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   TravelPage.com - Worldwide Travel Directory

Welcome to TravelPage.com's directory of worldwide travel information. Research and book online with over 400 airlines, 300 cruise ships and 50,000 hotels and resorts worldwide.

USA: Florida, Key West

TravelPage.com Rating:Four Stars

Located at the southern tip of the Florida Keys, Key West is actually closer to Cuba (90 miles away) than Miami. In our opinion, the best way to get there is to fly to Miami or Ft. Lauderdale and then rent a car for the drive south. Key West is 159 miles from Miami and about 185 from Ft. Lauderdale. Lately, we have been flying into Ft. Lauderdale instead of Miami because it's easier to get the rental car at the Ft. Lauderdale airport and you can avoid some of the traffic problems you may run into when trying to get out of the Miami airport. Another bit of advice is to stock up on quarters and dimes and get to the Florida Turnpike as soon as you can from either airport. You may end up driving a few extra miles but you will avoid the traffic delays that seem to pop-up frequently on the local roads and highways around Miami.

You exit the Turnpike near Homestead and can follow Route 1 all the way to Key West. If you are not in a hurry, we encourage you to take Card Sound Road instead - it's a left turn about a mile after you get off the Turnpike. There are three reasons to take Card Sound Road for the next 25 miles: 1) it's less crowded than Route 1, 2) you might see an alligator, and 3) you get to stop at Alabama Jacks right before you cross over the Card Sound bridge. Alabama Jacks is a restaurant/bar on the side of the road that just makes you feel good. It's been there forever and the location and staff are great. On our last trip the thunderstorms had just stopped when we pulled into Alabama Jacks and several manatee were bobbing in the water next to the deck drinking the rainwater as it splashed off the tin roof. During your visit make sure to try the conch fritters (some of the best in the Keys) and keep an eye out for other wildlife in the air and water.

After your stop at Alabama Jacks, follow Card Sound Road into Key Largo where you will rejoin Route 1 for the remainder of the trip. Along the way, mile markers (mm) tell you how far you have to go, with mile marker # 1 in downtown Key West. Key Largo is at mm 106. There are 42 bridges connecting the 126 miles of the Keys with Seven Mile Bridge at mm 47 being the longest.

There are lots of fun and interesting places to visit on your trip south and we encourage you to stop if you see something that looks interesting - you may be surprised at what you find. As you drive across one of the many bridges you will probably notice a number of parallel bridges with significant chunks missing. Some of these are the remnants of the old Florida East Coast Railway or "Overseas Railway" which connected the Keys from 1912 until 1935, when it was destroyed by a hurricane. It was replaced in 1938 by the Overseas Highway, built on the foundation of the old railroad bed. As new bridges were built, it was cheaper and better for the environment to just leave the old bridges in place. At least a portion of most of the them serve as fishing piers today.

There are a number of state parks along the way including John Pennekamp Coral Reef near mile marker 101 and Bahia Honda State Park at mile marker 40 just after Seven Mile Bridge. From Key Largo some of the larger towns you will pass through include: Tavernier (mm 90), Islamorada (mm 82), Layton (mm 65) and Marathon (mm 53). Some of the more notable Keys include: Plantation Key (mm 90), Upper Matecumbe Key (mm 85), Lower Matecumbe Key (mm 75), Duck Key (mm 61), Little Torch Key (mm 30) Cudjoe Key (mm 20) and Boca Chica Key (mm 10). The National Key Deer Refuge spans mm 30 to mm 20 so be very careful driving through this area especially at night as the Key Deer are a protected species and hitting one could land you in jail.

If you are looking for someplace to meet and swim with a dolphin you can do so at the Dolphin Research Center (mm 59) or Theatre of the Sea at (mm 84.5). Both facilities require advance reservations - made very far in advance. Swimming with dolphins is not for everyone but we did it on our last trip - 2 adults and 2 children - and it was an amazing experience. Hawks Cay Resort (mm 61) has a dolphin program as well but you cannot swim with them there.

When you get to Key West you can stay at any one of a number of hotels ranging from elegant/expensive to basic/cheap. We like the Casa Marina because it has a beach and is a bit away from the center of town. Duval Street runs through the center of town and many of the bars, shops, and restaurants are located around the north west end of the island. For more about the hotels in Key West check out our Florida Hotels page.

Make sure you see the Hemingway house where Ernest Hemingway lived during his time on the island during the 1920's and 1930's and visit the renovated renovated Historic Seaport district. Known locally as the Key West Bight dozens of shrimp boats once called this harbor home. These days, "the Bight" is a popular place to arrange a day on the water, whether you are a diver, snorkeler, fisherman or eco-tourist. Others come just to stroll along the harbor walk or dine at one of the many restaurants.

There are lots of places to eat in Key West ranging from cheap to outrageously expensive. At the top of the list in terms of quality and price is Louie's Backyard (305.294.1061) - great food but you do pay for the experience. We also like Antonia's (305.294.6565, upscale, friendly, Italian), Turtle Kraals (305.294.2640, affordable, fun), Kellys (305.293.8484, upscale, nice, brew pub), and Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville (305.292.1435, affordable, fun). Our favorite though might just be Pepe's Cafe (305.294.7192). This little restaurant is tucked away on Caroline Street and is easy to miss. It's the oldest eating establishment in Key West and has been serving great food (breakfast, lunch and dinner) at great prices since 1909.

If you find yourself thirsty, there is no shortage of bars in Key West. Tops on our list is Captain Tony's (305.294-1838) , named after former Key West mayor, Capt. Tony Tarracino. This building was the original Sloppy Joe's bar where Hemingway used to hang out during most of his time in Key West. Other bars where you will be able to mingle with locals are the Green Parrot Bar (305.294.6133) and the Schooner Warf Bar (305.292.9520). Sloppy Joe's has great entertainment and lots of tourists and there are dozens of other bars where you can meet a wide variety of very interesting people.

Before you leave, you should stop by Mallory Square just before sunset to see the performers and musicians. It's free and depending on the time of year you may see tight rope walkers, contortionists, fire eaters, mimes, music, artists and craftsmen, and acrobatic cats.

United, American, Delta and other airlines fly to Miami. American flies commuter planes from Miami to Key West. For additional information about Key West visit Florida Keys and Key West or contact the Key West Chamber of Commerce, 402 Wall Street, Key West, Florida 33040. Telephone: 305.294.2587, 800.648.6269.

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