Florida never really was on my bucket list and had my cousin not gotten married there I probably never would have made it to the southernmost state in the US. Because one thing right off the bat: Florida is damn expensive! Still you can experience a lot here, from a couple of cool days at super laid-back Key West to an adventurous kayak tour in the dark passing the shining eyes of alligators in the Everglades.
I will tell you which stops you should definitely make on your Florida round trip and what kind of adventures the South of the US holds for you!From Miami to Key West and into the Everglades
The best suggestions for Miami & Key West!
The most important tips and info on Florida
Florida is expensive – very expensive!
In general when planning a trip to the US you should be aware that the country is pretty expensive. I did know that prices would be a lot higher and not at all comparable with the countries I normally like to travel to like Thailand or Indonesia. But I had not anticipated that it would be this expensive!
On principle I don’t mind paying a bit more if I get the appropriate quality for my money. But that is very rarely the case in Florida. In most restaurants the food isn’t really good and on average you pay at least 15 USD for a meal without drinks. No wonder that there is a McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Subway or Taco Bell on every corner – here you get an entire menu for under 10 USD.
Unlike Germany for example, it is customary to give a 20% tip no matter how good or bad the service was in the end. So if you get a bill of 50 USD for a burger, fries and two beers in Miami (this really is insanely expensive, in Berlin I pay around 10 Euros for that!) you have to add another 10 USD for tip.
And that applies not just to restaurants and cafes but every activity you do. So if you book a sailing tour for 80 USD you have to calculate another 25-30 USD for tip – so the tour costs 110 USD in the end! And unfortunately this is often not even pointed out at the beginning of the activity, you are expected to have the tip on hand. To me this gives everything a very sour side note.
I was really shocked by the prices, probably in part because Line and I had last been on a road trip around South Africa where a four hour kayak tour costs 25 Euros – a sizeable difference! And prices in stores usually don’t include the sales tax so you always have to pay a bit more than indicated on the price tag.
As long as you are prepared and plan enough money for your Miami and Key West trip you will have a lot of fun. You just have to ignore the high prices and always be prepared to have to pay more in the end than you thought!
The best way to get to Florida
There are several international airports in Florida, the best ones for a Florida round trip via Miami and Key West through the South of the state are: Miami International Airport, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport or Southwest Florida International Airport at Fort Meyers.
We flew Air Berlin directly from Düsseldorf to Miami and I would recommend you fly that way too. It is easy to get to Miami airport from all other bigger airports and Miami is the perfect place to start and end your road trip.
You can get a return ticket including 23 kg of luggage with Air Berlin flying from Düsseldorf for under 500 Euros! Alternatively you can also start your trip in Berlin and make a short stop in Düsseldorf. The cool thing is that Air Berlin now offers so-called XL seats that are super comfortable. You have 15 centimeters more leg room and if you are tall like I am that makes a huge difference! The flight is ten hours going there and nine coming back.
Rent a cool car for your road trip!
Upon arrival at the airport you can pick up your rental car. Best to book it online in advance to get the sweetest price. Almost all bigger car rental companies like Sixt or Hertz have a branch at Miami International Airport.
Of course I got us a convertible for our Florida round trip and not just any convertible, a yellow Ford Mustang! It has always been a dream of mine to drive through the US in a Ford Mustang and now I have finally made it come true. Yes, it should have been the old model and in baby blue if possible but the yellow machine did have something about it too!
This car is a little more expensive than other models for rent but if you are going to be in Florida you might as well splurge – it is worth it. We were able to ride around with the roof down most of the time because the sun is almost always shining there and during the time we travelled it was always around 30 degrees. Florida is not called ‘the sunshine state’ for nothing!
Routes, stops and adventures on your Florida round trip!
Start in Miami
As already mentioned you should start your round trip in Miami. Take two days time before you set out on the road trip. Downtown Miami doesn’t really have much to offer except for high rises, cafes, bars and restaurants. So it is sufficient if you take two hours for downtown.
You get a really good overview if you drive through town, or over the town I should say, with the Metromover. This train has various lines and the cool thing is that it is entirely free! Best you get on to the Downtown or Inner Loop. This line circles around downtown Miami making 8 stops along the way. But the other two lines, Omni Loop and Prickle Loop also circle around downtown once but then either continue up North or down South.
Head out to Miami Beach
After that the best thing is to head straight on to Miami Beach. Miami Beach is an independent city that sits on the long island right in front of Miami and has – as the name indicates – a long sandy beach. The city consists mostly of restaurants, clubs, hotels and holiday apartments. Miami Beach is known especially for its art deco neighborhood and the Ocean Drive on South Beach. There are several houses there that are all in the same style and colorfully painted.
The bars and restaurants on Ocean Drive are often pretty busy, especially on the weekend or during Spring Break when we were there. And there will probably be a lot of people at the beach too, all students celebrating their break. Apart from that Miami is super chilled, people play volleyball or soak up the sun on the beach which really is beautiful.
In Miami Beach you can find somewhat decent coffee, though in no way comparable to the really good coffee from Australia, at Panther Coffee. The cafe’s interiors are industrial style so it’s all pretty hipster. The cool people of Miami Beach come here and from time to time you also see people sitting with their laptops and working.
By the way, there are really good burgers just around the corner at the Burger & Beer Joint! Here you can choose from various burgers on the menu or create your own. The burgers really are delicious and nice and juicy. Definitely try the brioche as a bun! Oh and the onion rings are huge and almost a meal in themselves.
Apart from delicious burgers you of course also get great beer here! There are local beers as well as imports from Belgium for example. And you get a beer recommendation to go with every burger. You can also just ask the waiter or waitress for a suggestion. In any case the beers that we tried were great, they really tasted special!
See a NBA game live!
With a little luck there might be a NBA game in Miami while you are there. Even if you don’t really care for basketball or professional sports in general it is pretty cool to go see one of these games live! The home matches take place at the American Airlines Arena downtown Miami. You can purchase tickets online here where you also have a good overview of the upcoming games.
To Boca Raton for surfing
If you drive a bit further North you come to Boca Raton, around 50 minutes from downtown Miami. Depending on the wind and the weather you can surf here. We took a surfing lesson with Marcello and even though the waves were rather low and short that day I was able to learn a lot. You can surf all along Florida’s East coast but you should always inform yourself of the current surfing conditions.
Deep sea fishing on Miami’s coast
If you like fishing then you can also do that off of Miami’s coast. One day we went out on a boat and had a go at deep sea fishing. Unfortunately we did not catch a single fish in the three hours we were out at sea and all in all only eight fish were caught which apparently is pretty unusual. Normally they catch a lot more on those trips. The cool thing is that you get to keep your catch and then enjoy fresh, self-caught fish in the evening!
I have to admit that fishing is not for me. It rather bored me, I just need a lot more adrenaline. Of course it is not so boring if you actually catch something but all the waiting is not my thing. I’d rather go to mountain biking in South Tyrol or climb the peak of the Kitzsteinhorn in ice and snow!
Where to stay in Miami
There is a huge selection of hotels in and around Miami. But you have to put down a lot of money if you want to have it somewhat comfortable. A nice hotel in a good location with bright rooms downtown Miami is Kimpton’s EPIC Miami. All rooms even have their own balconies!
The The Vagabond Hotel of downtown is also super cool and not far from the sea. The rooms are stylish and the interiors not so commonplace. Mare Azur Miami by Grand Bay is not far from there. This hotel is right on the beach and you stay in modern apartments with a view of the sea!
Aloft Miami Doral is also super cool! This hotel is a bit outside of downtown but so cool! I already was at the Aloft in Bangkok and love the hotels’ concept!
P.S.: Luckily there are also nice Airbnb rooms and apartments in Miami and with this link you receive a 20 Euro coupon for signing up!
Segment 1: Miami to Islamorada
The first segment of your Florida round trip takes you from Miami down to the Keys, all the way to Islamorada. The distance is around 135 kilometers and you should plan at least two hours for it. A good place to stop is Key Largo, you will have covered about half the route here, even though you already drove around 100 kilometer, there is only one road in the keys and you can’t exactly go fast on it.
Kayaking at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
On Key Largo you have the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park where, if the weather is good, you can go snorkeling or on a kayak tour through the Mangroves like we did. You don’t have to book anything in advance but can just go to a kayak rental and have them give you a kayak. There are various routes you can take and depending on where you want to go you can rent the kayak for one or two hours. You pay when you get back, only then do you really know for how long you have been out.
The staff describe the different routes to you, they tell you where you can paddle and where not and how long you will approximately need for each part. We were out with the kayaks for around two hours and had so much fun! Especially the narrow waterways through the mangroves are a little adventurous and really cool to navigate.
At John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park there are also a few hiking trails but they are so short and boring that they are not really worthwhile. You will for example walk circles in a forest for five minutes – nothing more. There also are tours in glass bottom boats but these really only are good if the weather is flawless and you really get to see something.
The admissions for the park vary depending on the number of people in the car. There is more info on the park and the various activities you can do there here!
Suggestions for Islamorada
Islamorada is perfect for your first real stop on your Florida round trip. There are several hotels here and a few good restaurants. For a good dinner for instance check out Chef Michael’s, beware though that the place is super popular so you should reserve a table. Amongst others there are fresh fish and delicious leg of lamb on the menu. The prices are pretty high as everywhere on the Keys but the food is great.
Midway Cafe & Coffee Bar is the place to go for yummy breakfast and decent coffee. Be it scrambled eggs, a sandwich or a breakfast burrito – you really can get anything you might want in the morning here! The Sin Bun is super delicious, it’s a king of yeast pastry muffin with lots of cinnamon.
Amara Cay Resort would be a nice hotel on Islamorada: cool interiors, chilled atmosphere and bright modern rooms!
Segment 2: Islamorada – Key West
The next day you then go all the way down to Key West, the end of the Keys. This part of the trip is also 130 kilometers long and you should plan at least two hours driving for it. If the weather is good and the sun is shining you will have amazing views along the way, the sea is turquoise then – it is absolutely stunning! There are also a few stops you can make along the way.
Robbie’s: feed giant fish!
Shortly after Islamorada you get to the Lower Matecumbe Key where you can feed tarpons. These are enormous fish that can look pretty scary. To go feed the fish stop at Robbie’s on the right-hand side of the Overseas Highway at the beginning of the Lower Matecumbe Keys. There are a few stalls and restaurants and although it is pretty touristy and often rather crowded too the stop is worth it because this really is a unique experience!
For 4 USD you get a bucket with eight fish that you can use. Simply go to the end of the pier, lay on your stomach and hold the fish just over the surface of the water. It won’t take long until the first giant fish comes dashing from the water and grabs the fish from your hand! Pretty intense! Even the second and third time you will still be startled because tarpons can get pretty big and they downright tear open their mouths. And pay attention to the pelicans around you, they too like to snap at the fish occasionally!
Relax at Bahia Honda State Park
Around 65 kilometers or an hour after the first stop at Robbie’s you reach Bahia Honda State Park. Not just a beautiful beach but also the remainders of an old railroad await you there, an extension of the Florida East Coast Railway which connected Jacksonville in the North and Miami. In 1938 the bridge was bought by the state of Florida, remodeled and became part of the Overseas Highway.
Nowadays the bridge is not used any more and has been partly torn down to allow boat traffic. The ruins of the bridge look pretty cool and what is even cool is that you can go walk on parts of them! Definitely stop here, stroll over the bridge and relax at one of Bahia Honda State Park’s beautiful beaches. You can also go snorkeling and kayaking here!
When entering the park with a car you pay 8 USD. There is more information here!
Looking for deer
When I saw the sign I thought I had made a mistake: deer! Yes, there are deer living on the Keys. This type of deer descends from the white-tailed deer and is the smallest in North America. And since humans are taking over more and more of the natural habitat of these animals they get hit by cars pretty often. By the way, they swim from one island to the next and are most often seen on the No Name Key and in the North of the Big Pine Key.
Suggestions for Key West
Key West really is a super cool and thoroughly chilled city at the end of the chain of keys. There are nice houses here with the facades often painted in yellow, blue or turquoise and on almost every porch you will see a little wooden bench swing or a hammock. There are palmtrees everywhere and the gardens are lush and green thanks to the tropical climate. Key West really has such a chill vibe and is nothing but cool!
You can for instance go for a little walk through the streets of the city, the side streets off of Eaton Street are especially nice. There is one great house, villas almost, next to the other here! Walk down Margaret Street until you get to the cemetery of Key West at the end. The tombstones under the palmtrees have quite a few interesting stories to tell and time and again you see iguanas lying on the tombstones to bathe in the sun.
Then you can go to the start of the famous U.S. Route 1, the Mile Zero in Key West. The sign is on Whitehead Street, on the corner of Whitehead and Fleming. When you continue walking down Whitehead street to the end you get to the Southernmost point on the American continent, the so-called Southern Most Point of Continental America.
Good restaurants in Key West
Old Town Bakery on Eaton and Grinnell is the place to go for delicious croissants and other pastries. And by Florida standards the coffee there is also quite okay. For good coffee head to the Cuban Coffee Queen which is also on Margaret Street right next to the harbor.
If you feel like having Mexican you will find the best tacos at Garbo’s Grill, a well-hidden food truck on a kind of parking lot on Caroline Street. There is good stone oven pizza at another food truck, Clementine’s Wood-Fired Trolley Pizzeria. The truck is on the popular Duval Street, on the corner of Duval and Angela.
Even though I am not a fan of chain restaurants Five Guys Burgers & Fries actually has great and most of all affordable burgers. There are two Five Guys places in Key West, one on Duval and Truman and the other is a bit outside on Roosevelt Boulevard. Definitely order the double bacon cheeseburger – yum!
If you prefer something healthier then try the delicious vegetarian dishes at Date and Thyme’s on Fleming Street. And on Sunset Pier you get the best view of the sunset and the Sunset Key, cocktails and delicious Mexican food and all.
Cool accommodations in Key West
There are several really quaint guest houses in Key West. You usually sleep in a beautiful typical Key West Villa, surrounded by lots of green. The Old Town Manor is a nice guest house, you immediately feel at home here! The rooms are bright and the whole house is beautifully furnished. It lies in the most beautiful neighborhood in Key West, right on Eaton Street and only a few paces from popular Duval Street.
NYAH – Not Your Average Hotel – is also cool. It is located on Margaret Street next to Eaton Street and the Date and Thyme. The B&B consists of several smaller houses, has a courtyard with pools and palm trees and the rooms are bright and clean. If you are traveling with friends you can stay in bunk beds hostel style and save a bit of money.
Adventures around Key West
Sailing and snorkeling
Key West is the perfect place for a sailing tour. These usually go for half a day and with a little luck you will encounter wild dolphins or you see how a sea turtle dives down next to your boat. Most tours also include activities like snorkeling or kayaking. Depending on the weather you have great visibility when snorkeling and even though you might not see any fish from your boat, as soon as you get into the water you are suddenly surrounded by loads of them!
We did our tour at a place where the water was not deeper than two meters so you really had to pay attention not to whirl up sand with your fins, you wouldn’t have been able to see a thing otherwise! At the time we were there, end of March, the water is still pretty cold so after only half the time we already got out of the water again.
There are several tour operators that offer such a tour in Key West. We did ours with or on the Echo catamaran. Both the captain and the assistant were super nice! The tour costs around 85 Euros per person (plus a 20 Euro tip…) and includes snorkeling equipment, drinks, snacks and fresh fruit.
Dry Tortugas National Park
If you have a little more time on your hands and your budget allows it, then you can fly to the Dry Tortugas National Park. This park lies 110 kilometers West of Key West and consists of seven islands. The second largest of them, the Garden Key, is home to Fort Jefferson, a large coastal fortress that was never really finished.
At Dry Tortugas National Park you also have the option of going snorkeling and just as at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park you swim right above the Florida Reef, the last surviving coral reef in continental America and also the third largest in the world!
A half-day excursion with a plane to Dry Tortugas National Park costs around 320 Euros per person and takes four hours, the full day of eight hours comes in at 555 Euros. Going there and coming back is 40 minutes of flying each so you have more than enough time to go explore everything. The snorkeling equipment is included as well as drinks. You get more information on this adventure here!
If the flight is too expensive for you you can alternatively take the ferry to the national park – but then you miss out on the amazing views from above! This trip comes in at 175 Euros per person and the ferry takes two hours and fifteen minutes there and back. Here too the snorkeling equipment is included and so is breakfast and lunch as well as a few snacks and the park fee. More info here!
We did not do this tour ourselves but we found this post on JustTravelous on the tour!
Segment 3: Key West – Everglades City
From Key West you then travel back to Miami on the Overseas Highway and on the Everglades City. Take enough time for this part of the trip because even though Google Maps says that you need around four and a half hours for the 350 kilometers you will definitely need longer – we for instance needed six hours! So drive off right after breakfast in the morning this way you don’t have to stress in the end.
Everglades City itself does not have much to offer and all shops and restaurants close at nine pm at the latest. So best you stop at a supermarket on the way and buy enough to drink and a few snacks like fruit, nuts or granola bars. Because the only supermarket in Everglades City also closes at seven pm and does not have a huge variety either.
But the Everglades National Park as well as the adjoining Big Cypress National Preserve have all the more to offer! Already when driving there you pass signs warning you that panthers might cross the road – yes, panthers, the wild cats – and you see one alligator after the other.
Many people do a tour with an airboat here, the Everglades are famous for airboats. And I have to admit that we too did one of those tours and I am downright ashamed of it. Because these airboat tours really are not ok and wreak havoc on the environment!
First of all the airboats are incredibly loud, secondly they rush through the water at such high speed that the water is moved a lot, thirdly they smell and fourthly there are usually several boats simultaneously traveling in the same area – it’s just horrible!
I really wonder why these tours are even allowed, they take place in the heart of the Everglades National Park after all which is supposed to protect a very fragile ecosystem. Apart from alligators, panthers, turtles and various bird species the rare manatees live here too.
On our one-hour airboat tour we stopped next to mangroves once and suddenly raccoons emerged – more and more of them. They all wanted a treat from our captain and behaved just like trained monkeys – tragic, really!
So I have one request: don’t make the same mistake I made and pass up the airboat tour which is such a disaster for nature and the animals!
A very special adventure awaits you instead, one where you get to know the everglades a lot more intense and closer to nature: a kayak tour!
Kayak tour at dusk
A really cool adventure that you should not miss out on when touring from Miami to Key West is a kayak tour of the Everglades but in the evening, not during the day!
We did this right after we arrived in Everglades City, setting out at 5:30 pm. The guide will ask you in the beginning if you prefer seeing wild animals or the sunset and depending on what you chose there will be a different starting point for the tour. We of course opted for the wild animals and they were absolutely amazing!
We drove out to a river and then carried one kayak after another to the water and we were on our way. You can either go alone in a single kayak or share a double kayak with someone else, that depends very much on your experience and your personal preference.
We first paddled North on the river passing thick jungle-like forest and not more than 15 minutes into the wild we already saw our first alligator – an alligator baby even! In the crowns of the trees we could see ospreys and a rare eastern fox squirrel was jumping from tree to tree.
Then our guide lead us through the reeds and right into the forest to a kind of sink that had been dug by alligators. The sun was now pretty low and the light was dazzling which made the whole experience even more intense. Then we went back out the same way passing several large alligators which even swam alongside our kayaks and a water turtle which was just diving down.
But the tour was not even close to finished! Now we headed to the other side, the Southern side of the river. This side is not forest any more but full of thick mangroves. It is just like you would imagine the Everglades. In the meantime it was getting dark and we had to put on our headlamps. That is when the real adventure began!
You almost couldn’t see any more and the water way through the mangroves was so narrow that we had to fold the paddles and put them into the kayaks. From then on we moved along hand over hand reaching from one branch to the next until we reached an open water hole. That was pretty intense!
We went back the same way and then also finally saw the glowing eyes of alligators in the water – unbelievable! You are moving along through the mangrove forests with your kayak, can hardly see a thing and suddenly these orange glowing eyes flare up next to you!
We were back at the car around 10 pm and at 11 I collapsed into bed, exhausted and extremely happy.
This kayak tour was one of the coolest adventures I have ever experienced and I can highly recommend it! You are out for four hours, learn a lot about the Everglades, about alligators and other local animals and one rush of adrenaline follows the other! The tour costs around 100 Euros per person and the starting time varies depending on when the sun sets. It is operated by Everglades Rentals & Eco Adventures, they have all further information here.
Staying in Everglades City
As you can probably imagine there is not much of a selection of hotels in Everglades City. We stayed at the Everglades City Motel. The rooms were not exactly pretty but it was clean and provided free wifi. Alternatively the Ivey House Bed & Breakfast is also a good choice. The rooms there are a little comfier and the B&B has a pool.
Segment 3: Everglades City – Miami
After this amazing adventure in the Everglades you face the last part of your Florida round trip: the route back to Miami! From Everglades City it is around 130 kilometers to Miami and on average you will need an hour and fourty-five minutes for the drive. You then either stay a few more days in Miami or fly straight back home.
Florida is expensive but also offers one of the coolest adventures there is!
Even though I am not the biggest fan of Florida or the US I did have a great time on our road trip from Miami to Key West and back via the Everglades. As long as you know beforehand that you will be spending a lot of money on your trip and that you often still will not get the best quality at restaurants, despite the high prices, then you are in for a few really cool adventures. I did have one of my best experiences ever on that kayak tour in the Everglades!
Have you ever been to Florida or are you planning to go there? What are your best recommendations for a Florida round trip?