The traffic can be horrendous most of the time, so it is always refreshing to take a stop along the way to take iconic photographs of the old railway line which became an old road, running alongside the new road or to just smell the fresh ocean smells that follow you all along the route, from Key Largo in the north to Key West, the most southerly stop on Highway 1.
The Seven Mile Bridge is the best example of a great stop. For a mix of all that is the Florida Keys, there is a Tiki Bar called the Sunset Grill, located almost under the bridge. From here, visitors can either enjoy an early morning breakfast while viewing this marvel of a bridge, or, at the end of the day, drinking your favorite cocktail that brings to home the fact that you are only a few hundred miles from the start of the Caribbean islands. The water flowing under the bridge has a variety of colors from an azure green or a Barbados Blue, depending on the colors in the clouds and the time of day. Needless to say every photo taken should be a 'keeper'.
Just before the Seven Mile Bridge is the town of Marathon. This town is the is in the middle of the Southern Keys, so it is not surprising that the highway is strewn with the typical stores, from grocery stores for the locals to the expected T-Shirt and souvenir stores for the travelers who come streaming through the town in search of a place to spend their hard earned cash. There are a number of biker bars and establishments that would suit the young at heart who think of the Florida Keys as party central, however, if the more sedate of us are just looking for a relaxing place to while away their time, if you leave the highway and head for the back roads of Marathon, you will find Sombrero Beach, which is one of the nicest beaches on the Keys. Bearing in mind that a lot of the beaches that used to be considered a good stop-off along the highway are no longer beaches, due to the rising tides affecting the Florida Keys. Considering there are not a lot of beaches to explore on this route, if you are looking for a tropical beach with palm trees on the shoreline, this is your best bet.
For a pleasant lunch time venue, we love visiting Burdines Waterfront Restaurant, otherwise known as the Chiki Tiki Bar. It is located within a working marina, so it is mostly locals that know about this restaurant come bar that overlooks the surrounding bay and the old marina buildings. On a hot August afternoon, the breeze from the upper floor restaurant is always refreshing.
While you are exploring the keys, if you have the luxury of an RV, rather than paying the very exorbitant prices you would pay at a private campground, you would be well-advised to plan on staying at the handful of Florida State Park establishments. Curry Hammock is just north of Marathon, making it a convenient stop if you need to stock up on groceries and the basic necessities. This is a lovely campground very close to the ocean, where the favorite pastime is sitting in the water in your camping chair, reading a book for much of the day while the tide rises and recedes beneath your chilled out feet.
Another out of the way bar and must see location is the No Name Bar on the Big Pine Key. This bar is known for the huge number of dollar bills on the ceiling of the entire bar and restaurant area. The figure of $250 000.00 has been mentioned when questioned about the estimated number of bills currently in the location. However, the other interesting aspect of this area is the Big Pine Key Deer that live in the area and are a very protected species found only here. They are quite friendly and happy to walk up to anyone who puts their hands out to pet them.
Long Key State Park is another recommend overnight campsite because you are guaranteed to have a campsite that is so close to the water, you may be afraid that the tide will wash up to your trailer if the tide is high enough.
The point of this blog is to let people know that the Florida Keys are not just about the rushed trip down south to Key West. It is also about stopping off and smelling the frangipangis and the hyacinths and the other tropical vegetation to be found along the side-road less traveled. It is about meeting the interesting people that live and work in this tropical paradise and it is about connecting with yourself and thinking about what gives you the most joy in life, from just whiling away your days on the beach, heading out to the tropical reefs for some diving adventures, or sitting on the shoreline, in a tropical tiki bar with your computer on one side with your margarita on the other, just catching up with life.
Enjoy the journey....