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Drive from MIA to Key West

Drive from MIA to Key West

Old Dec 16, 18, 1:44 pm
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Question Drive from MIA to Key West

Coming to Key West at the end of April from the SF Bay area. We did a similar trip 20 years ago and flew into MIA, stayed somewhere nearby and then spent 2-3 nights driving down the keys with a stop at Everglades National Park. Stayed at a lovely spot on the beach on Islamorada (which of course I don't remember the name of, it was before TripIt and can no longer find anything like it online). Traffic once we left the Miami area the traffic was fine, and we had a lovely drive to Key West over the next couple of days.

Can anyone advise on the idea of repeating this plan? Where I live the traffic that was "fine" 20 years ago is a nightmare now, so is planning on a peaceful drive may not make sense (?). We are likely to land MIA in the mid to late afternoon potentially on a Friday. Should we just stay near the airport? And a real long shot: any ideas about older style motels that could still have sunset views and be fun in Islamorada? .
[It isn't so much a cost issue but that whole area had a by-gone era feel to it that we really liked. Much like Palm Springs. Not really interested in an upscale place we could get anywhere.]
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Old Dec 16, 18, 9:08 pm
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Traffic out of MIA will be bad, but as you said before, once you are out of there, it should be fine. I would take the Dolphin Expressway (836) all the way out to the Turnpike extension. Be aware traffic on the 836 will suck until you get past the Palmetto, if not a bit beyond. But it will also suck in the morning.

You have the choice of two ways to get to the keys, Card Sound is usually a bit less crowded, but I like just taking US1. Perhaps one way down, the other back. Did you stop at Alabama Jack's? Great little stop, even now. Fridays going down and Sundays coming back can be bad. Would avoid those days if you can. One wreck can slow you down for hours.

In Islamorada, did you stay on the ocean side or the bay side? Sunsets are typically seen on the bay side. https://www.matecumberesort.net/
For the bay side, what about the Kon Tiki? (I have not stayed there in over a decade, but it looks like what you are searching for. Kon Tiki Resort ? Kick back and relax in Islamorada Florida
The ocean side ones have mostly been renovated and are higher end. If you stayed on the ocean side, was it Holiday Isle? If so, long since gone. Although Matecumbe Resort might fit your bill as well. Again, haven't stayed there in over a decade.

For sunsets there, you still can't beat Lorelei's. Still good food, drinks, music and amazing sunsets. Robbie's is still a good place to eat and feed the tarpon.
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Old Dec 16, 18, 9:23 pm
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If it's feasible, I would recommend driving one way, and flying the other (utilizing a one-way car rental MIA-EYW, or vice versa).

The drive is certainly worth doing one way; but the roundtrip drive is a bit much if you will only be in Key West for a short period of time.
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Old Dec 17, 18, 9:08 am
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I was just in keys over Thanksgiving. A lot of new construction since IRMA hit town. Key Colony Beach got whacked pretty good. Did not go much past Marathon this time. KW too crowded touristy for me. A cruise ship hits the town and its game on. It will be better in late April but easter is late this year, so it won't be a ghost town.
PBIflyer has good recommendations.
Things I would do on the way down:
Dinner:
Mrs. Mac's the original, not #2 (key Largo Bayside) Great food eclectic atmosphere.
Lazy Days (Islamorada Oceanside). Good food great ocean views.

Stop at Loralie for sunset as PBI says it a great place.
Stop at keys fisheries in Marathon and walk up the stairs and got to the bar/raw bar
Cocktails at the Cheeca Lodge. (Oceanside) Its where I prefer to stay but its not old school.
Or Havana Jacks on Key Colony Beach. Brand new, thanks to Irma. (Oceanside)
Alabama Jacks on the way in is nice but I have not been there since the storm.
No Name Pub on Big Pine Key. Cool odd place off the beaten path. (That is where I usually make my U-turn and head back east anymore. Been to KW 20 times.)

Lodging I usually stay at Cheeca in the middle keys or either of the two Marriotts in Key Largo. The Hilton is under renovations. But for a good old school place, I heard the Casa Morada (bayside Islamorada)
Drop Anchor is a very clean old school place (Oceanside MM 85). Have friends that stay there.
GUV 1976 is right, fly back to Miami.

That's all I can think of now.
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Old Dec 17, 18, 9:25 am
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Originally Posted by pbiflyer View Post
Traffic out of MIA will be bad, but as you said before, once you are out of there, it should be fine. I would take the Dolphin Expressway (836) all the way out to the Turnpike extension. Be aware traffic on the 836 will suck until you get past the Palmetto, if not a bit beyond. But it will also suck in the morning.

You have the choice of two ways to get to the keys, Card Sound is usually a bit less crowded, but I like just taking US1. Perhaps one way down, the other back. Did you stop at Alabama Jack's? Great little stop, even now. Fridays going down and Sundays coming back can be bad. Would avoid those days if you can. One wreck can slow you down for hours.

In Islamorada, did you stay on the ocean side or the bay side? Sunsets are typically seen on the bay side. https://www.matecumberesort.net/
For the bay side, what about the Kon Tiki? (I have not stayed there in over a decade, but it looks like what you are searching for. Kon Tiki Resort ? Kick back and relax in Islamorada Florida
The ocean side ones have mostly been renovated and are higher end. If you stayed on the ocean side, was it Holiday Isle? If so, long since gone. Although Matecumbe Resort might fit your bill as well. Again, haven't stayed there in over a decade.

For sunsets there, you still can't beat Lorelei's. Still good food, drinks, music and amazing sunsets. Robbie's is still a good place to eat and feed the tarpon.
Many thanks for drivingand other advice pbiflyer. We stayed on the bay side and it is quite possible it was Casa Morada where we stayed - at least a 20 year old version of it. The Matecumber resort and the Kon Tiki also seem like good options.

Originally Posted by guv1976 View Post
If it's feasible, I would recommend driving one way, and flying the other (utilizing a one-way car rental MIA-EYW, or vice versa).

The drive is certainly worth doing one way; but the roundtrip drive is a bit much if you will only be in Key West for a short period of time.
Good suggestion and second by Ceres. The one way drive will likely be all we need.

QUOTE=Ceres;30545025]I was just in keys over Thanksgiving. A lot of new construction since IRMA hit town. Key Colony Beach got whacked pretty good. Did not go much past Marathon this time. KW too crowded touristy for me. A cruise ship hits the town and its game on. It will be better in late April but easter is late this year, so it won't be a ghost town.
PBIflyer has good recommendations.


Things I would do on the way down:
Dinner:
Mrs. Mac's the original, not #2 (key Largo Bayside) Great food eclectic atmosphere.
Lazy Days (Islamorada Oceanside). Good food great ocean views.

Stop at Loralie for sunset as PBI says it a great place.
Stop at keys fisheries in Marathon and walk up the stairs and got to the bar/raw bar
Cocktails at the Cheeca Lodge. (Oceanside) Its where I prefer to stay but its not old school.
Or Havana Jacks on Key Colony Beach. Brand new, thanks to Irma. (Oceanside)
Alabama Jacks on the way in is nice but I have not been there since the storm.
No Name Pub on Big Pine Key. Cool odd place off the beaten path. (That is where I usually make my U-turn and head back east anymore. Been to KW 20 times.)

Lodging I usually stay at Cheeca in the middle keys or either of the two Marriotts in Key Largo. The Hilton is under renovations. But for a good old school place, I heard the Casa Morada (bayside Islamorada)
Drop Anchor is a very clean old school place (Oceanside MM 85). Have friends that stay there.
GUV 1976 is right, fly back to Miami.

That's all I can think of now.
[/QUOTE]

Key West is a bit of an experiment this time. We staying at the Hyatt Beach House (a trade for some time we have at the Four Seasons resort in Carlsbad) and we'll see if there is enough to do for a week. I find myself wishing it were 40 years ago; I can imagine how touristy it has gotten. Generally try to avoid anyplace that docks cruise ships Really appreciate all the suggestions for places to eat/stay/drive. Will make planning this so much easier.
It is hard to imagine planning a trip anymore with out my FT community! A wealth of generously given information. Happy holidays to all.
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Old Dec 17, 18, 11:38 am
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I did the drive for the first time this past October. I left Fort Lauderdale on a Saturday afternoon and drive down via the Turnpike to Hwy 1 and didn't hit any serious traffic; I think we were in Marathon in a little over two and a half hours. Overall, I was pretty underwhelmed by the drive from Key Largo to Marathon but we did enjoy our time there (stayed at the relatively new Hyatt Place) and ate at several nice places like Burdine's and the Lighthouse Grill. The drive from Marathon to Key West (we also stayed at the Hyatt Beach House) was much more scenic and enjoyable. It took about an hour without much traffic, IIRC. One of the days in Key West was when a cruise ship was in port and it was a bit of a mess, so I avoided Old Town that day. We had very nice meals at Little Pearl, El Siboney (Stock Island), and Hogfish Bar and Grill (Stock Island).

I drove back on a Tuesday via the Turnpike to the Reagan to the Don Shula, then the Palmetto and finally the Dolphin into South Beach and I think it took about three hours (we stopped and took many photos along the way). I ended up buying my own SunPass to pay for the tolls rather that the marked-up PlatePass fees from Hertz. I don't know if I'd ever want to do the entire drive again.

Last edited by FlyinHawaiian; Dec 17, 18 at 6:06 pm
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Old Dec 17, 18, 12:09 pm
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Thanks FlyinHawaiian. It sounds like you stayed where we are staying. Will PM you with a few questions about where to request a room when we get a little closer.

Driving times, routes and impressions very helpful. �� (this is supposed to be a hawaiian palm tree emoji )
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Old Dec 17, 18, 5:16 pm
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Originally Posted by Ceres View Post
I
No Name Pub on Big Pine Key. Cool odd place off the beaten path. (That is where I usually make my U-turn and head back east anymore. Been to KW 20 times.)
Forgot about this. If you have time, a great place.

On KW, Blue Heaven is great for breakfast, but really popular now. Pepe's is a good alternative Pepe's Cafe Key West

Drinks at Green Parrot is required, still more of a locals place. As is a drink at Captain Tony's.

If you are looking for an interesting side trip, I would suggest Dry Tortugas and Ft Jefferson. A great way to spend the day.
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Old Dec 19, 18, 11:20 am
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Originally Posted by pbiflyer View Post
Forgot about this. If you have time, a great place.

On KW, Blue Heaven is great for breakfast, but really popular now. Pepe's is a good alternative Pepe's Cafe Key West

Drinks at Green Parrot is required, still more of a locals place. As is a drink at Captain Tony's.

If you are looking for an interesting side trip, I would suggest Dry Tortugas and Ft Jefferson. A great way to spend the day.
No one would give me a straight answer when I was in there last time a while back. You know what the walls look like right? Well, one time I was there a couple years ago and the walls were pretty much bare. Like they used the bills to pay the taxes and were starting all over again.

I asked where the old bills went and could not get a straight answer, Just an FYI.
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Old Dec 23, 18, 9:05 am
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In addition to all of the great tips in this thread, the NYT travel section first article today was a very detailed one about the Florida Keys called Island Hopping.

Many thanks again to all for making booking this trip and eating and traveling well!
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Old Dec 23, 18, 9:32 am
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One word of advice, be very observant of the speed limit as itíll fluctuate frequently throughout the drive. The police do NOT mess around with speeding (the 7 Mile Bridge is notorious for nailing speeders, using drones).
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Old Dec 23, 18, 11:05 am
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Originally Posted by Sallycat View Post
One word of advice, be very observant of the speed limit as itíll fluctuate frequently throughout the drive. The police do NOT mess around with speeding (the 7 Mile Bridge is notorious for nailing speeders, using drones).
Also in the National Key Deer refugee. (A great place to stop as well).
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Old Dec 23, 18, 5:48 pm
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Originally Posted by guv1976 View Post
If it's feasible, I would recommend driving one way, and flying the other (utilizing a one-way car rental MIA-EYW, or vice versa).

The drive is certainly worth doing one way; but the roundtrip drive is a bit much if you will only be in Key West for a short period of time.
I agree. I also would plan on keeping the car until the day I am flying out of EYW.
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Old Dec 25, 18, 9:55 pm
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Originally Posted by Sallycat View Post
One word of advice, be very observant of the speed limit as itíll fluctuate frequently throughout the drive. The police do NOT mess around with speeding (the 7 Mile Bridge is notorious for nailing speeders, using drones).
Originally Posted by pbiflyer View Post
Also in the National Key Deer refugee. (A great place to stop as well).
Originally Posted by GUWonder View Post


I agree. I also would plan on keeping the car until the day I am flying out of EYW.
Just booked car for MIA to Key West. Based on advice from previous posters, driving one way down through the keys but flying out of EYW back to SFO (very nice routing on Delta going through ATL). And thank you to all of you for the reminder about the serious speeding limits! I am sure it is temping to just speed along. Am not a big speeder, but am sure someone could get me going a few miles over the speed limit with a well pointed radar.
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Old Dec 26, 18, 10:41 am
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I just did this drive (back and forth) last week and I have probably done it 30 times during my life (I have family living in KW). I find it best to take the FL turnpike to avoid traffic as one poster suggested. This will save a ton of time. The traffic was fine, but there can be a few slow points. Definitely watch the speed limit on Big Pine Key, and if you want to see the deer, go to No Name Pub as suggested earlier for a drink. Chances are you'll see deer walking around in one of the yards on your way there. The construction wasn't too bad and lot of the debris and damage from the hurricane seems to have been picked up now.
Enjoy Key West and the culture! It's changed a lot in 20 years, but it's still quirky and different.
I agree with seeing dry tortugas park, and taking a sea plane to do it is amazing (though there is a ferry available).
My Blue Heaven is great for just about any meal, but there will be a wait. Garbo's Grill on Caroline St is fantastic for lunch.
I find Ft Zachery Taylor park to be interesting too. The fort is worth an hour exploring, and there are two beaches. The main one is very rocky, but still popular. There is a much smaller "hidden" beach all the way to the far right corner of the park in front of the fort. The water here is calm and clear, and there's a small patch of white sand. Just be mindful of the ban on glass containers as I personally saw the park rangers ask people to eave that violated this policy.
Key West isn't really known for great beaches, but you can check out Smathers, Higgs and Southernmost as well.
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