The turquoise waters, bright Florida sun, and salty air is the perfect combination for one of the most beautiful drives in the United States. The drive through the Florida Keys, from Miami down to Key West is about 4 hours long, straight through; however, I recommend taking a little bit longer than that. It is over 100 miles on the Overseas Highway of pure bliss and unreal scenery, which includes the Seven Mile Bridge.
During my trip to southern Florida, we drove down from Charlotte, stopping along the way for two days in Cocoa Beach Florida. Once we got down to the southern coast we stayed at an Airbnb in Miami’s South Beach the duration and drove down into the keys two different days. It was very manageable, but I would definitely recommend staying the night in the Keys if you want to truly explore the islands.
Whether you fly into the Miami airport and rent a car or drive down the coast, having a car is essential to making the most out of this road trip!
Here are my recommendations on how to visit the Florida Keys, from Miami!
Things to do in Miami
Wynwood Art District
The Wynwood district on the Florida mainland is home to some of the most exuberant public art and murals around. No matter where you wander in this district, you are guaranteed to see amazingly colorful designs and murals on the sides of buildings, on the sidewalks, and more. While in the Wynwood District, check out Wynwood Walls for an incredible, changing collection of wall murals, and garden of art.
Dinner/Drinks at Watr
Watr at the Rooftop is a rooftop bar on the top of 1 Hotel South Beach. The rooftop restaurant boasts panoramic views of the beach and the city, with the hotel pool atop as well. They have an extensive menu of food and drinks, including some specialty cocktails.
This area is full of nightlife, amazing restaurants, and of course, the beach! The white sandy beaches and bright blue water are a sight to see, but be prepared for crowds! Another notable restaurant: Naked Taco South Beach
Now to the really good stuff…
The first stop we did on the way into the keys was in Key Largo. Key Largo is the largest section of the Keys and the closest to Florida mainland. The island is also considered the scuba diving capital of the world! (how cool is that!?) It is home to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. The state park has a wide variety of activities for every member of the family! We took a snorkeling tour out to the main coral reefs, and it was absolutely breathtaking! They also offer scuba diving, glass-bottom boat tours, kayaking, paddle boarding, and more!
A little bit farther down the archipelago is the Islamorada island. Islamorada is home to some incredible beaches like the Liberty Beach Park or Sea Oats Beach, but it is also home to the popular marine park, Theater of the Sea. This marine park serves as a rescue and rehabilitation center for some marine animals injured in the wild, as well as some born within the center. They take pride in the health and safety of their animals first, but also share with the visitors “in ways that inspire awareness and sensitivity towards animals, the environment and conservation issues.” They offer different shows and attractions as well as the ability to experience swimming with dolphins, sea lions or even sharks.
Making our way even further down the island chain is the Dolphin Research Center. The Dolphin Research Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the research of and education about dolphins. They also provide dolphin encounter experiences and a splash park.
Marathon Key is the next major island in the Florida Keys chain. Sombrero Beach and I gorgeous white sand beach that is actually an important nesting site for endangered sea turtles, which occurs between April and October. Although people are unable to enter the area near the turtles until they hatch and make it to the ocean, there is still plenty of room to enjoy the beaches. This beach also has picnic tables, a volleyball court, a playground, restrooms and showers available for its guests. Dogs on leashes are allowed and it is fully handicap accessible.
Big Pine Key
On the other side of the Seven Mile Bridge, you’ll find the Bahia Honda State Park. The park is open 8 am to sundown every day of the year (even holidays)!
This state park has over 15 different activities available as well as numerous amenities. You can camp, snorkel, fish, bike, and so much more! It is pet-friendly and has accessible amenities as well. There is an $8 per vehicle fee, but with as much as you can do here, I would say it is WELL worth it! As of right now, the Sandspur Beach and Sandspur campground are closed for repair after Hurricane Irma.
Alright, so we have made it through most of the main islands along the Florida Keys. I must add, do NOT try to do this all in one day! These are just recommended stops whether you visit one or stay the night along the way to visit all! There is so much beauty in this part of the country, you are not going to want to rush through it at all.
At the very bottom of this island chain is the infamous and pastel-colored island of Key West. This island is filled with life and I would absolutely recommend spending at least one or two nights here to soak up all that the southernmost point of the continental USA has to offer.
The first place we loved here was Smathers Beach. This white sandy beach is a great place to come and relax! They have a ton of activities like paddleboarding, kayaking, chair and float rentals, sand volleyball, and so much more! We also went on a parasailing tour out of this beach with Sunset Watersports. This company also offers the Smathers beach pass that includes a parasail ride, all-day equipment rentals, Hobie Cat sailboats, floats, windsurfing & more. Equipment and rentals can also be done individually if you don’t want to spend the majority of the day in one place!
Mallory Square is a must-visit when in key west. It is a waterfront area with plenty of restaurants, shops, water rentals, fishing, music, and the nightly festival to watch the sunset. Visit the website to see the latest happenings at the square!
Another must-visit: Duval Street. At one end is Mallory Square and at the other end is the Southernmost Point of the Continental US. This street is lined with bars, shops, restaurants, local artists, and SO much more! Be prepared for crowds though; as one of the most visited places in Key West, the streets are filled with people at all hours.
Visit the Southernmost Point in the Continental US
At the end of Duval street, you can find the Southernmost Point in the Continental US, which is just 90 miles from Cuba. Right around the corner from this historical buoy, is the Southernmost House in the Continental US. If you plan to visit these sites, get there early. The crowds start surrounding and lining up for pictures throughout the day.
Rent a Bike
Key West is not a very large island, but there are a lot of quaint side streets that many people don’t explore. My recommendation: rent a bike and just explore the city. Bike rentals are usually a very inexpensive way to explore the roads less traveled.