Ultimate Road Trip – The scenic Overseas Highway
The Overseas Highway through the Florida Keys is the ultimate road trip: Spectacular views and things to do, places to go, places to hide and back roads to explore, hidden harbors and tiki bars galore.
Alongside the Overseas Highway, there are hundreds of places where you can pull over to fish or kayak or enjoy a pina colada. Camping in the Keys is a special treat, and there are dozens of magnificent coral reefs where you can snorkel or dive.
Fresh-caught seafood is a Keys staple, offered at a broad range of Keys restaurants, from roadside fish shacks to the upscale eateries of Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon and Key West.
For many, the ultimate destination is that legendary stop at the end of the world, Key West, but you’d be mistaken to bypass the true character of the Keys along the 100-plus miles of Overseas Highway, U.S. 1.
Our mile-marker guide is intended to help you discover new things to see and do in the Florida Keys. Print it out and take it with you. We are constantly updating this guide, adding more places of interest in the Keys, so come back often, or at least every time you venture south into this idyllic adventureland.
Kayak Launch Points can be found along the Overseas Highway throughout the Keys, identified with KAYAK. If you know of a kayak launch not listed,
click here send us an e-mail at [email protected] — or tell us about it in the comments below this guide.
Gateway to the Keys
127.5 — Florida City – Junction with Fla. Turnpike and U.S. 1.
126.5 — Card Sound Road (CR-905) goes east to the Card Sound Bridge and northern Key Largo. If you’re not in a hurry, take the toll road ($1 toll). Card Sound Road traverses a wild area that once had a small community of Card Sound. All that’s left now is Alabama Jack’s, a funky outdoor restaurant and tiki bar known for its conch fritters and the line of motorcycles it attracts. (Don’t be afraid; it’s a family oriented place and great fun.)
If you take Card Sound Road, you’ll pass a little-known park, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, before coming to Key Largo itself. Saved from becoming another condo, this park preserves one of the largest tracts of West Indian tropical hardwood hammock in the United States. There are picnic tables and two short hikes — a two-mile nature trail and a one-mile loop. If you fill out a back-country permit form at Pennekamp State Park, you can hike an additional four miles of trails.
If you take the more direct U.S. 1 route, you’ll instead pass:
The Upper Keys
112.5 — Monroe County Line
110.8 – KAYAK – Little Black Water Sound Boat Ramp, bayside.
108.5 — Gilbert’s. Near the end of the “18-Mile Stretch,” just before you cross the Jewfish Creek Bridge to Key Largo, you’ll see an access road on your right that goes to Gilbert’s Resort and Marina, an Old Florida gateway to the Keys. The big attraction here is the tiki bar, which really pops on weekends.
108 – Jewfish Creek. Exit/enter Key Largo. Southern end of the “18-Mile Stretch.”
107.5 — Lake Surprise.
106.0 — Key Largo Chamber of Commerce, gulfside. Easy-to-reach rest rooms and lots of brochures and maps, which often contain coupons for a few bucks off admission prices at attractions.
105.6– The location of the railroad depot and the center of the community of Key Largo from about 1910 to 1940. The depot was in the highway median. The community was gulfside.
104.5 – KAYAK– Florida Bay Outfitters. Small fee to launch.
104.1 — Caribbean Club, gulfside. The exterior was used in the 1948 movie Key Largo. Now it’s a popular dive bar filled with Key Largo memorabilia. More about tracking Humphrey Bogart in Key Largo.
104 — King’s Camp RV Park. Decent private campground with many waterfront sites. It’s packed in winter, but you can usually get a site the rest of the year.
103.5 — The 1920s Key Largo Rock Castle, End of Oceana Drive, Oceanside.
103.4 — Marvin Adams Waterway Bridge (The Cut), a canal that connects Atlantic to Florida Bay
102.8 — KAYAK – John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park entrance, oceanside: A great place to take a snorkeling trip or kayak through mangrove tunnels. If you want to camp, you can (and should) make reservations up to 11 months in advance through Reserve America.
** Book your outing for Key Largo Snorkeling **
102 — Need a free place to stop for picnic? Behind the Key Largo government center (bayside) there’s a pretty little waterfront park area with covered picnic tables. Folks who live on boats moored just off shore come and go from here via dinghy or kayak.
101.7 – Hobo’s. This has long been one of my favorites stops on the way home from the Keys. Good food at the right price. Can’t go wrong.
101.2 — Hibiscus Park, Oceanside. The was the center of the 1880s community of Newport.
100.0 — Divers Direct. Massive store catering to scuba divers, snorkelers and other water sports.
** Hotels.com: Find a room in Key Largo **
99. 7 — The African Queen, the actual 100-year-old steamboat from the 1951 Humphrey Bogart-Katherine Hepburn film, is moored next to the Holiday Inn oceanside here. You can take a 90-minute cruise or a two-hour dinner trip. Here are details on cruising on the African Queen.
98.0 – Landings of Largo, gulfside; Moose Lodge oceanside; Everglades Park Ranger Station, gulfside. 1st Baptist Church, oceanside; Shell World (center road); Rock Harbor Club, gulfside.
95 to 100 — This was the early community of Rock Harbor. A small railroad depot was also here. The name of the post office here was Rock Harbor until the 1948 Humphrey Bogart-Lauren Bacall film Key Largo inspired residents to cash in on that success and seek a name change. In 1952, the postal service agreed and the post office was renamed Key Largo.
95.8 –Harriette’s Diner. Popular eatery for locals. Read the reviews on Urban Spoon.
95.2 – Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary building.
94.8 – Seaside community, oceanside. The 1900s Thompson line packing house was in this area.
93.6 — Florida Keys Wild Bird Center, gulfside. Wander along a boardwalk through a mangrove forest at this volunteer-run wildlife-rehab facility with an informal, backyard feel. The center is free, though you may want to stuff some dollars into the donation box. It’s open from sunrise to sunset. You’re free to wander without anyone hassling you. It’s a great place to bring kids; a stop will only take 15 or 20 minutes, unless you decide to linger. Read more about a visit here.
92.6 — Burton Drive, Harry Harris Park oceanside. This small park has a man-made beach, picnic tables, a picnic shelter and a playground. It’s a great stop for a picnic or swim on your roadtrip. There is a $5 admission for those over 16 on Saturday, Sunday and federal holidays. Incidentally, the early community of Planter was here.
92.0 — KAYAK – Bottle Key Launch. Public boat launch, bayside. Turn right onto Jo-Jean Way.
91.9 — Old Tavernier Post office; Old Settlers Park, oceanside historic Tavernier Hotel, oceanside. This was the center of the early community of Tavernier.
91.6 — Mariner’s Hospital. Bayside.
91.0 — Tavernier Creek Bridge; enter Islamorada; Tavernier Creek Marina, Plantation Marina, gulfside
90.1 – Plantation Key Colony community entrance, gulfside. There’s a large Indian mound in the center of the subdivision.
87.0 – KAYAK Founders Park and Beach. This public park has a beach, marina, boat ramps, baseball fields, skate park and kayak rentals.
86.7 - Rain Barrel Artisan’s Village. It’s fun to browse the arts and crafts here. And everybody has to get their picture taken with the giant lobster out front. This anatomically correct Florida lobster is 30 feet high and 40 feet long. It was created by Marathon artist Richard Blaze about three decades ago and it has a name – Betsy.
85.5 — Snake Creek Bridge; Coast Guard Station, gulfside. Enter Windley Key.
85.3 – Hog Heaven Bar & Grill. A popular sports bar and seafood restaurant before you get to Holiday Isle. You can’t miss the sign. The restaurant is tucked in behind a building on the oceanside. A frequent stop for bikers and tourists.
85.3 — Windley Key State Fossil Reef Geological Site, gulfside. Windley Key is worth a stop. It’s an old quarry where fossilized coral was acquired for use in building Flagler’s Overseas Railroad in the early 1900s. Visitors can walk along 8-foot-high quarry walls to see cross sections of the ancient coral and learn about the quarry and its operation. There are also some short self-guided trails through the native vegetation. The park has picnic tables.
84.3 — This was the center of the community of Quarry that thrived during the construction of the railroad.
84.2 – Theater of the Sea, established in 1946, it’s the second oldest marine mammal attraction in the world. Its salt water lagoon was originally a quarry for Flagler’s Overseas Railway. Offers live dolphin shows, exhibits, a private swimming area and various ways to interact with dolphin, sea lions or rays for additional charges.
84.2 – Holiday Isle/Postcard Inn. The “world famous” tiki bar is a regular stop for many travelers to the Keys for their first Pina Colada. The tiki bar is funky, the way the Keys used to be, and it anchors a complex of motels, restaurants, bars and beaches now called Postcard Inn. The marina’s docks are filled with charter fishing boats. You can also rent jet skis, kayaks or boats. Like many places in the Keys, Holiday Isle lays its own claim to “Kokomo” beach, made famous by the Beach Boys song of the same name.
84 – Whale Harbor Bridge spans a waterway that connects the ocean and Florida Bay at Whale Harbor. Oceanside, there is a long sandbar that emerges at low tide, a magnet for recreational boaters and swimmers. On summer weekends, you’ll see the boats lined up at anchor.
83.5 – Whale Harbor Restaurants and Marina. Three restaurants and a cool tiki bar overlook the marina and a fleet of charter fishing boats. The restaurant that draws the biggest crowds is Whale Harbor’s “World Famous Seafood Buffet,” where an unbelievable variety of seafood is laid out every night for the hungry masses. If you prefer more formal dining, veer right as you enter the building for linen tablecloths of the Brazilian steakhouse, Braza Lena. Next door, on the bridge side of the complex, Wahoo’s Bar and Grill is high above the marina overlooking the inlet. The outdoor tiki bar is pleasant and a less funky than the more famous Holiday Isle Tiki Bar across the channel.
82.2 — Islamorada Chamber of Commerce Red Caboose
** Hotels.com: Find a room in Islamorada **
82 – Lorelei Resaurant and Cabana Bar, gulfside. Lorelei’s big mermaid sign on US 1 says: Relax, you’re finally in the Keys. Lorelei’s is a great place to pause for refreshments. It’s all open air with tables around a lagoon. It’s especially popular at sunset.
81.5 — Islamorada Library and park, gulfside; Hurricane Memorial; Cheeca Lodge, Oceanside. The library and the Hurricane Monument were constructed after the devastating 1935 hurricane. It’s worth stopping at the monument and considering the impact of this historic storm.
81.5 – Worldwide Sportsman is a part of the Bass Pro Shops empire, offering a wealth of fishing tackle, outdoors gear, boating accessories and clothing. On display inside is a classic Keys wooden fishing vessel, the kind Ernest Hemingway once patronized. You can also arrange charters here on more modern fishing boats.
81.5 Islamorada Fish Company, a popular seafood market, restaurant and sunset tiki bar that is part of the Worldwide Sportsman complex. Besides dining, you can buy fresh fish at the market out front. The restaurant has its own fishing fleet, so the fish is fresh off the boat. This is the original Islamorada Fish Company location, which Bass Pro has now replicated at many of its other stores around the country.
81.3 — Green Turtle Inn. Oceanside. Notable eatery with a history back to the 1940s. Popular port of call for “barstool sailors,” if you get my drift.
80.0 — Roadside park, bayside
79.8 — Bud and Mary’s Marina oceanside at the foot of Tea Table Relief Bridge. Drift fishing party boats, deep-sea and backcountry charters available. In March 2013, a full day of fishing on the party boat was $65.
79.1 – Tea Table Channel Bridge
78.0 – KAYAK. Indian Key Bridge. Lignumvitae Key Botanical Site, bayside in distance. Lignumvitae Key Boat Ramp gulfside; Indian Key Archaeological Site, San Pedro Underwater State Park and Alligator Lighthouse, oceanside at a distance.
Indian Key is Bonnie’s favorite kayak or canoe destination: Where else do you see such memorable scenery while exploring a ghost town on a tropical island? Here’s information on a paddle trip to Indian Key.
Another excellent paddling destination: Lignumvitae Key Botanical Site, on the gulf side of the road.
77.9 – KAYAK — Lignumvitae Bridge
77.5 – KAYAK Robbie’s Marina, bayside. No trip to the Keys is complete without a stop to feed the tarpon at Robbie’s Marina. You can rent kayaks or arrange tours to Lignumvitae Key or Indian Key at the marina. Fishing charters also available. The Hungry Tarpon is a funky wooden fish shack built in 1947, a good place for breakfast, lunch or dinner, with outdoor seating overlooking the marina.
75.0 –KAYAK Sea Oats Beach.
73.5 – Habanos Restaurant at Caloosa Cove. Excellent Cuban-influenced menu, casual dining with ocean views and low to moderate prices. The locals eat here with good reason. Try it.
73.5 — Caloosa Cove Resort and Marina. TrueValue Hardware store in the main building. Waterfront tiki bar Safari Lounge at the resort, behind Habaneros.
73.6 — Boy Scouts Sea Base, gulfside; Calusa Cove Marina. Oceanside. Gulfside was the location of Camp 3 for WW-I veterans. Many perished in the 1935 hurricane.
73.4 — Anne’s Beach, Oceanside. Anne’s beach is a lovely, sandy, free beach, so shallow you can wade out great distances. The shore is lined with mangroves, through which a boardwalk, with periodic picnic tables, weaves. Anne’s Beach has limited parking and is very popular. If you can get a space, it makes a nice 20 minute stop in your roadtrip to wade in the shallow water.
Keep an eye on the sea life underfoot. This is the only place I’ve ever had to be careful to avoid stepping on an octopus — a small, nonthreatening and adorable creature.
73.0 — Channel 2 Bridge. Off shore on the bayside can be seen the remains of eight concrete bridge pilings built by the WW-1 veterans. Excellent fishing off the old bridge. Fishing balconies added recently.
The Middle Keys
71.8 — Craig Key
71.0 — Channel 5 Bridge. Considered by locals to provide the best bridge fishing in the Keys. In March 2013, bike trail construction limited access to parking on the south side. This bridge has yet to be improved with fishing balconies found on other bridges, but I imagine they’ll be coming soon, once the bike trail is completed.
70.0 – Fiesta Key RV Park and Marina. Decent alternative if you can’t book a campsite Long Key. Boat launch and dockage, and really nice waterfront cabins. Campsite reservations available on ReserveAmerica.
67.5 – KAYAK Long Key State Park, Oceanside. It’s hard to find a more scenic camping spot anywhere. All 51 campsites are on the beach, and they are hard to get, so reserve early. The park is popular for picnics, hiking, kayaking and fishing. Reserve a campsite online at ReserveAmerica.
66.5 – KAYAK Long Key bayside. Decent sized pullover on the bay side, outside of Long Key State Park. Drop your kayak over the low wall.
65.8 – Henry Flagler’s Long Key Fishing Camp occupied the southwest end of Long Key. In the early part of the 20th Century,this famed recreation outpost was visited by Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover and adventurer Zane Grey, who spent 14 winter seasons here fishing and writing.
64.0 — Long Key Viaduct, the second-longest bridge of Flagler’s railroad. Newly constructed fishing balconies provide excellent access to the channel, and the old roadbed is popular with cyclists venturing down the Overseas Heritage Bicycle Trail.
62.2 — Walker’s Island (Little Conch Key)
61.2 — Tom’s Harbor Cut Bridge
61.1 — Duck Key and Hawk’s Cay Resort, luxury resort is oceanside.
60.6 – KAYAK Tom’s Harbor Channel Bridge. Oceanside launch and pullover. Good fishing!
59.9 — Enter/leave City of Marathon
59 — Grassy Key, Dolphin Research Center. The focus of this not-for-profit facility is on education. Rather than choreographed shows, trainers hold informative sessions as visitors stand on the dock around open-water tanks. Many ways to interact with dolphins are available for an extra fee.
56 – KAYAK Curry Hammock State Park offers swimming, a playground, picnic tables and some of the most sought-after camp sites in the Keys. Day visitors can launch kayaks from the beach and paddle coves and trails. There’s a 1.5-mile nature trail for hiking, and you can bike along the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. Reservations accepted up to 11 months in advance only through ReserveAmerica.
54 — Entrance to Village of Key Colony Beach, Oceanside. Take the Sadowski Causeway/6th Street to the end and turn right on W. Ocean Drive for the Key Colony Inn, one of the best restaurants in the Keys. Prices are moderate and the seafood selection outstanding. Truly, a hidden gem off the beaten path. The same causeway passes another good waterfront seafood bar and restaurant, Sparky’s Landing, which has indoor and outdoor seating and live music.
53.5 – KAYAK Island Boat Ramp. Public boat ramp adjacent to The Island Fish Company Tiki Bar & Restaurant, which is also a great place to eat and drink. It has the longest covered tiki bar in the Keys and is ideal setting for watching sunsets.
53.1 — Vaca Cut Bridge, entering the business district of Marathon next 8 miles.
52.0 — Marathon County Airport, bayside
** Hotels.com: Find a room in Marathon **
50.5 – Crane Point Museum and Nature Center, gulfside. Admission: Adults $12.50, children 5-13 $8.50 and 4 and under free.
50.0 – KAYAK Sombrero Beach. There are few “real” public beaches in the Keys, and this is one of them. Turn south at the light (Publix Shopping Center) and follow Sombrero Beach Road to the end. Plenty of parking.
49.0 — The Stuffed Pig. Bob’s favorite breakfast destination in Marathon.
48.5 — The Turtle Hospital. Located in a former motel bayside on the Overseas Highway, the Turtle Hospital supports its program of rescuing and rehabilitating about 100 injured sea turtles a year through the admission price paid by visitors. A 90-minute educational tour is given several times a day. Visitors meet the injured sea turtles up close and get to throw some feed into their tanks.
48.0 — Turnoff to Chiki Tiki Bar and Grille at Burdines Waterfront, one of the best casual restaurants and tiki bars in the Keys. To find it, you turn east on 15th Street in Marathon, wind past an old trailer park and stacks of lobster traps, and arrive in a large working marina in a protected harbor. The Chiki Tiki is up a flight of stairs, giving you an excellent vantage point and a breeze.
47.5 — Porky’s Bayside BBQ and Captain Pip’s Marina & Hideaway, the place to be in the 1950′s when it was known at Bill Thompson’s Villas and Marina. Such notables as Ernest Hemingway, Jimmy Hoffa, Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher were regular visitors. Reviews on Yelp! and Trip Advisor are quite complimentary, with special kudos for the atmosphere and tasty barbecue dishes.
Seven Mile Grille. Outdoor eatery at the foot of the Seven Mile Bridge in Marathon. A landmark serving “Keys food.” Breakfast and lunch menus are reasonably prices and you can’t beat the sunset view during happy hour. We included Seven Mile Grille in our wrapup of Keys tiki bars.
47.2 — Knight’s Key Campground. Oceanside. There are 192 RV sites, some waterfront with dockage, and prime location at the foot of the Seven Mile Bridge. Many amenities nearby, as well as the “old bridge” and Pigeon Key. For reservations, call (305) 743-4343.
47.0 — East end of Seven Mile Bridge. Access to bridge is gulfside. Pigeon Key visitor’s center is oceanside. Here’s another road-trip must-do: You have to get out and take a stroll on the bridge. Here’s more about walking or biking the Old Seven Mile Bridge.
It’s also worth planning your schedule to spend several hours visiting historic Pigeon Key. The history is fascinating, the scenery terrific and, if you bring your gear, it’s a great place to snorkel.
44.8 – Pigeon Key. gulf side
43.9 — Moser Channel, apogee of Seven-Mile Bridge. Sombrero Light House seen at a distance, oceanside
41.7 — End of original steel truss railroad bridge and begin concrete arch bridge
40.0 — End/begin Seven Mile Bridge
The Lower Keys
39.9 – KAYAK Veterans Memorial Park. This small, free oceanside park just south of the Seven Mile Bridge is a great place to stop for a picnic or to use the restroom. Picnic tables are under chickee huts, there’s a beach where you can wade or swim and palm trees lean like they are waiting to be captured in a postcard. It’s also an easy kayak launch. If it’s crowded, there’s also a large parking area and a small boat ramp bayside.
39.5 — Missouri-Little Duck Channel Bridge
39.0 – Ohio-Missouri Channel Bridge
38.7 — Ohio- Bahia Honda Channel Bridge
36.8 – KAYAK Bahia Honda State Park entrance, oceanside. In my view, Bahia Honda is the best of the state parks in the Keys. It offers a great beach and snorkeling, good kayaking and the old camelback bridge is an awesome sight up close. On top of that, there are campsites and several well-equipped, reasonably priced cabins. Of course, campsites and cabins book up many months in advance, so plan ahead to stay overnight. Book your campsite reservations through Reserve America.
36.0 — Bahia Honda Bridge (4-lanes); you can view the old railroad camelback bridge on the oceanside.
35.0 – KAYAK Bahia Honda Bridge launch. At the west end (towards Key West), access to both ocean and bay.
34.5 — Girl Scout Camp, oceanside.
34.1 — Camp Sawyer, Boy Scouts, oceanside.
34.0 – West Summerland Key
33.7 – KAYAK Spanish Harbor Bridge Boat Ramp. (East end of bridge, Marathon side.) Paddle to No Name Key and a cluster of other islands off Big Pine.
WARNING! — You are entering Big Pine Key, and the speed limit is strictly enforced. Big Pine is home to the endangered Florida Key Deer, and no mercy is shown for speeders. It’s 45 mph in daylight, 35 mph at night, for 3.5 miles. Drive inland, and the speed limit is 30 mph.
33.8 – KAYAK – Boat ramp alongside highway.
33.0 — Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge and RV Campground — This private 10-acre campground has 94 RV sites with full hookups, some waterfront, and a primitive camp area with 58 tent sites. Also, motel rooms and a full-service marina, with a boat ramp. Lots of hiking, biking and paddling opportunities nearby. The lodge does not have a web site, but there are many positive reviews on TripAdvisor.com.
32.8 – KAYAK Long Beach. Adjacent to Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge, take Long Beach Road about a half-mile. Turn left onto dirt road to Long Beach. There are three launch points.
31.0 — Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce, Old F.E.C. railway marker, oceanside
30.2 — Big Pine Key traffic light is the gateway to the island and the National Key Deer Wildlife Refuge.
There’s a lot to see on this very wide island, all of it accessed from this stoplight, so think about a side trip.
For starters, it’s the only place in the world where you’ll find the endangered Key deer. (Here’s how we saw dozen of Key deer on a recent trip.)
One of the most colorful spots for a lunch, dinner or drink is No Name Pub, a short drive on Key Deer Blvd. (then Watson Blvd.) through a residential neighborhood that is teeming with the tiny deer, especially near sunset.
KAYAK On Watson Blvd. is the Old Wooden Bridge Cabins, charming, historic cabins that make a great base for kayaking around No Name Key and viewing Key deer. Kayak rentals available. Low fee to launch your own kayak.
KAYAK No Name Key — Besides Old Wooden Bridge, there are two other launch sites, just across the bridge, or keep going to the end of the road for 1.8 miles for another public launch site.
Near the stop light, you’ll find the Big Pine Shopping Center, wedged between Key Deer Blvd. and Wilder Blvd. and hidden by trees. There’s a Winn-Dixie supermarket and several restaurants, including a Cuban restaurant, an Italian eatery and locally popular PizzaWorks, where you’ll be treated to real New York pies. The shopping center is also home to the Key West Key Lime Pie Company and the Key Deer Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center.
** Hotels.com: Find a room near Big Pine Key **
29.3 — North Pine Channel Bridge
28.1 — Little Torch Key. Parmers Resort is highly rated on TripAdvisor and worth checking out if you want save a little money over accommodations in Key West. The resort is off U.S. 1 on Barry Avenue. (Turn right immediately after crossing the North Pine Channel Bridge.) Well-maintained cabins and motel rooms on the water.
28.0 — Torch Channel Bridge
27.8 – KAYAK Middle Torch Key Causeway. Go north off U.S. 1 for several miles to Big Torch Key sign. Turn left. Launch from second and third culverts along this road.
27.7 — Torch-Ramrod Channel Bridge
26.6 — South Pine Channel Bridge, east end of bridge, oceanside
27.5 — Boondocks Grille and Drafthouse. This is a hot spot in the Keys, a huge covered outdoor tiki bar and restaurant that regularly features top-notch entertainment, especially in season. The food reasonably priced, and bands often add this venue to their Key West bookings.
27.0 — Ramrod Key, Named for a ship, the Ramrod, wrecked on a reef south of here in the early nineteenth century.
26.0 — Niles Channel Bridge, middle.
25.1 – The Wharf Bar and Grill. A funky little fish shack on the bay side, just after the bridge, with inside and outside dining on the dock. A lot of local fishermen sell their catch here, and it’s always fresh. Prices are reasonable, too. The fish market is inside the restaurant.
24.9 – KAYAK. Summerland Key. Take Horace Street (bayside) to Northside Drive (2nd right) and turn left on Niles Road. Go to the end of Niles Road (about 1.5 miles). Launch is on the left where the road ends.
24.0 — Summerland Key Sea Base
23.5 — Kemp Channel Bridge, east end of bridge, oceanside
22.2 – KAYAK. Spoonbill Sound Hammocks. Launch is on gulf side (Cudjoe Key). Check out the nearby salt ponds for photo ops.
21.0 — KAYAK. Cudjoe Gardens Marina, where you can rent kayaks and/or join guided kayak tours.
21.0 — KAYAK. Follow Blimp Road all the way to the end on the Gulf side (north side of U.S. 1). There is a launch ramp you can use for easy access to backcountry islands, such as Tarpon Belly Key, once home to a shrimp farm. (Blimp Road is named for “Fat Albert,” the Air Force surveillance blimp that was scheduled to be taken down on March 15, 2013.)
20.2 — Bow Channel Bridge to Sugarloaf Key.
20.0 — Sugarloaf Key RV Park. Reserve your campsite at this private campground through ReserveAmerica.
20.0 — Mangrove Mama’s. One of the most popular restaurants in the Lower Keys.
19.0 – KAYAK. Sugarloaf Sound. Oceanside, near yellow traffic barrier, there’s a short path to the launch site.
18.6 — Upper Sugarloaf Key
18.8 — Park Channel Bridge
17.8 — North Harris Channel Bridge
17.6 — Harris Gap Channel Bridge
17.5 — Lower Sugarloaf Key
17.0 - KAYAK. Blinking light, Take Sugarloaf Blvd (oceanside) about two miles to stop sign, then another two miles to Sugarloaf Creek bridge. Park on west side of bridge.
There is also a launch ramp at the Sugarloaf Marina (bayside), where you can rent kayaks and purchase accessories. Nominal fee to launch. Guided tours of Sugarloaf area also offered.
Note also the Sugarloaf Airport and Bat Tower.
16.0 – KAYAK. Harris Channel Bridge. Good access off U.S. 1 to both bay and oceanside.
15.8 – Lower Sugarloaf Channel Bridge
15.0 — Baby’s Coffee. If you’re not drinking Baby’s Coffee, then your just drinking coffee. Beans roasted fresh daily.
Gate on the bayside goes to an old U.S. Army transmitter site. Now Radio Marti. Bay Point Park.
14.6 — Saddlebunch #2 Bridge
14.5 — Blue Water Key RV Park.
14.2 – KAYAK. Saddlebunch #3 Bridge. Pullover on oceanside; launch under bridge.
13.1 — Saddlebunch #4 Bridge
12.8 — Saddlebunch #5 Bridge
11.4 — Shark Channel Bridge
11.0 — KAYAK. Shark Key Boat Ramp, oceanside.
10.5 – Seaside Park, Fire house; SR 941 AKA Old Boca Chica Road, Ocean, to Geiger Key.
10.4 — Porpoise Point entrance, gulfside
10.0 — Big Coppitt Key. Take Boca Chica Road south to the Geiger Key Marina, where you’ll find a another popular tiki bar, fishing charters, a smokehouse and tiki bar with waterfront dining and a small RV campground with dockside sites. Daily campsite rates are a bit dear ($100/night), but you are on the “back side” of Key West.
9.7 — Rockland Channel Bridge
9.2 — East Rockland Key
8.5 — Tourist welcome center
8.0 — NAS Boca Chica Overpass; Entrance to Key West Naval Air Station. Oceanside. Turnoff from both directions on US-1. (I’m told they have an RV campground for active military personnel and veterans, but I have no idea how you book the sites. And I’m also told the sites are often full.)
6.1 — KAYAK. Boca Chica Channel bridge. Launch on either end of the bridge. Ample parking.
5.3 — KAYAK. Public Boat Ramp. Oceanside ramp between Boca Chica and Stock Island. Heavily used.
Hidden Key West
5.2 — Stock Island, named for herds of livestock formerly kept here.
5.1 – Boyd’s Key West Campground. Turn south onto 3rd Street (Stock Island); go one block and turn east onto Maloney. Boyd’s the closest campground to Key West. There are 150 RV sites with full hookups, some oceanfront, and another 53 sites for tents. A tropical atmosphere prevails, but many of the sites are tight. Still, it’s the closest campground to Key West. You can book your reservations online.
Hogfish Bar and Grill. On the docks near Boyd’s Campground, at 6810 Front Street, is one of the best restaurants and tiki bars in the Keys. Their specialty — the world-famous “Killer” Hogfish Sandwich, tender white hogfish meat, smothered in onions, swiss cheese and mushrooms piled high on a Cuban hoagie. Trust me, it doesn’t get any better than this.
Just a short hop up Front Street from the Hogfish is Fishbusterz Seafood, an authentic wholesale fish market — the largest in Florida — and they do a bustling retail business for those in the know. The fresh catch comes into the ice house straight from the docks. Definitely a must stop on your visit to the Keys. It reminds me of the wharfside seafood markets along the coast of New England. You will wait in line, but not for long, and the selection of fresh fish and local shrimp is mouth-watering.
4.1 – Cow Key Channel Bridge
3.9 – Key West traffic light. Four-lane splits at the light. Left to the Key West Airport and Higgs Beach, and right to Old Town and Key West proper.
2.3 — Salt Run Bridge, N. Roosevelt, Key West
1.7 — Palm Ave; U.S.C.G. Group; Naval Air Station, Trumbo Point. There is a campground here for military families, the Sigsbee RV Park, but sites with hookups are hard to get. Still, there’s an overflow area where you can drydock to wait for a site.
0.0 – Key West. Mile Marker “0″ is the end of the road, but not the end of your adventure. It’s just the beginning.
KAYAK. Smather’s Beach. As you enter Key West, bear left towards Smather’s Beach. Just past MM 1, on your left, is the launch area along a palm-lined shore.
KAYAK. Simonton Street. At the west end of Simonton, between the Pier House and Hyatt, is a small city beach where you can launch. (Pay to park).
From our travels in Key West, we’ve put together this guide of free things to do in Key West, including a great free walking tour. The tourists flock to Duval Street, but the most enjoyable way to see Key West is on a bicycle. Be sure to stop by the Historic Key West Seaport and visit Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park.
Throughout your visit, you will see chickens everywhere, roaming the streets as if they owned them. Key West chickens: Noisy, colorful, just like Key West
A Chicago foodie shared with Florida Rambler his favorite spots for authentic Key West flavor — from open air conch-fritter bars to the best happy hour in town. Print it out: Eight Key West restaurants for local flavor.
There are dozens of B&B’s and unique lodgings through the city, including a few of my favorites: The elegant Heron House, the more basic Eden House, and the Key Lime Inn. Key West Bed and Breakfast is a popular and reasonably priced B&B in a historic building filled with original art. (For a bargain, book one of the four second-floor rooms that share two bathrooms, which can be as cheap s $90 in summer.)
** Hotels.com: Find a room in Key West **
Required stops on the saloon tour — this is, after all, Key West — are Sloppy Joe’s, Captain Tony’s (the original Sloppy Joe’s), the Bull and Whistle, the raucus honky tonk saloon, Cowboy Bill’s, and at the ultra-funky Blue Heaven, a historic Bahamian Village watering hole where Ernest Hemingway officiated boxing matches in the 1930s. Blue Heaven as a cool outdoor patio bar shaded by huge oaks where you’ll often find entertainment.
And no visit to Key West is complete without a visit to landmark Mallory Square at sunset.
Just in case you think Key West is at the end of the world, you can keep going westward to get way away to Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas. Plan ahead, and camp there!
How did those places get those names? Look it up in this wonderful resource, the Florida Keys Gazettee, which explains the history behind the colorful names of Keys places.
Some of the the kayak launch ramps listed were gleaned from Bill Keogh’s Florida Keys Paddling Guide: From Key Largo to Key West, where you will find a more complete list, as well as a wealth of information on kayak trails in the Keys. Bill is the proprietor Big Pine Kayak Adventures at the No Name Key bridge on Big Pine.
Many thanks to Judy Rowley and Paul Koisch of PizzaWorks in Big Pine and Judy’s son Kevin Rowley of Hit ‘Em Hard Charters for taking us on a personal tour off the beaten path in the Lower Keys and Key West.
The original mile-marker guide that we used as a base to build our guide was created by Jerry Wilkinson for the Historical Preservation Society of the Upper Keys at keyshistory.org.
We would be remiss if Bonnie and I didn’t thank our respective spouses, David Blasco and Kathy Rountree, for spotting mile markers, taking photographs and finding things that could have passed us by.
And last but not least, kudos go to the many readers who contributed to this report. Keep those tips coming!