The full itinerary of our trip to Florida’s National Parks, included flying in and out of Miami and driving from there to Biscayne Bay, the Everglades, and eventually to Key West. Taking in the Florida Keys along the way.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Having received snorkel gear specifically for this trip, we were excited to try it out. We were disappointed, however, to find that the water was very cloudy at the park, and we did not stay there very long. However, we did enjoy the Environmental Education and Visitor Center and its aquariums displaying some of the native coral and marine life.
MEAT Eatery & Taproom
Eating at MEAT made for a fun experience and tasty food. It is a bit pricey, but a unique scene that you won’t find anywhere else. The Wisconsin beer cheese soup was ok, but that’s a hard sell when the consumer is from Wisconsin. The burger was good (Wagyu beef) and the fries (fried in duck fat) were top notch.
Camping at Long Key State Park
In preparation for the trip, we also acquired a two person tent that we could pack and take with us. This helped us avoid paying the high prices for hotels in the Keys, and was also our only option for shelter while camping at Dry Tortugas.
The first place we camped was on the beach in Long Key State Park. Staying at Long Key is an experience I highly recommend. Camping on the beach and listening to the waves was lovely. And the boardwalk afforded us time away from nearly everyone in the park, with the exception of the local wildlife – crabs, snails, birds galore! I would go back there in a heartbeat.
Seven Mile Bridge
It was exciting driving over the longest bridge in the Keys and peering out at the view of the old bridge to the south. The Old Bahia Honda Bridge was originally a railroad bridge – part of the Florida East Coast Railway. It was converted into the Overseas Highway in 1938. And the new bridge replaced it in 1982.
The old bridge now has a section removed from it – preventing access to the western most 5.8 miles. And, at the time of this writing, the entire bridge is closed for repairs – expected to reopen in 2021. I guess sometimes we do get lucky and miss out on some of the scaffolding everywhere!
Bahia Honda State Park & Old Bahia Honda Bridge
My boss at the time (who had formerly lived in Florida) recommended we go to Bahia Honda State Park during our trip. This was a perfect recommendation, as it served as our outlet for walking on the Old Bahia Honda Bridge. While on the bridge, we saw what appeared to be a manta ray swimming in the water – we’ll never know for certain what it was. We also saw a garden spider and a few Portuguese Man-of-War during our visit to the park.
These creatures look like they would be fun to play with, but they most certainly are not! When we first came upon one washed up on shore, we weren’t certain what it was. I am glad we were able to easily search for it and learn early on to be cautious. They are not what you would expect to be dangerous animals – especially when you see them washed up on shore and they look like balloons. Be careful! Both in and out of the water.
While planning the trip, I read about Key Deer. Key Deer are the smallest subspecies of the North American white-tailed deer and can only be found in the Keys. In hopes of seeing the deer in person, we took a short detour to Big Pine Key and immediately saw several of them walking around the neighborhood. Two of which were a female and her fawn.
After seeing Garbo’s Grill on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” earlier in the trip, it was immediately put on my list of places to visit while we were in Key West. We waited in line for 10-20 minutes, but we were rewarded with the most delicious fish tacos. When we visited in 2014, Garbo’s Grill was operating out of a small trailer. They have since expanded and now have a restaurant on Caroline Street. Be sure to check them out!
As we tend to hit the touristy items as well as the off the beaten path items, the “Southernmost Point” was one of our pit stops. It’s not really anything special other than a photo op (and a line of people waiting to do the same).
Key West Sunset
The sunset in Key West lives up to the hype! It was probably the orangest sunset I have ever seen. Be sure to get there early, as the crowd does get rather large, and there are vendors and street performers everywhere. Just as you would expect at most tourist attractions.
Dry Tortugas National Park
As outlined in my post on Florida’s National Parks, Dry Tortugas is a must visit for anyone who can make it possible. And I highly recommend staying overnight for at least two nights. Serenity at its finest.
Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen
Having learned that the Keys are known for pink shrimp, I naturally looked for the best restaurant with pink shrimp on their menu. If you too want to try pink shrimp in the Keys, look no further than Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen in Key Largo. Be sure to also try the crab cakes. The key lime pie was ok as well.
Tarpon at Robbie’s Marina
Feeding the Tarpon at Robbie’s Marina in Islamorada seemed far too touristy for me, but we had time and Bill wanted to go – so we went. I can honestly say the visit was more worthwhile than anticipated. I can’t say that I would do it again, but I can say it is worth a visit.
All-in-all the Florida Keys have a lot to offer. Much of what is seen from the road appears run down, but there are hidden gems along the way. Seek out those hidden gems and enjoy!