The cool darkish of the bar furnished respite from the hot, afternoon sunshine, and it changed into a minute or earlier than our eyes adjusted to the internal scene. Settling onto a couple of stools, we ordered beers and took in our environment. Dollar payments, maximum bearing messages penned in magic marker, covered each inch of the partitions and ceiling, three and four layers deep in some places. Two sunburned couples across the bar ordered any other spherical, tapping their plastic cups in a toast at the same time as Johnny Cash crooned overhead.
“I type of feel like we’re within the Twilight Zone,” my husband stated as the bartender set baskets brimming with french fries and fried grouper in front of folks. We’d landed in No Name Pub, a longtime Florida Keys organization quite a ways off the beaten route. A few hours in advance, we noticed us a part of a unique Keys tableau – sipping our coffee whilst observing at the Atlantic throughout a lawn dotted with swaying hands. The ocean and a hectic woodpecker had been the only sounds we could pay attention to.
A drive down Florida’s Overseas Highway from Key Largo to Key West gives the ideal combo of eccentric bohemia and chic joie de vivre. As the mile markers lower, Old Florida allure sharpens into cognizance. Strip shops hawking seashore sundries and snorkeling excursions alongside the higher reaches of U.S. 1 deliver a way to dazzling turquoise flashes as the street will become a greater bridge than the toll road. The course south is festooned with the Keys’ ubiquitous kitsch — a large, spiny lobster presides over a neighborhood arts village, lipsticked manatees grasp mailboxes, and hand-painted mermaids tempt passersby with the promise of sundown cocktails.
Though Hurricane Irma, which ravaged the archipelago in September 2017, is not a faint memory for individuals who name the Keys domestic, the region has made a brilliant restoration. Most motels and inns have reopened – many after finishing massive renovations – and a few new spots have joined the roster. Restaurants, seaside bars, national parks, and legions of watersports outfitters have also rebounded, leaving visitors tough pressed to find proof of the hurricane’s Category-four destruction.
You ought to force the 113-mile stretch in a bit over 3 hours, but why might you want to? Road trips, especially one as iconic as this, are all about the stops and manner. So positioned the pinnacle down and cued Jimmy Buffet. Here’s our manual to the excellent the Florida Keys has to offer.
Ease yourself into the Keys’ laid-returned vibe just south of Homestead with a detour onto Card Sound Road. A forestall into Alabama Jack’s is a need to, especially in case you’re a first-timer – the scrappy, waterside seafood shack has been the Keys’ unofficial welcome wagon given that 1947 and serves some of the excellent conch fritters around. Live tune and the road of Harley’s outdoor upload to the honky-tonk scene.
With your inner clock synced to island time, cruise over Card Sound Bridge and into Key Largo, wherein you’ll discover John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park at mile marker 102.Five. Explore the park’s prolific marine existence and a part of the 360-mile Florida Reef Tract — North America’s most effective residing coral barrier reef — on a guided snorkeling excursion. Or hire kayaks and head out for a paddle thru miles of mangrove-coated desert trails.
Key Largo is at the epicenter of sustainability efforts within the Florida Keys nowadays, especially regarding reef fitness. At the Coral Restoration Foundation, researchers are rearing and planting corals in undersea nurseries. For a unique revel in, snorkelers and divers trying to add an eco-tourism stint to their travels can assist scientists without planting and reef monitoring at active restorations sites.
After an afternoon of the sea and solar, test into the breezy Baker’s Cay Resort, a lush retreat tucked right into a secluded putting with suitable Florida Strait perspectives. Formerly the Hilton Key Largo, the 13-acre belongings become present process complete upkeep whilst Irma struck. Rather than rebuild, Hilton created Baker’s Cay, which opened in overdue-January to enroll in the emblem’s high-priced Curio Collection. The resort’s beauty isn’t the handiest pores and skin-deep. Baker’s Cay has committed to turning into a frontrunner in sustainability, partnering with nearby environmental groups to create eco-friendly visitor programming and being the primary inn in the Keys to sign up for Reef Relief’s “Skip the Straw” campaign.
You may want to effortlessly spend some days hopping around the string of tiny islands that make up Islamorada, and while you do, The Moorings Village is the right vicinity to call domestic.
Built-in 1936 on a former coconut plantation, the hotel is domestic to 18 beachy cottages nestled amidst tropical landscaping steps from the Atlantic. Eight-hundred palm trees dot the assets, and there’s no shortage of hammocks for lounging under the verdant fronds.
Grab a paddleboard and head out for an ocean jaunt, watch the arena pass with the aid of from the cool color of your porch, or at the same time as away a few hours by the appropriate pool — newly refreshed post-Irma. If you may tear yourself away, single-velocity beach cruisers are available for a pedal around town. Check out the galleries around the corner in the Morada Bay Arts and Cultural District —each third Thursday is the district’s evening art walk — or pop into the beer lawn at the Florida Keys Brewing Company for a hyper-neighborhood tasting flight.
Robbie’s Marina, one of the Florida Keys’ maximum iconic landmarks, sits at the tip of Lower Matecumbe Key, about five miles south at mile marker seventy-seven. Five. The epitome of the archipelago’s barefoot affability, Robbie’s is a waterside shantytown of sorts that includes a doors market, a marine sports activities outpost, and the Hungry Tarpon eating place, named for the faculty of full-size silverfish that have been circling the docks for many years. Four dollars gets you a bucket of bait, and feeding the leaping, thrashing creatures gives a memorable diversion. Afterward, head out for an eco-excursion via Islamorada’s pristine waters with Captain Sam Zeher or sit back dockside with Robbie’s Trailer Trash Bloody Marys, whole with pork-jerky straw.
When the dinner hour beckons, shake the sand out of your ft and head to Pierre’s, a stylish plantation-fashion house with an extensive verandah overlooking Florida Bay. A few miles north at Marker 88, chef Bobby Stoky serves the extraordinary-fresh seafood one might count on to find in the sportfishing capital of the arena. Tuck into cracked conch and coconut-crusted hogfish on the out of doors patio with a glass of fruity Chardonnay — for a comfortable joint, Marker 88 has a superb wine list. At either spot, the famous Keys sunset is assured to put on a memorable show.
Even earlier than Hemingway’s vintage man took to the ocean, the Keys were a saltwater angler’s paradise, mythical for a huge game like sailfish, wahoo, and blue marlin. Though pulling a trophy fish from the ocean can be a thrill, on occasion, the exceptional part of casting a line is consuming your capture later.
One of the first-rate methods to accomplish this is on a Hook and Cook journey at Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key, a pocket-sized island about 20 miles south of Islamorada. The inn, which obtained a major lashing from Hurricane Irma, reopened final August, sparking off a $50-million preservation that protected a whole redecorate of its public spaces and guestrooms, new eating places, and a reimagined adults-only enclave called Oasis Cay.
Get out onto the water with lifelong conch, Captain Dave Perry, who has been fishing the Keys for many years and runs charters out of the Hawks Cay Marina with Captain Justin Brunk. In addition to blue water hunting, the two concentrate on fishing the reef for snapper and grouper, fish that Hawks Cay govt chef William Ryan will later blacken, grill, or fry for a hyper-nearby meal at Angler and Ale, the lodge’s new dockside restaurant.
Connecting Marathon to the Lower Keys, the Seven-Mile Bridge is a spotlight of any Keys avenue trip, and riding it feels like being in an ocean-themed circle-vision film. But earlier than you do, take a ferry out to picturesque Pigeon Key for a dose of Keys history.
More than 100 years ago, Florida tycoon Henry Flagler envisioned an Overseas Railroad linking mainland Florida to Key West. The task became nicknamed Flagler’s Folly – no one believed his ambitious plan would come to fruition – but no matter naysayers, the rail line changed into completed in 1912, complete with the engineering marvel has become the Seven Mile Bridge. During the railroad’s production, over four hundred workers lived on Pigeon Key, now indexed at the National Historic Register. Tours of the tiny island leave three instances each day from the Pigeon Key Visitor’s Center and offer a deep dive into the story of the railroad, it’s ill-fated dying, and the scenic dual carriageway travelers power today.
The Lower Keys
The necklace of islands south of the Seven Mile Bridge bore the brunt of Irma’s wrath, and while some vestiges of the storm remain, the place has rebounded quite well. Take a detour for a few seaside blisses at Bahia Honda State Park, a 524-acre swath of nature tucked among the Atlantic and the Gulf. Sandspur Beach, long taken into consideration one of the first-class inside the Keys, stays closed. However, the crescent of sand that makes up Calusa Beach at the tranquil bayside makes the best stand-in.
On Big Pine Key, stop into the new Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Nature Center, which capabilities exhibit spotlighting the Keys’ 4 wildlife refuges and the close by National Key Deer Refuge. Established in 1957, the shelter protects about 9 two hundred acres of land on Big Pine and No Name Keys that serves as a habitat for endangered Key Deer. Stick to the speed limit round right here — the diminutive creatures were acknowledged to dart into the road, particularly at sunrise and dusk.
You’ll find genuine, Old Keys spirit at the docks of Geiger Key Marina at The Fish Camp about a half-hour south. Owned by local restaurateurs Michelle and Bobby Mongelli, who additionally run the properly-cherished Hogfish Bar and Grill on close by Stock Island, this open-air tiki bar and seafood joint claims to be on “the lower backside of paradise,” which in reality feels correct while you’re sitting waterside with a plate of succulent Key West red shrimp and a cold beer. The Sunday afternoon barbeque is famous.