If you want to get to the very end of the US, take a drive on the Overseas Highways to visit the unique city of Key West. Yes, a lot of people are infected with dreams of the bright lights of big US cities, fancy Eurotrip adventures, and excursions to parts unknown. But if you want to experience clear waters and stunning sunsets, continue reading for tips about reaching the southernmost city in the US.
Figuring Out the Logistics: Driving There
If you want to get to Key West, driving there across the ocean is a unique experience. Whether you’re a Floridian planning a family excursion, a snowbird or out-of-state visitor escaping the cold, or an international guest fresh off the plane looking to cross off this bucket list destination, finding the best route can be a struggle. For the sake of simplicity, it’s best to assume you’re coming from cities within the state of Florida, like Orlando, Miami, and Fort Myers. And if you can, there’s no better way to enjoy the scenery and the sea breeze on the Overseas Highway than by making the drive in a convertible.
Miami to Key West
Duration: 3 hours and 30 minutes
Distance: 166 miles
Florida’s Turnpike, often called “Florida’s Main Street,” is a toll road in Florida that offers convenient routes and easy access to major highways throughout the state. If you’re leaving from the Southeast Florida area, simply take the turnpike until it intersects with US-1 S in Florida City. You can take this route all the way to the Florida Keys.
The Florida Keys are made up of 100 tiny islands, linked by the 128-mile Overseas Highway. If you simply want to visit the Upper Keys, you can reach Key Largo, the gateway to the Keys, in about an hour from Miami. Driving from Fort Lauderdale to the Florida Keys takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Driving through the beautiful Florida Keys to Key West will take an additional 3 hours, but it’s well worth it. There’s nothing like driving over the vibrant blue ocean, which can only be experienced on the Seven Mile Bridge, one of the longest bridges in the world.
Orlando to Key West
Duration: 6 hours and 20 minutes
Distance: 400 miles
For those traveling from the Central Florida area and wishing to go straight to Key West, taking Florida’s Turnpike is the fastest option. It’s a direct route where you only pay one toll at the beginning. Please keep in mind that if you plan to stop in Miami for a couple of hours and exit the turnpike, you will need to pay another toll once you re-enter.
The drive should take about 7 hours, so it’s only recommended if you plan to stay for at least 2 nights. Unless of course if you’re a tourist and want to hit as many places on the East Coast as possible. In this case, you can take I-95 South and may want to plan some stops or overnight stays in cities like West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, and Miami.
Fort Myers to Key West
Duration: 5 hours and 30 minutes
Distance: 300 miles
For people that have never been there, Southwest Florida is a destination with a lot to see. You can experience natural wildlife, visit top-notch beaches like Sanibel Island, or explore the Edison Ford Museum, the historic winter estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.
If you want to head directly to Key West, the fastest way to get there is by taking I-75 E to the Miami exit, then go south to Florida’s Turnpike, before finally reaching US-1. You will likely have to pay a toll upon entering both I-75 and the turnpike. The total drive time should be about 6 hours, so it’s also recommended for people wanting to stay at least 2 nights.
However, if you want to make the most of your time on the Gulf Coast of Florida, take Highway 41, also known as Tamiami Trail. The highway is very scenic and nearly empty of traffic. There are plenty of places to stop to see gators or take an air-boat ride. If you’re feeling adventurous, try to incorporate places like:
- Captiva & Sanibel
- Marco Islands
- Everglade City
This is absolutely the best way to visit the Everglades. This may take longer than on I-75, but you are likely to see some alligators and other wildlife in the canals that run alongside the road or on the banks. There is no wilderness in America quite like the Everglades, yet sadly, they are slowly disappearing since water reserves are gradually drying up due to construction.
Other Travel Options to Consider
In order to provide options for every budget and travel plan, here are other forms of transportation that might better fit your needs.
If you prefer to forgo a road trip and don’t mind splurging on-air travel, you’re in luck! There are many direct flights or connections to Key West International Airport available from many cities. Here are the important airport codes for those flying from far away that want to arrive as close to the key as possible:
- EYW — Key West International Airport
- MTH — Florida Keys Marathon International Airport
- FLL — Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International
- MIA — Miami International Airport
Fortunately for Europeans used to traveling by bus, Greyhound Lines makes scheduled stops along the route between Miami International Airport and the Florida Keys and Key West. Of course, keep in mind that you may have less opportunity to stop in scenic areas like Key Largo, Islamorada, or Marathon.
If you’re coming from Southwest Florida, you can also take the Key West Express, a company that operates high-speed passenger ferries from Ft. Myers Beach and Marco Island. The ferry ride takes approximately 3.5 hours, but this is ideal for those that want to make day trips. Of course, this might be a bit limiting for those who want to explore other parts of the Florida Keys.
As you can see, paradise has never been easier to reach. Sometimes a scenic drive might be the escape you need. It’s also the nicest way to experience the islands of the Florida Keys and the charming and historical town of Key West. Once you arrive, you have the freedom to have an action-packed vacation filled with fishing or snorkeling excursions. Or simply unwind with the outgoing tide and take relaxing visits to the Ernest Hemingway House or the Southernmost Point buoy.