Last updated: 27th August 2022
The drive from Miami to Key West is a classic American road trip which takes you along a spectacular and scenic overseas motorway – the U.S. Route 1. In this post we’ll show you where we stopped along the Florida Keys from Miami to Key West. Then we’ll show you 18 fun things to do for when you arrive in Key West.
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The Scenic Drive from Miami to Key West
Driving from Miami to Key West takes you across the Florida Keys. The Keys are an archipelago of coral reef islands in the Atlantic Ocean. They stretch from the south west tip of Florida to the fabulous tropical island of Key West – which is the last island of the chain. The word ‘keys’ comes from the Spanish word ‘cayo’ meaning small island.
We loved the drive along the U.S. Route 1 because of the stunning scenery, at times it felt like we were on a speed boat. It’s a spectacular motorway covering 113 miles of roads and over 42 different bridges that connect all the islands. Nicknamed the ‘Highway to Hemingway’ after American novelist Ernest Hemingway who lived on Key West.
Miami to Key West drive time takes 4 hours without stopping, we did a more leisurely 6.5 hours. We made 3 pit stops on the way to Key West at 3 different islands. Key Largo for lunch, Islamorada to see giant fish been fed and then 7 Mile Bridge from Little Duck Key to take in amazing views across the turquoise waters.
1st Stop: Lunch at Mrs Mac’s Kitchen, Key Largo
We left Miami at 11.30am and got to Mrs Mac’s at 2pm. The speed limit is 45mph, so it feels slow leaving Miami with lots of stops at traffic lights. But then things get moving once you hit the U.S. 1 to Key Largo, the first and largest island of the Florida Keys.
We highly recommend you stop at Mrs Mac’s Kitchen on Key Largo, it’s wonderfully American and just what you imagine a classic road side diner to look and feel like. Mrs Mac’s serve the freshest seafood, we both had blackened mahi-mahi for lunch, so delicious! and the portions are enormous (just like everywhere else in the USA) and reasonably priced too. The table next to use had blackened lobster which looked amazing.
2nd Stop: Feed Hungry Tarpons at Robbie’s Marina, Islamorada
Back on the road and 30 minutes later, our next stop was at the island paradise of Islamorada. We went to Robbie’s Marina to feed their tarpons, well that was the plan. These giant game fish can grow up to 8 feet! and live in the warm waters of the Florida Keys they look more like sea monsters! Phil got quite a fright as the first one jumped out of the water to be fed! We decided to just watch as they looked far too scary to feed! Garth was worried about losing his hand and Phil wasn’t too keen (yes we are officially wimps!) However it was fun watching other people be more daring than us. It’s quite a spectacle watching the tarpons rise out of the water and grab bait from people’s hands. Watch out for the pelicans who prey on people with their buckets of fish, they can be a bit vicious!
3rd Stop: 7 Mile Bridge, Little Duck Key
Time to get back on the road again and Phil put on some tunes – Abba The Musical! we sang our hearts out and savoured the views from the car. 40 minutes later we arrived at the 7 Mile Bridge. There’s a small car park at the end of the bridge on Little Duck Key. It’s worth a quick stop to stretch your legs on a little walk and snap some cool photos.
About Key West
Early evening at around 6pm we arrived at America’s most southernmost town, the island city of Key West. It’s tropical, fun and a quirky destination, quite different in style from what we had seen in the rest of Florida. It has the only living coral reef in the USA and is popular with divers and cruise ship goers. Just 90 miles to neighbouring Cuba so no surprise Key West has a mix of American, Cuban and Latino culture.
We loved Key West, we found it relaxing with its Caribbean style island vibes and warm island breeze. Key West is charming and has a classy feel about the place where pretty pastel coloured wooden bungalows sit next to Victorian mansions surrounded by palms and gorgeous tropical plants.
We stayed in the western half of the island, The Old Town (the downtown area) where all the main sights are and you can leisurely walk to. Lots of roosters freely wander the streets, you’ll hear them everywhere. We thought roosters only crowed in the morning, however we can tell you the Key West roosters crow all night!
18 Things To Do In Key West
1. Old Town Trolley Bus Tour
As with most new places we visit, we kicked off with a sightseeing tour to get our bearings of the island. The Old Town Trolley Tour is great. The open air bus goes past all the main Old Town sights and also further afield around the island. Our driver/guide Shawn gave us a live commentary tour which was excellent – lots of history and fun facts. It takes about 1h 3/4 to do the full loop around the island.
2. Conch Tour Train
There’s also a small Conch Tour Train which takes you around the sights of Old Town Key West. We found it was easy enough just to walk each day around the sights, Key West is pretty compact. To be honest using a car is pretty useless in the Old Town area of Key West as there’s simply nowhere to park. We left our hire car back at the hotel for the duration of our stay.
3. Key West’s Landmark – Southernmost Point of Continental USA
We had to get the 2 iconic landmark photos of Key West. First the famous Southernmost Point sign – well a colourful concrete painted buoy. Expect to queue for an average of 20 minutes to get your must have photo! It’s the southernmost point of continental USA, however that’s not strictly true. The actual southernmost point is on Ballast Key – a private island 9 miles away.
4. Southernmost Beach Cafe
The Southernmost Point neighbourhood is full of gorgeous old homes. Whist we were in this area we walked down to the Southernmost Beach Cafe and sipped on some Piña Coladas.
5. U.S. 1 Mile Marker ‘0’ Sign
The other iconic landmark in Key West is the U.S. 1 mile marker ‘0’ sign. It marks the end and beginning of the U.S. 1 motorway which runs for 2,400+ miles across the East coast of America. Located on Whitehead Street, the sign is not far from the Green Parrot Bar.
6. Our Favourite Photo Spot – Cuban Coffee Queen
We love coming across postcard letter murals and the one painted on the side of the Cuban Coffee Queen takeaway hut is fabulous! Located on Margaret Street near to the cruise terminal.
7. Hemingway’s Home
Ernest Hemingway, the legendary American author lived in Key West in the 1930s and you can visit his old home and garden where he lived for 10 years. It’s now a museum, the ticket includes a 30 minute guided tour to see his collection of Spanish furniture and the atmosphere that inspired his writing.
Hemingway’s Home & Museum fun facts:
- 40 six-toed polydactyl cats live here – descendants of Hemingway’s six-toed cat called Snow White.
- This was the first house in Key West to have a swimming pool and indoor plumbing.
- James Bond Licence to Kill (1989) was filmed here.
- Hemingway wrote ‘A Farewell to Arms’ and ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ here.
8. Duval Street
Duval Street is the lively main street of Key West and is where you’ll find all the bars, shops, restaurants. It’s a real mix of classy restaurants and art galleries to strip clubs and tourist tat shops (which we love!). Duval Street is sometimes referred to as ‘America’s longest street’ however it’s only a mile long but it starts on the Atlantic Ocean and finishes on the Gulf of Mexico.
We soon realised happy hours run pretty much all day so you can do the Duval bar-crawl all day! At night this street really comes to life with party goers.
9. LGBT+ Key West
Key West has a great LGBT+ scene too, since the 1980s the LGBT+ community made Key West their home with its welcoming and accepting attitude. There’s loads of gay bars on eastern half of Duval Street, the Bourbon Street Pub is the most famous hangout. There’s also lots of famous drag shows at Aqua Nightclub, Le Te Da Club and 801 Bourbon Bar.
10. Key West’s Famous Sloppy Joe’s Bar
On Duval Street we soon found Sloppy Joe’s Bar. Made famous by Ernest Hemingway as this was where he used to hang out and drink daiquiris. The bar even runs a Hemingway look-alike contest every summer!
The bar has an interesting history. The landlord decided to put up the rent from $3 to $4 a week ‘Sloppy Joe’ was so annoyed by this he bought a cheaper property up the road without telling the landlord. One night in the bar he told the customers to pick up their drinks and anything else they could carry like chairs and tables and walk them half a block down the road to the new bar, so not a round was skipped! Hemingway was a regular in the bar and helped to buy the new place. A thankful Joe told Hemingway he could take anything he wanted as a souvenir. So Hemingway went to the gents and pulled a urinal off the wall! He took it home to his garden, where it’s still used as a water bowl for the cats.
We enjoyed the live music and lively atmosphere, Garth had Key West’s signature cocktail – the rum runner which was invented in the Florida Keys. He soon got brain freeze from his frozen runner, ouch! Phil had a beer. It reminded us of our time in Old Havana sipping mojitos and daiquiris at some of Hemingway’s other favourite bars.
11. Nightly Sunset Celebrations on Mallory Square
At the centre of Key West’s tourist attraction is Mallory Square. Popular by day for restaurants, surf and souvenir shops. Every evening everyone heads down to Mallory Square for a Key West tradition – the nightly sunset celebration. These are the some the best sunsets you’ll ever see! 2 hours before sunset the place comes alive with street performers, acrobats and food carts. It can get very busy with cruise ship passengers. The Sunset Pier restaurant has the best views. Mallory Square reminded us of watching people choosing their sunset viewing spot in Oia, Santorini.
12. Shipwreck Treasure Museum
In 1822 Key West officially became a part of the USA, and its earliest settlers made their money by salvaging cargo (treasure) from ship wrecks run aground in the shallow waters. It became a lucrative business and as a result Key West became one of the richest cities in America by the mid 1850s.
The Shipwreck Treasure Museum documents this history in a replica 19th century ‘wreckers warehouse’ located on Mallory Square. From the observation tower ‘wreckers’ would watch for ships and signal when they were in trouble, if spotted they would shout ‘Wreck ashore!’. The first to arrive became the ‘wrecking master’ who would co-ordinate the rescue of people and got the largest share of money from the treasure that was sold. The rest was split between the wrecking crew and the local town.
Over 2 floors the exhibits show artefacts from real shipwrecks whilst actors dressed in period costumes tell the story of the wreckers salvaging treasure and diving to sunken ships. They risked their own lives to rescue crew members of ships that had run aground.
The museum’s films are a little dated, however the museum shows a fascinating part of history we had no idea about. Our favourite part of the museum was climbing the 65-foot observation tower which has some great panoramic views over Key West.
13. Key West Aquarium
Opposite to the Shipwreck Treasure Museum is the small Key West Aquarium. It opened in 1935 and was the first open-air aquarium. A roof was added in 1960 and today it remains a popular tourist attraction with small sharks as the main attraction. The tanks and outdoor pool hold turtles, stingrays and other tropical fish found in the waters off Key West. It’s fairly small, so you don’t need loads of time, we spent around 40 minutes.
We watched the sharks feeding demo as the staff commentate and educate visitors about keeping the ocean clean and how sharks get a bad wrap. This place is definitely one to take the kids.
14. Eat Conch
You will notice signs for ‘Conch’ it’s advertised everywhere in Key West. Pronounced ‘konk’ a conch is a large sea snail and their meat is used to make ‘Conch Fritters’ or ‘Conch Chowder’. However the conchs that are eaten on Key West come from the nearby Bahamas, because the ones that live in the waters around the Florida Key islands are endangered and are protected.
We tried conch fritters at Ram’s Head Southernmost just round the corner from Hemingway’s House. Phil loved them, but Garth didn’t because the texture was too much like mushrooms, which he hates!
15. Eat Key West’s Famous Key Lime Pie
The classic American dessert Key Lime Pie was invented in Key West, what’s funny is that everyone claims to be the ‘original’ key lime pie bakery! It’s made of custard and key lime juice and there’s loads of variations to choose from, including deep fried! anyone? Garth loved the frozen dark chocolate dipped pie from Kermit’s Kitchen Phil opted for a classic piece with whipped cream.
16. Eat Pink Gold at Key West’s Historic Seaport
We really enjoyed Key West’s Historic Seaport’s harbour and promenade, so much that we went each day to enjoy some of the freshest seafood we’ve ever eaten. The seaport is definitely the best place to eat in Key West, there’s a nice choice of restaurants mainly serving fish. Everywhere is good we didn’t go wrong. They all have WiFi, perfect for us travelling as we didn’t buy a local SIM card.
Garth had lobster tails everyday served with fruit or a side salad, never fries … that’s an extra side. Phil loved eating prawn tacos. Key West is famous for its prawn dishes or as they call them ‘pink shrimp’ or ‘pink gold’. Pink gold was named by fishermen who one night laid down nets and forgot to pick up them up. The next morning their nets were full of prawns! so now they only fish at night. We loved the casual dining at Alonzo’s Oyster Bar.
Along the waterfront next to the moored boats in the harbour we saw a number of manatees and loads of birds and pelicans taking scraps from the fishermen, great people watching. The promenade harborwalk is a great place for a stroll and a drink or two at one of the many bars.
17. Sunset at Fort Zachary Taylor Beach
Mallory Square is the most popular place to watch a fiery Key West sunset. We decided to go to the lesser known beach spot located in the Fort Zachary Taylor State Park to watch the sunset on the Gulf of Mexico. Most people drive to the beach, but we decided to walk to the park and onto the beach car park. It took us a little while, also be aware the park closes at sunset so you need to be quick getting out if you’re walking. The sunset here was incredible, we enjoyed watching the sky turn into wonderful shades of pink and orange. To enter the park by car costs $7 (2 people) and $2.50 by walking.
18. Day Trip to Florida’s Remote Dry Tortugas National Park
On our last day we booked the best day trip from Key West to the spectacular Dry Tortugas National Park. The park has 7 islands and the main island is home to Fort Jefferson – the most powerful fort ever built by the USA. It’s 70 miles from Key West and the boat trip takes 2 hours 20 minutes. The journey getting there is pretty cool too, we saw loads of marine life – turtles at sea and lots of flying fish. It’s not cheap getting there but the full day trip is well worth the cost. Tickets can be booked direct with Yankee Freedom. Read about our experience in our separate post.
Other Key West Attractions:
- Key West Lighthouse – Built in 1847 to prevent ships crashing into reefs that surround Key West. ($10pp)
- Harry S. Truman Little White House – America’s 33rd president’s holiday home and functioning White House.
- Sunset Dinner Cruise – Spend a romantic evening on the water, eating, drinking and dancing.
- Water Activities – So many options to choose from like sailing, jet-skiing, parasailing, dolphin-watching, scuba diving, snorkelling, kayaking to deep-sea fishing.
- Rent A Bike – Our hotel offered this option, a nice relaxing way to explore the island.
- Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory – Great for families to see 50+ butterfly species and exotic birds.
Key West Practical & Useful Information
Phil and Garth’s Top 5 Key West Tips
- Tip #1: Parking is limited and very expensive in downtown Key West. Cheaper options include leaving your car at the airport or at lower-priced accommodation on the east of the island.
- Tip #2: Avoid hurricane season (June – November) Remember Hurricane Irma? in 2017 it caused severe damage to Key West.
- Tip #3: Go first thing in the morning for a photo with the Southernmost Point Bouy before all the queues start.
- Tip #4: The most popular time in Key West is Winter – December to March. So visitor numbers will be big.
- Tip #5: If you have cat allergies, you might want to skip visiting the Hemingway House.
How We Did It:
- We visited the first week of May, we had some rain showers but they only lasted a few minutes and soon passed over.
- We paid for 4 nights at the Kimpton Lighthouse Court Hotel. A lovely boutique hotel, walking distance to all the main sights, bars and restaurants. It was pricey as are all prime location hotels in Key West. Cheaper hotels are available closer to the airport.
- We paid for a hire car with Alamo Rent a Car. They run a free shuttle service from Key West airport to their depot located outside the airport.
- We bagged some bargain sale-priced premium economy seats with Virgin Atlantic from Key West (via Atlanta) to the UK.
Pin our Key West & Florida Keys road trip guide and for later
Disclaimer: We received complimentary tickets for Conch Train Tour, Old Town Trolley, Key West Aquarium and the Shipwreck Treasure Museum courtesy of Historic Tours of America. A big thank you to them. All opinions, as always are our own.