(This is the first installment in a series of posts about our recent road trip to Key West.)

Ahh, Key West…one of those places that to many seems so out of reach. Such a long drive from everywhere north of Miami, and not a lot of good options for flying into. Although the flight options are about to improve, it can be daunting to even plan a trip there. Once there though, you’ll be glad you made it! Key West has a little something for everyone. An extremely rich history (probably my favorite feature), a laid back vibe, if you’re looking to relax, and excitement in the form of watersports and nightlife, for those that can’t sit still.

Because of it’s extreme location Key West is not as easily accessible as most other exciting Florida destinations. It’s actually much closer to Cuba than it is to Miami, so I thought it would be constructive to first talk a little bit about the options you have if you’re thinking of planning a trip there:

  • By car, of course, is probably the most common way to reach Key West. Approximately 160 miles (and 3+ hours) south of Miami, the only way in by car is US 1. In addition, many long stretches of US 1 are one lane in each direction, meaning any sort of highway construction, accident, or merely a slow driver, can back traffic up for miles. There are several passing zones, but it can seem like an eternity waiting for the next one if you get stuck behind Sammy & Sandi Slowpoke. On the bright side, parts of this drive feature some spectacular scenery as the road splits the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, on one of the most scenic drives in all of the United States.  Also, keep in mind that to save a little time, be sure to not travel in or out of Key West at night. The reason being that there is a 14 mile stretch of US 1 in the lower keys that has a nighttime speed limit of 35mph, as opposed to 45 mph during daylight hours, in an effort to protect the endangered Key Deer population.
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  • Another option for getting to the southernmost city is by boat. Most of us don’t have a cabin cruiser that we can leisurely set sail in, but probably the most relaxing way to arrive in Key West, is by cruise ship. Key West is a port of call for many cruise lines, and a quick stop allows time to experience the city without need for ground transportation, or a hotel room. For travelers in the Ft. Myers area, the Key West Express is a ferry boat that runs daily between Ft. Myers Beach and Key West. As of summer 2012, round trip adult tickets for the ferry run about $146, and travel time in each direction is about 3 1/2 hours.
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  • The quickest way to get to Key West, at least if you are leaving from Central Florida, is air travel. Several airlines service Key West International, but most flights will require a connection in Miami. This is because smaller planes are required when flying into Key West, due to the shorter than normal length of the runway. Starting November 4th Southwest Airlines will begin servicing Key West with a non stop flight daily from Tampa and Orlando, which is also a good option for out of state travelers who are spending some time in one of those two cities. I see non sale fares as low as $87 each way into December.
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There you have it…just a few of your land, air, and sea options for getting to Key West. I have personally driven from Brevard County to Key West several times. It’s a 6 to 7 hour drive and let me just say, I’m really looking forward to my first flight from Orlando into Key West in a few months!!

From the Castillo de San Marcos, to the St. Augustine Lighthouse, to the mythical “Fountain of Youth”, history lovers will find a bounty of spots to explore in America’s oldest city. One of the first stops should be the St. Augustine Lighthouse. Black and white and visible from across the river, it was built in 1874 on Anastasia Island to help mariners navigate the treacherous waters off the coast of North Florida. Visit the museum, watch a short documentary about the history of the Lighthouse, and climb to the top for a spectacular view of the coastline, and back toward the Old City and the fort. Your exploration of St. Augustine is just the beginning, but the St. Augustine Lighthouse is an ideal place to start!!

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Climbing to the top of any lighthouse in Florida, or along the East Coast of the US, will usually reward you with a nice view of the surrounding area. However, sitting just off US 1 in Jupiter, lies a lighthouse with a short climb to a spectacular view of one of Palm Beach County’s crown jewels, Jupiter Inlet. History buffs will enjoy the museum where you can hear and read about the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse’s historical significance, particularly to the Civil War. Completed in 1860, and celebrating its 150th birthday this year, the 105 foot tower played an important role in the transport of supplies through the inlet. The light was disabled during the war by Confederate sympathizers for fear that it was an aid to Union Navy ships offshore, and was not put back into service until after the war had ended. For this reason, and many others, the Lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Like any other lighthouse, it’s certainly nice to look at from the outside, but the real excitement is in climbing the circular steps to the top. An interesting fact as you walk along the path from the museum to the Lighthouse, is that the many small homes that dot the area within the grounds of the Lighthouse, are actually inhabited by Coast Guard families stationed in Jupiter, who enter a lottery system to see who wins the chance to live along the inlet. As you finish your short walk to the Lighthouse a massive banyan tree greets you at the base of the steps. Planted there in 1931 by the head keeper, Captain Charles Seabrook, the thriving tree has grown so large it is frequently trimmed back in many areas to keep it contained. Once you make the climb to the top, you emerge onto the deck to an amazing view of the Jupiter Inlet. The crystal clear turquoise water can be seen for miles, up and down the Inlet, and out into the Atlantic. With the Inlet buzzing with activity on a sunny summer day, it’s only a shame the tour guide doesn’t let you pull up a chair, relax and spend the whole afternoon drinking in the view!!