The Miami to Key West drive was one of the coolest road trips I’ve ever taken. With its tropical weather, beautiful waters, and ocean-view bridges, this part of the country is so different from the rest of America.
Though it’s less than 200 miles, the Florida Keys road trip packs a lot into its short distance. This guide will provide you with a list of all the coolest places to stop on the drive from Miami to Key West, including three national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, snorkeling opportunities, beaches, and places to get your drink on!
Most of this road trip takes place on Route 1, aka the Overseas Highway. It’s named that because it features 42 bridges, including the famous Seven-Mile Bridge in which you drive across 7 miles of open ocean!
Here’s everything you need to plan your Florida Keys drive.
Miami to Key West Drive: Distance, Time, Planning Tips
How far is Key West from Miami and how long is the drive? The most direct route is about 166 miles and 3.5 hours. That’s if you make no stops along the way.
This itinerary includes stops at Biscayne and Everglades National Parks, and therefore covers 183 miles and 4.5 hours drive time. Add in all the other stops on the list, and I’d suggest giving yourself a minimum of two full days for the drive.
An ideal Miami to Key West road trip would take 6 days. That’s two days for the drive down to Key West, two days in Key West itself, one day in Dry Tortugas National Park, and one day for the return drive back from Key West to Miami.
Key Largo and Marathon are good places to spend the night on your drive down to Key West.
Places to Stop on a Drive from Miami to Key West
Our Miami to Key West drive guide contains numerous places to stop, ranging from nature preserves and outdoor activities to breweries and bars. You can pick and choose the types of activities that most interest you.
While driving on Route 1, notice the mile markers along the road. These markers count down from 127 in Florida City to 0 in Key West. We’ll note the mile markers for most of these attractions.
If you’re not local to south Florida, we’re assuming that you’ll want to spend some time in Miami before hitting the road. Take some time to visit Miami’s beaches (wear lots of sunscreen!); the Cuban community Little Havana and its famed street Calle Ocho; the haunting Holocaust Memorial; fun neighborhoods like Wynwood; and the nightlife of South Beach. If you have more time, consider a boat rental in Miami to spend a day on the water!
Get your rental car, get a good night’s sleep, and start your Miami to Key West road trip in the morning!
Imagine spending 28 years to carve a limestone coral structure. An eccentric Latvian immigrant did just that, creating a private tourist attraction just south of Miami known as Coral Castle that has a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Adult admission costs $18 as of 2020.
Biscayne National Park – Dante Fascell Visitor Center
Way too many Miami to Key West road trippers overlook Biscayne National Park. There are only 62 national parks in America – why overlook one when you’re so close?
There’s only one mile of roadway in Biscayne NP, so you won’t be able to see much from the vehicle. The rest is open water and a couple of keys accessible only by boat or kayak. You’d need a few hours if you want to explore these areas.
Otherwise, just stop by Dante Fascell Visitor Center, which is conveniently located on the mainland, 9 miles from Route 1. Check out the exhibits, get your National Parks Passport stamped, follow the short walking trail, and get back on the road!
Everglades National Park
Next, head over to Everglades National Park. As with Biscayne, you could spend a full day or two at Everglades, so your itinerary will depend on how much time you have.
For an efficient, quick visit, stop by Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center (have mosquito repellent handy!). Then head to nearby Anhinga Trail. The short boardwalk through marshy land is the best places to see alligators in the Everglades!
In less than an hour, you can walk through swampland, get eaten alive by mosquitoes, and see gators up close. In other words, the full Everglades experience! Beware of the vultures that like to attack cars.
In the Everglades, you can take an airboat tour through the swamps to see gators. Or try an eco-friendly kayak tour. This kind of tour is a bit more expensive, but it’s much better for the environment.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
After the Everglades, head south on Route 1 and you’re finally on the Overseas Highway. At mile 102.5, as you approach Key Largo, visit John Pennekamp State Park – one of the most exciting places to stop on the drive from Miami to Key West.
This park is renowned as one of the best snorkeling reefs in the world. Rent a kayak or scuba/snorkel gear to get up close with the aquatic life. Or take a glass-bottom boat tour. This truly is an “underwater playground.” Entry fee is $8 per vehicle.
Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center
Find the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center together with the Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary in Tavernier. It’s located at mile 93.6 on the Overseas Highway. The center requests a $10 donation from visitors. It’s open 9 to 5 on weekdays, with daily pelican feedings at 2:30. President George Bush Sr. (#41) used to dine at Marker 88 when he was in town for fishing vacations.
Marker 88 Restaurant
Gobble up steak or seafood at Marker 88 on Plantation Key. Relax with a fruity cocktail and hang out at one of the only natural beaches in the Keys. This restaurant has been open since 1967.
Rain Barrel Artisans Village & Lobster Statue
At mile 86.7, pull over at the Rain Barrel Artisans Village in Islamorada. The village has shops and galleries with local artists selling their wares. It’s easy to spot – just look for the giant lobster statue! Betsy the Lobster is around 40 feet long and has been watching over the place for four decades now. She’s the second-most photographed statue in the Florida Keys, behind only the Southernmost Point in Key West.
Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park
That title is a mouthful, isn’t it? Windley Key Park (mile 84.9) features educational exhibits about the history of fossilized coral in the Florida Keys. The site was used as a quarry until the 1960s and pieces of machinery remain on display. The state park is open during daylight hours (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays) and admission is $2.50 per person.
History of Diving Museum
At mile 83.0, see the History of Diving Museum. The Keys have more diving than just about anywhere else in the U.S., so this is the perfect setting for such a museum! Open 10-5 daily, the museum is ideal for scuba divers or for people like me, who will never scuba dive but would like to learn something about it.
Islamorada Craft Breweries
Ready for a drink yet? Find two craft breweries close together in Islamorada. There’s Islamorada Beer Company at mile 82.2, and the Florida Keys Brewing Company at mile 81.6. The latter is a bit more spacious, but both are popular. Try a flight to give your taste buds and your liver a good time!
The big draw at Robbie’s Marina at mile 77.0 is the chance to hand feed some massive tarpon fish. Tarpon can grow several feet long – in fact, I saw four of them while snorkeling in Dry Tortugas. Here at Robbie’s, you can pay a few bucks to visit their dock and get a bowl of fish parts.
Feeding them to the group of tarpon that hang around the dock is one of the most exciting activities during the drive from Miami to Key West! Just watch for pelicans that will try to steal away your fish parts. Keep an eye open for manatees and small sharks, too! Robbie’s also offers three daily “partyboat fishing” voyages, in case that’s your thing.
Dolphin Research Center
At mile 59.0 on the Key West to Miami road trip comes the Dolphin Research Center. Guests pay $28 for basic admission to see interactive dolphin programs from the docks. If you’ve got extra cash, book one of the extra programs where you can meet dolphins up close, like “Paint With a Dolphin” or “Family Dolphin Splash.”
Note: Google Maps shows two different Dolphin Research Centers six miles apart. Be sure to check the address. Look for 58901 Overseas Highway, Grassy Key, Florida.
The Sea Turtle Hospital
An old motel at mile 48.5 is now the Turtle Hospital, or Sea Turtle Center. For $27 (yeah, it’s steep), you can join one of the hourly guided tours to see the sea turtles. You’ll get a chance to feed the turtles at the end of the hour. The Turtle Hospital has released more than 1500 turtles into the wild in their 35 years of operation.
Seven Mile Bridge
The name says it all. It’s a two-lane bridge that literally runs for seven miles (miles 40-47) surrounded by ocean. Driving Seven Mile Bridge is a unique experience. About halfway through, you’ll really start to appreciate what an ambitious idea it was to create such a long bridge. This one opened to traffic in 1982.
You can park in the pullouts on either end of the bridge to get out and take pics of the bridge and try to stare far off in the distance to try to see the other end of the bridge (you won’t be able to!)
When you see pictures of this bridge, you’ll notice another smaller bridge next to it. That’s “Old Seven Mile Bridge.” It used to provide access to tiny Pigeon Key, but parts of the bridge are in disrepair, and it’s now closed to road traffic.
A lot of Florida Keys road trip itineraries will tell you that the old bridge can be used by bikes and pedestrians, but unfortunately, that advice is outdated. The bridge is now fully closed while it undergoes repairs. That’s a bummer, since it used to provide cool views.
UPDATE 2022: Old Seven Mile Bridge has re-opened to pedestrians and bicyclists! After a five-year wait, the bridge can once again be enjoyed by the public. Stay updated on the state of the bridge here.
Bahia Honda State Park
The next must-visit on our Florida Keys drive is Bahia Honda State Park at mile 36.8. It has the best white sand beaches in the Keys, although they’re still pretty modest compared to the beaches in the rest of Florida.
This park charges $8 per vehicle. It’s another popular spot for kayaking and snorkeling. You can also walk a short trail that provides cool views of Bahia Honda Bridge, a two-tiered former railroad and vehicle bridge. Sections of this bridge are missing, which creates cool photo opportunities – especially if you catch it at sunset.
National Key Deer Refuge
The endangered Key Deer is found only in the Florida Keys. It’s an unusual place for deer, since there’s more water than land! Yet these critters endure. Their small size probably helps.
In the 1950s, only a few dozen of these deer remained, but thanks to the National Key Deer Refuge, there are now an estimated 1000 or so Key Deer living here. You can visit the refuge at mile 30.3 and walk the trails to try to see some of them.
No Name Pub
Immediately after the refuge, briefly leave the Overseas Highway to find No Name Pub. This colorful bar and restaurant is another of the most fun places to stop on the drive from Miami to Key West. It has its own unique character, starting with the thousands of $1 bills previous visitors have left hanging from the ceiling!
The final 30 miles between No Name Pub and Key West don’t have that many attractions worth stopping for. You’ll see a few restaurants, tiki bars, RV resorts and campgrounds.
Soon enough, you’ll arrive in Key West! Look around for all the attractions, including Mile Marker Zero, indicating the end of the Overseas Highway!
The Hemingway House is one of Key West’s most popular attractions. It’s the home where famed author Ernest Hemingway lived in the 1930s. You can tour the lavish property and see the 50-plus cats on the premises, many of which are descended from Ernie’s own felines.
Of course, you’ve got to visit the Southernmost Point as well. This painted concrete buoy is the number one photo opportunity in Key West. It’s free to get your selfie here, but beware the lines of tourists waiting. I highly recommend coming as early as possible to avoid the rush. In fact, I have a whole article describing things to do in Key West in the morning.
You can go parasailing here. That’s where you’re attached to a harness and a parachute, so you’re basically “flying” in the air above a boat. Here’s the top-rated parasailing tour we recommend!
Another great outdoor option is renting a boat in Key West. You can charter a yacht or catamaran for a day of fishing or just taking in the sunset.
Other worthwhile places to stop in Key West include Duval Street, which is home to many of the big party bars that give the city its reputation; Mallory Square, a great place to catch the sunset; the Key West Lighthouse, which has great views; and Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. Don’t forget to grab a slice of key lime pie while you’re here too!
RECOMMENDED TOURS IN KEY WEST:
Dry Tortugas National Park
Just because you’ve made it to Key West doesn’t mean your journey should end! I highly recommend taking a day trip to remote Dry Tortugas National Park, a chain of islands located 67 miles west of Key West.
You can take the Yankee Freedom ferry from Key West to Dry Tortugas. It’s expensive and you may need to book weeks in advance. But it’s worth it! The ferry takes a few hours, and you’ll have around 4-5 hours to explore the main island. That’s enough time to walk around historic Civil War-era Fort Jefferson and do some snorkeling in the clear waters.
If you have a few days to spare, you can go camping at Dry Tortugas. I spent three nights there and loved it. It’s so far from civilization that it’s isolated and peaceful.
Places to Stay on a Florida Keys Road Trip
If you’re looking for lodging in the Florida Keys, these are our suggested recommendations. Hotels can be expensive in this area, so even the “budget” hotels will be costly. You may want to check your options on Airbnb as well.
Miami to Key West Shuttle Details
A quick word on transportation. Car rental is obviously the preferred method to travel through the Florida Keys. If you’ve got a vehicle, you’re all set.
You can take a one-day bus tour of Key West from Miami. You meet the bus at 7 am in Miami, and you’ll have 6 hours in Key West before returning back to Miami in the evening.
There are a few Miami to Key West shuttle options. Keys Shuttle, for instance, transports passengers between Key West and Miami or Ft. Lauderdale airports. But that means you still have to find your way from the airport to the city, which isn’t ideal.
As for other options, Megabus does not offer service to Key West, but Greyhound and Flixbus have offeredservice. There’s a route that runs between these cities, with one stop in Islamorada on the way. Here’s a helpful bus guide detailing the current Miami to Key West bus options.
One other note: It seems a lot of people are wondering about a Key West road trip that starts in the Orlando area. That’s going to take a bit longer. The distance from Orlando to Key West is about 400 miles, or 6.5 hours. That’s still totally doable in one day, but you’d have to skip most of the attractions in this article.
Best Time to Visit Key West and the Florida Keys
The weather is gorgeous all year, so you can come anytime. The main season to avoid would be hurricane season. Officially, hurricane season runs June through November. But typically, the highest odds for hurricanes occur from August through October.
South Florida becomes a huge tourist destination starting around Christmas. Peak tourist season in this part of Florida continues into January. While Florida is a popular destination for families and spring break college kids during March and April, most of them visit Miami or other areas of the state, rather than Key West.
So what’s the best time to visit the Florida Keys? Personally, I like March through May to avoid crowds. My May visit a few years back was perfect in terms of weather and a smaller number of tourists.
Have you ever done the Key West to Miami road trip drive? Got any other tips?