Viking Cruises Into the Midnight Sun itinerary combines wild and beautiful ports with magical days at sea on a journey ...
I have fortunately visited the Florida Keys twice in the past six months. Pretty nice since I no longer live in South Florida. There are hundreds of options but here are 8 great spots to visit in the Florida Keys (the Conch Republic), mixed in with a few pictures and descriptions.
8 Great Spots to Visit in the Florida Keys
Card Sound Road
Most people drive onto the Florida Keys on highway US1, a nice drive though the southern Everglades before reaching Key Largo. Card Sound Road is an alternate road; McCool Travel tip: I like to take Card Sound Road in one direction and US1 in the other. Entry points to Card Sound Road from US1 are in Florida City (just south of the Last Chance Saloon) and in Key Largo near Mile Marker (MM) 106. From the north, Card Sound Road (aka Old Dixie Highway) passes by Alabama Jack’s (an “Old Florida” joint that always has at least one motorcycle out front) before a toll bridge ($1 for cars) offering exceptional views, especially at sunrise and sunset. The road continues onto North Key Largo through Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge and pristine hammock natural areas, before emptying onto US1 near John Pennekamp State Park.
>>> Read the McCool Travel article: 8 Great Scenic Drives in South Florida.
At MM99.4 Bayside (Mile Marker 99.4, bayside is on your right when driving toward Key West). Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen is a fantastic “welcome to the Florida Keys” first stop. It is Florida Keys kitschy, with license plates and money from around the world decorating the walls. It is also always rated one of the top eating places in Key Largo, a place with a near-even split of locals and visitors. Menu items are tempting but I usually order a daily special. Mrs. Mac’s key lime freeze is my personal milestone that I am officially in the Florida Keys. McCool Travel Tip: check Mrs. Mac’s website for coupons. If you park behind Mrs. Mac’s you will find this scene:
Interestingly, beaches are not one of the drawing cards of the Florida Keys. Anne’s Beach (MM73) is a nice place to stop when driving straight through to Key West; it has a boardwalk and easy wading. Sombrero Beach (MM50) is a spectacular white sand beach. Bahia Honda State Park (MM37) beach was selected as the best beach in the United States by Dr. Beach (1992). Bahia Honda is also an exceptional place to camp but watch out for the raccoons (personal experience!).
The above beaches are often partially closed in the summer to protect sea turtle nests. The only (I believe) hospital dedicated to rescuing and rehabbing sea turtles is located near MM48.5. The lobby has informative (and emotional) displays and stories, including one of a deathly sick turtle that swam right up to the hospital. The lobby displays are free but they have a popular $15 90-minute tour (reservations strongly recommended).
>>> Read the McCool Travel article: 8 Great Things to Do in Daytona Beach.
Betsey, the world’s largest lobster, is a fab photo opp in Islamorada. Yes, if you are used to seeing Maine lobsters, Betsey looks different. Lobsters in Florida’s waters are Caribbean Spiny Lobsters. Nearby is the Hurricane Monument (MM81.5), memorializing the devastating 1935 hurricane (unnamed) which killed over 420 people and had the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded (on the Atlantic side of the world).
Seven Mile Bridge
Perhaps the most famous spot along the 100 mile drive to Key West, Seven Mile Bridge (MM47) is a wonderful stop. On my recent trip, I walked 1.5 miles out and then back on Old Seven Mile Bridge (toward historic Pigeon Key). During the walk, I saw a giant sea turtle, rays leaping out of the water, and one shark. I read that this is a prime spot for star gazing. Oh yeah, the high point on the bridge is the highest spot in the Florida Keys (65 feet above sea level). Many years ago, on one drive to Bahia Honda, we were involuntarily stopped at the north end of the bridge while a crew was filming True Lies.
Big Pine Key and No Name Key
Near MM30, Big Pine Key and No Name Key are home to unique and endangered animal species, including the dog-sized Key deer. Drive SLOWLY along the roads of the two islands and hopefully glimpse the little deer. Along Key Deer Blvd, the Blue Hole is a nice stop. It is an old stone quarry filled with fresh water and home to the only gators in the Keys; gators live in fresh water while crocs live in salt water (South Florida is the only area where they can be found together in nature). We saw one small alligator on our recent visit but read the sad story about Bacardi (a 9 foot alligator died from a little plastic toy). Please, do not ever feed any wild animal-EVER (or accidentally drop things into their homes).
>>> Read the McCool Travel article: 8 Great Key West Tips.
Key Lime Products
Key Lime Products is a store located at MM92.5 oceanside (right side when driving back to the mainland). It is a nice final stop when leaving the Florida Keys to stock up on key lime and tropical goodies. I have bought a whole pie here on my last two trips—and slices for immediate gratification! Another good stop is the Midway Cafe at MM80.5. It is a nice coffee and sandwich shop with key lime pie and treats. McCool Travel tip: the best key lime pie I have had on recent trips was from the Sippin’ Coffee House on Eaton Street in Key West—but I have not tried everywhere, yet.
Do you have any favorite spots to visit in the Florida Keys?