setting. A celebrity favorite when it opened in the 1950s, the building’s unique curved design set the standard for the “Miami Modern” look. The hotel has been updated and features a gorgeous freeform pool; 12 restaurants, including the Michelin-starred Hakkasan; a spa with steam baths; a gym; and the hip nightclub LIV.

The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables opened in 1926 and is set in an ornate Mediterranean building that was renovated in 2018 but keeps its elegant, luxurious feel. Surrounded by 150 acres of lush landscaping, the resort offers plush accommodations, a spa, tennis courts, an 18-hole championship golf course, 4 restaurants, and one of the largest pools in the United States.

Once you’re ready to leave Miami, you’ll head south on U.S. Highway 1. Your first stop is just about an hour south of the city.

2. Homestead

Stop here to see the Coral Castle Museum. This is the kind of quirky sight that Florida is famous for, so it’s a great start to your Miami to Key West road trip. One man built this incredible structure on his own out of huge chunks of limestone, taking almost 30 years.

3. Key Largo

Key Largo is the closest key to Miami. If you like to snorkel, make sure to bring your gear and stop at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, which was the first undersea park in the country and has the world’s largest artificial reef plus a Spanish shipwreck. If you don’t want to snorkel, you can take a glass-bottom boat tour of the reefs, or kayak through the mangroves. The entry fee to the park is $8 per car.

If you’re hungry, head to Alabama Jack’s for conch fritters or Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen for some coconut shrimp and a slice of the tart and sweet Key Lime Pie.

4. Islamorada

The next key is Islamorada. If you didn’t eat lunch in Key Largo, check out the beachfront restaurant Marker 88, a local favorite that has been serving excellent seafood since 1967. For a unique experience, stop at Robbie’s Marina to feed giant tarpon by hand, and possibly see manatees and sharks as well.

You can also check out the History of Diving Museum for an interesting look at equipment and techniques used in the past, visit the Theater of the Sea to see a dolphin show, or explore the charming Morada Way Arts and Cultural District in downtown Islamorada.

Don’t miss the giant lobster statue (Betsy the Lobster) at the Rain Barrel Artisans Village!

If you like to fish, Islamorada is the Sportfishing Capital of the World. You can get a charter at Bud N’ Mary’s Marina and head out on a variety of fishing expeditions. You can also stay here (see details below under Where to Stay in the Keys).

5. Lignumvitae Key

If you’re driving through on a Thursday through Monday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., consider making your next stop Lignumvitae Key State Park for a trip back in time. You can rent a kayak or boat to visit this tiny island, which features a caretaker’s cottage built in 1919 as well as pristine tropical hardwood hammock, which once covered the Upper Keys. You can also get a ferry from Robbie’s Marina on the weekends.

6. Grassy Key

Stop here to visit the Dolphin Research Center, which is dedicated to conservation, rescuing injured dolphins, and educating people about these amazing creatures. You can tour the center to learn all about them, or spend a few hours here and swim with the dolphins! (Be sure to book ahead for this.)

7. Marathon

Take a beach break on the white sands of Marathon’s Sombrero Beach, then tour the Turtle Hospital, which rehabilitates injured sea turtles and then returns them to the ocean.

If you want to get up close and personal with some sea creatures, head to the Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters (advance reservations are recommended).

Hungry? Don’t miss Key Fisheries, a casual open-air spot in a marina that serves fresh seafood (be sure to try the lobster mac’n’cheese!), or the waterfront Square Grouper (popular with foodies).

Enjoy the views on either side of gorgeous aquamarine and deep blue water as you leave Marathon and cruise over the famous Seven Mile Bridge, the longest segmented bridge in the world. Off to the side you’ll see the Old Seven Mile Bridge, one of the original railroad bridges.

8. Bahia Honda Key

Stop here to visit Bahia Honda State Park. For $8 per car, you can see some of the most beautiful beaches in the Keys. Hang out on the beautiful white sand of Calusa Beach or go swimming, snorkeling, or kayaking. You can also take a hiking trail to the Old Bahia Honda Bridge or explore other beaches like Loggerhead Beach.

9. Big Pine Key

Don’t miss the National Key Deer Refuge Nature Center. Key deer are tiny deer; an endangered species, they live only in the lower Keys. It’s well worth a stop here to learn more about them and try to spot some wandering in the woods.

Afterward, stop by the No Name Pub to add your dollar to the thousands lining the walls.

10. Key West

You’re here! Head to Mile Marker Zero and take a picture of the end of the Overseas Highway, then explore this vibrant key. The feel here is more like a Caribbean island than an American city. Known as the Conch Republic, Key West has considered seceding from the United States in order to preserve its relaxed way of life.

Duval Street is always packed with tourists hanging out at the various bars or shopping for souvenirs, but there’s a lot more to Key West. Have a drink at Sloppy Joe’s, the bar that Ernest Hemingway frequented, then head away from Duval Street to wander through more peaceful areas and enjoy the brightly colored architecture, tropical foliage, and funky vibe.

Other Key West must-dos include visiting the Southernmost Point in the United States for a picture next to the giant buoy, touring the Ernest Hemingway House (look for the 6-toed cats, descendants of his cat), and exploring President Truman’s Little White House, as well as climbing to the top of the Key West Lighthouse.

For stunning ocean views and a lovely beach plus some history, check out Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park at the southern end of the key (entry fee of $6 per car). Another interesting stop in Key West is the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, which chronicles treasure hunter Mel Fisher’s searches for sunken treasure—and displays some of his incredible finds.

After all the walking around, you’ll need a break. Head toward the waterfront and have a refreshing cocktail as you gaze south toward Cuba, just a few hundred miles away, or lounge on the sand at Smathers Beach.

Be sure not to miss the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square, which features all sorts of activities and performers entertaining the crowds who gather to watch the glorious sunsets and watch for the elusive green flash as the sun sinks into the sea. You’ll find Mallory Square along the water at the foot of Duval Street.

After sunset, there are plenty of nightlife options in Key West. You can bar hop along Duval Street, or see live music at laidback places like the Green Parrot.

Where to Eat in Key West

Be sure to feast on some Cuban food while you’re in Key West. Some of the best Cuban restaurants are El Siboney, El Meson de Pepe’s, and Frita’s Cuban Burgers.

DJ’s Clam Shack has been featured on the Food Network’s “Diners and Drive-Ins” and is a casual restaurant serving a wide variety of seafood and sides at reasonable prices.

Schooner Wharf serves a huge selection of delicious fresh seafood plus all sorts of specialty cocktails in its casual open-air, waterfront setting at the foot of William Street.

Blue Heaven is a whimsical restaurant that offers al fresco breakfast, lunch and dinner in a courtyard filled with tropical foliage, as well as indoor dining. There’s live entertainment on the weekends, and while the setting is casual, the food is sophisticated and top notch.

For a romantic and elegant dinner, go to Latitudes. Take a short boat ride from the Opal Key Resort & Marina to get to this fine dining restaurant, set on the water on the island of Sunset Key. Be sure to make a reservation and dress up a bit.

Where to Stay in Key West

There are plenty of adorable vacation rentals in Key West on VRBO and AirBnB. If you prefer to stay in a hotel, here are our recommendations for top places to stay in Key West.

The waterfront Pier House Resort & Spa is centrally located at the foot of Duval Street and features a private white sand beach, luxurious accommodations, and a swanky spa, as well as a pool and whirlpool overlooking the water, a fitness center, and 3 restaurants and bars.

The Gardens Hotel is an adults-only oasis that offers rooms and suites in a historic home plus cottages with private pools on the lushly landscaped grounds.

A wonderful bed-and-breakfast in Key West is Amsterdam’s Curry Mansion Inn, featuring rooms in 3 buildings including a Victorian mansion built in 1869, a courtyard with a pool, free parking, and daily breakfast and happy hour.

When should you avoid Key West?

The weather gets hot, muggy, and rainy in the summer, and since it’s also hurricane season, you may want to avoid Key West from June to September. Hurricane season technically runs until November, but storms are less likely then and the weather is great.

If you don’t want to visit Key West when it’s crowded, skip spring break or any holiday weekend. Winter is prime time for “snowbirds” (residents from the North and Midwest who winter in Florida) so it can be a little more crowded then, but not as much.

Top Places to Stay in the Florida Keys

If you’re not driving straight from Miami to Key West, but would prefer to break up your trip and stay somewhere along the way, here are our picks for the best places to stay in the Keys.

Kona Kai in Key Largo is a tranquil adults-only resort set along the water amid beautiful botanical gardens. This intimate retreat has just 13 rooms and suites, a private beach, and a waterfront pool and jacuzzi.

Cheeca Lodge and Spa in Islamorada offers luxurious rooms and suites on 27 acres of lush gardens, a long stretch of waterfront, 3 restaurants, a 9-hole golf course, a spa and fitness center, an oceanfront tiki bar, adult and family pools, and plenty of watersports. Lounge on the palm-fringed beach or go kayaking, paddleboarding, snorkeling, or scuba diving; fish from the longest pier in the Keys, or book a sportfishing charter to get out into the deep water.

Tranquility Bay Beachfront Hotel and Resort in Marathon lives up to its name with a stunning setting on the water. Stay in a beautifully decorated room or private beach house and enjoy the white sand beach, watersports, 3 pools, beachfront tiki bar, and award-winning restaurant.

What is it like to drive from Miami to Key West?

It’s fun and easy to drive from Miami to Key West. You could make the drive in 4 hours, but as you’ll see in this article, it’s much more enjoyable to make this a leisurely road trip with plenty of stops along the way.

To get to Key West from Miami, drive south on U.S. Highway 1, which becomes the Overseas Highway. The road has a fascinating history; it was originally a railroad that stretched all the way to Key West.

Built by Henry Flagler in 1912, the Florida East Coast Railroad was a miracle of engineering. Before this time, there were no bridges from mainland Florida to the Keys, or between the Keys. Flagler’s crews not only built bridges, they built them strong and sturdy enough to hold train traffic.

Sadly, the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 destroyed much of the track, and the railroad stopped operating. The next year construction of the highway began, using much of the railroad infrastructure. The Overseas Highway opened in 1938, enabling visitors to drive to each of the keys and setting off a tourism boom.

As you drive the 113 miles of the Overseas Highway, you’ll cross more than 40 bridges over sparkling waters of turquoise, aqua, and blue. A truly spectacular experience is to time your trip from Miami to Key West (or Key West to Miami) for sunrise or sunset, but you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous views regardless of when you’re traveling.

How long is the road trip from Miami to Key West?

The Miami to Key West drive is 166 miles. It takes about 4 hours nonstop (depending on traffic), but where’s the fun in that? The route from Miami to Key West is one of the most scenic road trips in the U.S., so you’ll want to take it slow. Plus, there are tons of fun things to do and see on the Miami to Key West drive.

You can do this road trip in one day, taking time to stop at a few of our suggested locations, or you can stretch it out over several days to really immerse yourself in the laidback lifestyle of the Keys. Either way, be sure to spend at least one night in Key West or another key before heading back. This area is too beautiful and unique for just a day trip.

Tips for driving from Miami to Key West

This is a relatively short distance, but the fact that most of the Overseas Highway is one lane in each direction means that traffic can build up quickly. If you can, avoid traveling from Miami to Key West (or vice versa) on holiday weekends.

If you are traveling on a busy day, leave super early in the morning to get a jump on the traffic. (A bonus of doing this is that you’ll catch a stunning sunrise over the water.)

Winter is the peak season for the Keys, so if you’re visiting during this time you may experience more traffic as well.

What is the best time of year to drive Miami to Key West?

Our suggestion for the best time to visit Miami and the Keys is the shoulder seasons of spring and fall. During these months, you’ll have warm weather but lower humidity, plus lower prices and fewer fellow travelers. Springtime between March and May is a great time to road trip from Miami to Key West (excluding the Easter holiday weekend and spring break weeks).

Summer months offer discounts on room rates, but it’s hot and rainy, and you run the chance of storms; hurricane season is June to November, with the peak time coming in August and September. (Hurricanes in October and November are rare, and the gorgeous weather during these months makes it a great time to visit south Florida.)

Winter is peak season for Miami and the Keys, so prices will be higher and there will be more people visiting, but the weather is lovely.

There you have it, our itinerary for a Miami to Key West road trip plus the 10 best stops along the way. Do you have any favorite places to add? Let us know in the comments!

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