It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end. -Ernst Hemingway
Yes, Key West’s very own Hemingway said it. On a road trip to Key West the destination surely is great but the journey matters as well. The scenery is pretty extraordinary in comparison with your average highway.
Many ponder whether to take the time out of your Miami Beach holiday to travel to Key West. Personally I reckon it’s definitely worth your while. And my recommendation is not to try to squeeze the whole trip into a day but book at least one night down there, if not even two. It is entirely possible to explore the island in 24 hours but in retrospect I would have liked to spend another 24 hours relaxing on the island. We both think Key West was definitely the best part of our entire holiday in Florida.
This is how we spent the 24 hours:
1. The drive down
The distance from Miami Beach to Key West is 167 miles, which means approximately 270 kilometers and the route is simple. Especially when you get to road number 1 and you stay on it for about 200 kilometers until you’re there. Google maps says the drive will take you 3 and a half hours. I think that is pretty accurate but bear in mind that there’s plenty to see on the way so you may want to take a bit longer to stop for lunch of just to enjoy the scenery. We got on the road at about eight in the morning and arrived at Key West at around midday. When you head out in the morning the traffic isn’t too bad since everyone is trying to get to Miami Beach for work and you are heading away from it.
The first part of the drive is pretty boring until you get to the Keys. We stopped in Key Largo for some Starbucks and cruised our way down enjoying the scenery along the way. THe best part of the drive was no doubt the 7 Mile Bridge between Key Marathon and Bahia Honda Key. There’s a nice restaurant called Sunset Grille & Raw Bar right at the end of Key Marathon with great views to the bridge so that’s a good option for lunch, drinks or just stopping for photos.
The accommodation in Key West is unfortunately pretty expensive in general. I guess the early bird catches the worm in this case as well as the prices tend to creep up the later you leave your booking. There’s definitely a wide range to choose from and that gives you some room to maneuver with the prices. Since we were only there for one night we wanted something nice with a good location so we’d be able to walk everywhere and not spend time trying to find parking. We picked a little boutique hotel called Lighthouse Court Hotel right across the street from the Hemingway house and it turned out to be an excellent choice. Highly recommended. The location, facilities, tidiness and service were excellent. Just as a curiosity I might mention that we did spend a few sleepless hours during the night but that wasn’t because of the hotel. The island is packed with roosters and there were at least two that started crowing, not at sunrise as you might think, but at two in the morning. That’s right, two o’clock. And they went on and on at least until 5. Therefore if you are wise (or tend to sleep lightly) you should pack some ear plugs when traveling to Key West.
3. Afternoon in town
Once we have settled in at Lighthouse court hotel it was time to head to town. We didn’t really have a plan other than just to walk along the main streets towards the harbour area and to look around on the way. The only specific thing on my to do -list was to try some authentic Key Lime Pie, the best on the island. So I asked the ladies at the hotel reception where I can find the best pie in Key west and they told me to go to Kermit’s Key Lime Shoppe which I wrote about earlier, go check out if you missed it.
The afternoon was perfectly laid-back, casual and relaxed – the perfect holiday atmosphere. It was like we had landed in the Caribbean islands. It was pretty hot so we didn’t mind stopping for drinks frequently. Of course we had to check out Hemingway’s favorite pub Sloppy Joe’s as well.
Some accuse Key West of being too touristy and to be fair there are a lot of tourists. But after four days on Miami Beach I definitely wouldn’t call Key West any more touristy than Miami Beach, quite the opposite. It was stress-free, laid-back and easy-going. All in all to our liking. And drinks and food was cheaper than on Miami Beach which was positive.
4. Evening = sunset
Miami Beach was all about sunrises but Key West is famous for the sunsets. The best place the view the sunset is obviously from the western corner of the island, around Mallory Square. Apparently there’s a sunset party every night. Another option is to go on a sunset cruise, there’s plenty to choose from. But instead of Mallory Square or a cruise we decided to go for drinks on Sunset Pier which turned out to be a perfect spot for viewing the sunset while sipping a few drinks and having some nibbles. About an hour before sunset there was plenty of seats to choose from and as the sun started setting the place quickly filled up and soon there was a party. Also, to get the best photos don’t leave right after sunset but stick around to see the beautiful pink and purple colours that follow.
After sunset we were ready for dinner and a night swim at the hotel pool. A perfect evening.
5. The following morning and journey back
Since we had already roamed the downtown streets the day before, we decided to take the car and explore other parts of the island. Beaches in Key West are right in the south and they looked pretty nice too.
I had also seen this picture of a concrete post on some souvenir t-shirts that says “the southernmost point of the continental U.S.A.” and “90 miles to Cuba”. We drove past it to see what it was and found a massive queue of people lining up to take a photo of themselves next to it. Pretty incredible in that heat, there was no way you could get us standing in line just to get our picture taken with a block of concrete. So I decided to take a photo of the people in the queue instead.
At around lunchtime we started heading back to Miami Beach and arrived there in the afternoon, just in time for dinner and again nicely against the traffic. We were both feeling a bit sorry we had to leave so soon as we would have liked to spend another day in Key West just relaxing. 24 hours gave us a good idea of the island but didn’t leave us a lot of time to just savour the atmosphere. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t in a hurry or busy either but it would have been nice to stay a bit longer as we really did like the place.
I’d love to hear what you think of Key West. What would you recommend? I’ve heard the snorkeling is good down there and I’m sad we didn’t have time to try that. Do you think a day is enough? Give us your best tips!