The drive from Miami to Key West has to be one of the most beautiful drives in the US. Covering just over 100 miles, the trip takes you from the Florida mainland to the southernmost point in the US along the Overseas Highway and takes about four hours if you drive straight through – but why do that when there are so many incredible stops along the way?
Whether you’re driving from Miami to Key West as part of a Florida road trip or you’re making this the main part of your trip, these are some of the must see stops along the way that you just can’t miss. From hunting for alligators and deer to exploring underwater state parks to driving over a seven mile bridge with crystal clear water either side, this is a trip you’ll never forget!
1. See the sights of Miami
Since you’re beginning your trip in Miami, it’s worth spending some time here to see the sights of the city.
While you could spend a few days here exploring everything there is to do (read my post on things to do in Miami for kids), there are a few things I would definitely recommend if you only have a short period of time.
Head to Ocean Drive to check out their amazing Art Deco style buildings, boutique stores and fantastic restaurants. This is a great place for shopping and dining, but it’s also great just for people watching or enjoying the architecture.
Miami has some beautiful white sandy beaches if you want to spend some time topping up your tan. South Beach can get a little crowded, but you can find quieter areas if you know where to look. South Pointe Park is all the way down at the end of South Beach and a much less crowded area to sit on the sand.
Wynwood Walls is one of my favorite places in Miami. Artists from across the globe have come here to use the walls of buildings as their blank canvases, creating incredible art work that includes life sized murals, paintings, and graffiti.
You can walk through and explore on your own, or join one of the guided tours to learn more about the artists and their inspiration. I would really recommend taking one of these tours to find out more about the art work as it gives you a much higher appreciation for it.
Little Havana is another fantastic area to explore. As Miami’s Cuban heart, the area is bustling and vibrant and so much fun to walk around. Definitely find time to stop in at Azucar for a scoop of the Café Con Leche ice cream!
2. Look out for alligators in Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park is one of the largest National Parks in the United States, and a fantastic place to visit while in south Florida.
The park has four different visitor’s centers, each one offering something a little different. My favorite is the Shark Valley Visitor Center, which is about a 45 minute drive west of Miami. This is the most popular visitor center and the parking lot can reach capacity when it’s busy, so it’s best to get there early.
For most people, the main reason to visit the Everglades is to see alligators in their natural habitat and explore the beauty of the surroundings.
We saw more alligators at Shark Valley than anywhere else in the Everglades (we saw our first within ten seconds of pulling into the park!) including a mother and her babies.
Alligators in the Everglades take very little notice of the people walking around; we saw them in and out of the water and although we stayed well away and kept our distance, a park ranger told us that alligators pay so little attention because they have so much food in the environment, it would never occur to them to go after people.
As I said, we didn’t decide to test this theory but it still made me feel a bit better about being there with young children! Take a look through my guide to visiting Everglades National Parks with kids if you plan to visit with children.
Besides alligator spotting, there is lots of do out of the Shark Valley Visitor center.
You could take the Shark Valley Tram Tour that takes you all around the park (the journey takes around 2 hours) where you can learn more about the unique ecosystem of the Everglades. You can also rent bikes or take one of the walking trails that leaves from the visitor center.
There is also a lookout tour that gives you fantastic views over the Everglades, and the visitor center has restrooms and a gift shop selling souvenirs and snacks. This is also where you can get your National Parks Passport stamped.
Entrance to Shark Valley Visitor Center, as well as the other visitor centers for the Everglades National Park, is included in the America the Beautiful National Parks Annual Pass.
3. Go paddle boarding in Biscayne National Park
About an hour south of Everglades National Park is Biscayne National Park, Florida’s only other mainland National Park (the third National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, is off the coast of Key West).
One of the best things about Biscayne National Park is that entry is completely free so you may as well stop there on your way to the Keys.
Biscayne National Park is over 90% underwater, so while you can absolutely visit the park and just walk around, I would really recommend taking a trip out on the water to see the very best of the park.
I recently visited the park and booked a tour through Biscayne National Park Institute. They offer boat tours that include snorkeling and island stops, but the trip I took was a paddling trip around the mangrove forests of Jones Lagoon.
The trip was amazing; my tour guide was absolutely fantastic and incredibly knowledgeable about the history of both Biscayne National Park and the surrounding area.
Paddling around the lagoon was one of the most peaceful experiences of my life, and we saw turtles, nursing sharks, jellyfish and different types of sea birds.
The tour left from the Dante Fascell Visitor Center, which is a great place to spot wildlife including manatees basking in the warm winter and green iguanas down by the water.
This is also the place to get your National Parks Passport stamped, and the store sells souvenirs and snacks.
4. Snorkel in Key Largo
The Florida Keys are the perfect place to go snorkeling; the water is warm and calm and crystal clear, and there is an abundance of sea life.
While you can go snorkeling in any of the Keys, I’d recommend stopping in Key Largo on your Miami to Key West road trip to snorkel at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
Given it’s prime position along the Florida Reef, the park has definitely earned its reputation as one of the best places to snorkel in the US.
Snorkel tours at the park start at around $30 per person although you can also book private tours and even guides that will enter the water with you for an underwater tour of the reef.
Look out for the famous Christ of the Abyss statue which has been sitting 25 feet under water in the park since 1965.
If you’re not keen on getting wet, then there are glass bottom boat tours that allow you to glimpse the abundance of underwater marine life from the comfort of a high speed catamaran.
You can also rent kayaks or paddleboards to explore the park, and swimming is allowed (but only in designated areas).
5. Eat all of the fresh seafood in Islamorada
The Florida Keys have some of the best food I’ve ever tasted and while you can get plenty of it in Key West, take the time to stop in Islamorada for an authentic Florida Keys dining experience.
There’s a couple of places you absolutely have to stop for fresh seafood in Islamorada and you don’t have to take my word for it – you can ask Guy Fieri!
He featured a couple of local eateries on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and after stopping at both, I can confirm that the food is amazing!
The first place to stop is the Islamorada Shrimp Shack which features shrimp – and plenty of other fresh seafood as well – in just about every form you can imagine. I was told to try the shrimp and grits and this was a fantastic recommendation – they were so good!
Dating back to 1947, the Green Turtle Inn has been a staple of Islamorada seafood for decades. I ordered the catch of the day a la Roxie (seared and topped with jumbo lump crab, tomato and sweet onion buerre blanc) and it was so good that I really considered ordering a second one to take home (the fact that I had five hours left to drive was the only thing that stopped me!)
Florida Keys Food Tours offer 4 hour walking tours of Islamorada with stops at some of the area’s best local eateries. I always think the best ways to find places to eat when you travel is to talk to the locals and this locally run tour will take you around the favorite Islamorada foodie hot spots.
6. Visit sea turtles in Marathon
Just before you come to the 7 Mile Bridge, you’ll come to the Marathon Turtle Hospital, which is somewhere I would definitely add to your Miami to Key West Road Trip.
The Marathon Turtle Hospital is a non profit animal hospital that focuses on rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing turtles back into the wild; they have released over 1500 turtles since it was founded in 1986.
Every summer they receive over 100 hatchlings to keep them safe from predators until they can be released (read more about our experience watching sea turtles hatch!)
They rescue and rehabilitate turtles with the intent of returning them back to their homes as soon as they can. Those who cannot be returned to the wild will either stay at the hospital or be adopted out to zoos and aquariums.
Some of the most common injuries to turtles are caused by boat hits, entanglement in fishing wire, and accidental ingestion of foreign particles. This last one is particularly horrifying, and one of the reasons we are trying so hard to reduce our single plastic use and practice responsible tourism when we travel.
The hospital is also collaborating with the University of Florida and the University of Georgia to research more on fibropapillomatosis, which is a virus that causes tumors to grow on turtles in the wild.
The hospital allows guided educational tours of their facility where you can learn more about the work they do to care for turtles, visit their current patients, and learn what you can do to help.
Reservations are strongly recommended since space is limited and you can book online or over the phone.
7. Enjoy the views on the 7 mile bridge
There are over 40 bridges between Miami and Key West, and the most famous of those is the 7 mile bridge between Knight’s Key and Little Duck Key.
The 7 mile bridge is actually a little shy of 7 miles, and used to have a swing bridge to allow boat traffic to pass through that had a reputation for getting stuck, leaving people stranded on the bridge for hours.
In 1982, the bridge was rebuilt and now has a 65 foot hump in the center to allow those boats to pass through.
As someone who gets very nervous driving over bridges, I was not looking forward to driving over this bridge at all.
On the drive from Miami to Key West, however, I managed to get almost halfway over the bridge before I even realized I was on it! There were so many other bridges, I didn’t even notice that this one seemed any longer.
I had planned to stop somewhere to take pictures of the bridge before getting on it, but from either Miami to Key West or the return journey, there really isn’t anywhere to stop and you obviously can’t stop while on the bridge since it’s just one lane in each direction.
I did, however, find some safe places to stop and photograph other bridges, such as the one pictured above. There is a great place to stop and photograph this bridge on Bahia Honda Key going towards Miami; there was a small parking lot and people were even fishing or snorkeling in the area.
8. Relax on the beach in Bahia Honda State Park
Once you’ve made it over the 7 mile bridge, you get to Bahia Honda Key and this is where you’ll find Bahia Honda State Park. This is a great place to stop and spend a few hours to relax and stretch your legs a bit.
The park features white sandy beaches with calm, crystal clear waters. It’s the perfect place to grab your snorkel to see what marine life you can spot in the water, or take out a kayak to see what can be seen from above the water.
The water temperatures range from the mid 70s to the mid 80s and it might feel a bit chilly in the winter. You can see everything from coral to lobsters in the water, and with depths of just a few feet, it’s perfect for beginners.
If you’ve had enough of driving at this point on your Miami to Key West road trip and need to stretch your legs, then there is a walking trail up to the Old Bahia Honda Railroad Bridge. You can actually step up onto the abandoned bridge and look out over the water for some incredible views.
There are numerous species of birds in the park as well; I spotted pelicans, egrets and herons around the water. Looking out over the Atlantic, it’s not uncommon to see dolphins or sea turtles as well.
If you plan to stay overnight in the park, there is a campground as well as cabins available, just check availability beforehand. In terms of places to eat in the area, there isn’t much choice so I would definitely plan to eat in the park and bring supplies with you.
Of all the stops from Miami to Key West, this is probably the one I recommend the most. You really get a feel for the beauty of the Keys here, away from some of the more touristy areas.
Even if you can only stay for a short period of time, I would definitely make this stop a must do.
9. Go deer spotting in Big Pine Key
Quieter than some of the other Florida Keys, Big Pine Key is known for its local Key Deer population.
If you want to spot these gentle creatures up close, then head to the National Key Deer Refuge, which was established in 1957 to protect the endangered Key Deer population.
The refuge is open to the public and provides a safe habitat for the deer, as well as an abundance of other local wildlife. Although you’ll find plenty of deer in the refuge itself, it’s not uncommon to see them roaming around other parts of the key too so keep your eyes open (and watch your speed on the road!)
While in Big Pine Key, stop in to No Name Pub where you’ll find great food, fantastic service, and currency from all over the world pinned to the walls (a tradition that started back in the 80s!)
10. Have fun in Key West!
Making it to Key West should definitely not be the end of your trip! Key West has so much to see and do that I would definitely plan to spend a few days here at the end of your Miami to Key West trip.
If you have a few days to spend here then take a look through my 3 day Key West itinerary for the best way to see as much of the island as possible in a short period of time.
Some of my favorite things to do in Key West include seeing the historic sights such as Truman’s Little White House, the Hemingway House, and the Key West Lighthouse. You should also definitely check out the Shipwreck Museum and the Key West Aquarium, which was Key West’s very first tourist attraction.
Key West is also a great place to get out on the water. There are various boat trips you could take, including dolphin excursions, snorkeling trips out to the Florida Reef, and glass bottomed catamaran trips.
Key West is known for its incredible food, and you can’t visit without trying as much of it as possible. Obviously you should try the Key Lime Pie (Kermit’s Key Lime Pie Shoppe makes the best, in my opinion), but you should also save room for Key West’s famous pink shrimp, conch fritters, and other fresh fish.
Key West also has Cuban and French influences, and their food can be found as well. I love the iced Café Con Leche from Cuban Coffee Queen, and the Croque Madame from Frenchie’s Café.
Lastly, you can’t leave Key West without seeing one of the best sunsets in Florida. The Sunset Celebration in Mallory Square features street performers, food vendors, and a party atmosphere to watch the sun go down. If you want to watch from somewhere a bit quieter, then try heading to Fort Zachary State Park to watch from the beach there.