There's nothing like a road trip. Even a short one. After weighing the different options of flying to Miami and renting a car versus just flying to Key West, we discussed it with a travel agent and did some research and decided to fly to Miami and make the "3 hour" drive to Key West. It's a straight shot down US Highway 1 and you get to hit the all the Florida Keys along the way.
After our liquor store "fiasco" in Miami (see my Journal) we were in a silly mood as it was. A road trip and the excitement of getting to Key West only heightened the experience.
Once you get out of Miami, it's not too long (45 minutes) until you get to the Keys. From there, the road turns into a two lane highway and is marked by mile markers ("MM 101," etc. with MM 1 being in Key West @ the end of US 1). At first, there are trees on either side of the road, and we ran into a bunch of traffic getting on and off the island (remember, it's Sunday afternoon). It took us about 45 minutes, and then the traffic got better. Once you get going, make a stop at a gas station and get a free guidebook with a map, coupons, and a guide to the different islands. Our only real goal was to get to Key West before sunset, so we had about 5 hours to get there. Plenty of time to see some sights.
Key Largo - Coconuts
A guy in Miami had told us that we had to stop at Coconuts in Key Largo and have one of their Pina Coladas. So, that was our first stop. You may see a sign or two on the way (it's in the Marina del Mar Resort), but it's kind of hard to find. To get there, turn off US 1 at MM 100 onto Laguna Avenue by Blockbuster Video. Go down a block and Coconuts is on your left. Once you pull into the gravel parking lot and park, you'll notice that it's a big place. We were there on a Sunday afternoon, and it was pretty empty, but I'm sure it's happening on the weekends. The entire place has wooden decks for floors and it's totally open to the outside pool and overlooks the marina. The restaurant is huge, with a dance floor room attached to it. We sat down at one of the plastic tables and looked over the menu, deciding to have a snack of conch fritters and pina coladas. The Miami guy was right! The pina coladas were Awesome! The shredded coconut on top made the drink. The conch fritters were served with cocktail sauce and were just ok. Nothing special. They seemed to have a wide variety of seafood, entrees, and a long list of specialty drinks for reasonable prices.
Islamorada - Holiday Isle Tiki Bar (not to be confused with any other Tiki Bar)
This place is "world famous" and we had heard rumors of it before we even took our trip. This place is one big party. All the time. We got there about 4 PM on a Sunday, and there were people everywhere. Located just past MM 85, It's like it's own little thatched roof village; the parking lot is surrounded by the many bars and restaurants and two hotels. In the parking lot, there was a herd of Harleys and bikers (popular in the Keys), and people of all ages having a good time. We opted to go to what we came for - the original Tiki Bar. It's in the right corner of the "village." The floor of the bar was covered in sand, with people packed into any table they could find, dressed in bathing suits, shorts, summer clothes. I don't think the doors ever close on this place. Stapled to the ceiling were business cards from all over the world, dollars with messages on them - all declarations of what a good time had been had here. Ten minutes passed before the busy bartender waited on us and there was no time to ask for advice. Being the place where the Rum Runner (frozen rum & juices drink) was created, I had to try one. My friends opted for Key Lime daiquiris. Yes, my Rum Runner was delicious, but those Key Lime daiquiris were the best drink my friends "had ever tasted." I tried it - it was like drinking a creamy popsicle. Yum!
Since there was nowhere to sit, we took our drinks outside, and walked along the pier to the boat docks. Along the pier were souvineer shops and clothing stores. At the end of the dock was an open metal picnic table, so we sat there and watched the water and the people on their boats. It was a gorgeous view and none of us wanted to leave. Well, we hadn't realized how late it was, but we had to be on our way - the sun was beginning to set! So, we left Tiki Bar, taking a few pictures on the way out.
"Dammit Grassy Key!"
Just outside of Fiesta Key, we got stuck behind a tractor-trailer going 55 MPH (and tons of traffic going the other way). With the sun setting soon, we decided that we would find a place on the side of the road to stop and watch the sunset. Well, the tractor-trailer had a different idea. Stuck between him, and the trees on either side of us, we missed our first sunset in the Keys while driving through Grassy Key (@ 6:30). Oh well.
We made it to our place in Key West just after 8.