The Overseas Highway through the Florida Keys offers a quintessential U.S. road trip. As Route 1 hops its way from Miami to Key West, Florida, the urban rush evaporates and a clock- and care-free beach vibe settles in. Prepare for all things Americana on this drive: kitschy roadside attractions, down-home cuisine, spectacular wildlife and natural beauty. The journey culminates in Key West, an independent island that knows how to have a good time.
The 113-mile trip takes about three and a half hours without stopping. But you'll want to stop. A lot. Towns and attractions along the route are commonly marked by mile markers, and the markers count up from there as you move north through the Keys. Without further ado, here are standout places you shouldn't skip as you drive along Route 1.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Mile Marker: 102.5
If you have time to spare, this Key Largo park is the place to go snorkeling or scuba diving in the Keys. Don a mask and fins and swim down to check out the underwater Christ of the Deep statue, as well as over 600 types of fish and marine animals. Don't feel like getting wet? There are glass-bottom boats, canoes and kayaks that you can use to cruise the reefs and mangroves.
Mrs. Mac's Kitchen
Mile Marker: 99.5
Kick off your Keys journey with a classic bite: a cool slice of Key lime pie. Mrs. Mac's on Key Largo has one of the best pies in the Keys. The restaurant is everything you'd expect a mom-and-pop Keys shop to be: the walls are covered in license plates and knick-knacks, and the menu is full of comfort dishes with a heavy helping of seafood. Best of all, if the restaurant is full, there's a newer, larger outpost located a half mile down the road.
Mile Marker: 77.5
Farther down Islamorada, Florida, Robbie's is an eclectic tropical village. Rent a boat, browse the colorful island art sales or sit at the casual bayside tables and listen to live music by guys sporting flip flops. Save time for the biggest attraction here: the tarpon feeding. For a few bucks, you can hand-feed the large silver fish from the dock.
The Turtle Hospital
Mile Marker: 48.5
While it may not look like much from the outside, the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida, is a fascinating spot to learn about the endangered sea turtles that call the waters around the Keys home. This is a working turtle rescue and rehabilitation center, and a 90-minute tour will introduce you to the animals and their stories. If you don't have time for a tour, stop into the visitor center for a quick look at the exhibits.
Seven Mile Bridge
Mile Marker: 47
After passing through Keys that are so close together it's hard to detect their boundaries, the route opens up to cross a wide swath of water. The famous Seven Mile Bridge connects the Middle Keys with the Lower Keys and offers sweeping views of the archipelago's turquoise waters. In fact, it's one of the longest bridges in the U.S.
Next to the highway bridge is the Old Seven Mile Bridge, which was built in the early 20th century for the railroad. Stretch your legs a bit on the 2-mile walk along the old bridge from Marathon to Pigeon Key. You can spot sharks, turtles and seabirds as you stroll along the former train tracks.
Bahia Honda State Park
Mile Marker: 37
On the other end of Seven Mile Bridge, you'll come to Florida's Bahia Honda Key, which is largely undeveloped aside from this popular state park. Stop for a photo op – or to spend the day swimming, kayaking or picnicking next to the crystal clear waters. The beach here is one of the most beautiful in Florida.
No Name Pub
Mile Marker: 30
A drive off the highway and down some back roads on Florida's Big Pine Key takes you to this historic hole-in-the-wall pub. Nearly every inch of the bar is papered with dollar bills. Grab one from your wallet, scribble your name and a message on it, and use the bar's staple gun to leave your mark. Make sure to keep an eye out for Key Deer as you're driving in this area. The miniature deer are about the size of a dog and aren't found anywhere else in the world.
Mile Marker: 0
At the end of the road lies Key West, a freewheeling isle where you'll find a happy mix of history and a continuous happy hour. One top spot to see in the Conch Republic is Mallory Square. Make sure to time your drive so you arrive with time to park and make your way to this waterfront square before sunset. Every night a crowd gathers to celebrate the sun's descent. Another must-see is the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, where the famous writer lived for 10 years and penned some of his most famous works. The well-preserved home is now a museum, with a lovely garden and a resident population of six-toed cats. The Southernmost Point, a colorfully painted buoy marks one of the extremities of the U.S, is also worth checking out. While it's not actually the geographic southernmost point, it has become a symbolic photo op for anyone road-tripping through the Keys. Also, make sure to stroll along Duval Street, the lively heart of Key West, where you'll find many of the island's bars and restaurants.
[See: Most Scenic Road Trips.]
Where to Stay
You can complete the entire drive in one day, making it to Key West for the night. Or you can break up the journey and take your time savoring the diverse atmospheres of the Keys. Either way, your lodging options are as varied as the Keys themselves, and range from ultra-high-end hotels to casual campsites.
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