Family Weekend Getaway in the Upper Keys and Everglades

  • Distance from New York City: 64 miles
  • Best time: November to May
  • Best for: FamilyBudgetOutdoor

Many Floridians make a beeline from Miami to Key West and forget the natural treasures in between, from beautiful fish-filled coral reefs to the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. While Key West has a decidedly adult appeal, the Upper Keys and Everglades National Park are easily combined into a fun-filled family weekend that won't break the bank. A car helps make the most of this area with a relaxed road trip along some of South Florida's most scenic routes. Pack lightly—swimwear, shorts, and flip-flops—and soak up the casual vibe of Key Largo, Islamorada, and the Everglades at some of our favorite local spots.–By LoAnn Halden

Friday

Upper Keys and Everglades Cheat Sheet

View a printable list of all sights, restaurants, entertainment, and hotels from this itinerary. View

1.Plan for early seafood dinner at Alabama Jack's, an open-air dive overlooking an unspoiled stretch of mangroves. The stop requires taking the scenic, well-marked detour in Florida City onto Card Sound Road, which rejoins US 1 further south without requiring backtracking.

2.Catch a sunset tour with Island Time Cruises, a 2012-launched paddlewheel riverboat that traverses the calm bayside waters of Key Largo. The two-hour trip includes live music and occasional dolphin sightings. Make sure to check their site for updated season departure times.

3.Stop at laid-back Sharkey's for a post-cruise drink or dessert on the outside deck. Popular with local scuba divers and fisherman, it sits canalside in Key Largo Harbor.

Saturday

Insider Tip Navigating in the Keys: Although businesses have numbered addresses, most locals give directions by the easy-to-spot mile markers that line the Overseas Highway. For example, 92000 Overseas Highway is at MM 92.

1. Get an early start with the locals and grab breakfast at Doc's Diner in Key Largo, where home-style staples like French toast and pancakes are served in large portions.

2.Drive three miles north to board one of the morning snorkeling trips offered in Key Largo's John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. The area's best coral reefs are a few miles offshore, requiring a boat trip, but the shallow depths (5–15 feet) make for relaxed tropical fish viewing.

3.Make a short drive south for Mrs. Mac's Kitchen 2, a new, more spacious outpost of the local lunchspot. Popular staples like conch chowder and key lime pie are joined by more upscale fish dishes; license plate lamps pay homage to the dominant wall covering at the still-running original location a half-mile away.

4.Continue south to while away the afternoon at Founder's Beach & Park in Islamorada, a kid-friendly zone with a small private beach, skate park, playground, watersports rentals, and Olympic-size swimming pool.

5.About 10 miles further south in Islamorada, tarpon feeding is the big draw at Robbie's Marina. A school of these hefty silver fish congregate around the docks daily waiting for baitfish handouts from an always-willing crowd.

6.Splurge a little on a sunset dinner with your toes in the white sand of Morada Bay Beach Cafe, which is casual without veering into the usual Keys kitsch. Daily fresh fish and spiny lobster are stars. Tapas plates and a children's menu cover smaller appetites.

Sunday

1.Have breakfast at Chad's Deli and Bakery in Tavernier, between Key Largo and Islamorada, where their lengthy list of omelet fillings also can be made into scrambles or sandwiches on freshly baked bread. Take advantage of the well-stocked deli to snag snacks for the trek north into the Everglades.

2.No visit to Everglades National Park is complete without walking the Anhinga Trail at Royal Palm Visitor Center, four miles from the park's Homestead entrance; sightings of alligators and wading birds are all but guaranteed on the .8-mile loop through sawgrass marsh. If you have more time to explore, make the 38-mile drive to Flamingo Visitor Center where you can rent bikes and kayaks.

3.On the way back to the Turnpike, stop for one of the legendary key lime milkshakes at Robert Is Here and stock up on fresh produce while it's made to order. Around since 1960, the stand carries everything from tomatoes and avocadoes to a mind-blowing array of tropical fruit, like carambola, papaya, lychee, and sapote.

Where to Stay

Holiday Isle, once a notorious party hangout in Islamorada, reinvented itself as the Postcard Inn Beach Resort and Marina (rooms from $119/night +$15/day resort fee) in 2011. The beach and pool are now for guest use only and the rooms are completely refurbished in bright white woods and stripes, making a great location appealing anew. Tip: Check their website for Florida resident deals.

Colorful Dove Creek Lodge (rooms from $169/night) in Key Largo boasts proximity to both John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and some excellent local fishing spots. Prices run the gamut, thanks to accommodations that range from standard hotel rooms to two-story, two-bedroom suites with full kitchens.

When to Go

With temperatures that rarely soar above the 80s or dip below the 60s, the Upper Keys have year-round appeal; but to maximize the Everglades experience, avoid June-October, when the temperatures and rainfall are highest and hurricane season is in full swing. Look for hotel deals in early December and in May, just outside of the Christmas to Easter high season.

Fishing is big business in the Upper Keys, particularly Islamorada, where annual tournaments entice anglers of all skill levels to cast for bonefish, tarpon, dorado, and sailfish. For a schedule, see the Florida Keys Fishing Tournaments & Calendar of Events.

How to Get There

By car: Key Largo is about 1 hour, 10 minutes from Miami; Islamorada is another 25 minutes south on US 1 (aka the Overseas Highway). Take the Florida Turnpike south to Florida City where it ends; US 1 continues from that point south through the Keys. To reach Everglades National Park, head west from US 1 onto State Road 9336/SW 344th Street in Florida City and follow the signs to the park entrance.

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