Ever since I was younger, I always wanted to go to the Florida Keys. I’d been to Florida on vacation, but they always seemed inaccessible since they were so far South, and I imagined them as exclusive and expensive. Well, they aren’t more expensive than other areas of Florida I’ve been and it was actually really relaxed there; not fancy like I pictured it. I got a chance to visit during one of my trips to Florida, so I thought I’d write up my little Florida Keys travel guide to help you plan your trip!
My Little Florida Keys Travel Guide
How to Get to the Keys
You can fly into either Miami or Fort Lauderdale. The whole drive is only 3 hours from Miami to Key West, the furthest south of the Keys, and 3 1/2 hours from Fort Lauderdale. It was cheaper for us to fly from Ohio to Fort Lauderdale over Miami, so play around with the destinations.
Which Areas to Visit
This really depends on your Florida Keys itinerary. The Keys are pretty spread out and you kind of have to choose which area you’d like. The road, the “Overseas Highway,” runs all the way down so you’re not going to get lost! Key Largo is closest to Miami if you only have a little bit of time, and of course Key West is the furthest South and the most famous.
We stayed a Kona Kai the first night in Key Largo as we worked our way down South. Kona Kai has little villas dotted around so you get a whole condo vibe to yourself. Just across from Kona Kai was a yummy restaurant called Ballyhoo’s which I highly recommend if you stop here. Check here for current rates
Did you spot the iguana above? He’s hiding!
All of the photos above are from the property at Kona Kai, which was really beautiful and encapsulated what I think of when I think of “the Keys”. The sunset might have been the best part (in the photo below). I could see it from our room and was like “Mom, we have to go out there!”.
PS this is another dress from my new favorite, Kersh, and some classic Cocobelle sandals that match everything.
The Turtle Hospital
From Key Largo, you go through Marathon (where we visited the Turtle Hospital to get to Key West.
The Turtle Hospital was really interesting. I hadn’t been to one before, but my mom had. It’s a 90-minute tour and you can look in through the glass on the surgeries. While we were there, they were doing surgery on a turtle called Huckleberry! The same name as my beautiful dog, Huck, who passed away a few years ago.
SUP with Serenity Eco Guides
Just as we entered near the Keys we met up with Sera from Serenity Eco Guides in Big Pine Key to do even more SUP, this time over a school of barracudas! Sera does a really amazing SUP yoga class and you can see how enthusiastic she is about her work. The class was amazing and went up near mangroves which were really cool, too.
You then drive further South through the Lower Keys, and finally Key West.
We spent most of our time in Key West. Parking here is just street parking; it’s a really small town. We paid for lot parking at our hotel as to not risk getting our rental car side swiped. We walked everywhere but you can take the Trolley Tours which is “hop on- hop off” all day so you could choose one day to see ALL the touristy things to do in Key West, and it is 100% possible to see it all at once.
The first thing we did was eat at a random diner next to our hotel. It was really tasty but expensive and small portions so it’s best to do research and choose places that really rank well online for great food because the Keys have AMAZING food. Luckily, we found more good food later.
Ernest Hemingway’s House
Ernest Hemingway’s House was right near our hotel so we went there. If you don’t know a lot about him or care a lot about him you can go through here quickly (20 minutes) but if you’re into it, you could spend maybe 2 hours here. I didn’t realize he did assignments for the US government spying at one point! There were cats everywhere which was the cutest part, even on his bed!
When it comes to touristy things here, going to the Southernmost Point is the biggest tourist attraction and there is a long line to get a photo here. The water behind his point is so clear and blue!
Other Tourist hotspots in Key West
- The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum
- Truman Little White House
- Shipwreck Museum
- Butterfly Conservatory
Ferry to Latitudes
The coolest thing we did there was taking the ferry to Latitudes for breakfast with the best views.
Eat at Hot Tin Roof
The best meal we had was at Hot Tin Roof where mom had a steak and I had the lobster mac n’ cheese! It was delicious and this restaurant offers just about the best view in Key West of the sunset.
Get Key Lime Pie
Of course, you have to try the Key Lime pie (more than once!). They put cinnamon on it at Hot Tin Roof, yummy! We ate at Margaritaville which is a chain restaurant but neither of us had ever tried it. It was really good, actually, and I’d go back!
Tacos at Nine One Five
We also ate amazing tacos at Nine One Five which is ranked as one of the best restaurants in Key West.
See the Sunset in Key West
The sunset is a BIG deal in Key West. They have what is called the Sunset Celebration in Mallory Square where locals come up and open up shops and attractions. It’s a big party and really crowded while everyone watches the most beautiful sunsets! The funny thing was as soon as the sun goes down, people scatter and go back to drinking but that’s when the sky really lights up and turns pink and purple! So, lucky for me they left and I could get to the front of the crowd for some good pictures.
Nightlife in Mallory Square
Down by Mallory Square where all the roads converge is where it’s really hoppin’ and people are drinking (legal to drink and walk down the street) and having fun. While it’s a lot of live music and parties, it’s a very family-friendly scene.
While the Keys aren’t actually known for their beaches (even though the water is SO clear and beautiful, it’s got reefs around it), Higg’s beach was really nice and so beautiful. I could spend a whole day there! Apparently, this is where the locals go. We did have to drive here, but it was the only place we had to drive to.
In those taped in lines, it’s actually where turtles have put a nest and it’s being protected. So once those eggs hatch the little babies will make their way to sea. Remember at beaches if you build sand castles or dig ditches you should flatten it out when you’re done playing as it can actually kill the baby turtles who can’t understand how to get past it.
Where We Stayed
In Key West, we stayed in a historical hotel, the Chelsea House which being on Truman Ave, was close enough to walk to everywhere we wanted to go, but far enough away we heard no noise from the bars down on Duval and Front Street. The hotel room was clean and comfortable and there was a pool behind the house. Check here for current rates
On Truman, there are a lot of these heritage homes turned into hotels and they have a lot of charm so I recommend this road for a good place to stay. You can walk down Duval or Whitehead Streets to get down to all the restaurants, bars, many attractions/museums, and the Sunset Celebration.
Beyond what I’ve mentioned as you can imagine there are SO many tours you can do on the water. We didn’t plan ahead and they take reservations, so that is why we didn’t do them BUT you can do waterskiing, jet skiing, boat tours, dolphin tours – the list is endless. The water here is just amazingly beautiful and the more time you spend on it the better!
Hope this little Florida Keys travel guide helps you plan your trip or vacation! It’s such a beautiful, sunny place!
For more Florida travel
- 13 Unique Things to do in Jacksonville Florida
- Kissimmee Travel Guide
- Top Things to do in Ocala Florida (and Nearby)
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This post is in collaboration with Visit Florida. I was compensated for my time in being in the Florida Keys and writing this article.