USA Road Trip: Chapter V – Florida Keys
We stayed overnight at the Pullman hotel by the airport for ease and used their complimentary shuttle service to return on Tuesday morning to collect the rental car. This time we plumped for a SUV and were given a Dodge Journey…not a patch on the Mustang, but a comfortable and steady cruiser.
Getting down to the start of the Keys was tedious as we stuck to US Route 1 and stopped at what seemed like 50+ traffic lights. South of Homestead the journey got easier and the views got ever better. We drove through Key Largo and Tavernier without stopping. Our first stop was at a visitor information centre at mile marker 87 (Bayside), we spoke to a lovely and helpful lady who pointed out the key stops and gave us a brilliant free map covering each section of the run down to Key West.
We pulled off the road at mile marker 82 (Upper Matecumbe Key) to take some photo’s and stretch the legs, then it was onto our first scheduled stop. Amanda had researched a place called Robbie’s Marina (map ref. #1), which offers many watersports and artisan shops, but the reason we stopped here was to feed the Tarpon.
These are large fish that grow to about 4–8 feet long and weigh 60–280 lbs. We paid for access to the pier, bought a bucket of fish and headed down to meet the Tarpon. There were hundreds of them swimming around the pier in relatively shallow water…not surprising really given the number of people offering them free food. We both had a go at getting them to jump out the water to take a fish, but didn’t have too much luck. The trick appears to be to get very low and hover the fish directly over the surface of the water, but also find an area that doesn’t have Pelicans interfering with the feeding process. One great way to do this is to use the water hose that is used to hose down the boats and spray the Pelicans to keep them at bay. Once we’d given our fish to the Tarpons (and Pelicans), we headed to the Hungry Tarpon restaurant for a drink and a fish sandwich.
We then stopped at Anne’s Beach for a paddle in the warm shallow waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Then it was onward to our overnight location; the Hyatt Place in Marathon (mile marker 48 – map ref. #2). After dropping off the bags in the room, we hit the pool and pool bar as it was happy hour. It is a lovely hotel, with two pools and a restaurant overlooking the lower pool, marina and lighthouse. There were lots of boats moored up in the marina, from the small to the undoubtedly very expensive, and the lighthouse was very photogenic.
We changed and headed down to Sunset Grille & Raw Bar for a drink and to catch the sun setting behind the iconic 7-mile bridge.
Then it was onto Burdines Waterfront restaurant for food and back to the hotel pool bar for a few drinks before bed.
Following the complimentary hotel breakfast, we checked out and hit the road. Continuing down US Route 1, our first stop of the day was No Name Pub (map ref. #3). We took a turning that proved to be to early and we used the SUV’s off-road ability to navigate down some tracks through a residential area that resembled something out of the movie Deliverance. We made it back to the main road without incident and found our destination.
No Name Pub was established in 1931 as a general store, bait and tackle shop. A restaurant room was added and, after a short period when brothel services were offered in the upstairs rooms, the place became 100% bar and restaurant in the 1950’s. With the opening of the 7-mile bridge an influx of tourists arrived and the popularity of the bar increased. Today they serve some lovely food, especially pizza, and a wide variety of beers on draft and in bottles. The other feature of note is that the walls and ceilings have been covered, many times over, with $1 bills stapled in place by visitors with messages written on them. Apparently, there are circa 250,000 bills already on the walls. We added our $1 note above the framed article about the pub’s history, with www.adventurersunited.com written on it.
We drove back to the US Route 1 and completed the remaining 25 miles down to Key West and our hotel, for two nights, the Marriott Beachside (map ref. #4). Our room wasn’t ready yet, so we left the car in the parking garage and took the courtesy shuttle bus down to Duval Street for some sightseeing.
Duval Street runs across the width of the Key West downtown area, with Mallory Square at one end and the Southernmost Point monument at the other. We headed in the direction of the latter. It started to rain so we popped into the Irish bar we were passing at the time and then, once the rain had eased, onto Ernest Hemmingway’s house, before the mandatory photo at the Southernmost Point. We didn’t go into Ernest Hemmingway’s house, but had to see it and take a photo as we use one of his quotes as the tagline to our blog; “Never go on trips with anyone you do not love”.
The weather was turning worse, so we abandoned further sightseeing for an impromptu pub crawl back along Duval Street to the shuttle bus pick-up point. We hit a number of great bars, many with happy hours running, but spent most time back in the Irish bar of earlier (McConnell’s), talking to a local who was the sous chef at the A&B Lobster House. We also dropped into Hard Rock Cafe to collect our 4th Hurricane glass of this trip and the 22nd in total.
When we got back to the hotel we had to tip the Valet to drive the SUV, and us, to our room as we’d both had far too much to drink to consider driving!
The weather was so much better today, so we took the opportunity to get some sunbathing in and spent the day by the hotel pool. The pool area was sandwiched between the two blocks of rooms, with a decent sized pool and nice sun loungers. At one end of the pool was a bar that also served snacks, whilst at the other end was a small beach area leading to the Mexican Gulf. It was great to take it easy and have a relaxing day.
In the evening, we got the shuttle bus back to Duval Street and walked up to the Mallory Square area. We watched the sunset sat along the waterfront with cocktails in hand and got talking to two retired teachers that now live in Florida. After the sun had dropped below the island opposite the bar, we set about looking for a nice seafood restaurant for some food. We decided on a place called the Roof Top Cafe, sitting outside on a balcony terrace overlooking the hustle and bustle of Mallory Square. Amanda ordered sea scallops and I ordered shrimp linguine, with both being excellent, extremely flavoursome and totally delicious. We would both recommend this place.
Whilst waiting on our food, we watched a young guy stagger out of the Tequila bar below to sit on a bench opposite. He was struggling to use his phone and kept sliding over as if half of him wanted to lay down whilst the over half wanted to sit upright…very funny to watch. He eventually stood up and staggered back into the Tequila bar…hardcore!
After checking out of the Marriott and grabbing breakfast at the local IHOP, we headed North on US Route 1 towards Marathon. We had booked another night at the Hyatt Place hotel to break up the journey back up to Miami.
We had an impromptu stop to photograph an old and now disused bridge that we’d seen on the trip down. Its design was interesting and with years of neglect and rusting it looked cool.
The next unscheduled stop was for a game of mini golf. Americans love their mini golf, but the place we stumbled across was advertising itself as the only mini golf facility in the Keys. We got sorted with equipment and headed to the first tee. It was a typical American mini golf setup, with lots of landscaping features, interesting hole design and general attention to detail…so much better than the concrete slabs with wooden edging and the odd obstacle you find at UK seaside resorts. The only problem we found was that the mosquitoes were out during the day and bite, which you don’t get in the UK I guess! It was a very close game and the final tally produced a tie, with 59 strokes each and as our balls were not returned after the 18th we couldn’t have a playoff to determine a winner.
We continued the drive up to Marathon and decided to stop off and look at Sombrero Beach before lunch. This is a lovely stretch of beach, with shallow turquoise waters. Back up the road, we had noticed a UPS store. Amanda had joked with the kids that we’d ship their favourite American cheese puff crisps back to the UK in bulk, so we stopped off to work out the cost. The plan was scuppered when the UPS guy quoted us $300 to ship the crisps back to the UK…good job we checked before buying them!
We stopped for lunch at a place in Marathon that Amanda had researched earlier in the week called Lazy Days. It was a great place alongside a small marina and the food was excellent. Amanda ordered the catch of the day cooked the Lazy Days way and I ordered the gyros sandwich. It doesn’t happen often, but my selection was better and Amanda had the food envy this time around.
Once checked in at the hotel, we had a few hours in the pool, taking advantage of the pool bar’s happy hour. There was a ledge within the pool that was great for sitting on and given that the water was so warm it was like watching the sun set from your bath. Once the sun had disappeared, we dried off, had one last cocktail at the pool bar and then made our way up to the hotel reception area for a snack. They supplied us with a nice pizza and a selection of hummus with pitta bread. We got talking to the staff and had a great laugh with them whilst sinking a few more beers, before heading up to bed.
We were in two minds today; spend the day at the pool in Marathon before driving up to a Miami airport hotel or check out, head to Miami and book a hotel close to the South Beach area for a stroll around and a nice meal. We started with the first option, but as the wind had picked up again, we quickly reverted to option two.
We stopped off at a shopping mall in Miami for a bit of retail therapy and then booked into another Marriott hotel alongside Biscayne Bay. After realising that the food options around the hotel were limited, we called an Uber and headed to Ocean Drive in South Beach.
On our last trip to Miami we had cycled along the boardwalk here and been impressed by the area and the number of restaurants, so it seemed an obvious choice to come here for food. Wrong! We may have selected badly, but the restaurant we picked was average at best and clearly won the ‘worst food of the trip so far’ award. We were so disappointed…the whole area was very rowdy, full of young drunken Americans being loud, street vendors being pushy (even while you are clearly eating) and nose-to-tail traffic just cruising backwards and forwards up Ocean Drive with music pumping out and adding to the overall chaos. I’d pictured a classy, high-end area of Miami, with romantic five star restaurants, were we could eat a nice meal with a bottle of red, but that was so far from the reality of the place. It was like a warm night in Blackpool during Glasgow Fair fortnight, just with Americans replacing the Scots!
After finishing our meal, we promptly found a quieter area and ordered an Uber to take us back to the hotel…roll on Jamaica tomorrow!