Road Trip Vacation Through the Florida Keys
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Taking the iconic US Highway 1 road trip in the off-season from Miami through the Florida Keys ending on Key West.
Ed and I have always enjoyed traveling and taking vacations both here in the U.S. and abroad. When I first met him, he owned a timeshare in Florida. At the time, I dismissed it and thought we would never use it. After taking a few trips to timeshare destinations, my thinking evolved. I quickly realized it was a pretty nice thing as long as we took advantage of all it could offer.
We have used and enjoyed it for 35 years. Since starting the blog 10 years ago, I have shared photos from trips where we stayed in a thatched roof cottage in Ireland, an oceanfront villa on the Riviera Maya, and two other Mexican vacations.
What To Do On a Road Trip Vacation Through the Florida Keys
In early December, Ed and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary and decided to take a weeklong vacation to the Florida Keys to celebrate. Neither Ed or I had ever been and have had it on our bucket list of travel destinations.
What we were looking forward to the most about the trip was taking the iconic drive along the Overseas Highway (U.S. Highway 1).
The highway starts in Miami and passes through some 40+ islands before reaching Key West. The journey time is approximately 4 hours. We didn’t drive it all in one day, but spent a week exploring the chain of keys.
Road Trip Tip: Ed’s car is a convertible. If you don’t have one, I would highly recommend renting one in Miami to thoroughly enjoy the scenic drive and beautiful weather.
Listening to Yacht Rock, Channel 4 on Sirius Radio with the top down on the car made the scenic drives we took every day to explore all the keys, delightful. Stopping along the way to take photos, as well as for local cafes, bars, and restaurants were made even sweeter by a margarita or two and a shared slice of Key Lime Pie. :-)
Where We Stayed on the Florida Keys?
The Keys themselves are broken into three categories: the Upper Keys, Middle Keys, and Lower Keys.
After doing online research and talking with friends who know the Keys well, we chose to stay on Marathon at The SkipJack Resort and Marina. It is in the lower middle of the chain.
The resort was recently remodeled after being damaged during Hurricane Irma. As you can see the parking lot was empty as the first week in December is in the off-season.
We stayed on the 4th floor with a view out to the marina.
Our suite had been recently redecorated with a modern farmhouse vibe. I liked the bathroom vanity with pull out drawers under the sink instead of cabinet doors. The tile floor throughout the suite looked like wood planking. I didn’t get a photo of the kitchen and living area, but it was all brand new, white, bright and nice.
Staying on Marathon allowed us to travel to the other keys each day in either direction – west or east without having a long drive on any one day. We also liked that Marathon was less touristy and more residential…
… off the beaten path, laid back and 2 miles to Sombrero Beach where we spent a lot of time reading and relaxing.
We also took a fascinating and educational tour of the Marathon Sea Turtle Hospital.
Why December is a Great Month to Visit the Florida Keys
The weather is generally sunny and warm, with low humidity in late November and early December. Hurricane season is over. In the high season in the spring and early summer, it is too crowded and gets very hot and humid. In the off-season of early December there were no crowds. Even in Key West, we were seated right away at restaurants. No lines for any of the tours, we got right into everything we wanted to do or see.
During the day, the temps were in the mid 70’s. It did cool down in the evening and I wore a lightweight jacket. We went to the beach a few times wearing bathing suits. Although the water was a little too cold for my liking to go swimming, there were people in the water having a good time.
One thing I wasn’t expecting to see EVERYWHERE and on every key were power lines. I have gotten so used to never seeing them on the mainland since they are buried. It was hard to take photos without power lines in them. In some spots along the highway we could hear them buzzing.
Are Florida Keys Back to Normal After Hurricane Irma?
We learned that after Hurricane Irma, many of the resorts and businesses on the keys still have damage and are in the process of reconstruction. We saw damage in areas, but it did not negatively affect our vacation at all.
What Are The Best Waterfront Restaurants On the Florida Keys?
We ate dinner out every night. Our resort had a continental breakfast every morning. Then we grabbed sandwiches and drinks from the nearby supermarket to cover lunch for the days we spent on the beach.
Since Ed and I are all about water views, we only ate at restaurants that were on the water, but there is no shortage of places to eat on any of the keys. We asked the concierge at our resort for a few recommendations. Since we were there in the off-season we walked right into every restaurant without the need of a reservation.
Our favorite restaurant to eat dinner and enjoy watching the sunset was not far from our resort on Marathon. It was called the The Sunset Grille 7 & Rawbar. We ate dinner there 3 nights. The weather and sunsets were perfect every night.
We also liked Marker 88 on Islamorada. We ate there twice. Ed only wishes he could catch a fish this big. :-) It is a fake fish… a place for photo ops at the restaurant.
The restaurant we enjoyed the most was Morada Bay Beach Cafe, also in Islamorada. The food was delish and eating on the beach watching the sunset was magical.
Is Key West Worth Visiting?
We went to Key West for a day. We left Marathon early in the morning for the hour-long drive so we could eat breakfast in Key West. Parking was not easy, but we eventually found a parking garage and paid the day rate.
After breakfast, the first thing we did was climb to the top of the Key West Lighthouse, where I took this photo looking down on Key West.
We then took the Hop on Hop Off Trolley that goes around the whole island.
This gave us the overall feel of the town. It is a city and a crowded one with lots of tourists, bars, restaurants, cruise ships, t-shirt and souvenir shops… and roosters roaming free throughout the whole key.
We toured the Papa Pilar’s Rum Distillery...
… and the Hemingway House.
In between taking tours we ate lunch at The Hard Rock Cafe, had margaritas at Margaritaville (which was a disappointment) and walked around the main sections of the town.
I am glad we took a day to check out Key West so I could check it off my list of “places I have been”, but it really wasn’t a place I would ever want to go back. It is a city buzzing with people and not what I was expecting. I thought it would be more laid back and breezy. It was too overdeveloped, loud, and touristy for me.
We liked the quieter, relaxed vibe of Marathon where our resort was located.
The best part of our week on the Florida Keys was driving on the open road with the car top down. It made us feel like one with nature and the ocean views all around.
Seeing the fantastic sunsets is a key wide event that we took part in every night. The bars and restaurants on the water were filled with patrons there to watch. It was truly a happy hour with drinks in hand, good music and food. Truly the perfect way to relax after a day out exploring.
Taking the road trip vacation was totally enjoyable and like most vacations went by way too fast.
If you like to drive and explore new places, I would recommend a road trip vacation for a few days or a whole week. It is the perfect antidote for a too-crowded, too-stressed world.
Wow..I’m loving it already. Awesome places and lovely foods. Soon.
Hi Diane, I have been trying over all last year to find nice “white” pitchers like the ones you show sometimes on your fireplace mantel and around your home. I have two tall tapered ones and would love one big fat round jug style. Living in B.C. Canada, I I haven’t had much luck. I keep checking out Amazon.ca, and all the other web sites and still haven’t found any. I keep checking out Home Sense and Winners etc….. If you can tell me where you purchased yours, I would really appreciate the help. I really enjoy your web site. Peggy
Hi Peggy –
95% of my white pitchers are from HomeGoods, TJ Maxx, Marshalls and Ross. One or two I bought at a thrift store. I bought most of them about 10 years ago. They were very popular then and always in the stores for about $12 a piece or less.
What a coincidence! My husband and I
visited the very same week as you did.
Flew from our home in Panama City Beach
(Missed you when you were here:)
Power poles very common still all over Florida
Except Michael took all of ours down… many are back up!
And rented a car … stayed in Marathon, visited Key West ( it has changed in the 30 plus ! years s since I waited tables for a time in FUN key west with a couple of college buddies)
Many Same places still there but different vibe!
Me and the town LOL
A really relaxing trip and the best food!
I enjoy hearing about your travels
Next up San Diego in February…have you been?
Thanks for the walk down memory lane. My husband and I grew up in south FL, me in Homestead so fishing in the Keyes were a regular part of my childhood weekends. We moved to Ft Lauderdale in high school and I met my husband and we spent MANY MANY weekends in Marathon until finally building a vacation house on Ramrod 22 miles north of Key West. A relative built on Marathon. Summers and long weekends there were a normal part of our children’s growing up years. It was a lot less developed in those days the (60s thru 90s) & we were waterfront and had a boat so we ate like Kings. We could take our fresh fish or lobster to several area restaurants and they’d cook it and serve it with all their sides. I haven’t been down in over a decade due to health issues and was wondering how it was doing since the hurricane.
Thanks so much for sharing your trip.
My husband and I have wanted to do this.
You’ve given us some good pointers.
We celebrated 35 years last year so we’re a bit behind ?
Linda from Macungie
Thanks for the timely travelog! We have spent a month in Key West the last 3 winters and love it! Once you get away from the touristy areas of Duval St. it really is just like a small town. Lots of lectures, theater and just relaxing at Ft. Zachary Tayor, Higgs or Smathers beach. We drive from CT. so I will be sure to use some of your reccomendations. Just driving and looking at that beautiful blue water is so relaxing!
I loved Marathon! We went to their community theater group and had a blast. It is quite small and unusual—couches in the balcony, art and a keyboard player in the lobby, wine and soft drinks during intermission. And good actors, of course. Here’s the link http://www.marathontheater.org. We also stopped at the Turtle Hospital, No Name Pub and the Blue Hole (it has alligators) on Big Pine Key, enjoyed live music at Boondocks Grille on Ramrod Key. We also drove the Overseas Highway during a thunder storm…a little scary! Would I go back? Heck yeah! Would not really visit Key West much, just the outlying keys, though. So much we didn’t see!
What a beautiful trip. It really changed my impression of Florida. I’ve only been to St. Augustine in August. It looks lovely in December. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying your pantry renovation. It’s inspiring, although completely beyond what I think I could do.
Hi Andrea – Thanks. As far as the pantry renovation, if you haven’t taken on a big project, start with something small. It is how I started doing DIY. The more I did, the better I got along with confidence. In all my posts, I try to inspire, even if you get a small takeaway of a way to organize an existing cabinet to the full renovation. I hope everyone can get something out of the post.
Thank you so much for sharing your adventure! I’m on the hunt for our annual birthday beach trip in June and this might just be the ticket! Did you have reservations in advance for the places you stayed? Wondering if we can just wing it – thanks!
Hi Dawn – For the resort we stayed at, we made the reservations in advance, but there was only a handful of guests, so I am sure you could just go. All the restaurants and tourist attractions, we just walked in with no reservations and were seated right away or able to take the tour without a line. This is not the case when in season. There are a lot of motels and resorts, even a few chain hotels. In December, I think all of them had a lot of rooms available so winging it would be possible. :-)
Happy 35th to you and Ed. Thanks for sharing your photos : )
Hi Teri – Thanks. :-)
I LOVE the photos you included! Thank you for sharing your trip; your blog is very enjoyable and informational. I always look forward to seeing what you’ll be sharing when I get an email from you.
Thanks Debra – Thanks for subscribing to my blog and enjoying my posts. That is the best thing for a blogger to hear. XO
Thanks for the review. I think we will just stop in Marathon! Those pictures of you and Ed are adorable!
Hi Diane…great post, and reminds me of a few visits to the Keys when our kids were younger. We stayed just south of Marathon at Key Colony Beach, in a 2 bed duplex on a canal, and close to the beach. Our son ( now 25) still talks about it and wants to go back. He and my husband went on a private fishing charter, just the two of them and the captain, and had an awesome day, bringing back the catch for dinner.
We also did the Turtle Hospital and swam with dolphins at the Dolphin Research Centre….great. I like to go off the beaten path, so we also drove to an out of the way pizza pub, inland a bit where the “ key deer “ roam free…and money bills are plastered all over the walls…great fun ! I think it was called the “ No Name Pub”
Saw Key West….once was enough ! Thanks for rekindling those sweet memories ! And yes, next time it will be a convertible!
Hi Diane!!! What a fun beautiful getaway!! It’s 3 degrees here in NJ! Wish I was in the Keys!!!
Thanks Nancy – My sister in PA told me it was 6 there today. It was 26 here this morning which is super cold for the region. I hope you are staying warm and cozy.
What a handsome couple! Congratulations to you! We also celebrated our 35th anniversary in 2018. Time flies!
Welcome to my part of the world Diane.
I love Islamorada and Marathon and we have our favorite places to stay when we drive through the keys.
We live about 150 miles from Miami in Cape Coral on the gulf of Mexico. Lately, we have been taking the Key West Express boat up and back when our guests want to go to Key West. It is easier than driving the two lane highway all the way to Key West especially if there is road construction which there usually is.
You gave a good assessment of Key West…and if you are there on week-ends…in my opinion, there are too many parades, mostly protesting or promoting a way of life. AND way tooooooo touristy. But everyone has to go at least once, or so they think, so we accommodate our guests. LOL
The Captain and I have stayed at cute little cottages on the beaches of Islamorada and Marathon and ate at some of the same restaurants you recommended and I have posted about them.
You did good girl, and by the way, my car is a steel blue Chrysler 300 convertible….perfect for driving around SW Florida.
Diane, we took the family and several friends to Key West last year in December for my husband’s 70th birthday. It was on his bucket list as well. I agree, I’m glad we went, but I don’t think we’ll go back. For one thing we’re in California and it’s a LONG trip. We did enjoy going to the the Dry Tortuga NP, the Hemingway House and the Truman WHite House. We didn’t stay right down town which helped. It was an easy bus ride into town from our spot over the bridge. We really liked the drive down the Overseas HIghway as well but it was drizzly the day we drove it–no convertible for us.