Upper Florida Keys
When people talk about the Florida Keys, they often refer to Key West. But the Florida Keys are a chain of islands and Key West is just the furthest city south and is, in fact, the southernmost city in all of the United States. But what about the upper Florida Keys?
Since I live in Southwest Florida, taking a quick weekend trip to the Keys doesn’t necessarily mean going all the way to Key West. Just driving from Miami to Key West takes about 4 hours. So going to a city in the upper Florida Keys, like Key Largo or Islamorada, makes a lot more sense. With that being said, one Monday in January, I decided to spend the following Saturday night in Key Largo.
Crossing Alligator Alley
I was worried about getting a hotel for one night on such short notice but luckily found accommodations at the Drift Hotel in Key Largo for Saturday night. I left early Saturday morning and headed across Alligator Alley and then dropped down to Highway 1 to cross over to the Keys. This stretch of Highway 1 is about 20 miles across to Key Largo and there is no gas, no bathrooms, no water views, no nothing until you get to Key Largo. So fill up the gas tank and take a bathroom break before you head south!
Once I got to Key Largo, which is the uppermost and longest key, I was ready to explore this eclectic town. The welcome sign for Key Largo lets people know right away that it is considered the Dive Capital of the World! I’m not a diver so I didn’t know that until that moment, but it doesn’t surprise me. Key Largo is surrounded by water and is also home to the first underwater marine park in the United States at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
John Pennekamp State Park
This park is open 7 days a week and offers all kinds of water activities including diving, snorkeling, kayaking, boat rentals, scuba instruction and glass bottom boat tours, just to name a few. Check out their website at pennekamppark.com for more information.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park isn’t the only show in town though. Key Largo is full of dive shops, fishing guides, kayak rentals, parasailing, dolphin adventures and just about any other water sport activity there is to do. I would suggest checking out the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce website for a full list of businesses and activities for visitors. Their link is keylargochamber.org.
Highway 1 – Overseas Highway
As I continued exploring the area I headed south on Highway 1. Let me stop and give you a quick geography lesson on this area. Highway 1 is known in the Florida Keys as the Overseas Highway because it literally is over water in many places as it crosses from one key to the next. It is approximately 113 miles long from Miami to Key West. There are 42 bridges on this highway, with most of them towards the southern end of Highway 1. As you travel south on Highway 1 you will see Florida Bay on your right, which is part of the Gulf of Mexico. The Atlantic Ocean will be on your left.
Now that you have a better feel of the area, let’s carry on. Heading further south I came upon Harry Harris Park in Tavernier. This park has a beach, some trails, pavilions, a playground and picnic tables. It’s a great place to pull over and have a picnic and take a swim. Even further south is Founders Park in Islamorada. Founders Park is a huge park full of amenities like a beach, swimming pool, tennis courts, playgrounds, walking trails and the list goes on and on. It’s a great place to take a break for a few hours. Check out their website here.
Bass Pro Shop
A bit further south in Islamorada is a very unique Bass Pro Shop – World Wide Sportsman. I had heard so much about this place and wanted to check it out for myself. What I found is a fun place to look around, grab a bite to eat and walk along the boardwalk behind the store. Their restaurant, the Islamorada Fishing Company, sits out along the boardwalk so guests can enjoy the spectacular water view, the marina full of big beautiful yachts, all while listening to music from a live band. You can also see tarpon in a small lagoon in the middle of the boardwalk. It doesn’t get much better than that so plan to stop here if you get the chance. I was glad I did!
After all this exploring I was ready to head back to Key Largo and check into the Drift Hotel. This hotel is very small with only a small number of rooms but is cute and laid back. The best part though was the dock that extended out over the water. I spent quite a bit of time out there just enjoying the views!
After checking in, I was ready for dinner and a sunset. I looked for a place close to the hotel since I had been in the car all day. I found a beachside restaurant, Sol by the Sea, at the Playa del Largo Resort and had appetizers. If you are looking for a more pricey accommodation, this place looked amazing! I enjoyed the sunset but decided to head somewhere else for dinner.
Snappers Oceanfront Restaurant and Bar was recommended and it was a bit closer to the hotel so I had dinner there. If you have read any of my other posts, you will know that I look for a lively crowd for dinner and drinks. This place fit the bill and it was literally right on the water. The Florida Keys are known for its margaritas and key lime pie is on every menu for dessert. I of course had to indulge, for the sack of this article only though… I was not disappointed and the place was fun, had a great view and the food was good.
Reflecting on Florida Keys
By this time, it was time to go back to the hotel to relax for the night and reflect on my day in the upper Florida Keys. Yes, it was a quick spontaneous trip but well worth it. I was able to recon the area for the next time and give readers an idea of what to expect. Key Largo and Islamorada are laid back artsy towns with tons of things to do and plenty of places to explore. If you happen to be traveling by boat, no problem. A lot of hotels and restaurants have docks for boats. Arriving at a restaurant by boat is pretty fun if you’ve never done it.
All in all this was a great weekend getaway! I will absolutely be heading back to the Florida Keys; many times I imagine. Where are some of your favorite weekend getaways?
Why not check out my post on Airboating the Everglades while you are here!