- Snorkel the Great Florida Reef
- Explore the remote Dry Tortugas National Park
- Cruise on a catamaran at sunset
- Glide on an airboat through the Everglades
|Day 1||From Miami to Marathon Key||Marathon Key|
|Day 2||Key West, Snorkeling and Sunset Adventure||Key West|
|Day 3||Day Trip to Dry Tortugas National Park||Key West|
|Day 4||Explore Key West & on to Islamorada||Islamorada|
|Day 5||Explore Islamorada by Land and Sea||Key Largo|
|Day 6||Key Largo||Key Largo|
|Day 7||Explore Everglades National Park||Miami|
Day 1: From Miami to Marathon Key
Head south out of Miami on the Ronald Reagan Turnpike to US Highway 1 (also known as the Overseas Highway), one of the most scenic roadways in the country. You can also take the quieter route along Card Sound Road, which connects the mainland with the top half of Key Largo. Less traveled than the main highway, Card Sound Road is lined with mangroves and locals selling blue crabs, and it won't add any additional drive time to your trip. If you take this route, Card Sound Road dead-ends at State Road 905 - turn right to follow 905 until it turns into US 1.
The city of Marathon is actually set on 13 islands in the Middle Keys and is best-known as a great family destination due to white sandy beaches and the many educational opportunities for learning about marine life. On the north end of Marathon Key sits the Dolphin Research Center (Mile Marker 59), where visitors can interact with and learn about the dolphins, sea lions and other animals that live there. Further south on the island is the Turtle Hospital (Mile Marker 48.5), a rehabilitation center for injured sea turtles. You can take a guided, 90-minute tour of the hospital to learn about the turtles' recovery process and feed the flippered residents.
Enjoy a waterfront lunch, complete with tiki bar, at the Island Fish Company.
To enjoy an afternoon in the sun, Sombrero Beach is a beautiful stretch of white sand just off US 1. Take a left at Mile Marker 50 on the Atlantic side and follow Sombrero Beach Road to the end, where you'll find free parking.
For dinner, dine at the Barracuda Grill and sample some fresh local fare.
Driving time: 2.5 hours, depending on traffic
Day 2: Key West, Snorkeling and Sunset Adventure
Grab some breakfast, snacks for the road, and even an organic coffee or smoothie from Food For Thought before beginning the drive to Key West.
Hop back on US 1 heading south, and it’s not long before you’ll come to Seven Mile Bridge, which was one of the longest bridges in the world at the time of its completion in the 1980s. Savor the miles of glistening blue ocean on all sides. From Bahia Honda Key at the southern end of the bridge, it's a little less than an hour's drive to Key West.
The southernmost point of the continental US, the town of Key West is a charming island of colorful architecture, free-roaming roosters, and quirky residents. Explore this tropical paradise by land and sea to uncover the allure that's drawn artists, musicians, smugglers, and pirates to the island throughout its storied history.
Once you’ve reached Key West, you should find somewhere to park your car for the next few days - you won’t need it for the rest of your time on the island. If you’re staying in the Old Town, most points of interest are walkable or easy to reach by bicycle, as the Old Town is less than 2 square miles. Walking also allows you to see more of the charming, colorful homes and lush tropical foliage.
For lunch, don’t miss Eaton Street Seafood Market for tasty sandwiches made to order, and dine al fresco at one of their outdoor picnic tables.
Stop for a slice of homegrown Key lime pie at Kermit’s Key West Lime Shoppe on your way to the marina for your next adventure. The rest of the afternoon will be spent aboard a catamaran for some deep-sea snorkeling, followed by a sunset at sea. The ship’s captain will take you out into deeper waters over North America’s only living coral reef. For two hours you’ll have the opportunity to snorkel in the crystal clear, turquoise waters. For the final hour at sea, you’ll be served rum punch to celebrate a fun day and ring in the sunset. The captain will return you to shore at 8 pm. If you’re traveling with young children, we recommend taking this excursion in the morning, as you’ll share the ship with other families at that time.
If you’re super hungry, head straight to the Conch Republic Seafood Company, a 5-minute walk from the dock. Half Shell Raw Bar is another great option if you stroll just 5 minutes further in the warm evening air.
Driving time: 1 hour, depending on traffic
Day 3: Day Trip to Dry Tortugas National Park
The Florida Keys come to an end about 67 miles west of Key West at Dry Tortugas National Park, a remote 7-key archipelago. Only accessible by boat or seaplane, you must plan ahead if you want to see this amazing park, but it is well worth the effort. On Garden Key, you’ll find Fort Jefferson, the largest brick masonry structure in the Americas, which housed prisoners following the Civil War.
Travel by seaplane is much faster (30-40 min), which allows you more freedom and offers an amazing aerial view over the ocean, islands, and reef. Please keep in mind that you’ll need to bring your own food for the day with this option, although they do provide water, a cooler, and snorkeling gear. We recommend that you take the ferry to reach the park, as the park entrance fee, breakfast, lunch, and snorkeling gear are all included in the price. Do note that it will be an early morning - the ferry leaves at 8 am to allow a full day exploring the Dry Tortugas after the 2.25-hour journey to get there. This is a full-day trip, so be sure to bring some extra snacks or whatever else you might need, as the boat does not return to Key West until after 5.
You’ll arrive at Garden Key around 10 am. Most ferry-goers opt for the guided tour first thing off the boat, so we recommend you head straight to the beach instead. The shallow waters (5 - 15 ft) around Garden Key make for some really spectacular snorkeling - the park is home to 67,000 acres of coral reef under clear blue waters.
You can snorkel off North & South Swim Beaches, but we recommend checking out South Swim Beach. Here, you can snorkel alongside the moat (swimming prohibited inside) that surrounds Fort Jefferson, where you’ll see an abundance of marine life. There is a sandbar land bridge that connects Garden Key to neighboring Bush Key at low tide- check it out if you feel like exploring in late fall or early winter (this beautiful spot is off-limits during tern nesting season from February to September).
Ensure you head back to the ferry for lunch between 11 am and 1 pm. Keep in mind that you can take your lunch to-go and enjoy it on the beach, but you’ll need to return your trash to the boat.
After lunch, take a tour of the six-sided Fort Jefferson to learn about its storied history. You can take a guided tour (included in the price of your ferry ticket) to hear captivating stories about the fort and its remarkable history, or you can take a self-guided tour using the helpful placards around the fort. There are three stories of the fort to explore with no shortage of incredible views. Be forewarned: there are no guide rails on the top level of the fort, so take extreme caution if you choose to walk this level.
All too soon, it will be time to head back to the ferry for the 2.25 hours trip back to Key West. The ferry deposits you back onshore just after 5 pm. From there, it's a short (15-minute) walk over to Mallory Square for the Sunset Celebration, which begins daily two hours before sunset. Here, you’ll find arts exhibitors, street performers, and food carts. Once the sun dips below the horizon, walk over to Bagatelle for a delicious seafood dinner. Be sure to make a reservation, as their outdoor seating fills up quickly.
After dinner, walk down Duval Street for a taste of Key West’s active nightlife scene.
Day 4: Explore Key West & on to Islamorada
Start your day with a build-your-own omelet at Pepe’s Cafe, a local institution since 1909.
Afterward, head to Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park ($2 admission for pedestrians). Here, you can lounge on the white sand beach, swim and snorkel off the shore, hike on the two short nature trails, or explore the historic fort, an important Union outpost in the Civil War. If you need a break from the sun and would prefer to spend the morning exploring the city streets, make use of the city’s hop-on/hop-off trolley, a great way to see the four corners of the island and learn its history along the way.
Blue Heaven is a must-stop for lunch, eaten outside in the shade with the chickens that strut around the grounds.
After lunch, head to the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum for a glimpse of Key West life in the ‘30s. Included in the admission price is a short, guided 30-minute tour led by a local volunteer. Look for descendants of Hemingway’s six-toed cat that lounge around the premises in the dozens.
If time allows, you should also take a stroll through the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. Some butterfly species here are the size of your hand, and one might land on your palm if you’re lucky!
When you're ready to leave Key West behind, you'll head north back up US 1 to Islamorada - this drive should take a little less than two hours. Stop at Robbie's Marina (on the left at Mile Marker 77.5) for a chance to feed a giant tarpon. Make sure to keep an eye out for the pelicans - they'll steal the bait right out of your hands!
To end your day dining with your toes in the sand, make your way over to Marker 88 in time for sunset.
Driving time: 1.5 hours, depending on traffic
Day 5: Explore Islamorada by Land and Sea
For a sit-down breakfast, try Midway Café & Coffee Bar, where you’ll find a big menu of omelets, waffles, and breakfast burritos. If you prefer breakfast to-go, grab a cinnamon roll from Bob’s Bunz on your way to the marina.
Islamorada is known as the sportfishing capital of the world, so it’s only fitting that you head to sea on a fishing charter this morning. You’ll try your hand at reeling in a hogfish, snapper, grouper, or maybe even a mahi-mahi. The crew will help you every step of the way.
If you’re not an avid angler, another way to explore the aquatic surroundings is by renting a Waverunner. You can zip around the high seas, cruise the mangrove tunnels, and motor out to smaller islands as well as the ‘secret’ sandbar off Whale Harbor, a local favorite (try to avoid the sandbar if you visit on the weekend, as this is when it is busiest).
Back on shore, you’ll find the Green Turtle Inn, featured on the Food Network and famous for its Key lime pie, a great place to stop for lunch. From there, take a stroll through the 6-block corridor of the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District. Here, you'll find galleries, shops, restaurants, and art studios along the only 'Main Street' between Miami and Key West. For those not driving (and of age), visit the beer garden at the Florida Keys Brewing Company for a tasting flight of local beers.
If you'd prefer to spend the afternoon lounging in the sun, head to Anne's Beach (parking at MM 73.4), voted as one of the Best Hidden Beaches of South Florida by Lonely Planet. The waters here are too shallow for swimming but are perfect for wading or strolling along the sands.
There's no shortage of great dining in Islamorada, but we recommend the hogfish at Chef Michael's once you've worked up an appetite. If you're not ready to head indoors, eat outside at Lorelei Restaurant & Cabana Bar for a sunset dinner and live music.
From here, it’s only a 20-minute drive north to Key Largo and your accommodation.
Day 6: Key Largo
This morning, you'll head to John Pennekamp State Park ($8 entry per vehicle). Located at Mile Marker 102.5 on the ocean side of the highway, the park boasts the oldest underwater preserve in the continental US and protects a portion of its only living coral reef. Before heading into the park, stop at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen to purchase some sandwiches for your lunch at one of the park’s shaded picnic areas later on.
There are a number of ways to take in the beauty here - walk the trails through tropical hardwood forests, kayak or stand-up paddleboard through the mangrove swamps, snorkel over the Spiegel Grove shipwreck, or board a glass-bottom boat over the reef. If you meet the requirements, you can even scuba dive down to see the Christ of the Abyss.
If you’d prefer to stay on land, you can walk the trails (Wild Tamarind Trail is a short and easy loop, while the Mangrove Trail takes you on a boardwalk to an observation tower) or hang out on one of the park’s beaches. Cannon Beach is better for snorkeling close to shore, while Far Beach is great for swimming and offers more shade for relaxing under the palms.
If you prefer to explore by sea, you can spend the morning kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding through the mangrove swamps of Florida Bay on a guided tour with a local expert. After lunch, you can head out to deeper waters to snorkel the Great Florida Reef or board a glass-bottom boat to view the marine life from a distance.
Nearby the park’s entrance, you’ll find the Fish House - a great stop for dinner. Try the fish of the day matecumbe-style and don’t forget to order their famous Key lime pie for dessert!
Day 7: Explore Everglades National Park
Covering 1.5 million acres of southern Florida, the Everglades National Park is home to a diverse range of wildlife, from manatees to panthers. The fragile ecosystem here is protected as an International Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site, and visiting it is a great way to immerse yourself in nature for the day. Pack a picnic, plenty of sunscreen, and some insect repellent for today’s adventure - you should also ensure you have a full tank of gas. Eating options are limited in the park, so bring lunch, snacks and plenty of water.
Before leaving Key Largo behind, enjoy a hearty breakfast at Harriette's Restaurant. From Key Largo, you'll head north on US 1 through Homestead (stop at the Publix here to pick up some refreshments and made-to-order sandwiches) and up to Miami. At Krome Avenue, you’ll see the Miccosukee casino and head into the 'glades (drive time: approx. 70 minutes).
Arguably the best way to see the wetlands, airboat tours are forbidden in the majority of the park due to extensive preservation efforts. There are, however, three airboat companies that are authorized by the National Park Service (we recommend Coopertown), all clustered before the visitor center at the main northern entrance to the park. Airboat tours are approximately 40 minutes and will take you on a thrilling ride through the wetlands. Your guide will point out the alligators and other wildlife you’re sure to see along the way.
About 20 miles further is the Shark Valley Visitor Center and the actual entrance to the park ($30 per vehicle). Of the three main park entrances, Shark Valley is known for its abundance of wildlife and is one of the best spots for animal viewing. The Tram Road is a great option to explore here: you’re sure to spot turtles, birds, and alligators on this 15-mile trail! How you encounter them is up to you - you can walk, bike, or take the tram. Halfway out, you’ll find a 45-ft observation tower that provides 360-degree views for 20 miles in every direction over the impressive surroundings.
This flat, paved loop is great for biking and takes 2 - 3 hours including stops (you can rent bikes at the Visitor's Center for $9/hour); you can also explore a number of shorter, unpaved trails along the way. Please remember to bring your own drinking water, as there are no refill stations along the route. Another option is to take the 2-hour round-trip open-air tram, but tickets often sell out, so you’ll need to book in advance for a specific time slot. The tours run hourly from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm and are guided by park naturalists who can point out the wildlife and provide impressive insights into the ecosystem as a whole. Alternatively, you can walk some of the trail, although we do not recommend that you walk the entire length so that you can save time for the other stops on your agenda.
Take a break for lunch at one of the picnic benches near the Visitor's Center. Once you've refueled, you'll head 20 minutes further west on the Tamiami Trail to take the Loop Road (otherwise known as County Road 94, an easy-to-miss left turn from the Tamiami at Monroe Station) through the Big Cypress National Preserve. You’ll likely come across alligators, deer, and even otter in this off-the-beaten-track loop off the main road. However, it is best not to make this detour during the summertime, as parts of the gravel road can be completely submerged.
At mile 5, don’t miss Sweetwater Strand, well-known for the beautiful setting created by deeper water and large cypress trees. The short (⅓ mile) Tree Snail Hammock Trail is located at mile 15.6. Hunt for shells on the leaves of the hammock trees- these are the snails for which the short, easy trail is named. There are longer hikes available with trailheads along the road, but they are not for the faint of heart - if you decide to venture down any of these trails, be sure to prepare for ‘slough slogging,’ or a wet hike through ankle- or even knee-deep water.
When you reach the junction with the Tamiami Trail at mile 24, it's an easy 60-minute drive back east along US 41 to the heart of Miami.
Total driving time: 4 hours, depending on traffic