Take a picturesque drive from Miami to Key Largo and its neighboring key, Islamorada, and experience adventure – from deep-sea diving to indulging in the original key lime pie – along the way.
On the southern coast of Florida, below the bustling metropolis of Miami, is a string of pristine tropical islands. Hugging the bottom of the Sunshine State, the Florida Keys stretch 120mi (193km), each a different shade of paradise. The closest island to mainland Miami is Key Largo, a large stretch of beachfront that is often overshadowed by its glitzier western neighbor, Key West. But for those looking to get away from Miami without traveling too far, a road trip to Key Largo and on to Islamorada – with snorkeling, underwater hotels and even a party in the middle of the Atlantic – could be the ultimate escape.
Start your road trip by checking out the world's only underwater hotel
A former underwater research laboratory used to explore the continental shelf off Puerto Rico’s coast, Jules’ Undersea Lodge is the first undersea hotel available to anyone willing to dive down. It’s located in the heart of the Key Largo reef, and guests can access the accommodation by scuba diving through a tropical mangrove habitat into a hatch at the bottom of the lodge. Inside, you’ll find just about everything a regular hotel offers – beds, seating, a full kitchen, shower and windows that look straight into the ocean. Visitors can book a stay here of anything from three to 24 hours, and can even request a meal delivered by a scuba diving concierge.
This citrus-infused dessert, which dates back to the 1930s, really originated in the Florida Keys. Across the Keys are numerous shops that offer unique takes on key lime pie, but a few stand out from the bunch. When you reach Key Largo, head to the Fish House Restaurant and Seafood Market, which serves a pie with a light filling and torched meringue topping that keeps regulars coming back. Should you choose to stop for a second slice later in your trip, another unbeatable shorefront option is the classic seafood institution Green Turtle Inn on Islamorada, where the key lime pie has a special macadamia-nut crust and a rich, tart filling.
Parked between the local troves of Key Largo’s eateries, bars and beach houses is a unique adults-only resort. Bungalows Key Largo is decorated with all the trappings of Saint-Tropez, South Beach and Mykonos, hosting guests from all over the world for the ultimate luxury getaway. Guests enjoy private bungalows and colorful cruisers to ride around the palm-lined property. The entire space features carefully crafted adornments reminiscent of your favorite exotic getaway, from lush lounging spaces with seashell accents to Grecian-inspired tiling. Each room has a private outdoor shower and soaking tub, many of which look out onto the beachfront. With three dining establishments, two pools and floating tiki bars, Bungalows is the ultimate vacation spot. Be sure to check out the Zen Garden Spa’s serene Himalayan salt treatment room, or head to the Hemingway Bar for cocktail hour.
Just off the shore on the route south from Key Largo you’ll find buried underwater treasure in the form of this retired navy ship. Spiegel Grove is the size of nearly two football fields and armors a new offshore reef ecosystem since it was sunk 130ft (40m) into the Atlantic in 2002. The ship was transferred from Virginia to Florida in that year, so that it would ultimately settle underwater as an artificial reef and tourist attraction. Now a veritable scuba diver’s dream, this massive ship is accessible to divers of all levels and flaunts some of the most scenic underwater treasures in the Keys, such as large groupers and colorful tropical fish. It won’t be difficult to track down a dive operator, as a number of local companies provide tours and equipment to visitors.
Continue heading south on Florida’s Overseas Highway and you’ll soon find yourself surrounded by the deep blues of Islamorada. Here, visitors can rent anything from a kayak to a speedboat and drive into one of the most scenic points of Florida. Just off the coast of Islamorada is a sandbar where residents and visitors flock to a beach party in the middle of the Atlantic. Along a stretch of shallow land in the middle of the ocean, speedboats park and passengers jump off, food and drink in hand, to dance to the blasting music. Come prepared to drink and mingle with fellow partygoers. Head a little farther south still, and squeeze in a quick stop at Robbie’s to feed local tarpon and spot giant native pelicans roaming the shore.
For a glimpse of the world under the sea without getting wet, take a ride on a glass-bottom boat. On this catamaran, up to 130 passengers can peek down into Florida’s marine life as it passes beneath their feet. The tour lasts for two and a half hours and runs through multiple shallow reefs brimming with sea creatures, including 500 different fish species. The tour runs three times a day.