The USA is one of the best destinations in the world for a driving or road touring holiday. The sheer diversity and stunning beauty of the country combined with high quality roads, which are often uncrowded away from major urban areas, produces a long list of classic drives. This classic drive takes place in the far south eastern corner of the country.
On the scenic 113-mile Overseas Highway, the southernmost leg of U.S. Highway 1, you cross 42 bridges on your journey from Miami to the southernmost point in Key West. With the Gulf of Mexico to the west, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, much of the highway is built on the route of a former railway line started early in the twentieth century. An engineering marvel, the line was partially destroyed in the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, and afterward converted to a roadway. It was rebuilt in the 1980s, including the well-known Seven Mile Bridge at Marathon.
The journey, mostly over water, can take less than four hours, however, if you take time to enjoy the ocean and mangrove vistas along the roadway, plus the glorious sunrises and sunsets, there is potential for the journey to take longer. And holiday traffic congestion can add to the drive time.
South of Miami, the highway skirts the southern edge of the Everglades and hops across the chain of isles, hummocks and reefs running off the tip of Florida. Passing through the tropical vegetation of Key Largo, with its fishing fleets and flashy tourist traps, you reach John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, an underwater state park, where you can take glass-bottomed boats to snorkel the nearby coral reefs.
The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, a multi-use bicycle and pedestrian facility running along old Flagler railroad bridges, allows you to cross between bayside and oceanside. The Trail has interpretive signage, maps, and benches. The Grassy Key Bikeway, part of the trail, offers areas for hiking, running, bicycling, in-line skating, sightseeing, fishing and kayaking.
Past Plantation Key, at Windley Key, the Theater of the Sea has performing sea lions, sharks, and dolphins. After Islamorada in the Middle Keys, the uninhabited 280-acre Lignumvitae Key State Botanical Site, with its rare virgin tropical hardwood forest, is accessible via boat tours from Robbieís Marina.
You can also take a boat tour from here to the Indian Key State Historic Site, and take a walk around the remains of an old village established to salvage ships that had run aground on the reefs. Past the heavily developed commercial center of the Middle Keys, you island hop to Marathon, then cross the spectacular Seven Mile Bridge, one of the world’s longest, with its sweeping views of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Across the bridge, Bahia Honda State Park has white-sand beaches.
The road travels southwest, past isolated and less-populated keys, over Big Pine Key, with its large slash pines and endangered Key deer, towards Key West. This southernmost of US cities, with its Caribbean atmosphere and distinctive ambience, is the perfect place to kick back and relax.