The Florida Keys is the perfect destination for a long weekend road trip. It’s an easy 4-hour drive from Miami with plenty to see and do along the way. Follow US-1 S (165 miles) all the way to Key West, the most southern point of the continental US. If this is too much driving for one day, spending a night in Key Largo is a good option; it’s about halfway and there’s plenty to do in the area.
Diving the Florida Keys
The main reason for our trip to the Florida Keys was scuba diving but as fate would have it the weather didn’t cooperate, so on our first day we did the next best thing and visited the History of Diving Museum located on Islamorada. This museum captures the evolution of scuba diving nicely and was filled with interesting exhibits and curiosities from early experiments to vintage equipment.
After 4 days of getting up early, gearing up and having the captain tell us: “We can’t go out, the winds are too strong.” The Divemaster felt so bad for us that he took us to the Jules’ Undersea Lodge for a dive in the lagoon. We didn’t see too many fish but popping our heads into the underwater lodge, formerly an underwater research center was kind of cool and a unique experience for us. We were happy to finally dive.
On our last day (taking into account the no-fly time before our flight home) we did a two-tank dive in the underwater John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park—we were in for a treat. The park is located on one of the top 10 coral reef systems in the world. It’s also where the popular Christ of the Abyss statue is submerged and accessible to divers and snorkelers alike.
The winds had picked up while we were exploring the reef and with 5-6 foot waves getting back on the boat (pontoon) was sporty to say the least! One of the reasons the captain decided to take us out diving that morning was that the snorkelers were left behind, as it would have been to choppy for them on the surface!
Things to do and places to visit
This was supposed to be a dive trip, so we choose to stay in Key Largo near the dive sites we were hoping to do but for the first 4 days we had to find something else to do. We found some interesting attractions in the area and plenty of restaurants to try. The Pilot House Marina was a good find (a local told us about it) the food was excellent and many locals eat there. I highly recommend this place, I had yellowtail and it was cooked to perfection. The Fish House was much more touristy but good as well. We also ate excellent sushi at Num Thai. Of course, impossible to leave the Florida Keys without trying some Key Lime pie, the one at Mrs. Mac’s was delicious; the coconut shrimps we great as well. Harriette’s Diner served simple but hearty food and was great for lunch. Evelyn’s was a good breakfast place. Further out on Marathon the Sunset Grille and Raw Bar served good food with a view, the perfect place to watch the sunset. See our reviews on TripAdvisor
The dive museum was our first stop but visiting the Wild Bird Sanctuary close by was also a high point. All the permanent residents are rescued birds that wouldn’t survive on their own in the wild, so it was nice to see that they have found a home. Pelicans (not sure if they are residents or just squatting) roam around freely and one of them was blocking the way and ‘attacking’ those who dared to cross his path. It was pretty funny to watch! Admission is free but donations are greatly appreciated.
The Turtle Hospital located on Marathon is another important facility. It helps injured turtles and tries to rehabilitate them so they can return to their habitat. Sadly, some cannot and must stay at the rescue center for the rest of their lives and a few don’t survive because their injuries are too great. Boat propellers are often the cause… This center is about halfway between Key Largo and Key West and could be combined with a visit there.
A bit further south there is the Seven Mile Bridge, which connects Marathon and Big Pine Keys. It’s a very scenic stretch of road with the ocean on both sides. This is the way to Key West…
I have to say that visiting Key West made for a very long day. It would probably be best to spend a couple of nights in Key West to explore this little town with its happening nightlife. Mallory Square and Duval Street are bustling night and day. It’s a big open-air party, however this atmosphere may not be for everyone. Bars, cafes, restaurants, museums, art galleries and specialty shops are abundant. The best way to explore the area is to walk around but for those who prefer a more leisurely way there is the 90-minute Conch Tour Train. Every night people gather at Mallory Square to watch the sunset.
Being cat lovers visiting the Hemingway House was a must. We were trilled to meet the famous six-toed resident cats, which are all descendants of Ernest Hemingway polydactyl cat.
They were everywhere, inside and outside the house, posing for us like they owned the place. It was great! They are well taken care of—it’s their sanctuary. Visiting the estate was also interesting and the blooming gardens were a delight for the eyes.
Nearby there is the Lighthouse Museum, site of Key West’s oldest lighthouse built in 1825; it’s 65-feet tall. Of course we couldn’t leave Key West without a picture of the Southernmost Point Buoy that marks the most southern point in the continental United States.
We hope one day to make it back to the Florida Keys for more diving. There are many dive sites including beautiful reefs thriving with sea life and numerous wrecks to explore.
The Everglades National Park is only 45 minutes from Key Largo and we never regretted taking a day to go see it. We recommend the national part first, and one of the many airboat tours if you have time. A little further afield is the Coral Castle Museum, from Miami it’s on the way to the Florida Keys and less than 45 minutes from Key Largo.
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