Some of the most beautiful beaches in US are found in a group of islands off the coast of South Florida known as “The Keys”. Connected to the mainland by the 100 mile National highway 1, these islands offer the whole gamut of conventional and unconventional tourist activities.
The Keys are logically and geographically divided into 3 segments – the Upperkeys which form the northern most group of islands famous for their reefs, the Middle Keys most famous for the Seven Mile Long Bridge and the Lower keys synonymous with hip town of “Key West” .
The only way to travel is by the scenic route 1 or by taking a boat. Kapil and I are not really water people, so by road it was. Now 100 mile does not seem to be a really long distance, but with a 45 MPH speed limit ( which is strictly enforced) and the glorious view of the Atlantic which tempts various impromptu stops at view points across the way will, this drive may easily take up to 6 hours.
There is literally lots to do in the Keys. One can stay in one of the hundred beach side resorts which range from affordable to ridiculously luxurious, snorkel, canoe from island to island, bird watch, swim in the ocean, enjoy beer at tiki bars and generally enjoy the sand and the sun. Our itinerary, unfortunately allowed for only one day. We started late from Miami and it was already noon by the time we reached our first stop “John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park” . Now the Keys have quite a few state parks, each with an entrance fee of around 4-10 USD per car. . Unless you are into snorkeling or have tonnes of time on your hand, I would recommend skipping this. The view of the water is lovely and it’s not really crowded, but there really is not much of “beach space”. We only walked around and took a few snapshots of the water and were soon on the road again.
There are several view points on the road and smaller parks off route 1 where you can park your car and step into the water. There are quite a few dining options around the road that offer excellent seafood, but I would highly recommend packing a picnic basket and enjoying a meal by the water.
One of the most anticipated sights on US highway 1 is the Seven Mile Bridge. This man made wonder can be truly appreciated from an ariel view. From the ground, it looks like, well, a really long road! There is a place to get off the road before the start of the bridge, which we missed, as there was no big sign with an arrow stating “Seven Mile Bridge Here!”. We got off at the end of the bridge at what I believe is the “Veteran’s Memorial Park” and took some photos.
It was already quite late in the day, and we really wanted to make it to the Key West before sunset. We made a quick stop at Bahia Honda State Park. If there is one place that you must stop for a long time, it’s this. Declared as the best beach in Florida, it boasts almost a 3 mile long coastline of baby soft sand and shallow water. I would love to go back to the Keys just to lounge around in this place.
Our much awaited destination was the town of Key West. There is a lot to do here and its a very popular tourist destination, but I am afraid I don’t have a lot of details to share. Kapil and I spent barely a couple of hours. I really wanted to see Earnest Hemingway’s residence but could not because it was closed by the time I reached there. We really wanted to catch the glorious sunset, but it was cloudy so it was not as amazing as the guide books promised. However, I was really fascinated by the shops and one-man acts at Mallory Square and Sunset Pier. I loved the whole carnival-esque atmosphere of Duval Street and the very European pace of the place in general. There is a long list of things that I would have liked to have seen and done here , including a cemetery so again this is one place where I would love to go back again. I would recommend riding a two-wheeler to get around if you staying for a couple of days – it looked like such tremendous fun