The Overseas Highway from Miami along the Florida Keys looks like a commercial for a swanky sports car – long ribbons of road spool out along the coast and elegant bridges span glittering expanses of blue water.
This scenic drive follows the route of the Florida East Coast Railroad, which operated until 1935. When a hurricane damaged the railroad beyond repair, the government built this epic road instead.
Driving down this jaw-droppingly beautiful highway is a thrill in itself, but there are also plenty of intriguing stops to allow time for on the way. In order to make the most of your trip, here are five great places to spot on your drive from Miami to Key West.
John Pennekamp State Park
This state park was the first underwater park in the USA, having opened in 1963. The park’s borders include the shorefront and three miles out to sea.
Enjoy a swim in the clear and tranquil waters, or go snorkelling or scuba diving (you can rent gear) and check out the nooks and crannies of a Spanish shipwreck. If you want to peer into the underwater world without getting wet, you can take a glass bottom boat tour.
If you are planning to drive to Key West and back in one day, you won’t have time to fully enjoy John Pennekamp State Park. However, if you are staying somewhere along the way it’s worth spending half a day in this stunning park. If not, visit it on a separate day trip from Miami — it will be time well-spent!
The Tiki Bar
This laid-back bar is a famous stop along the journey to Key West, so it’s worth taking a break here to stretch your legs.
The bar is famous for the Rumrunner Cocktail. It was invented right here at the bar and it is delicious – potent and refreshing. The story of the RumRunner cocktail is a simple one that arose out of necessity – the local bartender had an excess of rum and came up with a creative and delicious way for customers to drink it. If you haven’t tasted it before you should order a round for your road trip crew (and a virgin one for your designated driver).
Seven Mile Bridge
The bridges along the Overseas Highway have been used as the backdrop for many epic car commercials and they are quite thrilling to drive across.
If you have a convertible, put the top down and let the wind whip your hair as you blast your favourite tunes. Seven Mile Bridge is the longest of these bridges and it’s a great place to stop for photos.
You can also stop and walk for 2.2 miles (or enjoy a short boat ride) along the old bridge to Pigeon Key – an interesting historic site. It is a tiny island nestled underneath the bridge and it was a base for railway workers during the early 1900s.
Bahia Honda State Park
Home to one of the best beaches in the USA (according to numerous travel studies), this postcard-perfect park is a lovely place to stop for a swim.
You can paddle in the warm water, stroll the sandy beach, take a nap in the shade of a palm tree or even go snorkelling in Looe Key. The park is free and it opens from sunrise to sunset.
You can also visit the nearby Big Pine Key, where you will find the National Key Deer Refuge. Keep an eye out for these adorable little deer. They weigh only around 80 pounds even when fully grown and they can be spotted wandering around the island.
You’ve reached your destination! The vibrant city of Key West was once the largest town in Florida. Only 90 miles from Cuba and on important South American shipping routes, Key West has a unique blend of Latino, Cuban and American culture.
You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to things to do in Key West. There’s the Aquarium where you can watch the daily fish feedings, or the Audubon House & Gardens where you can take a guided tour. Take a stroll through the lovely neighbourhood of Bahama Village where you’ll find many Caribbean restaurants, art galleries and locally owned boutiques.
Ready to Hit the Road?
These are just a few of the highlights you can enjoy on the drive from Miami to Key West along the thrilling and scenic Overseas Highway.
If you have the time, don’t try to cover all of this in one day. Take your time and stay somewhere along the way. A truly enjoyable road trip isn’t about getting from point A to B, it’s about the relaxed pace, the freedom of the open road and the adventures along the way.