It was the setting for the breathless car chase in True Lies when Arnold Schwarzenegger pulled Jamie Lee Curtis from a runaway limousine. It is also the gateway to the perfect blend of modern world and idyllic island life. Whatever you know it for, the iconic Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys tops many a list of the greatest road trips on the planet.
Jump in the car and enjoy the sea air as you make your way towards the southernmost point in the continental United States. From Miami to Key West, this will be a once in a lifetime journey and we want to guide you to some unforgettable stops along the way. From secluded islands and diveable shipwrecks to fresh seafood and perfect cocktails, this is one road trip you don’t want to miss.
The Florida Keys are made up of 113 separate islands and represent a unique spirit in America. A place to escape to, the region has a strong feeling of independence and begs people to enjoy life as it comes. With plenty of sand, turquoise waters and an amazing amount of wildlife, food and entertainment, the Overseas Highway links some of the most incredible places on earth.
A USA holiday in your own hire car is the perfect way to enjoy the country up close and on your own terms. And as road trips go, they don’t come more spectacular than the Overseas Highway.
Need more convincing? Check out this:
Big Pine Key
One of the first stops on the trip – only 40 minutes along US Route One – is Big Pine Key. Geographically and ecologically unique, Big Pine’s limestone strata is home to the towering pine forests that give Big Pine its name.
Keep an eye out for wildlife as you can find tarpon, bonefish and barracuda swimming in the channels between the mangroves. This stop on your journey is also a popular home to the Key deer, an endangered species of small deer that live on the islands.
After a day exploring Big Pine’s nature, head to the No Name Pub – an institution since 1936. This seafood and pizza restaurant has been awarded top scores for food and service in the ZAGAT Survey’s Casual Dining category for years. In a category with over 700 other restaurants, it was recently named South Florida’s “Best casual dining experience in the Florida Keys”.
Legend has it this city got its name from the workers who toiled to build the railroad through the Keys. The work, they said, was a real “marathon”. It has become the town’s official moniker and is now one of the most family-friendly spots in all of the Keys.
At the Turtle Hospital, visitors can get up close and personal with adorable turtles at the world’s first licensed veterinary hospital for sea turtles. Feed Bubble Butt, Rebel and Chance – just a few of the hospital’s permanent residents. The hospital opened in 1986 with the main goal of helping to rehabilitate injured sea turtles. It also works to educate the public and help advocate for better environmental policies to protect marine life in and around the Keys.
For more wildlife encounters the kids will love, head just 10 miles up the road to the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key. Here you can shake hands with and even kiss one of the centre’s 27 dolphins. The experience at the centre is fun and informational. With all kinds of presentations based around dolphin behaviour, playtime, parenting and more, there is plenty of dolphin activity. Look out for the centre’s Atlantic spotted dolphin – the only one of her species living in human care in the States. There are also four California sea lions. All the animals live in natural sea water areas right off the Keys.
For food lovers, the Marathon Seafood Festival held in mid-March is one of the largest in the state, attracting over 20,000 visitors. The festival is the premier event for great seafood and entertainment in the Florida Keys, and offers exciting days of food, entertainment and fun for the whole family.
Islamorada is the place for fish
Islamorada has earned the nickname “the sport fishing capital of the world.” As the Gulf of Mexico currents travel north, they bring a steady flow of huge sailfish, tuna and kingfish past the Keys. In the channels and amongst the islands’ “back country”, there is also plenty of mullet, tarpon and trout.
But it isn’t just about the sport. The fish have also inspired some of the best chefs to migrate to Islamorada and the island has gained a deserved “foodie” reputation. Chef Michael’s features a New York transplant who has cooked at some of the finest Caribbean resorts and restaurants. The Green Turtle Inn, open since 1947, serves up a menu of modern Keys classics and Southern staples with a side of warm hospitality.
A new arrival to the scene is Florida Keys Brewing Co. Offering fresh cuisines and even fresher brews, this microbrewery truly captures the spirit of the Keys.
Key Largo is the spot for divers
In the waters off Key Largo, the white sandy bottom along with natural and man-made reefs make it a scuba diver’s paradise. Even better, the area also includes the remains of a number of historic shipwrecks available for exploration. Divers can explore the sunken hulls of British freighters, steam engines and rescue ships, and even visit a sunken statue of Jesus Christ. The Rainbow Reef Dive Center has been offering scuba instruction and excursions for years. They can accommodate dive groups of up to 36 divers.
For those looking for the most unique underwater experience around, the Jules’ Undersea Lodge is the self-proclaimed world’s first underwater hotel. After checking in, guests dive 8.5 meters to their rooms. The sleeping accommodations are in a former underwater research lab and feature two bedrooms each with a metre-wide portal. From that vantage point, guests can watch fish and marine life swim past at eye level. The stay includes dinner delivered underwater by a scuba diver.
The sun sets on Key West
At the end of the Overseas Highway lies the Key’s largest and most eclectic city, Key West. The city is a historical mecca for liberals, artists and writers, as well as gay pride celebrations. The locals actively indulge in leisure with dozens of beaches, bars and seafront restaurants to relax in. And when it’s sunny, you can count on a daily celebration of the sunset in the city’s western square.
For fans of Ernest Hemingway, there is a museum and pub dedicated to the life of the of American literature standard bearer. A long-time resident of the island, Hemingway based some of his novels on life in the Florida Keys. His former home has now been converted to a museum celebrating his life and works. One of the favourite features of the home is its feline residents, descendants of the writer’s own cat. The museum is home to some 50 Hemingway cats– unique thanks to their extra toes, which make their little paws look like mittens.
Sloppy Joe’s Bar on the famous Duval Street is the celebrated favourite pub of the writer. The bar famously claims it first opened on the day Prohibition was repealed in America in 1933. Unsurprisingly, it is a big attraction for visitors and locals alike.
Arm yourself with our top picks for stop-offs along the Overseas Highway and you can start planning your ultimate road trip. There are countless more great places to visit in the Florida Keys, so pack your Wayfarers and go wherever the sea breeze takes you.