A road trip from Miami to Key West is one of the most unique experiences in the US. It is the only place in the country where you can road trip through a chain of islands. With stunning views of turquoise water and quirky, fun stops along the way, driving the Overseas Highway is a treat.
The 113-mile drive takes about three hours if you do it straight through. But these are the Keys and this drive is made for taking your time. With tons of cool places to stop along the way, this drive can easily take a full day or even several days. In fact, this road begs you to take your time, with speed limits around 50 mph most of the way.
The best part about this drive is you get to drive it both ways! So, if you miss a stop on the way down, just hit it on the way back up! But we don’t suggest trying to drive down and back in one day. There are just too many great things that you won’t have time to truly enjoy.
So, roll the windows down, put on some Jimmy Buffett and let’s go for a drive.
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Take the Card Sound Road
My first piece of advice when it comes to a road trip from Miami to Key West is to turn off US 1 and take the Card Sound Road. Yes, it is a toll road, but the toll is about $1.50 for a car and about $4 for a camper with a towed vehicle.
While US 1 from Florida City to Key Largo is just fine, the Card Sound Road is a long, straight stretch of highway with plenty of places to pass slow-moving vehicles. It also crosses over the Card Sound Bridge, which gives you an excellent view of Key Largo and the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
It is also where you will find your first stop on our road trip: Alabama Jack’s.
When you first get to Alabama Jack’s, not gonna lie, it looks a bit scary. But this is a quintessential dive bar and the perfect place to stop for lunch (it is only open from 11-5:30).
The entire restaurant is open-air, with a bar and plenty of great seafood. I highly recommend getting some conch fritters, a fried fish sandwich and a cold drink and watch the boats go by on the channel.
Seriously, this is probably the best conch fritters you will have and the fish sandwiches can’t be beaten!
How ’bout lunch in Key Largo
There’s a fish sandwich place down the road
Kinda out in the sticks
But we can be back by six
Never leave our area code.Jimmy Buffett – “Conky Tonkin”
Key Largo and the Upper Keys
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Looking to work off lunch? Stop at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park to go for a swim, laze on the beach or walk the trails through the tropical hammock.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is home to the first undersea park in the country and offers a variety of tours to explore the second largest barrier island in North America. This is a great stop if you plan on staying in Key Largo for the day.
Islamorada Brewery and Distillery
As you head further south on your road trip from Miami to Key West, be sure to stop at the Islamorada Brewery and Distillery. As soon as you step into the tasting room, the smell of hops permeates the air. You can immediately tell this is an active brewery.
The beer garden outside is a great area shaded with palm trees. If beer isn’t your thing, no worries. They also serve custom cocktails made with their own spirits. Be sure to try the No Tan Lines Citrus Wheat Ale and the Frozen Key Lime Pie, which are simply to die for.
They also have a food truck that serves in the beer garden if you didn’t fill up at Alabama Jack’s!
Further south on Lower Matecumbe Key is Robbie’s Marina, your next stop on your way south. This place offers various water activities, including snorkeling, parasailing and all different kinds of fishing trips.
There is a pretty cool outdoor market with plenty of souvenirs. You can also grab a bite and a drink at their restaurant if you haven’t managed to fill up by now.
The real attraction for most folks, though, is the tarpon. The story is the owner found a wounded tarpon off his docks back in 1976, nursed it back to health and then began feeding it off the docks. Soon, more fish arrived and the tradition of feeding the tarpon at Robbie’s was born.
For $2.25 per person, you can walk out on the dock to watch these monsters compete for baitfish. You can also pick up some baitfish for $4. Just stick a baitfish in the water and wait for these fish to snatch it right out of your hands!
At the south end of Lower Matecumbe Key is Anne’s Beach. Named for local environmentalist Anne Eaton, this is one of the few sandy beaches in the Keys. It’s not large but there is a nice boardwalk with several covered picnic areas.
If the wind is up, this is a great place to watch kite surfers, who like the shallow waters.
This makes for a nice relaxing stop to just enjoy the sun.
Middle and Lower Keys
Seven Mile Bridge
Driving the Seven Mile Bridge is a truly iconic Florida Keys experience. The long, straight bridge rises up to 65 feet, providing an excellent view of Pigeon Key and the Lower Keys.
To the north is the old Seven Mile Bridge, which was originally part of the Overseas Railroad. You can visit Pigeon Key, which has several historic buildings dating back to the early 1900s.
Somewhere in the middle of the Seven Mile Bridge
He said, ‘Bella, do you wanna see the rest?’
She said, ‘I haven’t a care, Lenny
Just take me there.’
And they drove all the way to Key WestJimmy Buffett – “Conky Tonkin”
Bahia Honda State Park
Bahia Honda State Park might just be one of the prettiest state parks we have ever visited. The state park encompasses the whole of the island, offering plenty of coastline to explore. You can also walk up to the old Bahia Honda Bridge, which offers great views of the Keys.
It is also home to a fantastic campground if you are looking to camp. Just make your reservations early!
Our stop here was cut short by rain from Hurricane Ida, which skirted by the Keys when we were there.
National Key Deer Refuge
Just south of Bahia Honda State Park, on Big Pine Key, is the National Key Deer Refuge. Key deer are a unique subspecies of white-tailed deer that live only in the Florida Keys.
These tiny deer are endangered. There are less than 1,000 remaining in the wild.
You can see them at the National Key Deer Refuge, which does have some short walking trails. Be sure to stop at the visitor center, check out the Blue Hole Observation Platform and walk one of the short trails all the while keeping an eye out for Key deer.
Pro Tip: Watch your speed! In the areas where Key deer are present, the speed limit is reduced and strictly enforced. Indeed, one of the main ways Key deer are killed is car accidents.
Finally, you end your trip in Key West. Stay tuned for Bonnie’s article on how to spend a day in Key West.
Final Thoughts on a Road Trip from Miami to Key West
Whether you take an afternoon or several days, a road trip from Miami to Key West is one of the unique and iconic trips you can take.
This is definitely a trip to take your time and enjoy. There are so many great stops along the way, you can easily spend a lot of time exploring all of the nooks and crannies of the Keys. Indeed, we have only begun to scratch the surface. With more time, there are plenty of other great sites to see.
Key West is its own little world and you should definitely plan to spend at least a day or two enjoying this island outpost.
We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
Click here to search for a flight.
We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. You can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
Click here to book a Hilton property.
If there are no Hilton properties available, we use TripAdvisor to read reviews and book the hotel. We find we can get the best price that way.
Click here to search for a hotel.
We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
Click here to search for a vacation rental.
As a general rule, we book with Hertz for rental cars. We have had nothing but good experiences with them. Plus, we really like unlimited mileage and not worrying about crossing state lines. We have even rented from Hertz overseas in both Slovenia and Croatia.
Click here to book a rental car.
We have found some amazing prices booking a cruise through Cruise Direct. We have saved a lot of money on our cruises compared to what we found elsewhere, making a last-minute Bahamas cruise even cheaper.
Click here to book a cruise.
We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
Click here to rent an RV.
We don’t often book tours. Typically, we like to do stuff on our own. That said, there are some experiences you just can’t have any other way. So, when we do want to book a tour, we always check Viatour first.
Click here to book a tour.
We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
Click here to get a Good Sam membership.
We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.
Click here to get a AAA membership.