As a matter of good practice, Kelly and I try to break up the dreary northeastern winter each year with a warm weather retreat. This year we chose Key West, for no other reason than I was able to procure us really reasonable flights to Fort Lauderdale and figured that since we would be renting a car anyway, we might as well just finish the journey south. As it was our first time there, we thought this would make the experience that much more memorable. With the help of some friends, and friends of friends, who have been there before we got a little advice on places to go and people to see.
There is a lot to do and see in Key West, therefore I’ll split this up over a few posts that will focus on some different aspects of our trip; the drive, the bars and beaches, and the attractions. As usual, a few days in a location (even if it is only a about a dozen square miles) is never enough to capture its entire essence. As a matter of fact, after spending some time with a couple locals, even several years is sometimes not enough time. Naturally however, that didn’t stop us from getting the most of our visit.
Once you get to Key Largo and beyond there is only one road to get you island to island, unless of course you have a boat and then your options are almost limitless. But for the rest of us, tire on pavement is our vessel. Before the Keys, life in Florida is pretty much what I’ve come to dislike about it, choked full of people I’m glad to leave when I go home. From FFL the best ways south are I-95 and the Florida Turnpike. I-95 as usual is a nightmare, I highly recommend the Turnpike. Beware however, the Turnpike is a toll road and Florida no longer accepts cash. If renting a car like we did, they include the SunPass (a version of the EZPass) for a small fee. Naturally when booking the car many vendors fail to include it at that time, so if they don’t ask you about it at the counter, ask yourself and save the headache later.
Once you’re down as far south as the mainland goes, at pretty much the last intersection of civilization, you have the opportunity to take a bit of a detour. That is to say, you can choose the 17 mile stretch of nothing between what is essentially the Everglades and the bridge to Key Largo, or you can hang a left on Card Sound Rd. and take a break at Alabama Jacks. This 60 year old barge bar, known well by locals and well travelers, gets the Key mentality started right.
First bit of advice for those interested in taking the Overseas Hwy to Key West: get started early, bring music and plan to stop at least twice. It is about 4 1/2 hours from Fort Lauderdale to Key West. Don’t let the time deter you however, it is a beautiful drive. The clearest blue water that you can ever see, island after island that you not only touch from the drive but that you see from the numerous bridges that keep the Keys connected to the mainland. It is very easy to get lost in envious fantasy when looking out onto a small island, boat docked or maybe just anchored, and its captain standing on the shoreline looking out into the Atlantic, or perhaps the Gulf of Mexico.
One of the biggest attractions in the Keys, and its free, is the sunset. Most beach bars with on the western side of each island will have some sort of sunset celebration; the biggest and most well known of course is the one at Mallory Square in Key West. If you happen to find yourself in Key Largo like we did one night, take a stroll down to Snooks. Live music and tropical sunset celebrations. We did find that the drinks were a bit on the pricey side however. Plus, if you happen to be one of the lucky who travel by boat, they have a dock entrance.
We also chose to break up our drive with a stop on Islamorada at Rum Runners, an island bar sitting next to the Postcard Inn Beach Resort. If you have never been to a thatched roof, open air, cheap rum, island bar before this is a great one to be your first. Beware though, it does set the bar pretty high (and not because there are three levels). To get your Keys vacation started, order the Goombay Smash, it’s not on the menu and known only to those who know. But take it easy, they only allow you two for a reason.
Key West is about an hour and a half past Islamorada. One of the last great sights to behold is the Seven Mile Bridge. That’s right, Seven Miles. But don’t worry, you’re not going to be the only one thinking, “when does it end?” Unfortunately, you can’t pull off to the side to take pictures. Fortunately, you’re on it for seven miles, so even if it’s just you in the car (unlikely) there is ample opportunity to try and snap a quick pic. Pulling into town I was immediately pleased with my decision not to upgrade to the Mustang convertible as I knew that I would be happy enough just walking, or perhaps pedaling around. Key West is great for aimless wandering, but keep a sharp eye when behind the wheel.
I’ll have much more to say about aimless wandering in my next installment. Until then, may the wind be at your back and the sun warm upon your faces.