We had eight days to enjoy Key West and the Everglades. We didn’t see everything, but we did enjoy many things in both locations. I’ve been intrigued by this area since I was a kid – but had only ever visited Florida’s northern gems – Pensacola, Orlando, Saint Augustine, Cape Canaveral. Our time in the most southern part of this fascinating state was well spent. Here are my favorites and recommendations for a visit to Key West and Everglades Florida.
My Favorite Things in Key West and Everglades Florida
You can easily do these two locations with a week’s vacation, although 8-10 days would be better. If you want to add Miami (which we are doing next), you will need a few more days. It’s very easy to drive from Miami to both Everglades and Key West, but it will take some time. The roads are good but often two lane roads with maximum speed limits of 60 miles per hour. You will definitely need a car to get around both regions. We started with a three-hour drive from Miami to Key West.
On our drive from Miami we stopped for lunch in Key Largo at the famous “What the Fish” fish shack I had read about on Trip Advisor. I’m so glad we did. It ended up being one of the best meals we had in Florida. We both had yellow tail fish tacos and beer, sitting in the glorious Florida sunshine enjoying the view of the yachts in the channel (known as waterways). The service was incredible too. Such a great way to start our visit.
On arrival in Key West at Stock Island Marina, about ten minutes from historic downtown Key West, we found our little sailboat Airbnb. Super cute, but super small. It worked out fine, but I sure wouldn’t consider an extended stay in a tiny space like this again. The best part was enjoying the marina’s pool, laundry and bar with live music. I enjoyed drinking my coffee and watching the sunrise from the deck of the boat
My Fav Six Things to Do in Key West
- The Truman Little White House This historic home is part of a military installation that became a favorite destination for Harry S. Truman both during and after his presidency. It’s a fabulous neighborhood (be sure to walk around and see more than just the house) and on the tour I learned so much about President Truman I did not know. Fantastic tour.
- Hemingway House – Having only recently grown to admire Ernest Hemingway, I was very interested in learning more about his life. This gorgeous home and tour is a fascinating look into the life of this incredible man – and the architectural masterpiece and gardens alone are worth the price of admission. The tour was a little too big for my tastes, and a bit rushed. But I still highly
- Get Out on the Water – there are literally hundreds of ways to get out on the water in Key West. Sport fishing is a huge draw to this area and dozens of operators offer fishing daily. Additionally there are kayak, canoe and standup paddleboard tours and rentals. There are jet ski tours and rentals. Sailing is popular and there are sunset sails with music and drinks. There are diving and snorkel tours by the hundreds. We did a three-hour snorkel cruise (one hour each way and one hour in the water) to the Barrier Reef with Fury. It was simple and all we needed and not at all expensive. We’ve snorkeled all over the world, so it’s hard to compare, but we did enjoy the warm water, the beautiful purple fan coral, and some amazing encounters with beautiful fish.
- Duvall Street and Mallory Square – this is where you go to people watch, shop, drink and eat at all hours of the day and night in Key West. It reminded me a bit of Nashville, with live music all day long. We enjoyed a couple of meals and
drinks, and we watched the Apple Cup football game from a bar here. It’s got a nice old funky vibe and is a Key West must.
- Eat at Blue Heaven – we read that Blue Heaven is one of Key West’s best and most popular eateries so we headed there for lunch. The Thanksgiving holiday crowd was out in full force, so rather than waiting forty minutes for an outdoor table we enjoyed a delicious (but not cheap) lunch in their indoor dining room. There special was a lobster grilled cheese sandwich, that sounded delicious, but at $23 I declined. Instead I enjoyed a really delicious yellow fin tuna sandwich. And we had to try their famous Key
- Eat at Latitudes on Sunset Key – we splurged on our last night in Key West to celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary with a dinner at Latitudes. Reservations are a must at this beautiful restaurant located a ten minute boat ride away, on Sunset Key. The boat ride is included in your meal. The setting was spectacular as was the service. A wonderful romantic evening and a lovely farewell to Key West.
Did you know?
Cock fighting was outlawed in Key West in the mid 1970’s. Ever since, the descendants of these chickens roam freely throughout Key West. Currently they are well fed and living happily ever after.
My Fav Six Things to do in Everglades
- Shark Valley Tram Trail – this is the closest I ever want to be to an alligator. Holy Cow, we saw hundreds of alligators laying all around the trail just a few feet from us. Seemed kinda crazy to me how close we were. I guess they must not be too dangerous, but still…You can take a tram with a guide on this trail, walk it or ride bikes. It’s a 15 mile round
trip. We rented bikes, although the quality of the bikes was disappointing for the price, but still enjoyed the experience. Not only did we see hundreds of alligators up close and personal, we saw turtles and an incredible collection of bird life. An amazing experience.
- Airboat Tour – you can’t visit the Everglades without taking an air boat tour. These boats are uniquely designed for the terrain and waterways and it was a fascinating way to see the mangrove forests. A bucket list adventure for me.
- Visit tiny historic Everglades City– we stayed in a darling Airbnb in Everglades City, a tiny town of only 500 residents. Built in the 1800’s as a company town by Barron Collier (whose name is still everywhere including in Collier County), Everglades
(renamed Everglades City in 1953) has struggled through the depression, WWII and numerous hurricanes that have nearly wiped it out. And yet this sweet little place embraces its heritage with some well-marked interpretive historic markers, a handful of restaurants and a thriving air boat port.
- Big Cypress Preserve is not actually part of the National Park. It’s right near Everglades City and the preserve is worth a visit. Two waysides provide amazing alligator viewing as well as interesting birds, trees and marsh.
- Eat Alligator – with so many alligators in Florida it’s no surprise you find it on the menu – although mostly for tourists who want to say they ate some. As I did. Served to me like chicken nuggets and tasted very much the same as well.
- Visit Naples – we took the drive north to Naples, less than an hour from where we were staying in Everglades City, to visit some old friends who were on vacation in Naples. I’m really glad we did. Naples is a beautiful city chock full of mansions and yachts and high-end shops – a complete contrast to little old Everglades City.
Did you know?
The Everglades, called the River of Grass because the area is technically a river sometimes 60 miles wide, is not a marsh or swamp. Native Americans called it pahayokee, or
the grassy waters. The ecosystem protects 14 endangered and nine threatened species, including the Florida panther, the Atlantic Ridley turtle and the American crocodile. (Credit USA Today Travel Tips)
Next time we visit I would like to go to the Southern section of the Everglades where the Flamingo Visitor entrance is. The geology of all of Florida is fascinating. It is also changing, both geologically and weather wise, prone of course to devastating hurricanes. We throughly enjoyed our visit, and I’d love to come again, before climate change causes too much more damage.