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Once you leave mainland Florida, it’s about a three hour drive to Key West. Traffic travels at a speed of forty to fifty-five miles per hour through two lane or four-lane roads. The scenic wonders will make you glad for the slower pace so you can enjoy the sights along the way.
Key Largo is the first big island after you drive a long and boring stretch through swamp territory from the mainland. Their inviting Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center is a good place to stop, stretch your legs, and use the bathroom. Here also are a Publix and Winn Dixie, where you can grab a snack and use the facilities. There’s even a Starbucks, a rarity in the Keys. The Fish House, Snook’s Bayside and Snapper’s Waterfront restaurants are well advertised if you’re looking for a more substantial bite to eat. Or you can take Card Sound Road instead and stop at Alabama Jack’s. Resorts here include a Hilton and a Marriot, among others.
On Tavernier are a Winn Dixie, CVS drug store, Dunkin Donuts, Chevron and Shell gas stations.
Islamorada is a popular weekend retreat. We stopped by Hooked on Books at 81909 Overseas Highway to schmooze with owner Cathy Keller and browse the bookshelves. Numerous restaurants hail their claim to fame here: Islamorada Fish Company, Marker 88, Island Grill, Hog Heaven Sports Bar, Loralei Cabana Bar, and Shula’s 2. From here, it’s two hours more to Key West. There’s a Visitor Center here as well.
Marathon has a Publix and Winn Dixie, Walgreens, IHOP, gas stations and fast food places along with another visitor center. There’s Crane Point Museum and Nature Center. Many of the islands have marine attractions or research facilities for sea creatures like dolphins and turtles. State parks are prevalent if you want to stop and stretch with a water view.
We stopped for lunch at Boondocks. It’s nearly around the corner from Key West.
When you hit Key West, you face Roosevelt Boulevard going in two directions. Heading to the left or south will take you to a slew of hotels and Southernmost Point. This latter is Mile Marker 0 on our country’s east coast and is 90 miles from Cuba. The opposite direction will take you past strip shopping centers, more hotels, and into downtown.
Duval Street hosts bars, restaurants, and shops and is liveliest at night. During the day, it’s fun to stroll and soak in the tropical atmosphere. Nearby are a host of tourist attractions. You can visit Hemingway House, salvage museums, the Little Truman White House, and more.
Or take a trolley ride or the Conch Train Tour. If you wish to ply the waters, various boat tours are available. Or stroll to the end of Front Street for waterfront dining where you’ll find a choice of restaurants. At night, check out Mallory Square for street performers and a blazing sunset.
We dined our first night at Louie’s Backyard. This popular restaurant used to be an old house. It sits by the sea near Southernmost Point and is a great place to relax, have a drink, and gaze out at the ripples on the water.
There’s a wine bar upstairs where you can just get small bites if you don’t feel like a full meal.
The next day, we lunched at Alonso’s Raw Bar at Harborside. We viewed boats at the marina as we ate an excellent coconut-crusted grouper.
When you’re in the Keys, your worries drift away. The laid-back pace and ocean views sap your energy and bring a sense of tranquility. It’s hard to leave, but the drive north offers more spectacular scenery.
Scenes from Doubletree hotel:
Doesn’t this make you want to visit?