There’s only one way to get to Key West if you’re driving. It’s the 113-mile Overseas Hwy with 42 bridges; one being seven miles long. You drive from key to key. And if you’re wondering what’s the difference between a key and an island, you’re in luck. We learned the difference so I’ll pass that info along to you. A key is the same as an island in the sense that it is land surrounded on all sides by water but the formation of each determines what it is; an island is formed geologically (think volcanoes, plates, etc) and a key is formed biologically (think living like coral, etc). So basically we are driving across a bunch of coral. And now you know. You…are…welcome.
This is Fat Albert. You can’t miss this blimp. It’s a Tethered Aerostatic Radar System off Big Pine Key. There some funny stories about it getting loose and taking some fisherman for a joyride if you care to look it up.
We stayed at Boyd’s Campground. It was pricey for a campground but it’s all pricy in Key West. In comparison, during the first leg of our trip we were staying in Hamptons for this price but a Hampton down here is twice that.
The staff were super nice and friendly. The campground was busy. There are Class As everywhere as a lot of these people come down and stay for months at a time; mostly retirees so it’s clean and quiet.
Our site 150 was assigned to us and right beside the picnic pavilion which normally we would have asked to be moved but like I said it was pretty quiet.
They have lots of activities and a Trim-A-Tree party was one of them. Since we were right beside the pavilion, we joined in on the festivities. Our boys (the only kids we saw in the campground) had a ball decorating the tree. Then they were served cookies and punch so it was a good time.
We met some sweet people. One of the workers, Boyd (not THE Boyd), will be working out at Yellowstone this summer. That’s him in the green shirt getting the boys some cookies. He said to be on the lookout for him at the General Store at Fishing Bridge. How cool is that? We won’t be in the camper but we will certainly have to stop by there and say hey.
We decided to do the touristy stuff in Key West since we were here just a couple nights. A couple of things about Key West- you have to pay to park everywhere downtown; the streets are narrow; traffic is very herky-jerky; there are cars, bikes, golf carts, mopeds, pedestrians and no crosswalk signs; there are chickens walking around everywhere; and there are no shortage of stores or restaurants/bars.
We got up early to get our picture at the Southernmost Point in the US. Technically, this is not the southernmost point but it’s the closest you can get to easily as a tourist. That’s where they put the landmark so everybody just goes with it. We had read the line can get long so we hit it first thing. We were there around 8:30am on a Saturday and there was no wait at all. Sweet!
Then over to the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center. Parking and admission are free. Yay!
The Center is next to the Ingham Maritime Museum and Truman Park. From the Center we walked to the Ernest Hemingway Museum.
Just sos ya know, they only take cash. No credit cards. We don’t usually walk around with a lot of cash on us. I only brought $20 and Trev had $17 on him. We were one kid admission price short of all of us getting in. Did I tell you we walked? Fail! So Trev took Tuck and walked back to the truck while Mason and I took the 30 minute guided tour.
I would definitely take the tour as opposed to just walking through the house on your own. One, you paid for it anyway as it is included with admission and two, they give tons of history about Hemingway’s life and the property that you wouldn’t know otherwise. Mason was most excited about seeing and petting descendants of Hemingway’s six-toed cat.
Trev and Tuck picked us up after the tour and we stopped to get pictures by Mile Marker 0; the literal end of the road…or beginning depending on which way you’re headed.
Then it was off to lunch. We stuck with the Hemingway theme and ate at Sloppy Joe’s Bar. Sloppy Joe’s was Hemingway’s favorite drinking spot after a morning of writing and an afternoon of fishing. It is also the home of the original sloppy joe sandwich. So of course Mason had to give it a go.
It was okay but not his favorite. We also had conch fritters and key lime pie. It’s a Keys thing. The conch fritters were ok. It’s fried. What’s not to love? The key lime pie was different. It had a different texture; thicker, and lacked the strong lime flavoring bite that the store bought pies back home have.
We meant to go by Truman’s Little White House, as it is the only presidential museum in Florida, but with the moving and parking we just forgot and we didn’t feel like going back for it after lunch.
The next day we hung out at Bahia Honda State Park. It was so pretty and peaceful.
The ranger there said this park campground fills up 11 months in advance. We looked there before booking Boyd’s as the state park was way cheaper but there was no availability. We were just booking a couple weeks out not knowing we had absolutely no chance of getting a site. I’m glad we were able to at least visit for the day. It costs $10 for 4 people for day use and we were able to park the camper at the marina.
I can’t attest to the camping but the park is nice. It’s got a real slim beach full of seagrass but it’s better snorkeling. We found a great spot. It was beautiful.
The parking lot starting filling up but we still didn’t see that many people. Later we were told that on the marina side of the park is an actual manmade beach and that’s were most people go. That was fine with us. We were happy as larks where we were and the boys had a great time snorkeling even though it was windy and the water was a little choppy.
Back at Pennekamp the ranger said the venomous Lionfish was an invasive fish but they make good eats. Well, we’ve been trying to find someone who has it on the menu since then. It’s kind of one of those things, if it makes it in the daily catch, they’ll serve it. The issue is it has to be speared and there’s not enough caught to keep it on a permanent menu.
The only place that we could find was Castaway Waterfront Restaurant (thanks to the waitress at Sloppy Joes) but they only have it as a sushi option. We figured you can’t get a truer flavor of a fish than raw. So we set out to find a parking spot as Castaway was in Marathon in between Key West and Key Largo. That means we were pulling the camper. After asking for permission to park at snorkeling tour business (thanks Captain Pip’s Marina and Hideaway), we were ready to run across the busy highway and walk down a sketchy road but we made it.
Reviews had told us to ignore the outside appearance. So we did. The food was good and our waiter was very nice. We got there after 2pm and were able to get the happy hour sushi special so we got an extra piece of sushi for a dollar cheaper than the two piece price. You already know who tried the lionfish and who didn’t.
Mason really liked it. Trev and I thought there are definitely other fish we prefer for sushi but it was ok. It had a pretty distinct fish taste.
Our waiter mentioned that you can sometimes see manatees in the marina right outside the restaurant. Of course we had to check it out. What a treat! We had to be patient but it paid off. Two manatees came swimming up and started drinking from a little downspout that was dripping water. One was huge. This was way closer than we had seen them before and we got a much better view. It was AWESOME! I tried to pet it but I my arm was about five inches too short. So stinking cool!
Then it was back to Pennekamp to try for a snorkel tour before we leave the Keys.