Sunny skies, white sand and action-packed, there are tons of good vacation spots in Florida for a tropical getaway. But driving the Florida Keys is probably the best adventure to have on a South Florida vacation. The 125-mile stretch of coastline offers sun-worshippers many types of beach experiences. There’s no time to be bored!
Need help planning a Florida Keys road trip? Discover the best stops on the drive from Miami to Key West and fun vacation ideas with this highly curated Florida Keys travel guide!
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Where Are The Florida Keys?
Before diving into the list of best places to see on the way to Key West, let’s take a look at where the Florida Keys are on the map.
The Florida Keys is a chain of islands lies on the southern coast of Florida. There are over 1700 islands in the Keys, but very few of them are populated and only 43 are connected by bridges.
So many islands… which Florida Keys island is best for couples? And which is the best island to stay in the Florida Keys? We know it is cliche, but each of the major Keys – Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key, and Key West, has its own charm and character. It all depends on what you’re looking for. We will go into more detail below.
Driving The Florida Keys
To get the most out of your Florida Keys vacation, we recommend flying into one of the closest airports – either Miami International Airport or Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport – and then drive to Key West. You can also travel the other way round from Key West to Miami if that fits your plan better.
Here are some important things to take note about the Miami to Key West drive:
⇢ How far is Miami to Key West? The total distance from Miami to Key West is approximately 160 miles (257 km). From Fort Lauderdale Airport to Key West, it is 189 miles (304 km). The drive from Miami to Key West takes you along Highway 1 Overseas Highway and passes through some 40+ islands before reaching Key West, the southernmost city in the continental United States.
⇢ How long does it take to drive the Florida Keys? The Miami to Key West drive time is around 4 hours, and well worth it. The views are absolutely breathtaking with the Gulf of Mexico to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east.
⇢ How many days do you need? We spend 4 days in Florida Keys and that felt too rushed. To make the drive to Key West worth it, we recommend spending at least 6 days – 1 night in Key Largo, 1 night in Islamorada, 1 night in Marathon and 2 nights in Key West.
⇢ Renting a car: Pick up a car at Miami International Airport if you’re driving to Key West. Or rent one in Key West if you’re heading northbound. Click here to reserve your car now!
⇢ Useful resources for your Florida Keys road trip:
✓ Refer to these interactive maps for route planning.
✓ Discover hidden gems along your drive with Lonely Planet Miami & Florida Keys guidebook
✓ Get exclusive tips from locals using Fodor’s In Focus Florida Keys Travel Guide
Florida Keys Must See
The Florida Keys is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Florida. But where to go in the Florida Keys? What are the top things to do in the Florida Keys that you absolutely can’t skip?
In this section, we highlight all the best places to stop on the drive from Miami to Key West. The wealth of restaurants, water activities and photo spots will make your trip to Key West from Miami an unforgettable one!
Key Largo adjoins the Everglades National Park along the southeast border. It is the northernmost of the Florida Keys and the first town you’ll come across on your Miami to Key West road trip.
If you’re a diver, you’ll love Key Largo. This island is known as the “Diving Capital of the World” and is home to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park where you can see the “Christ of the Abyss” statue on your dive.
Advanced dive enthusiasts can take the opportunity to check out the famous Spiegel Grove shipwreck and the third-largest artificial reef in the world.
Want to just relax on the beach? Harry Harris Park is one of the best beaches in Key Largo to picnic and soak in the sun. This small man-made beach has a shallow, sheltered lagoon, making it calm enough for swimming.
After a day of activities, try fresh local seafood at The Fish House. This casual eatery is a local favourite and is known for its scrumptious conch-style cooking. Smoked fish dip is the staple food here, but spicy tuna nachos and shrimp bundles are just as delicious!
How far is it from Key Largo to Key West? Key Largo to Key West drive time is roughly 2 hours (97 miles).
As you travel south, you will reach Islamorada, the “Sport Fishing Capital of the World.” It is made up of 6 islands: Plantation Key, Windley Key, Upper Matecumbe Key, Lower Matecumbe Key, Indian Key and Lignumvitae Key.
The perfect way to spend a day in Islamorada would be sailing offshore and trying your luck at catching a tarpon, mahi mahi, or any type of fish!
If fishing isn’t your thing, no worries, Islamorada is a playground for adventure travelers. At Robbie’s Marina, you can get up-close and hand-feed massive tarpon (careful, watch out for the aggressive pelicans!). You can also take it up a notch and go parasailing. It is a super fun way to get a bird’s eye view of the Indian Key, Everglades National Park, and Alligator Lighthouse!
History of Diving Museum is also a wonderful attraction worth visiting that takes you deep into the history of exploring the underwater world.
In terms of food, Bob’s Bunz is a good place to stop for a coffee or breakfast (their cinnamon buns is a must-try!).
For romantic dinners, we recommend The Raw Bar, located inside Postcard Inn. Some of our favourites include beer-battered jumbo shrimp, ahi tuna taco, and ceviche. The best part is – you can drink and dine right by the ocean, plus there’s live music!
Chef Michael’s is another great option. The establishment dishes out creatively inspired Florida Keys cuisine. Fresh fish can be prepared in several ways: Pontchartrain, Ambassador, Adriatic, Juliette, or Mixed Nuts!
Don’t skip a chance to tour Florida Keys Brewing Company. The microbrewery boasts a large selection of draft beers on tap, many of which infuses with local flavors such as Key limes, citrus, and local honey.
The best spot for sunset photos is at Morada Bay Beach Cafe. The view is unobstructed and simply magical!
How far is it from Islamorada to Key West? Drive time is roughly 1 hr 40 mins (80 miles).
Go a little further and you will arrive at Marathon, a city spread over 13 islands. This is where the famous Seven Mile Bridge begins, spanning the gap between Knight Key and Little Duck Key.
This middle section of the Keys island chain is best for boating activities. People come here for deep-sea fishing, jet-skiing, kayaking or just cruising the blue waters!
Want to do a dolphin swim in the Florida Keys? Dolphin Research Centre is an excellent place to meet the adorable creatures. The non-profit facility offers a few interactive options – from a short meet and greet with the dolphin to a full day intensive trainer experience!
To learn more about the marine life, head over to Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters where you can interact with stingrays, fish, and even sharks!
Make sure to visit the sea turtles at the non-profit Turtle Hospital. The 90-min guided educational tour takes you behind the scenes at the hospital facilities. You will learn about the species of sea turtles found in Florida, the challenges they face, and stories about the turtles rescued by the hospital. At the end of the tour, you will get a chance to feed the turtles.
To grab a bite, Keys Fisheries is the place to be, serving local specialties like lobster reuben.
The best place to watch sunrise or sunset is the old Seven Mile Bridge. Don’t confuse this with the new Seven Mile Bridge we mentioned earlier. You can actually walk the northern end for two miles on the old bridge from Marathon to Pigeon Key, which was once a railway work camp.
How far is it from Marathon to Key West? Distance from Marathon to Key West is 50 miles. Drive time is around 1 hour.
Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys
This part of the Florida Keys island chain has a completely different feel. Home to Bahia Honda State Park, Looe Key Marine Sanctuary, and two national wildlife refuges, the Lower Keys is a real slice of paradise for nature lovers.
Pay a visit to National Key Deer Refuge, an 8542-acre National Wildlife Refuge located on Big Pine Key and No Name Key. It is the only natural habitat for the tiny white-tailed Key deer.
✓ Pro tip: the best times to see them are early in the morning and late afternoon.
Many bird watchers travel to Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge to see great white herons and migratory birds.
Looe Key Marine Sanctuary, just south of Big Pine Key, is an excellent place for snorkeling and shallow dives, as well as shore-fishing.
For photo ops, go to Bahia Honda State Park. The park, known for its beautiful white-sand beaches, has the best beaches in Florida. Believe it or not, it was the first-ever Florida site to make #1 on Dr. Beach’s famous “Best Beaches” list! There are three in the park: Calusa (the smallest), Sandspir (the biggest), and Loggerhead (great for stargazing).
How far is it from Big Pine Key to Key West? Distance from Marathon to Key West is 50 miles. Drive time is around 1 hour.
Key West, the largest town in the Keys, marks the very end of the island chain. The town is buzzing with energy with nightlife, parties, and all kinds of activity day and night to keep you busy.
A great way to get an overview of the city is by renting a bike and cruising down Duval Street which runs through the center of Old Town Key West. The area is dotted with classic Victorian homes and beautiful bungalows.
Here are some iconic attractions if you’re wondering what to see in Key West:
⇢ Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum: one of the best places to visit in Key West for literary buffs and cat lovers! This beautiful home was where the literary legend lived for nearly 10 years. It is now the happy home to over 50 six-toed cats!
⇢ Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory: Filled with 50 to 60 species of colorful winged creatures, the butterfly park is a Key West must see for nature and animal lovers. This greenhouse is also a refuge for tropical birds and a pair of flamingoes!
⇢ On your travel to Key West, Florida, make sure to stop by and get a picture with the Southernmost Point Buoy that marks the southernmost point of the continental United States! Just be warned there will be a line.
⇢ Want to know where to go in Key West for the best view? Climb up the 99 steps to the top of Key West Lighthouse! Standing 28m-tall, the tower offers breathtaking views across the entire island!
⇢ Before heading out to dinner, join the street performers and artisans for the famous sunset celebration at Mallory Square. Offering gorgeous views over the Gulf of Mexico, the waterfront is the best place to watch sunset in Key West.
⇢ Looking for picturesque beaches in Key West? Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is a popular spot for a swim or snorkel in the turquoise waters.
Sunset sail is one of the top things to do in Key West, but for adventure seekers who’d like to discover nature through exciting experiences, we recommend giving Key West Hydrobikes a try. It’s just like riding a bike except you’re doing it on the water. This fun, eco-friendly activity gives you a unique way to see sunsets. Guided tours depart from Lagerheads Beach Bar.
Dolphin Watch with is another must do in Key West. Honest Eco runs sustainable nature tours to watch Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins in the wild. If time permits, it is worth extending the tour and heading out to Key West National Wildlife Refuge. You will kayak through the winding mangroves, discover wildlife, and snorkel in the crystal clear, warm water.
Have an extra day or two? Take a ferry or seaplane and escape to Dry Tortugas National Park. The secluded islands make an excellent destination for bird watching in the spring as many species stop over on their migration route. Thanks to its remote location, you’ll find magical snorkeling spots and gorgeous sandy beaches like nowhere else.
Dining options are abundant in Key West. Some of the best places to eat in Key West include Fisherman’s Cafe (their lobster enchilau tacos are to die for!), Moondog Cafe (lots of delicious baked goods, including Key Lime Pie!), and El Siboney Restaurant (for traditional Cuban food).
Looking for things to do in Key West at night? Rum is the answer. Visit Key West First Legal Rum Distillery for a private guided distillery tour and rum-tasting session. Owners and “chefs” Paul Menta and Tony Mantia are the first Americans to run rum to Cuba. They even learn from the Cubans how to make Cuban Mojitos so don’t leave without mastering the skills of Mojito making!
Where To Stay In The Keys
Florida Keys is home to some of the top beach resorts in Florida. Below we have curated the best places to stay in the Florida Keys.
Baker’s Cay Resort Key Largo exudes effortless refinement and modern comfort. The guest rooms and suites come with private balconies, modern decor, comprehensive amenities and sweeping coastal views. Click here for reviews and availability for Baker’s Cay.
Playa Largo Resort & Spa prides itself on having the best modern amenities for a technologically advanced stay. There is also a spa onsite for both the gentlemen and ladies to recharge and unwind. Click here for reviews and availability for Playa Largo Resort.
Casa Morada offers a quiet oasis with only 16 Caribbean-inspired suites on the property. A stay includes complimentary breakfast, complimentary use of kayaks, paddleboards, snorkeling gear and bicycles as well as complimentary yoga every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Click here for reviews and availability for Casa Morada.
Tranquility Bay Beachfront Resort makes privacy a priority by having a 2.5-acre private beach on-site for its guests. The luxury resort is conveniently located to the Dolphin Research Center, The Turtle Hospital, and is only an hour away from Key West. Click here for reviews and availability for Tranquility Bay.
We get it. It is hard to decide where to stay in Key West. Taking location, service and design into consideration, Hyatt Centric Key West Resort & Spa tops the list. With spacious modern comfortable rooms, private balconies, and a heated pool, you’re guaranteed to have a blissful stay. Plus, it is just a short stroll from the lively Duval Street. Click here for reviews and availability for Hyatt Centric Key West.
If you prefer somewhere quieter, consider The Perry Hotel Key West. This new contemporary, maritime-inspired hotel is located near Key West on Stock Island. Two “boat-to-table” seafood-driven restaurants, Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen and Bar and The Salty Oyster Bar and Grill, offer classic Key West comfort food with an innovative twist. Remember to get a glass of their Key Lime Pie cocktail – it is absolutely delicious! Click here for reviews and availability for Perry Hotel.
Best Time To Visit Florida Keys
Though it is warm all year round, we advise avoiding winter crowds (mid-December to April) and hurricane season (September-October). Taking into these factors, the best times to visit Florida Keys would be late April to early June and November to mid-December.
We had a blast on our recent road trip to the Florida Keys and can’t wait to go back for more! We hope this article provides a useful resource to help you plan a Florida Keys vacation!
Disclaimer: We are hosted by Floriday Keys Tourism. As always, all opinions on For Two, Please are our own and we only recommend brands that we 100% stand behind.