On a recent trip to Florida we managed to get a car rental with unlimited mileage. We were staying on the West Coast but couldn’t help but find a way to use those unlimited miles to our advantage. We decided to venture to the Keys, even though it was off-season, to see what we could find. We ended up finding a lot.
Our initial plan was to make it to Key Largo, the first of the keys, and decide if we wanted to go any farther. We found ourselves travelling the entire length of the keys and staying three days and two nights in Key West.
It took us some time to narrow it down but here is what we chose as our top 5 “must-dos” of the Keys, counting down to our number 1, must-do!
5. Make the Drive Down the Keys
While flights can be taken directly to Key West or to Marathon (located in the middle of the keys), it is well worth it to drive the entire length of the chain of keys. Flying into Miami International or West Palm Beach gets you on the right coast and offers a not-too-distant route.
Driving down the Keys is truly an amazing experience and each key has its own charms. Whether it’s to scuba dive in Key Largo or to try your luck at spotting the endangered Key deer of Marathon, you’ll find something different to see each stop you make.
Our most memorable stop was in Islamorada where we ate outside by the water at Islamorada Fish Company. We felt adventurous and ordered gator as our appetizer. They came out like chicken nuggets and were absolutely delicious! It was definitely worth it.
If you’re driving down from Miami, you may want to stop into 11th Street Diner before heading down to the keys. The food was some of the best we’ve had and it was one of the highlights of our trip to Florida!
4. Experience Key West Nightlife
It may seem obvious that experiencing Key West at night is essential, but with so much to do during the day it’s easy to wind up worn out by nighttime. To us, Key West was like a tropical New Orleans with busy streets and numerous bars in a very small area. As a couple, the off season was pretty perfect. No lines to get into any of the bars, no spring break crowds, and an entire strip of activity to explore. We had a great time walking Duval street, stopping into differently themed bars, small market-like areas and shops as we went. We stayed in a hotel right on Duval, so we were smack dab in the middle of the action and able to immerse ourselves in the island’s nightlife. I can’t begin to imagine what the island must be like at night during high season… we’ll have to find out another time!
A tip: After eating some pretty amazing seafood for two days straight, I decided a little change was in order when I saw a small pizzeria. If you are looking for some absolutely phenomenal pizza, try Angelina’s Pizzeria on Duval. Their tagline is “The Best Piece in Town”, and they aren’t lying!
3. Have Breakfast with the Roosters
One thing we discovered is that he dining experience in the Keys is impeccable. It seemed as though no matter where or what we ate, the food was delicious.
One of our most memorable meals was at Blue Heaven. Even though it was off-season we still had to wait 30 minutes to be seated, but this popular Key West restaurant was well worth the wait. It was a bit unnerving when we first sat down and found out that, until 2pm, they let their roosters loose to wander the dining area, but they don’t bother you and it was quite a different experience! The food was amazing as well. Between the two of us we had a fried egg breakfast and the special, lobster eggs Benedict. The only words of caution is to ask for the prices of their specials. We didn’t and got quite the shock when the bill came.
2. Go Snorkeling at the Reef
The Great Florida Reef lies off the coast of Key West and while it doesn’t allow for great sandy beaches, it provides an amazing snorkeling experience. There are many companies that organize snorkeling excursions at pretty reasonable prices.
We ended up taking a “Rum and Reggae” boat ride to the reef. This cruise included snorkeling equipment (if needed) and on the hour ride back, all the rum punch or pina coladas you could enjoy while listening to reggae music. Even though it was a choppy day, the ride was beautiful and we were still able to see plenty of fish. If you have more time to plan your stay, coordinate your snorkeling excursion with the weather to avoid rainy days and I’m sure the underwater view is even more spectacular.
1. Watch the Sunset
It always seemed ridiculous hearing about someone crying over a beautiful sunset. Or it was until this trip. The sun began to set over half the way to Key West and we thought we’d pull over and maybe take a few picturesque photos. There are no words to accurately describe the beauty of that sunset or the feeling of complete serenity that falls over you.
We watched the sun set the second night and while not quite the moving experience of the first, it was still a breathtaking sight.
If you can only do one thing while you are in Key West, watching the sunset over the water should be it.