Posts Tagged ‘Key Largo’

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Until last year, my favorite part of the state was the Panhandle. Then I visited the Keys for a few days. Now, it’s a toss-up. My folks took me down there when I was 14 or so, but it’s another one of those trips that I hardly remember. So it was like I’d never been there before.

From Key Largo to Key West is about 100 miles. So you can easily drive it in a couple of hours. But there’s so much to see, you could spend days exploring. There are 9 state parks, one of which is a National Natural Landmark. Three National Historic Landmarks, all in Key West. Shipwrecks on the NRHP are strewn around the waters, so between them and the coral reefs, it’s a diving haven. Just the drive down US 1 is worth it. About the only down sides are the Keys are so far south, and you have to drive through Miami to get there. Still, you can’t have everything. Where would you put it?

Best time to visit? The off season. Unfortunately, that coincides with hurricane season. April and May (after Easter and before hurricane season) is next best. Or if you can manage to go during the week instead of the weekend, that’s good. Especially since hotel rates tend to be higher for Friday and Saturday night stays. That’s actually the case no matter where you go. You also have a better chance to get discount rates at attractions, since most people go on the weekends.

Personal peeve about the state parks here. There’s an extra 50 cents tacked on to the admission. I’ve been to just about every Florida state park, and Monroe County is the only one that does this. It bugs me because I specifically got the park pass every year so I wouldn’t have to pay anything at the gate. It only comes out to an additional 3 bucks, because not all parks have ranger stations. But it’s the principal of the thing. And one of the parks was very rude about the 50 cents. The only impolite ranger I’ve ever encountered.

Before you get to the Keys, you have to get through Florida City. A good place to gas up, as fuel prices are higher in the Keys. I suggest the RaceTrac near the intersection of US 1 and Card Sound Road. Avail yourself of munchies and facilites, ’cause it’s about 20 miles until you get to Key Largo and have another opportunity.

Most take US 1 after this, but you do have the option of Card Sound Road. It’s longer, less used and only two lanes. But because of that, there’s minimal traffic, so it’s an easier drive. You’ll have to go over the Card Sound Bridge, which costs a dollar to cross. No credit, so make sure you’ve got the cash on you.

After you’re over, the road ends at CR 905. About 10 miles south and you’ll be back on US 1. Just before you get there, you’ll pass the entrance to the northmost state park in the keys, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park.

To help in your journey, this mile marker guide should be of help.

The speed limit in the Keys is 45 mph max. So you have plenty of time to take in the view as you head south. You’ll see the kind of development you’d find in medium-sized Florida cities, or tourist attractions, or sections with smaller hotels, or tree and bush-lined stretches, or bridges connecting each Key, with the Atlantic on the left and the Gulf on the right. The water gets turquoisier the further you go. If you see something you like, pull over when you can and soak it all in.

Key Largo is one of the more built-up areas of the Keys. I’d bet that it’s due to there being a relatively large amount of available land, and proximity to Miami. If you want to hang out in the Keys but don’t want to spend too much time on the road, Key Largo is the easiest option.

Fortunately, the first few miles only have buildings sporadically along the way, and lots of green. In part because a lot of the eastern side of this area is taken up by the next state park, John Pennekamp.

I take back only being in the Keys once. I think we had one or two events at the park in the ’70s whilst I was in the SCA in Miami. Not sure, but I think we did.

The park is extremely popular, with a museum and beach. Also you can take glass-bottom boat tours of the coral reefs. There’s another state park nearby, centered around the wreck of the San Pedro. You can only get to it by diving, though.

The last point of interest in Key Largo can be found in a marina across from a Wendy’s. It’s the African Queen, the original boat used in the movie. I think it’s still seaworthy, so it mightn’t be in dock when you’re there. (see Google map)

Leaving the hustle and bustle of Key Largo, you’ll be going through one of the sporadically developed areas in the Keys. Next stop, Islamorada.

On your right you’ll see the entrance to Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park. Best to visit on the weekend, since the park is closed in the middle of the week. The park contains a quarry used during the building of the Overseas Railroad. Which I’ve not seen, since I got there on a Tuesday. A return visit to Islamorada is something I’ve been planning ever since, since there’s other stuff I missed here too.

Like the Theater of the Sea, which I didn’t even know about until I drove by. And Lignumvitae Key and Indian Key, which are only accessible by boat. I thought there were ferries from Windley Key, but I was mistaken. You have to rent a boat or kayak. Robbie’s Marina appears to be officially sanctioned by the state park system. They also offer tours of the state parks, which is probably how I’ll go. See, just checking out those places will probably take most of a day.

Further down is the History of Diving Museum. Do visit the Florida Keys Memorial. It commemorates the losses caused by the 1935 Labor Day hurricane.

When I visited last year, this is where I spent my last night in the Keys. There’s a bridge to the south that leads to Long Key, where I watched the sunset. This is, I believe a requirement when you visit the Keys. You must see at least one sunrise or sunset. Islamorada is an ideal spot to see both.

Also ask the locals about where to eat, as Rachael suggests, and you can’t go wrong. Try and stay in a non-chain hotel, too, as they’re usually cheaper and cozier. The place I stayed at was 99 dollars for the night, but I got a terrific suite, and the place was right on the beach. Where, if I’d gotten up early enough, I could have seen the sunrise from a deck chair right on the ocean.

I mentioned Long Key, which is the site of Long Key State Park. You could spend hours walking the nature paths, and there’s an observation tower to see the treetops. Nice beaches, but that’s a given in the Keys. It seems to be a less popular park, which is great if you want to feel like you’ve got the place to yourself. (see Google map)

For the next 60 miles, you’ll see remnants of the original Overseas Railroad scattered beside the bridges between Long Key and Bahia Honda. Eyes peeled, though most are hard to miss. You’ll be seeing more water and bridges now, since the keys are increasingly separated. The next large one is holds another state park, Curry Hammock. It’s not big, but that’s OK. It feels like it’s geared more towards families than the others in the county. (see Google map)

Not much further and you’ll be in another metropolis. As much as you have them in the Keys, that is. We’re talking Marathon. Also where I spent the most for a hotel room ever, 200 dollars. For one night.

I mean, it was a chain hotel and a nice room and all. But I’ve spent a quarter that much and been just as comfortable many times. But I didn’t think I’d find a better deal, so I took it. Which made me kick myself the next night when I found that place in Islamorada for half as much. Usually I don’t make hotel reservations, ’cause I’m never sure how far I’ll get each evening. Most of the time it’s worked out for me. But every so often, not so much. Luck of the draw, y’all.

The main historic spot I know of here is in Crane Point, a museum/nature center. It’s the century old George Adderley House, built from tabby. You can also find the Crane House, built in the 1950’s, after whom this attraction is named. Since they owned the property, doncha know.

We’ve roughly reached the halfway point, so I’ll leave it here. Until next post, see you on the road!

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The African Queen boat is in Key Largo, in the Florida Keys. It was the boat used in the movie of the same name. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. See more photos here.

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Off to the Keys

Leaving tomorrow morning, veeeeery early. Want to get to Miami after sunrise, Cape Florida State Park specifically, then head south from there. Back in few days, y’all.

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