The Florida Keys: the 10 most beautiful stops on the Overseas Highway
Linked by the famous Overseas Highway, the Florida Keys archipelago is synonymous with sun and vacation. Today, we're going to drive the portion of US Highway 1 that connects Key West to mainland Florida. The numerous bridges over the ocean make it particularly spectacular.
From north to south, I'll take you on a tour of the 10 plus beautiful stops on the Overseas Highway. Let's go!
#1. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Located on Key Largo, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was the first undersea park in the United States. Come discover more than 40 different types of coral and close to 600 species of fish. This magnificent state park also features a great variety of tropical vegetation and marine life.
So take advantage of this first stop on your route through the Keys to take in the scenery and water activities. Do some kayaking or paddling, take a glass-bottom boat tour, go scuba diving... the possibilities are endless.
Dive into a one-of-a-kind environment of colourful fish, twisting mangroves and coral reefs. A true marine paradise for you to discover!
You can also explore your surroundings on foot along the park's three trails:
- The Grove Trail winds through the tropical hardwood forest and ends in an historic grove of tropical fruit trees.
- The Mangrove Trail is a boardwalk loop through the mangroves. The observation tower offers an impressive view of this unique ecosystem.
- The Wild Tamarind Trail winds through the tropical hardwood forest, allowing visitors to view many of the area's native hardwood species. This easy loop is not usually very busy and is an enjoyable way to stretch your legs.
Stop at the Visitor Center for more information.
#2. Village of Islands Founders Park
Next stop, Islamorada! The name alone is enough to make you dream… Islamorada is composed of several islands and, along with Key Largo, forms the Upper Keys. This area is famous for its fishing, but it's also a great place to stop for lunch on a beachfront patio.
I highly recommend Morada Beach Café, which serves a cross between Caribbean and American cuisine. Dining with your feet in the sand and a view of the ocean is a sure way to add a touch of magic to your Florida road trip. By the way, some scenes from the series Bloodline were filmed here.
To discover your second beautiful stop along the Overseas Highway, head to Founders Park. This park is very popular with families and it's easy to see why. The palm-studded beach is not very wide, but very well maintained. It offers a superb view of the bay in a heavenly setting. Be sure to take a stroll along the marina before you leave to look at the pleasure boats.
Don't hesitate to walk to the small Rain Barrel Village shopping center. With the giant lobster standing proudly in the parking lot, you can't miss the entrance! You'll find local crafts, souvenir stores and cafes where you can grab a bite to eat.
Continuing south, you can make a stop at Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park to learn all about the fascinating history of this old quarry and discover the fossilized coral reef.
#3. Long Key State Park
As you drive through the Keys archipelago, you simply must stop at Long Key State Park. This small hidden gem of nature can be explored by hiking or canoe. Its colourful shores and nature trails invite visitors to make the most of every moment.
We bet you'll just love swimming in the warm, clear water. It's a perfect chance to relax and enjoy the Florida sun. It's also an excellent spot for bird watching.
Long Key State Park is a must-see when driving the Overseas Highway towards Key West. I promise you, you won't be disappointed!
#4. Curry Hammock State Park
Located on Little Crawl Key, a tiny island in the middle of the Florida Keys, Curry Hammock State Park is one of the 10 most beautiful stops on the Overseas Highway. Take a break in the heart of this pristine corner of paradise that is home to multiple species of local and migratory birds.
Paddlers abound on calm days, while on windy days, the park bubbles with the activity and excitement of kiteboarders. You can also go kayaking in the mangrove, where you can see manatees, dolphins, jellyfish and many sea birds. It's a good chance to get a close look at a typical Florida Keys ecosystem.
Curry Hammock State Park can be explored on foot, by bike, snorkeling, or swimming. You can stop just long enough for a picnic on the beach, or spend the night camping and do some stargazing after dark. In short, it's a stop you won't want to miss during your trip to the Keys!
#5. Crane Point Hammock
Crane Point Hammock on Fat Deer Key is a great place to stop on your route through the Keys. You can enjoy beautiful coastal scenery and go for a nice walk through a diverse landscape.
Young and old alike will enjoy the natural history museum, where you can learn more about the local flora and fauna. Between a fish pedicure, birding with binoculars and a visit to the bird hospital, it's going to be a busy day…
#6. Sombrero Beach
If you're looking for an idyllic spot to lay your towel on the warm sand, stop at Sombrero Beach on Fat Deer Key. With its palm trees, white sand and turquoise waters, there's no doubt about it: you're in paradise!
This beautiful public beach is an invitation to relax. Moreover, as it located away from the road, you won't be bothered by the sounds of traffic. With its tables, barbecues and a children's playground, it's perfect for an impromptu picnic.
It's also a great spot to watch the sunset and, with a little luck, you may even spot some dolphins. Just before crossing Seven Mile Bridge, be sure to stop by the Turtle Hospital in Marathon for a fascinating tour. This organization cares for sick and injured sea turtles and then releases them into the wild.
#7. Seven Mile Bridge
When you drive from Key Largo to Key West, you have to cross the Seven Mile Bridge. It connects Knights Key to Little Duck Key and is 11 km long. It is impossible to park on the bridge, but passengers can still take photos.
Just outside Marathon, stop at Sea View Seven-Mile Bridge. You can walk part of the old bridge to Pigeon Key and see the two bridges next to each other. It's a beautiful sight at any time of day, and even better at sunset!
The new bridge runs alongside the old one and the view is particularly impressive. When you reach Little Duck Key, make your way to Veterans Memorial Park, where you can go for a swim and enjoy the view of the famous bridges.
#8. Bahia Honda State Park
Bahia Honda State Park is hands down one of the most beautiful stops on the Overseas Highway! This 500-hectare state park boasts some of the most spectacular natural beaches in the Keys archipelago.
Be sure to go to Calusa Beach with its warm, shallow water and fine white sand. You'll even have a lovely view of the Old Bahia Honda Bridge. What more could you ask for?
There are many ways to explore the park, on foot, by bike, snorkeling, etc. Fishing is also allowed.
#9. National Key Deer Refuge
National Key Deer Refuge is a great place to stop on Big Pine Key in the Lower Keys. Created in 1957 to protect and preserve the Key deer, this park offers visitors several walking trails and viewing areas.
You will have the chance to see deer wandering freely throughout refuge lands. A word of advice: the best time to spot them is early in the morning or towards sunset.
Habitats of mangroves, pine forests and tropical trees await you. Photography and wildlife enthusiasts are in for a treat. Stop at the Visitor Center to pick up a map of the trails.
Blue Hole Observation Platform
Time (round-trip): 20 min
Distance (round-trip): 500 m
This former quarry filled with water is home to alligators, fish, turtles and many bird species that you can see from the observation platform.
Watson and Manillo Nature Trails
Time (round-trip + loop): 45 min
Distance (round-trip): 1,5 km
These two short interpretation trails north of Blue Hole (access via Key Deer Blvd) are great for discovering the area's lush natural ecosystems.
#10. Key West
Key West is the highlight of any road trip in the Keys! This small island at the extreme southern tip of the archipelago abounds in magnificent scenery. I especially recommend a visit to Mallory Square to watch the sun setting over the ocean.
Another beautiful spot to discover in Key West is the house of American novelist Ernest Hemingway. This Spanish colonial style National Historic Landmark is a must-see. In the Old Town district, I recommend taking a walk down Duval Street. St. Paul's Episcopal Church, the San Carlos Institute and the oldest house on the island are sure to delight.
For a lovely photo souvenir, be sure to stop by the Key West lighthouse. This small white lighthouse is absolutely charming.
Don't leave Key West without making a detour to the Southernmost Point of the Continental U.S. To have one of the most beautiful stops of the Overseas Highway all to yourself, I advise you to go early in the morning. You'll be able to watch the sunrise from the southernmost point of the U.S. with a fabulous view of the ocean.
Map of the 10 most beautiful stops on the Overseas Highway
Now you know the 10 plus beautiful stops on the Overseas Highway! I hope this article has inspired you to want to drive, hair blowing in the wind, along this spectacular ribbon of asphalt through the Florida Keys.
If you want to discover other magical landscapes in the United States, why not explore the cowboy route by RV?
Feel free to share your questions or recommendations in the comments below!