The Florida Keys are a group of islands stretching out from the southern tip of Florida into the Gulf of Mexico, the islands being linked by a single stretch of highway, the Overseas Highway. America in general is a country best explored by car, rather than by public transport, and with the availability of Avis car hire in Florida this state is no exception to the rule.
A total of 42 bridges connect the islands, with the highway terminating on Key West, at ‘mile marker zero’. One of the first things to note when taking this route is that destinations and attractions are often referred to by their mile marker number (for instance, MM2 for mile marker 2), rather than by postal address, to indicate their location.
The only real downside to the Overseas Highway is the lack of availability of a round trip route. On a road trip, it’s often a preferred option to take one route outward to your destination, and find a different route back to your starting point for a bit of variety, but here, it’s the same highway on the way out and the way back, as it’s the only route connecting the islands.
Covering almost 110 miles between Key Largo and Key West, this mostly two-lane highway can easily be travelled in its entirety in a little over two hours, but a journey this brief would do it little justice. It’s perfectly possible to take your time on the way out as well as on the way back, and not see the same things twice in either direction.
Travel in high summer, and you’ll be virtually assured of baking hot sun and clear skies, but even out of season, the waters are still warm, and the weather calm. One thing to bear in mind, though, is your direction of travel in relation to the setting sun, if you’re driving late in the day. Going north, it will be behind you; travelling south, it will be directly in your eyes.
The Florida Keys have what’s best described as a loose, unpretentious feel, and there’ll be little need to dress up for any reason. As you might imagine, island life here revolves around fishing, water sports and sea life attractions, and there’ll be no need for a collar and tie, or indeed any other formal wear, in these circumstances.
The islands are brimming with aquariums, sea life attractions, bird sanctuaries and sea life research centres, many of which are open to the general public. If you want to swim with dolphins, go fishing in the ocean, see herons at arm’s length, go kayaking, boating, or yachting, this is one of the best places to go.
There are roadside food stalls and burger shacks aplenty all along the route, but again, as you’d expect in the islands, the cuisine revolves around fish and seafood. Whether it’s served in its shell, or has been fried, grilled or battered, you’ll find it somewhere along the way.
At the end of the journey, Key West is a hub of artistic activity, with theatre, dance and literary attractions. The town is easily explored on foot or by bicycle, and a number of walking tours are available. You might want to arrange your road trip to coincide with one or more of a number of annual events that take place on the island, such as the Race Week, an international sailing event, or the Literary Seminar, both of which take place in January, or the Songwriters Festival, which spans April and May.