After visiting the Florida Keys for many years, we find that there is no end to the number of favorite places to visit and to explore for the first time. Considering Highway 1 is such a narrow road on such a narrow path heading to Key West, the number of places to visit along the way always makes this one of our favorite highways to explore.
The traffic can be horrendous most of the time, so it is always refreshing to take a stop along the way to take iconic photographs of the old railway line which became an old road, running alongside the new road or to just smell the fresh ocean smells that follow you all along the route, from Key Largo in the north to Key West, the most southerly stop on Highway 1.
The Seven Mile Bridge is the best example of a great stop. For a mix of all that is the Florida Keys, there is a Tiki Bar called the Sunset Grill, located almost under the bridge. From here, visitors can either enjoy an early morning breakfast while viewing this marvel of a bridge, or, at the end of the day, drinking your favorite cocktail that brings to home the fact that you are only a few hundred miles from the start of the Caribbean islands. The water flowing under the bridge has a variety of colors from an azure green or a Barbados Blue, depending on the colors in the clouds and the time of day. Needless to say every photo taken should be a 'keeper'.
Just before the Seven Mile Bridge is the town of Marathon. This town is the is in the middle of the Southern Keys, so it is not surprising that the highway is strewn with the typical stores, from grocery stores for the locals to the expected T-Shirt and souvenir stores for the travelers who come streaming through the town in search of a place to spend their hard earned cash. There are a number of biker bars and establishments that would suit the young at heart who think of the Florida Keys as party central, however, if the more sedate of us are just looking for a relaxing place to while away their time, if you leave the highway and head for the back roads of Marathon, you will find Sombrero Beach, which is one of the nicest beaches on the Keys. Bearing in mind that a lot of the beaches that used to be considered a good stop-off along the highway are no longer beaches, due to the rising tides affecting the Florida Keys. Considering there are not a lot of beaches to explore on this route, if you are looking for a tropical beach with palm trees on the shoreline, this is your best bet.
For a pleasant lunch time venue, we love visiting Burdines Waterfront Restaurant, otherwise known as the Chiki Tiki Bar. It is located within a working marina, so it is mostly locals that know about this restaurant come bar that overlooks the surrounding bay and the old marina buildings. On a hot August afternoon, the breeze from the upper floor restaurant is always refreshing.
While you are exploring the keys, if you have the luxury of an RV, rather than paying the very exorbitant prices you would pay at a private campground, you would be well-advised to plan on staying at the handful of Florida State Park establishments. Curry Hammock is just north of Marathon, making it a convenient stop if you need to stock up on groceries and the basic necessities. This is a lovely campground very close to the ocean, where the favorite pastime is sitting in the water in your camping chair, reading a book for much of the day while the tide rises and recedes beneath your chilled out feet.
Another out of the way bar and must see location is the No Name Bar on the Big Pine Key. This bar is known for the huge number of dollar bills on the ceiling of the entire bar and restaurant area. The figure of $250 000.00 has been mentioned when questioned about the estimated number of bills currently in the location. However, the other interesting aspect of this area is the Big Pine Key Deer that live in the area and are a very protected species found only here. They are quite friendly and happy to walk up to anyone who puts their hands out to pet them.
Long Key State Park is another recommend overnight campsite because you are guaranteed to have a campsite that is so close to the water, you may be afraid that the tide will wash up to your trailer if the tide is high enough.
The point of this blog is to let people know that the Florida Keys are not just about the rushed trip down south to Key West. It is also about stopping off and smelling the frangipangis and the hyacinths and the other tropical vegetation to be found along the side-road less traveled. It is about meeting the interesting people that live and work in this tropical paradise and it is about connecting with yourself and thinking about what gives you the most joy in life, from just whiling away your days on the beach, heading out to the tropical reefs for some diving adventures, or sitting on the shoreline, in a tropical tiki bar with your computer on one side with your margarita on the other, just catching up with life.
Enjoy the journey....
Although this is not a true boondocking location, I am listing John Pennekamp as my first blog about campsites we have stayed in because we have been coming here for years, either as tent campers in the nineties, or in later years in our current trailer.
The reason we love coming to this Florida State Park is that there is so much to do, whether out to sea or on land. If you are a pure water lover, you can base yourself here for days on end either with a canoe, traversing the maze of mangrove swamps, or, if (like us), you prefer to be out on the ocean in your own boat, there are numerous coral reefs that you can visit on a daily basis while camping in the park.
Usually, on arrival at the campsite, we take our boat directly to the attached marina, where there is a free, allocated dingy docking area. We use our 'boat loader' to plop the boat in the water and take it around to the dingy dock, where we tie up and leave the boat for the duration of our stay. Because the marina is a short walk from the campsite, it is very convenient to not have to drive very far to start our days activities.
If you are happy to mix your visit with either enjoying the great outdoors and enjoying some sightseeing, the opportunities for day trips are endless. We can either take our vehicle or a bus ride northwards into Miami for the day, or we can go further south towards Key West. Traveling from Key Largo south should be on anyone's bucket list of things to do before they die. The bridge construction between each 'Key' is just phenomenal, considering that the original purpose of joining the islands together was to make way for a train ride from the mainland all the way to Key West and then a short boat ride to Cuba where the rich and famous would be able to spend their days on the beautiful Cuban beaches and their nights gambling and carousing in the colonial town of Havana, with it's then beautiful architecture.
The whole plan was cut short when access to Cuba was not a popular option and then the railway was severely damaged by hurricanes. But more of the history of the Flagler Railway empire in another blog.
Back at Pennekamp, the other activities afforded campers is the newly completed bicycle track that bike owners will enjoy traveling alongside Highway 1 for many miles, south of Key Largo. Of course, there are numerous walking trails that hikers can enjoy.
The campground at John Pennekamp is well laid out, with 44 sites available for use either by large RVs that need a full electric and sewer hookup, or tent campers who can hook up to the electric plug-ins if they wish. The campsites are notoriously close together and campers will be slotted next to each other. This is not a problem if everyone is respectful of their neighbors, ie. no loud music or gatherings until late into the night.
The base for all campsites is coral. The big ding here, especially for tent campers is that you will be subject to either your tent base getting damaged by the coarse coral stones, or your bare feet will feel the brunt of the sharp corals. The suggestion is that you come prepared with an extra tarp to put under your tent, and be prepared to always wear shoes when on your campsite. RVers might also want to consider bringing a heavy duty outdoor carpet to lay at their doorstep to make it easier to move around the outside of your RV.
Another ding about being anywhere in Florida in the summer is the no-see-ums and the mosquitoes. Even in winter, the no-see-ums can be bad on a warm evening, especially around sunset. Bring lots of bug lotion with you and, if you have the space, bring a fan that can be set up outside your tent or RV so that you can sit outside in the evenings.
The camp has two very clean restrooms that include numerous hot showers and sinks, all with good water pressure. There is a nice dish washing sink in the same area as where the washing machines and dryers are located, so visitors can get their clothes and dish-washing chores done in one visit.
John Pennekamp is a very popular campsite, so if you plan to visit around any holidays throughout the year, including Spring Break, expect to have difficulty getting into a site that you want. Go to RESERVEAMERICA.COM and pre-book a site, or if you are coming during the quieter months, refer to the ReserveAmerica.com site to check on availability options if you want to check in when you arrive.
My name is Sue. I am the author of this Blog, but my husband Dieter, is very much my side-kick when it comes to our travels, so we are at one with this blog. Since 2010, we have taken a few RV trips across America, and in doing so, we have figured out what locations suit us best and also what type of vehicle we like to do our travels in. This blog is meant to let people read about some of our favorite places we have been to and also, we will discuss places we want to visit in the future. We will put forward our ideas on why we chose to deck our converted cargo trailer into a basic off-grid home for six months of the year.