The stretch of road from Miami to the Florida Keys is one of the region’s best road trips, showcasing the stunning blue water on both sides of the Overseas Highway. Running around 125 miles, it can easily be driven in a few hours, but there’s so much to see that it’s best to see it slowly. There is a 17 mile stretch of two-lane roads, so drive cautiously like you would on Alligator Alley. Crashes are common so travel insurance and auto coverage are essential.
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How to Do It
A rental car is the best way to road trip from Miami to Key West. Nothing fancy is needed, just a simple compact car, but a passport is required to rent a car if you’re an international traveler. You can find the best deals from the airports in Miami and Fort Lauderdale as well as in the cities. AAA and Costco members can also find discounts through these organizations. If you’re feeling adventurous or interested in camping, you can also get a Campervan Rental from Miami.
What to Bring
If you plan on camping during your road trip, you’ll need additional gear like tents, sleeping bags, and mosquito repellent. All travelers will need at least two swimsuits and beach towels since this road trip passes through some of Florida’s best beaches. A hat is also essential. Create a fun playlist to listen to during the drive, made up of Florida artists.
A Note on the Importance of Responsible Travel: Because of its location, responsible travel is that much more important. Trash is take off the islands or to landfills in the Keys, so when possible limit your waste, especially plastics. Plastic straws and bags are on their way to being eliminated so bring reusable straws and reusable bags. Bring reef-safe sunscreen that won’t affect the coral reef and do your best to eat only sustainable seafood.
Miami has plenty to see, so give yourself time to explore before starting your road trip. Villa Vizcaya is an incredible mansion and gardens owned by James Deering, a Gilded Age tycoon. The city has a thriving arts scene with galleries in Wynwood as well as traditional museums. Wolfsonian Museum has an eclectic collection. The Miami Beach Botanical Garden has tropical plants a short walk from South Beach. Miami Beach Bike Tour visits the city on two wheels. The Miami Beach Food and Art Deco Walking Tour goes to some of the city’s most beloved restaurants.
Enjoy eclectic flavors in Miami like Cuban food in Little Havana. Islas Canarias Restaurant and Versailles are known for their authentic dishes like plantains and arroz con pollo. Yardbird Southern Table & Bar has true Southern dishes including fried chicken and macaroni and cheese.
Be prepared to splurge on accommodation in Miami, especially in Miami Beach. Freehand Miami is a stylish hotel with both private rooms and dorms. Circa 39 Hotel is an affordable boutique hotel with a pool and beach chairs. Life House Little Havana is a funky guesthouse in the Cuban neighborhood. The Sagamore is a luxury art hotel worth the splurge. You can even find camping in the greater Miami area at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park in Key Biscayne, which has boat docking. Larry and Penny Thompson Memorial Park is located near the zoo and has campground and pavilion facilities. Airbnb has properties for rent in Miami.
From Miami, take South Dixie Highway 1 south into the greater Everglades area. Pick up essentials at the grocery store before continuing your journey because everything gets more expensive.
Homestead and Florida City
Continuing south about an hour, you’ll next hit the towns of Homestead and Florida City that are the gateway to the Everglades, one of the world’s most unique ecosystems. Spend time exploring the national park, starting at Ernest Coe Visitor Center in Homestead. There are many points of entry into the park, but admission is $10 per vehicle, which is good for 7 days. Campsites are also available. You can also book an Everglades Walking Tour or, if time allows, the 3 Day Everglades Kayaking and Camping Tour. In Homestead, check out the Coral Castle Museum was built by a man trying to prove his love to a woman. At only five feet, how he created this coral masterpiece is still a mystery. If you’re looking for a way to kill a few hours, visit the Schnebly Redland’s Winery & Brewery. For $7, you can get samples of their beers and wines as well as purchase some to take with you. Everglades Outpost is an animal rescue facility that welcomes visitors for programming.
Homestead’s Robert Is Here fruit stand has some of the most offbeat fruits and delicious smoothies anywhere. It also boasts a petting zoo on site. Chefs on the Run in Homestead has traditional Puerto Rican mofongo, burgers, and gyros. Havana Spice, also in Homestead, also has authentic Cuban food.
Everglades International Hostel is the area’s unique eco-hostel with private and dorm rooms. They also operate their own tours through the national park with local guides. Courtyard by Marriott Miami Homestead is a mid-range hotel with a fitness center and hotel. Campgrounds, both full service and backcountry, are available within the national park. Flamingo Adventures has a campground with RV and tent sites as well as glamping tents.
Biscayne National Park
One of three national parks in Florida, Biscayne National Park features untouched coral reefs and barrier islands. Located in the Upper Keys, the mangrove forest and islands can only be accessed by boat from North Key Largo, about 30 minutes from Homestead. Visitors can see wildlife like dolphins and turtles in the lagoon or visit the Maritime Heritage Trail, an area of dive sites that include shipwrecks. Boca Chita Lighthouse and the Convoy Point Museum are a few of the must-see landmarks.
There are no restaurants within this chain of islands, so you’ll have to bring your own and bring your trash back off. There are campgrounds at Boca Chita Key and Elliott Key with boat slips, bathrooms, and picnic areas.
Less than 20 minutes south of the entrance to the national park is Key Largo, often associated with the Humphrey Bogart film of the same name. In fact, the annual Humphrey Bogart Film Festival celebrates his film and visitors can see the African Queen, which is docked here. John Pennekamp State Park offers snorkeling and diving to the famous “Christ of the Abyss” underwater statue. It’s made up of over 70 nautical miles including mangroves and hammock trees. Key Largo Hammock State Botanical Site is home to acres of protected West Indian tropical hardwood hammock trees as well as 84 protected species of plants and animals like alligators. Key Largo has arguably best scuba diving in the Florida Keys and there are dozens of outfitters in town. If you’re not certified, enjoy a 4-Hour Snorkel Charter from Key Largo.
Key Largo may be small but has no shortage of places to eat. Key Largo Conch House is known for its conch fritters, key lime pie, fish tacos, and lobster bisque. Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen II is a former diner serves the best key lime pie in Key Largo along with seafood hoagies and burgers. Open since 1985, Sundowners is the perfect place to watch the sunset over a local beer and fresh local seafood. The Pilot House is a marina with a restaurant and glass bottom bar where diners can see sea life underneath.
Drift Hotel is a lovely place to stop on your way south to relax on the beach and access the resort’s kayaks. Baker’s Cay Resort is set on 13 waterfront acres with two restaurants and bars, two pools, nature trails, and a salon. Rooms have balconies overlooking the ocean where guests can borrow paddleboards and kayaks. Jules Undersea Lodge is the most unique stay on the island and the “world’s only underwater hotel.” They offer scuba diving certification, rooms only accessible by water, and even have food delivered! Amy Slate’s Amoray Dive Resort is another favorite for diving and staying with rooms and suites. All have microwaves, televisions, and coffee makers. Key Largo Kampground has waterfront campsites for RVs and tents, some with electric hookups, and a marina.
Continuing ten minutes south is historic Tavernier, which is a good budget-friendly alternative for those looking to stay near Key Largo. Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary is a rescue operation and attraction that houses birds that can no longer be released into the wild. Some are tropical species like parrots while others are native to the Keys. It’s a good base for diving so you can go on a 2 Location Dive Charter from Tavernier. Alternatively, see the area by boat with All Day Kayak Rental in Tavernier.
Start your day with coffee, sandwiches, and pastries from Cafe Moka. Sunrise Cuban Cafe & Market has authentic Cuban dishes like Cuban sandwiches, omelettes, and roasted pork. Fresh seafood is served at What the Fish Rolls & Market, known for its fish tacos and rolls.
The relaxed Island Bay Resort is classic Keys style colorful and nautical decor as well as full kitchens. Kona Kai Resort and Gallery is an adults-only retreat with a tennis court and botanical garden.
Another 15 minutes south is Islamorada, considered to be the deep sea fishing capital. Many charter operators operate here. The History of Diving Museum is the area’s main attraction. You can also take boat trips to smaller islands and keys like Little Rabbit Key, Shell Key, and Lignumvitae Key. The most popular activity is feeding the tarpon at Robbie’s Marina.
The Hungry Tarpon Restaurant at Robbie’s serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can also bring in your catch and they’ll cook it for you. Chef Michael’s is a fine dining restaurant is known for its steaks and fresh local seafood. Choose your fish, which can be prepared in a number of ways. Pair with one of the many wines available. Lorelei Restaurant and Cabana Bar is a great place to watch the sunset. They’re open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Florida Keys Brewing Company is also on Islamorada.
The retro-style Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina has funky decor, WiFi, and flat-screen televisions. They have rooms and cottages as well as a marina with a tackle shop, a pool, and restaurants. Sport fishermen love this 200-room Cheeca Lodge & Spa for its pier and marina, but they also have a spa, golf course, three restaurants, and activities like snorkeling and cycling. Amara Cay Resort is an upscale oceanfront resort with rooms and suites and a restaurant.
Another 20 minutes down the highway is Layton, which is home to Long Key State Park. The over 900-acre park was originally the site of a train depot for the rail line that continued to Key West. Today it’s a popular spot for birdwatching, hiking, kayaking, and snorkeling. The park has two nature trails and picnic areas.
There are no restaurants within the park, but The Florida Boy Bar and Grill is just outside it in Layton proper. The casual eatery is pet-friendly and has live music.
The park has 60 full-service campsites but they are being restored until December 31, 2019. Lime Tree Bay Resort is right outside the park with free WiFi, parking, and daily breakfast. Fiesta Key RV Resort and Marina is another campground on the island.
Conch Key, Little Conch Key, & Duck Key
Fifteen minutes further are three smaller keys: Conch, Little Conch, and Duck. Conch Key is a mostly residential island and Little Conch is privately owned. Duck Key has a number of activities like parasailing, fishing, and kayaking.
Apart from the hotels with restaurants, the only dining options are the few grocery stores and gas stations along the way. Hawk’s Cay has Angler & Ale, a waterfront restaurant serving fresh seafood and craft beer, Sixty-One Prime steakhouse, and three casual poolside eateries.
On Conch Key, visitors can stay at Bay View Inn & Marina, which has an outdoor pool, convenience store, and boat slips. Little Conch Key is a private island with vacation cottages for rent. One of the best for family activities, Hawk’s Cay Resort has countless things to do from scuba diving to fishing to kids camps. They also have rooms, suites, and villas depending on your group size.
Marathon is made up of dozens of smaller islands including Grassy Key, Fat Deer Key, Little Crawl Key, Long Point Key, and Deer Key. Little Crawl Key is home to Curry Hammock State Park, but it spreads across multiple islands. The park has miles of trails and offers kayaking, kiteboarding, swimming, and snorkeling.
Restaurants are few in this stretch of the Keys but SS Wreck and Galley Grill is one option. They have dishes like nachos, steaks, salads, and, of course, Key lime pie.
Apart from the cheap motels lining the highway, Jolly Roger RV Resort is the best place to stay. They have full-service campsites and motel rooms as well as a pool, dog park, and boat slips.
Marathon proper has its own airport, making it easy to access. There are a number of attractions like the Marathon Air Museum, a small museum with retired planes. The Turtle Hospital is the nation’s foremost hospital and rehabilitation facilities for turtles. They offer tours of the hospital as well as the tanks where the non-releasable turtles live. The Seven Mile Bridge runs from Marathon to the Lower Keys and has a section where people can walk. You can also go on a Marathon Offshore Fishing Charter. Sombrero Beach is one of the best beaches in the Keys.
Curly’s Coffee is the place to grab a quick cup of joe on your way south. Castaway Waterfront Restaurant was the first in the United States to serve the invasive lionfish. They have seafood a variety of ways, but it’s their sushi that is the most unique. 7 Mile Grill is a casual eatery from 1954 next to the namesake bridge. Enjoy seafood on the patio, including fish you caught yourself. Marathon Bagel has New York-style bagels, specialty cream cheese, and lox. Marathon Grill and Ale House has a great selection of craft beer.
Marathon has a wide range of places to stay. Indigo Reef Resort has luxurious villas with private docks and property-wide WiFi. Budget travelers will enjoy Captain Pip’s Marina and Hideaway, which has rooms, suites, and apartments. Stay at rooms and beach houses at Tranquility Bay Resort, which has a pool and beach.
Big Pine Key & No Name Key
Fifteen minutes further is another set of smaller keys including Bahia Honda, Big Pine, Little Torch, Ramrod, Summerland, Cudjoe, and Sugarloaf. Many are residential but some have hotels and landmarks. National Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge is the only place to see the unique Key Deer, a small species that is native only to the islands. They’re protected in the refuge. Bahia Honda State Park has scenic viewpoints, beaches, campsites, birdwatching, and boat ramps as well as gear rentals. It costs $8 to enter the park but is worth it.
There are some restaurants spread throughout these keys. No Name Pub near No Name Key is one of the most famous where you can enjoy a pizza and leave a dollar bill on the ceiling. Good Food Conspiracy on Big Pine Key is a health food store with a deli serving juices, smoothies, and vegetarian-friendly sandwiches. Square Grouper Bar and Grill in Cudjoe Key emphasizes local seafood and environmental responsibility.
Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge has RV and tent campsites, including some on the water, as well as motel rooms. Sunshine Key RV Resort has incredible amenities like a swimming pool, fitness center, playground, and marina. In addition to their campsites, they have RVs for rent. Deer Run Bed and Breakfast is a Caribbean-inspired property that is certified green and offers daily breakfast. Little Palm Island on Little Torch Key is a private island with luxurious bungalows. It’s being rebuilt after a hurricane but will reopen in 2020. Bahia Honda has tent and RV campsites as well as cabins.
Key West officially begins south of Sugarloaf Key, including Key West island. Some of the surrounding islands are part of the naval base and are not accessible to the public. There’s also an airport where you can fly home if you only want to do one way. There are a number of attractions to see, so give yourself a few days. Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum is where Hemingway lived with his family in the 1930s. Meet the current residents, a gang of polydactyl cats that the writer named after Hollywood legends. The Truman Little White House is where Harry Truman spent time in this former Naval base in Key West after his decision to drop the atomic bomb. Get your tickets here. Explore the tropical plant life at Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden. The area outside of Key West is best seen by a Key West Mangrove Kayak Eco Tour. Chow down on the island’s best food on a Small-Group Key West Food Tasting and Cultural Walking Tour. End the day on a Key West Sunset Cruise.
Key West has incredible food on every level. Baby’s Coffee is a coffee roaster owned by New York natives. The Stoned Crab focuses on sustainable seafood like offer stone crab and a “green” cocktail menu. Blue Heaven is the most popular breakfast spot in town for lobster benedict, banana bread, and whole fried yellowtail snapper. Garbo’s Grill is a taco truck that serves up delicious and spicy varieties like fish tacos, Korean barbecue tacos, and Jerk chicken quesadillas. Harpoon Harrys puts a tropical spin on typical diner fare and the Reuben is tasty, but bring cash. Pepe’s Cafe has been a Key West staple since 1909, serving omelettes, sandwiches, and steaks.
Parrot Key Resort is outside the main area of Key West with villas with porches, multiple pools, a bar and restaurant, and Duval Street shuttle. Oceans Edge Resort Hotel features nautical-inspired rooms surrounded by tropical gardens. They also have six outdoor pools, a marina, and an area shuttle. Rooms at The Perry Hotel have balconies overlooking the water. Guests also have access to an outdoor pool and an area shuttle. The Saint Hotel is a part of the Autograph Collection and contains 36 artsy rooms with kitchenettes, WiFi, and an outdoor pool. The adults-only Angelina Guesthouse is located in a 1920s bordello with cozy private rooms. The Seashell Motel and International Hostel is one of the few hostels south of Miami with both dorms and private rooms and a kitchen. Geiger Key Marina in Key West has both tent and RV sites are available. Rent a quaint Victorian home in Key West with Airbnb, especially if you’re traveling with a group.
If time allows, continue south to Dry Tortugas National Park. Take the ferry to Dry Tortugas National Park from Key West for a day of snorkeling, laying on the beach and exploring Fort Jefferson. You can also go on a Dry Tortugas National Park Day Trip by Catamaran.