The very end of the United States. No, I’m not talking about another President Trump shenanigan or self-destructive Millennial trend. Let’s take a step back and discuss simpler topics, like driving through the Overseas Highways to visit the unique tropical island city of Key West. Yes, a lot of people are infected with wanderlust dream of the bright lights of big US cities, fancy Eurotrip adventures, and Asian excursions to parts unknown. But if you want to experience clear waters and nice sunsets, continue reading for tips about reaching this Southernmost US city.
Figuring Out the Logistics: Driving There
Yes, it a dream vacation, but getting there is most important. Since this article is on a car rental blog and the title does have “Driving to…”, it only makes to first highlight how to get there by car. We’ve previously discussed why renting a car to see the Grand Canyon makes the trip a lot easier, but it feels even more important when discovering the end the US. And in all honesty, is there a better way to enjoy the scenic Sunshine State and the sea breeze on the Overseas Highway then by driving a convertible? Ok, I’ll try to keep the shameless plugs to a minimum.
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.
Miami to Key West Drive
Duration: 3 hours and 30 minutes
Distance: 166 miles
The Florida 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 and continue going South. It ends at the Overseas Highway (U.S. Route 1) in Florida City, so then you follow US 1 south into the Florida Keys.
Map of the Miami to Key West Drive
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, travelers can reach Key Largo, the gateway to the Keys, in about an hour from Miami. Driving from Ft. Lauderdale to the Florida Keys takes about an hour and 45 minutes. Driving through the beautiful Florida Keys to Key West will take an additional 3 hours, but 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. This classic American road trip is best enjoyed in a convertible to get the best scenic experience or a jeep to drive on all kinds of terrains should you feel adventurous. Either way, once you have either of them, just drop the top, turn up the volume, and enjoy the drive!
Orlando to Key West Drive
Duration: 6 hours and 20 minutes
Distance: 400 miles
For those traveling from the Central Florida area and wish to go straight to Key West, taking the Florida 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 wish to stop in Miami for a couple of hours and exit the Turnpike, you will need to pay another toll once you re-enter. With Express Toll Service from Sixt, you just need to pay a daily fee and not worry about the cost of tolls while taking breaks during your road trip.
Map of the Orlando to Key West Drive
The drive should take about 7 or so 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 the 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 Drive
Duration: 5 hours and 30 minutes
Distance: 300 miles
For people that have never been here, this Southwest Florida region is a mesmeric destination with a lot to see. You can experience natural sightseeing encounters, play on top-notch beaches like Sanibel Island, or explore the Edison Ford Museum, the historic Winter estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.
Map of the Orlando to Key West Drive
If you want to head directly to Key West, the fastest way to get there is by taking the I-75 Alligator Alley east to the Miami exit, then go south to the Florida Turnpike, before finally reaching the US 1. You will likely have to pay the toll upon entering both the I-75 and Turnpike. The total ride duration should be about 6 hours, so it’s also recommended for people wishing 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, rent an SUV and 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 the 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, the Everglades are slowly disappearing since water reserves that are gradually drying up due to constructions.
Decisions, Decisions: Other Travel Options to Consider
In spite of the title and to provide options for every budget and travel plan, here are other options that might better fit your needs.
If you prefer to forgo the great American Roads 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 a 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 freedom of stopping along the many scenic areas like Key Largo, Islamorada, or Marathon to get some souvenirs or take those Instagram-friendly selfies.
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 along an All-American road in a rental car 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. Much like renting a car with Sixt, the choice is completely up to you.