Boomeresque:Definition
1. Adj.: Describing a person born between 1 Jan. 1946 and 31 Dec. 1964
2. Adj.: Description of a person, place or thing possessing Baby Boomer je ne sais quoi
3. See also, Boomer, Esq.: A Baby Boomer who is also a licensed attorney (See, e.g., About).

The Overseas Highway to Key West, Florida

by Suzanne Fluhr on December 28, 2012 · 41 comments

Map of the Florida Keys

(Updated June 10, 2018)

I’m a bad not great driver. I’m an even worse passenger. However, I made an exception to my general disinclination to go on a road trip to experience the Overseas Highway to Key West, Florida.

Map of the Florida Keys

Map of the Overseas Highway which traverses the Florida Keys south of the Florida Mainland (Map courtesy of www.seearoomkeywest.com)

Whenever I walk our dog, Dino and the wind chill is a number less than 32 degrees Fahrenheit (zero degrees Centigrade), my mind wanders to some of our “get me outta here” February trips to somewhere considerably warmer. One of those trips was to Key West, Florida, the southernmost town in the United States. As I pull up my scarf to cover my nose, I wonder why I’m not there. Oh, yeah, right —

  • Mr. Excitement (a/k/a my husband) still has a more than full time day job in Philadelphia;
  • My 93 year old mother lives in Philadelphia;
  • We live in Philadelphia; and,
  • Our friends who take care of Dino when we’re away are usually ready to return him after about a week. They are fond of him, but he eats things he isn’t supposed to like batteries, razor blades, tooth brushes, Vivactiv calcium chews, and three birthday cupcakes. (Even when it’s not his birthday.)

As is often the case when we travel, our visit to Key West was tacked onto a work trip to Miami. After a lovely four days staying in South Beach, we borrowed our son’s car and headed south to the Florida keys. It’s kind of a straightforward trip:

  • Find U.S. Route 1 South,
  • Stay on it until you get to mile marker zero.

    The End of Route One South, the Overseas Highway, at Mile Marker 0

    The End (or Beginning) of Route One South (the Overseas Highway) at Mile Marker “0” in Key West, Florida

Although we only drove to Key West from Miami, you could drive 2,377 miles on U.S. Route 1 from Fort Kent, Maine at the Canadian border all the way to Key West, Florida — if you don’t mind a whole lot of traffic lights.

The Overseas Highway to Key West, Florida, is an All American Road and National Scenic Byway

In 2009, the Overseas Highway was named an “All American Road” under the National Scenic Byways program of the U.S. Department of Transportation. To meet this special designation, a road must be a destination unto itself. In other words, although it is possible to fly to Key West from Miami, you wouldn’t want to miss the drive on the approximately 110 mile long Overseas Highway because the drive to Key West is part of the “there, there”.

The Overseas Highway is so special, it has two names. It is also known as the Florida Keys Scenic Highway. You don’t need to remember this, just keep following the Route 1 South signs.

The Overseas Highway runs from the end of the Florida mainland, south to Key West. It crosses 43 coral and limestone islands in the Gulf of Mexico known as the Florida Keys to the “city” of Key West, the southernmost inhabited land in the United States.

All 2,900 square nautical miles of waters surrounding the Florida Keys are within the protected Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, including the third largest living coral barrier reef in the world. If you are a diver, in addition to exploring various underwater plant and animal ecosystems, you can dive the nine historic wrecked ships on the Shipwreck Trail. Unfortunately, I get claustrophobic just thinking about snorkeling, so all my trails have to be on terra firma.

Seven mile bridge on the Overseas Highway, Florida Keys

“Seven Mile Bridge” South of Marathon Key from the Old Railroad Bridge (Photo Credit: Phil Hollman, Wikimedia, C.C. Lic. 2.0)

The Overseas Highway replaced an earlier engineering marvel, the Overseas Railroad. Completed in 1912, the railroad was seriously damaged by a hurricane in 1935. Parts of the highway still incorporate the old railroad right of way, but most of the long bridges were built new, including the famous “Seven Mile Bridge” just south of Marathon Key at mile marker 47. You can see portions of the old railroad bridges along the route, paralleling the Overseas Highway. These are popular with people who like to fish, ride bikes and walk on the ocean — without getting wet.

With optimal traffic and weather conditions (ha), the 162 mile drive from Miami to Key West will take a little over three hours. Parts of the highway are only one lane in each direction and there is no alternate land route, so if there is an accident, or just plain high volume on a holiday weekend, expect your patience to be tested if you have not yet acquired your laid back Key West persona.

The Old Bahia Honda Railroad Bridge

The Old Bahia Honda Railroad Bridge along the route of the Overseas Highway (Photo Credit: Kdefranco, pursuant to a ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license, Wikimedia Commons)

You might purposely extend the time you spend on your drive by stopping at some of the state park beaches. All the Keys have their own reasons to stay a while, most involving activities on (or under) the water. Parts of the Overseas Highway degenerate into StripMall-TrailerPark-Landia, but you soon break out again and drive through lush roadside vegetation and the beautiful Gulf of Mexico on both sides of the narrow road.

On the way to Key West, we drove down without stopping —  except for a MacDonald’s emulsified fat shake milkshake. Okay, I admit I am very occasionally a bad girl.

Mango, Having some Orange Juice at the Hampton Inn Beach Bar, Key Largo, Florida

Mango, the Parrot, Having some Orange Juice at the Hampton Inn Beach Bar, Key Largo, Florida

On the way back from Key West, we stopped and spent the night on Key Largo, the Key closest to the mainland, so we would be able to have a short drive on the day we flew home from Miami International Airport on an early afternoon flight.

We stayed at the Hampton Inn (a Hilton property) which turned out to be much more resort-like than the motel I was expecting, complete with a pool and a small beach. That’s where we met Mango, the parrot, enjoying some orange juice at the beach bar.

We also made the acquaintance of a giant (but not yet full grown) manatee who came over to check out a person in the water. (Fortunately, I was not that person in the water. Even though manatees (sea cows) are known for their gentle dispositions, I would have embarrassed Mr. Excitement by screaming like a weenie deranged banshee woman.)

Manatee, Key Largo, Florida

The Average Full Grown Manatee is 9.8 feet Long and Weighs 800 to 1,200 Pounds. This Manatee was Supposedly Not Full Grown, but S/He was Bigger.Than. I. Am and I Had No Desire to Join Him/Her for a Swim

At the recommendation of the front desk personnel, we made a dinner reservation at the Fish House Encore. We were told it was an easy, quarter of a mile walk to the restaurant, up the road, on the other side. The walk was a quarter of a mile. Easy — not so much. The “road” was U.S. Route 1 which is four lanes in that area with no sidewalks and iffy shoulders. The Fish House Encore seems to be the slightly more upscale version of the popular more diner-esque next door Fish House. We enjoyed our meal and were sufficiently fortified to make it back across Route 1 in the dark without becoming roadkill.

We arrived at Miami International Airport with time to spare and even a full body scan by the TSA couldn’t dissolve our residual chilled-outedness from our Key West, Overseas Highway sojourn.

Update: On September 10, 2017, Hurricane Irma battered the Florida Keys. However, after inspection of its 42 bridges, the Overseas Highway was reopened to regular traffic on October 1, 2017.

Have you been on any trips where the road was worthy of being a destination unto itself? 

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Steven Albelda December 28, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Excellent post- I enjoyed it. Photos were good

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Madaline Fluhr December 28, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Okay – are the skies as impossibly blue as in several of the photos? I mean startlingly blue?? The ones I’m referring to are, I believe, some of the Wikimedia Commons images. If the ‘blue is true’, what a lovely sky…This whole post reminds me of how varied our country is. And I like the message that sometimes just let the journey BE the destination…sound advice for the New Year!

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer December 28, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Yes, the skies are that blue sometimes. Remember, the Keys are basically out in the ocean with trade winds so the air is clear.

And, if you are a Boomeresquer, at this point, you’ve probably realized that the journey is part of the destination.

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Roz Warren December 29, 2012 at 2:41 am

I sure would love to join Mango the parrot. Looks like he’s having a great time.

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer December 29, 2012 at 3:09 am

Mango lives on a houseboat with the bar tender. He is 8 years old. He really acted like a dog in a lot of ways.

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) December 29, 2012 at 3:12 pm

OMG we have been AND we also stayed in Key Largos! At the Hilton (Dog friendly) In fact some of our very first posts are about Key West and said Hotel.

AS for diving. You might want to think it over. I am VERY claustrophobic. So much so I have a service dog for the anxiety attacks that can lead to seizures. and … I dive. Space in the water is absolutely infinite. Open and immense. Just letting you know that it can be an amazing experience.

Hope it isn’t in bad taste but here is my post on Key West http://montecristotravels.com/key-west-florida-usa/
and on the Hilton Key Largos should one of your readers (or yourself) want to go with Canine.
http://montecristotravels.com/hilton-key-largos-florida-usa/

and Montecristo has a message for Dino: “Amigo WTF man!!!”

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer (Suzanne) December 29, 2012 at 10:20 pm

I think it was the mask that made me feel claustrophobic when I tried snorkeling. That, and only being able to hear myself breathing. You are the second claustrophobic person who has urged me to give it another try. I think I’ll try it in a swimming pool, so I can get comfortable with the apparatus and then move on from there.
No problem with the links to your posts about the Keys. Boomeresquers, Sonja’s long haired chihuahua , Montecristo, has an entertaining, informative blog about traveling with his bipeds. This has Dino agitating for his own blog. Unfortunately, unlike Montecristo, at 25 pounds, Dino is too big to “fit under the seat in front of you”, so he has to stay home with Annabelle and her bipeds when we travel by air—if they forgive him for eating the birthday cupcakes which they foolishly left on their kitchen table.

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) December 30, 2012 at 12:13 am

Thanks Suzanne! If I may make a suggestion – get your own mask – I have a transparent skirt. It removes the tunnel vision completely. I also have mine polarized and WOW! They cost but … I found the black or dark skirts and the lack of peripheral vision the number one impasse.

Starting in a pool is a very very good idea. As for hearing yourself breathe … it always reminds me of when I have a cold and I have to breathe through my mouth nothing more. Learning the hand signals will go a long way with feeling like you can’t communicate. The only “scary” part was learning to flood the mask and clear it. After a while I no longer panicked. Now if I have to clear my mask during a dive I don’t even struggle.

It is infinity and meditation.

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer (Suzanne) December 30, 2012 at 5:16 am

Thanks for the advice, Sonja. One last snorkeling question. I’m pretty myopic. Does the water naturally magnify things some or would one have to invest in a mask with a prescription lens? I think I’m going to have to prove that I adore snorkeling before my husband allows me to invest in very pricey snorkeling gear. (Don’t ask him about the sewing machine 😉

Dino would like to know how Montecristo likes the water. Dino is not a water dog despite the fact that he’s at least part poodle and they are supposed to be natural water retrievers. I also believe he once consumed something on the beach that resulted in a 3 night veterinary hospital stay.

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) January 3, 2013 at 3:49 pm

The water does magnify – but it depends on how bad your site is. Stefan wears his contacts under his mask. It’s not ideal in case your mask floods but salt has a way of making you close your eyes faster. SO far after over 20 years of diving he’s never lost a lens. He has about 3 masks – with a spare always attached to his hip in case he has one knocked off his face (it happens). So investing in expensive prescription masks has never appealed to him. So … I don’t know much about them since I have (don’t hate me) 20/20 vision.

You need to get basic certification to dive. You can rent equipment while you do that before you invest in your own. Any decent dive shop does.

Monte HATES the water. He hates it. Even for a bath. But he is happy to float on it. So he will stay on board or run up and down the beach. We have a little “baby” blow up boat we put him in if we snorkel and attach to a wrist wrap and just pull him along. It has a little sun visor on it.

I am signing him up for some water therapy to help him get over this severe dislike. We need him to be a much stronger swimmer.

ANGLO/Dale December 29, 2012 at 3:57 pm

I’d seen pictures & countless amounts of films that feature the ‘Seven Mile Bridge’, but I never really knew where it was, only that set against the blue; it looks beautiful.

Even without the knowledge of being able to drive, I’d love to coast along it with the top down & just take it all in. Coasting to chilled-dom.

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer (Suzanne) December 29, 2012 at 10:26 pm

The Overseas Highway is definitely one of the road trips to take if (when) you travel in the United States. Now, only 30 more All American Scenic Byways for us. One of these days, maybe Steve will indulge me in my RV fantasy. For non-U.S. readers, an RV is a recreational vehicle, like a “caravan” or camper van.

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David Eskin December 29, 2012 at 11:26 pm

I’m planning this trip at some future point, Suzanne, with my friend from Barcelona, so the information is very helpful! We both know a naturalist who lives there, whom we’ll visit.
Since we won’t be in the position of borrowing a car, a mutual friend of yours and mine suggested flying from Miami to Key West and then renting. I definitely plan to snorkel, and maybe dive, since I am certified. I never really got into practicing diving much, so I’d really have to brush up. Our mutual friend was a great diver, so talk to him about diving.
I’m really sorry we didn’t get more snow today in down town Philly.

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samantha phillips (beers) December 30, 2012 at 12:04 am

we are headed down tomorrow are you all in key west for the new years?

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer December 30, 2012 at 5:35 am

I bet Key West is jumping for New Years. I hope you already have a place to stay. No, we’re back in Philly. Mr. and Mrs. Excitement will probably ring in the New Year the same way we always do — falling asleep on the couch waiting for the ball to drop on Times Square. Have fun!

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer (Suzanne) December 30, 2012 at 5:10 am

It’s not overly expensive to rent a car at the Miami airport to drive to Key West and the drive is part of the trip IMHO. Then, you can also drive yourselves back to the airport for your flight home. (We would have rented a car. The only reason our son’s car was available was that he was at our apartment back in Philly, by accident or by design, I’m not sure). There are also good places for diving along the Keys before you get to Key West. That Shipwreck Trail sounds interesting to me. Apparently, there are wrecks at all different depths and requiring different skill levels. Some of them have underwater archaeological significance. Of course, I can’t even snorkel, so you probably would want to do some more research about that. If you drive straight through to Key West, you only lose half a day there—not too different from the time it takes to fly anywhere these days when you factor in the time you need at the airport. (And, BTW, in our experience, you need to give yourselves extra time at the Miami Airport for everything.)
My next post will be about our stay in Key West itself. Try to plan your trip for one of the shoulder seasons. We were there a week after Thanksgiving which the locals say is a relatively quiet time.

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) January 5, 2013 at 8:35 pm

You also need SUper Human patience to figure how to get OUT of the road maze around Miami airport. 🙂

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer January 7, 2013 at 7:03 pm

Actually, the road maze around Miami airport has improved. For years there was ongoing construction and not too many signs.

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Donna Hull January 7, 2013 at 3:57 am

Driving the Overseas Highway to Key West is on my boomer to do list. i’d like to take it slow (in a convertible) and spend several days getting there. Did you notice other interesting places to stay along the way? BTW, I’m one of those “only stick your face in the water” kind of snorkelers. Works for me.

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer January 7, 2013 at 7:15 pm

As long as it’s not raining, a convertible would be nice – although so is an air conditioned car. My Miami based son just bought a motorcycle partly motivated by his desire to explore the Overseas Highway from that perch. (As his mother, I’m less than enthused, but whatever).

One of the best places to stop is Bahia Honda State Park on the Atlantic side of the highway traveling south, just after the Seven Mile Bridge on Big Pine Key (36 miles from Key West). There is a state run campsite for tenting, RVs and with cabins, but apparently, 11 months before you want to go is not too soon to make a reservation. There is snorkeling for babies (i.e. moi) right off the beach and comfortable walking trails. The Gulf side also has beautiful sandy beaches and there are many opportunities for sea based activities, including snorkel/dive trips, wild life watching, etc.

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Saffra January 7, 2013 at 4:37 pm

I devoured this blog……but wanted to see more pictures of Key West! It made me homesick, but kind of in a good way, having moved from Key West up to Philadelphia. I want to return, but can no longer afford to live there…….but I do have more than a decade of memories from living there. It has changed so much since I lived there though, I was there in the mid-70’s to late 80’s……when it was less touristy and much funkier. I left when it started to become more of a tourist trap. Did you get off of Duval Street and explore some of the neighborhoods? You can still find some funky parts of KWF. Key West was called Cayo Hueso at one point, which means “isle of bones”.

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer January 7, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Thanks for the comment, Saffra. I am working on a blog post about Key West itself. We did get off Duval Street. In fact, we mostly stayed off Duval Street.

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Lissie January 13, 2013 at 9:08 am

OK I was wrong in my previous comment – this is amazing – a bridge through a coral atoll – only in America as they say ! And the sky and sea looks like Western Australia – defo on my road trip list – and you know this sort of stuff never makes the travel section in New Zealand newspapers!

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Just One Boomer (Suzanne) January 13, 2013 at 10:36 pm

Hmm. Maybe I should submit an article to the Dominion Post. Do you think they would have any interest in an article combining the Overseas Highway and Key West?

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Jeff & Crystal Bryant June 11, 2018 at 12:45 pm

While the overseas highway to Key West had not been on our travel list, your article has inspired us to add it. It looks like an amazing drive that ends at a tropical paradise. Thanks for sharing.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr June 11, 2018 at 4:14 pm

Driving the Overseas Highway is a fun way to get to “the end of the road” and it puts you in the mood for Key West after leaving Miami which has a distinctly different vibe.

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Cindy Baker June 11, 2018 at 12:56 pm

I did this drive many, many years ago and only stayed in Key West for a day. Your description and photos are making me want to go back, especially in February! I would love to stay in Key West and come back as chill as you did.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr June 11, 2018 at 4:15 pm

I’m not the chillest person I know (understatement), so the Overseas Highway (and Key West) must have some magic.

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Charles McCool (McCool Travel) June 11, 2018 at 7:13 pm

This is one of my favorite drives. I have not driven US1 all the way to Canada but I have driven A1A from Key West to the top of Florida.

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Donna Janke June 11, 2018 at 7:48 pm

I would like to do this drive someday, although I know I would also be nervous about it. Being on a narrow road surrounded by all that water would make me uncomfortable. At the same time it looks beautiful.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr June 11, 2018 at 7:53 pm

I never felt like we were in danger of drowning–or even of getting wet unintentially.

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Kemkem June 12, 2018 at 3:15 am

OMG, I can’t believe Dino eats all that stuff, but he’s such a cutie you can ignore the naughty parts. I used to live in Boston and was ever so glad to leave after so many years of snow. Florida is definitely pretty an l’m glad the bridge is back to open.

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Julie McCool June 14, 2018 at 5:40 pm

Great take on a classic US drive. I love road tripping the Florida Keys Highway and have done it a few times with the hubs. We camped at Bahia Honda State Park and it’s just gorgeous. We did have a raccoon invasion during one dinner (tip: never make tuna sandwiches with raccoons around), but we just waited them out in our car. On one trip we had to wait while they filmed a movie segment on the 7 Mile Bridge. A cart went to all the waiting cars handing out hot dogs and drinks to ease the frustration.

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Karen Warren June 15, 2018 at 10:59 am

I’ve been on some great road trips in New Zealand, but I’ve never driven in the US. The Florida Keys Highway does look amazing though.

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Doreen Pendgracs June 15, 2018 at 1:49 pm

I love Florida and the Keys. Driving down there doesn’t make me nervous as I love being surrounded by, and in water. Though not in a car while in the water. 🙂 Thx for bringing back memories of a great trip.

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Lori June 16, 2018 at 1:44 pm

Heading to the Keys is always a favorite thing of mine to do, and getting there is half the fun! And I still think driving there is more fun than flying. So many places to stop along the way, which is why is usually ends up taking so much longer in the end and turning into a good road trip. Thanks for the inspo to start planning our next trip!

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Sue Reddel June 17, 2018 at 5:35 pm

I absolutely love this drive. There are so many great stops along the way. Some of the best fish and key lime pie I’ve had at little hole in the wall spots on this route. Reminds me that it would be fun to do that again.

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