I look out my window to relatively sunny skies, a few mounds of snow left on the ground from yesterday’s ‘blizzard,’ and wonder why we didn’t take the boys away for Spring Break this year. Why am I looking out from the inside, when I could be standing out there somewhere wonderful? What were we thinking……? Oh – of course – we were thinking what we think, live and breathe in this house on a daily basis: Lacrosse! ( love you, Coach Curran! ) I wonder, if just for a few minutes, we didn’t have ‘lacrosse-on-the-brain’, where we might be this year for Spring Break…..
The Florida Keys Scenic Highway is the stretch of US 1 that travels through some of the nation’s most spectacular tropical scenery from Mile Marker 110, north of Key Largo, to Mile Marker 0 in Key West, the southernmost point in the continental United States. Driving down the highway where the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico meet is an unparalleled experience, with the shallow sandy shelf of clear water reflecting bright turquoise, emerald, and aquamarine waters stretching out as far as the eye can see. The reef keeps the near-shore waters calm, and relaxation sinks in as you find beaches and palm trees swaying in the tropical breeze. And the bridge crossings bring you the sense of being out on the island chain in a way that only driving through the Keys can.
The Keys have a wonderful blend of dozens of unique cultures. Historically, Bahamian and Cuban influences have been dominant since people from these nearby islands (Cuba lies 90 miles off the coast) have been traveling to the Keys for hundreds of years. Culture, music, art, architecture and cuisine of the Keys are steeped in these island traditions. All this and so much more is available on the Florida Keys Scenic Highway, the “Main Street” for all that is the Florida Keys.
Here’s a closer look at a great little road trip down the Florida Keys Scenic Highway:
1st stop: John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, MM 102.5, Oceanside, was the first undersea park in the U.S. It’s home to over 55 types of coral, sponges, shrimp, crab, sea turtles, lobsters and eel, as well as over 600 species of fish. The glass-bottom boat tours passengers through the park’s reefs where they can view this abundant underwater wildlife. Other activities include snorkeling, diving, boating, camping, kayaking, fishing, swimming and picnicking. The park campground offers 47 campsites for both tent and RV campers with water, sewer hookup, and electricity: 30 amp, 50 amp and 110 volt.
2nd stop: The Florida Keys History of Diving Museum
The Florida Keys History of Diving Museum, MM 83, Bayside, tells the international story of 3,000 years of underwater exploration and celebrates the special role of the Florida Keys. Stroll through numerous exhibits with hundreds of rare dive helmets, armored dive suits, old navy gear, ancient diving machines, and an atmosphere decompression chamber, as well as photographs and oral history. Open Daily, 10-5.
3rd stop: Anne’s Beach
At Anne’s Beach, MM 73.5, Oceanside, stretch out on the sand and slip your toes into the turquoise blue-green water to enjoy a swim in the calm, clear Atlantic Ocean while kiteboarders take advantage of the tropical sea breeze. See fisherman, stone crabbers, and lobster farmers capture their bounties. Linger along a secluded boardwalk and picnic at shaded tables among the native mangroves. Open daily, sunrise to sunset.
About three miles away you can find camping at Fiesta Key KOA: A 28-acre complex complete with marina and dock with boat and slip rentals, an olympic-sized freshwater swimming pool, soothing hot tubs, a waterfront pub/grill and more. They have waterfront RV sites.
4th stop: Dolphin Research Center
The Dolphin Research Center, MM 59, Bayside, was founded in 1946 as a marine research and educational facility, and is home to a family of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions. Enjoy educational tours and shows in their bayside theater. Enter the exciting world of the dolphins by participating in a playful, structured, interactive program. Call ahead to reserve a deep or shallow water dolphin encounter. Open daily, 9 – 4:30.
5th stop: Curry Hammock State Park
Curry Hammock State Park, MM 56.2, Oceanside, is a group of islands where hardwood hammocks support one of the largest US populations of thatch palms, and wetlands provide vital habitats for tropical wildlife. Shallow waters and gentle currents are ideal for kayaking the beautiful mangrove creek and the miles of shoreline on both Atlantic and Florida Bay sides of the park. Open from 8am until sundown, the park offers swimming, a playground, picnic tables, grills, camping and showers.
6th stop: Seven Mile Bridge
The Seven Mile Bridge, MM 47, linking the Middle and Lower Keys by crossing a channel between the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, was the longest segmental bridge in the world when built in 1982. It rises 65 feet for boat clearance, the highest point in the Florida Keys, with breathtaking views. And it runs parallel to Flagler’s 1912 railroad bridge which has arches reminiscent of a Roman aqueduct and portions that are still accessible to pedestrians and bicyclers.
7th stop: Bahia Honda State Park
Bahia Honda State Park, MM 37, is home to one of the “Top Ten Beaches in the US” and offers camping, fishing, diving, snorkeling, hiking and kayaking, as well. Walk onto Flagler’s Historic Railroad trestle and enjoy the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico views. Relax on the beach, take a swim in the calm, clear water, explore the nature trail, or picnic in one of the pavilions. For a few hours or a few days, the park has year around appeal. Daily, 8am – sundown.
The Florida Keys offer world-class diving as home to the continental United States’ only living coral barrier reef. This teeming backbone of marine life runs the length of the Keys about five miles offshore. The coral formations are famous for their abundance of fish, from impressive schools of blue-striped grunts to toothy green moray eels. Most sites are a short boat ride from our islands, where dozens of highly professional dive operators are ready to cater to you.
More saltwater world records have been established in the Florida Keys than any other angling destination on the globe. No other place in North America boasts such an array of fish species and habitats, from shallow flats and backcountry to coral reefs and Gulf Stream waters. Hire a charter boat or flats’ guide by pulling into a marina and choosing one you want to spend the day with. Keys captains offer local expertise, full equipment, and required licenses.
8th stop: National Key Deer Refuge
The National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key, Mile Marker 30-32, is the habitat of the tiny Key Deer that average 2.5 feet high and 90 lbs. A nature trail winds through the protected pine lands of the refuge, where the deer roam freely. They are best seen at dawn or dusk in the field at the far end of Key Deer Blvd. about 3 miles from the Highway. And stop at the Blue Hole, the Keys largest body of fresh water, home of fish, turtles and alligators, to climb the observation tower.
9th stop: Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden
The Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden, 0.2 miles North of MM 4 on College Road, is an 11-acre fragile hammock first founded in 1934. Self-guided tours include the lush courtyard with a waterfall wall of orchids with turtles below, the one-acre butterfly habitat with over 23 species discovered, and the lush canopy of tropical palms, trees, and a hidden pond. You may even see the resident, rare white crowned pigeon or bald eagle! Open daily from 10-4.
10th stop: Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, 0.25 miles South of MM0, is where one of America’s most honored authors called home for more than ten years, and returned to for frequent visits in his later life. He found solace and great physical challenges fishing the turquoise waters surrounding Key West. Tour the rooms and gardens that inspired the most prolific period of the Nobel Prize winner’s career, and meet the living descendants of his legendary six-toed cats. Open daily, 9–5.
11th stop: The Sunset Celebration at Key West’s Mallory Square
The Sunset Celebration at Key West’s Mallory Square, 0.5 miles from MM0 on the Gulf of Mexico, is a daily ritual beginning about one and a half hours before sunset where visitors and locals find a festival of performers, musicians, local artists and crafters, food, and libations. Bring your camera to capture the myriad of vibrant colors splayed by the sun setting over the water and watch for the “green flash” just before it slips below the horizon.
Last stop: The Southernmost Point
The Southernmost Point marker, 0.6 miles South of MM 0 on the Atlantic Ocean, is one of the most photographed landmarks in the United States. The giant yellow, red, and black striped, buoy-shaped monument marks the Southernmost Point in the Continental Untied States, noting that Cuba is only 90 miles away. The site also commemorates the brave Cubans who drowned trying to reach the land of their dreams, “The Leader in Democracy.” Open daily.
Of course Spring Break is not your only opportunity to road trip down to the Keys, so make sure you ear-mark this trip and find some time to go. I’m thinking about signing my boys up for a lacrosse tournament IN the keys, just so we can get ourselves down there!
conveniently located only 1391 miles to the Southernmost Point of the US
6101 Mallard Rd, Thornburg, VA
540 735 1100 / 800 719 3507