Ultimate guide to a Florida Keys road trip – All you need to plan the best vacation
Planning a Florida Keys Road Trip has never been so easy with this ultimate guide, including all the essential resources and little secrets for your trip. You will learn:
- How to get to and around the Florida Keys
- How long does it take to visit the Florida Keys
- What are the best island to visit and stay based on your type of Florida Keys road trip
- A few recommended hotels and Airbnbs (from low-cost to boutique)
- Beaches that can’t be missed
- Florida Keys attractions, activities and places to visit
- Itineraries in the Florida Keys for every kid of trip
- The best places to eat sorted by island (from bargain to VIP)
But let’s get started.
Florida Keys road trip – In a nutshell
Arriving In The Florida Keys
Unless you are already in the area, the best way to start your Florida Key road trip is to fly either to Miami or to the much smaller airport of Key West.
These are the key differences between the two airports:
- if you fly to Key West, you will be straight in the middle of the action. From there, you can visit Key West and make your way north to visit all the other islands in the archipelago. If you fly to Miami, you will need to make your way to the first island, Key Largo (around 60miles/100km)
- Flying to Miami will be much easier and economical. There are plenty of flights arriving from everywhere in the USA and the world too. Flying to Key West is usually much more expensive as seats are limited.
- I highly suggest doing the Florida Keys road trip by car (you can also do it by bus if you prefer, more on this later). Renting a car in Miami is usually much cheaper than in Key West, just because there is more choice and availability.
- Driving from Miami Airport to Key West and back will be around 330 miles (530km). Driving from Key West (Airport) to northernmost key and back will be 230 miles (370km)
Getting around the Florida Keys
Briefly, you have 2 possibilities to move around.
My highly suggested option is to rent a car, mostly because you will get to see and experience more.
The car will make the difference on a Florida Keys road trip. You will stop wherever you want.
You will find plenty of attractions suggested in the Florida Keys, however, the car will give you that flexibility to change beach because on that day there are too many seaweeds, or new coves come up after a hurricane.
You get the point, the car will turn the Florida Keys road trip to a unique experience.
I usually book my car on DiscoverCars.com, an online price comparison website that I usually use to shop for my vehicles. It offers the most competitive prices (read the cheapest)
The other possibility is to do it by bus.
There are two buses that run in the Florida Keys.
These buses stop also in Islamorada and Marathon Island.
You can also take these buses for a local trip between two islands, for example from Key West to Islamorada.
They are well priced, if booked in advance, however, there are not as frequent.
Key West Transit also runs busses within Key West and to Marathon Island.
This is more of a regular local bus and it works well to move locally, however it does not go to Islamorada or Key Largo.
There are other agencies in Miami offering private bus or van services. They are mostly for day trippers, though.
How Many days for a Florida Keys road trip
I would say, go for it as long as you can 🙂 But unfortunately, we’re all running out of time.
The Florida Keys area is only about 110 miles (~170km) long, making it a relatively small archipelago.
But there are so many things to do, like swimming with dolphins, wake boarding in a park, scuba diving, snorkeling, etc.
It would be a shame to miss out on them.
If you have only 3 days, I’d suggest staying in one accommodation only and explore from there.
Key West is surely one of the best islands to stay You can enjoy the local beaches, join a few organised trips, doing SUP at sunset time.
From there, you can drive your car up north for a day trip to explore Islamorada, Big Pine key or Marathon.
For families or if you just prefer a central location, Marathon is the perfect island to be. Also, so much quieter than Key West.
You can read all about a Florida Keys itinerary in 3 days in my post, with 5 detailed day-by-day plan based on the type of trip you want to take
If you stay in the Florida Keys for 4 or even better 5 days, you can discover more about the area.
For instance, you may want to split your trip between two locations, like Key West and Key Largo or Marathon.
Key West is a beautiful island. However, spending a couple of nights also on another key would give you a totally different experience.
On my 4/5 days in the Florida Keys guide, there are four itineraries with a daily plan, according to whether you want a relaxing trip or an active vacation, whether you want to visit only the beaches or also historic sites, and whether you are travelling with kids, with your partner or on your own.
With a Florida Keys road trip of 7 days, you can explore a good number of places in the archipelago, besides experiencing some water sports.
You can also think to split your trip between 2 or even 3 locations and do some diving or snorkeling besides visiting a few beaches for some relaxing time
On an active trip, you can plan also to do some wake boarding, parasailing, jet skiing and I could keep going
In my guide on the Florida Keys itinerary in 7 days, I have organised a plan for 3 types of road trips. Really all you need to know, with a daily plan too.
Have you got just 3 days? Are you flying to Key West and you don’t want to drive or take a bus around?
Well, probably you will not be able to do a road trip, but surely you will enjoy your little breakaway.
Key West is such a fun place, with so many things to do.
For this reason, I have organised a 3 days in Key West guide with five local itineraries to see and experience all this island offers, based on your type of trip (couple, families, beach lover, adrenaline addicted or everything)
Where to stay in the Florida Keys – Best islands
The Florida Keys has islands to please any holiday maker, from a relaxing vacation with the family to a romantic getaway and even some nightlife
Are you after the best beaches? Key West and Marathon have some amazing and unique ones.
Are you looking for an island that offers bars, restaurant and a bit of nightlife? Key West should be a stop on your Florida Keys road trip.
Would you like to stay somewhere romantic with your partner? Big Pine Key is so secluded that you will forget how a city looks like.
Are you travelling with your kids? Make sure to stop in Marathon and Islamorada where you will find so many things to do with your children.
And I could keep going.
In my article on where to stay in the Florida Keys, I went into much greater detail about all the major islands based on your type of road trip, as well as suggested hotels/Airbnb, local restaurants, and activities you can do once there.
Best Hotels & Airbnb in the Florida Keys
The following is a short list of some suggested accommodations, including camping, for the perfect Florida Keys road trip.
I have, however, outlined more options in my dedicated guide to the best islands of the Florida Keys
- Hotel: Coconut Bay Resort, right at the beach with free kayaks to explore the area
- Hotel/Airbnb: Dolphin Point Villas, offering accommodations from studio to 3BR, with a common pool area
- Camping: Key largo Kampground, with a beach and a boat ramp
- Hotel: Amara Cay Resort, offering both studio and 1BR accommodation in a resort environment
- Hotel: Cheeca Lodge & Spa, facing a lovely beach, with a pool too
- Hotel: Chesapeake Beach Resort, value for money
- Airbnb: La Siesta Resort, a big 3BR house for up to 8 people, straight on the beach
- Airbnb: The Island, an even bigger 4BR house, hosting up to 8 people
- Camping: Fiesta Key RV Resort, in a small island south of Islamorada
- Hotel: Courtyard by Marriott, amazing view from the room window and fantastic pool to have a relaxing time
- Hotel: Seascape Resort & Marina, one of the best value for money accommodations in Marathon, with free kayaks and a pool too
- Airbnb: Skipjack Marina, 1Br to host up to 4 people
- Airbnb: Indigo Reef, massive 3BR to host up to 7 people
- Camping: Jolly Roger RV Resort, a resort dedicated to the RV travellers
Big Pine Key
- Hotel: Deer Run on the Atlantic, romantic and secluded, with free kayaks & bikes
- Hotel: The Barnacle B&B, basically sitting on water, such a lovely location
- Hotel/Airbnb: Sunshine Travel Trailer, 1BR accommodation, a different experience located in the mean camping area of Big Pine Key
- Camping: Camp Jackson Sawyer, for small tents, and Bahia Honda State Park RV Campground, on one of the best beaches of the Florida Keys
- Hotel: Simonton Court Historic Inn, in the heart of Key West, meters from Mallory Square
- Hotel: The Mermaid & The Alligator, a little paradise and great value for money too
- Airbnb: Barbary Beach House, 1BR right in front of one the best beaches in Florida Keys, Smathers Beach
- Airbnb: The Laureate, 1BR and one of the best value accommodation on the island
- Airbnb: Casa Key West, massive 3BR house in the old town that can host up to 8 people
- Camping: Leo’s Campground and RV Park, next to the gold clubhouse, and Boyd’s Key West Campground, with pool and boat ramp
Best beaches in the Florida Keys
This is one of the most beautiful Caribbean places on earth and the beautiful beaches are definitely part of the pig picture.
Key West has probably the most, but I would not discount other islands with Marathon and Islamorada probably close seconds for the wide variety of choice
If you are on a Florida Keys road trip, you should most definitely stop at these 5 beaches, from north to south:
- Bahia Honda State Park in Big Pine Key, a gorgeous beach beloved by kids and adults, great for some snorkelling and swimming thanks to its unique turquoise water
- Sombrero Beach in Marathon Island, another iconic beach, unmissable and, of course, popular but still not as crowded
- Smathers Beach in Key West, the longest and widest on the island. This is probably the most popular beach in the Florida Keys.
- Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park in one of the southernmost points of the Florida Keys. Swimming can be challenging for the rocks and in this respect, I highly suggest wearing water shoes. However, a visit to this park is more about the beautiful sandy beach and the great environment with the fort in the back.
- Dry Tortugas Island, this is a very remote island and you will need to catch a ferry (around 2 hours from Key West) to reach it, but totally worth the trip. It’s a tiny island with a fort and secluded beaches around. Really unique.
What to do, see & experience in the Florida Keys
This is a 110 miles (~170km) long archipelago. There are just so many things to do and places to experience.
Add to your must-list a swim with the dolphins in Key Largo at the Dolphins Plus Bayside.
Key Largo is also one of the best parts of Florida Keys for diving
And for a special day out in the sea, you should book a ferry trip to Dry Tortugas Island.
Here are also a few organised experiences, all leaving from Key West:
- 12-Stop Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour in Key West
- Parasailing Flights
- Jet Ski Island Tour
- Catamaran Day Tour with Snorkeling & Water Activities
- Dolphin Watch and Snorkel Eco Tour
- Food Tasting and Cultural Walking Tour
- Sunset party cruise by Catamaran
I also ended up writing a dedicated post on 33 things to do in the Florida Keys, including a few hidden gems (with a map too). This is an excellent resource for building your own must-see list.
Best Itineraries in a Florida Keys road trip
Depending on the length of your stay, you will have different itinerary options.
With 3 days, base yourself in one accommodation (Key West or Marathon) and explore from there.
With 4/5 days, you can already think of changing two accommodations, the famous Key West and Key Largo/Marathon, for a more local and characteristic experience.
In 7 days, you can think of building an itinerary to include Key West, Marathon and Islamorada/Key Largo for probably the best diving in the Florida Keys, besides the possibility of swimming with the dolphins
In 10 days, you could plan even an itinerary to explore other smaller islands reachable by boat as Dry Tortugas Island
I wrote a dedicated post to possible itineraries in the Florida Keys that is the best starting point to build your own trip, with detailed daily plans that you can do on your own
Best restaurants and cafes in the Florida Keys
I have created my own list that I would like to share with you. Obviously, it isn’t exhaustive. Come back to this post regularly for the latest findings.
- Lolo’s Kitchen, a taco track preparing super tasty Mexican food
- Avenue Subs, popular with locals and not only for some of the best subs ever
- Twisted Shrimp, one of the best place for freshly cooked seafood, amazing value for money
- Keys Bite, generous portions, well priced, nice outdoor patio and lovely food, with a Mexican twist
- Meze Morada, a mix of Mediterranean and Middle East too, all at a budget price
- Harbor Cafe 90, great pastries, outstanding coffee
- Bayside Gourmet, one of the best pizza in the keys
- Irie Island Eats, tropical garden, easygoing, a must stop
- Takeria La Palapa, super fresh tacos and burritos in a relaxing environment
- Frank’s Grill, surely the place is not as fancy, but the food and the service make up for that, another hidden gem of the Florida Keys
Big Pine Key
- Trianos Taco Company, a characteristic truck serving great tacos
- Florida Keys Cafe, great spot for brunch, good coffee
- Coco’s Kitchen, a good mix of Mexican/Cuban food
- Ingrid’s Kitchen, super tasty, super generous servings, small prices. Sure, it’s not on Duval Street, but the little walk is very worthy.
- Meet Burger, freshly made buns, quality meat, best burgers in Key West
- The Jerk, best jerk chicken
- Poke in the rear, located just off Duval Street, fabulous poke bowls