We drove to the Anchorage Resort and Yacht Club in Key Largo on Saturday. It was a 16 hr drive from Virginia. The rest areas in Florida have good night security so whenever we felt tired or sleepy, we pulled into and slept for an hour or so.
We avoided traffic by driving mostly at night. By the time we reached our resort, we were very tired and decided to take an easy night. The resort is really nice; it has a huge bedroom and a full kitchen. We can see the bay from our balcony.
You can stop by a service plaza for breakfast. There are a couple plazas which are near to entrance and exit to the Turnpike (there are a lot of toll fees along the turnpike) . They are the only rest areas which sell food, the others just have restrooms. We got crepes at one of them, they were very good.
On Monday, we drove up to the Everglades National Park, stopping at the "Robert is Here" fruitstand on the way there (and the way back, as well). You can find some strange tasting tropical fruits. I recommend the Key Lime Jellies if you want to try something Key Lime related. We bought a bag of sweet and huge oranges from the Keys.
Alligators and Anhingas were congregating near the "Anhinga Trail", since it is one of the places where water can be easily found during the dry season. There are some interesting trails, but they are very short.
I suggest you bring food, if you plan to stay the whole day in the park. There is no where to buy food or water except for vending machines, which are pricey. There are couple picnic tables at Long Pine Key for you to sit down.
We drove to Flamingo which is 38 miles from the main visitor center, for kayak and bike rental, but I was disappointed to find out they refused to let customers rent at 4 pm.
We swung by the Alligator farm on the way out and missed the alligator feeding and snake show, which started at 2pm.
We drove to Key West around 10:30 am and ran into traffic. You should leave early for Key West if you want to avoid traffic and major headache searching for a parking space in Key West.
On the way to Key West,wWe stopped near the Pigeon Key Historic District, and walked along an old railway bridge built in 1909. It was a pleasant walk, with great views of the water, as well as Seven Mile Bridge.
After we arrived in Key west, we spent an hour circling around, looking for parking. We finally found a place near Malory Square (it cost us 32 dollars for 7 hrs, compared to 13 dollars for the whole day at at the parking garage in Old Town).
We tried queen conch fritters. There were a few living statues and artists playing piano, drums and guitars on the street.
We strolled to Ernest Hemingway's house and toured around. We saw many cats there, descended from Hemingway's original six-toed cat. Apparently they all carry the gene for polydactly (extra toes), but since it's recessive, only some actually have the extras (we saw one while we were there).
We also waited in line to get a picture taken at the Southernmost point in the continental US, unfortunately the sun was behind us, and the pictures were mostly glare. We then walked to the pier for the sunset. Oops, we missed the sunset ceremony at Malory Square (sigh).
Night time is very fun in Key West. We tried to get in to Jimmy Buffet for Margaritaville but we decided to call it quits, and ate elsewhere.
We planned to go to the Dry Tortugas but we canceled it because it was supposed to rain that day. The trip takes one day, and is expensive ($164~185/ person (it depends on the travel booth in Key West) including ferry, breakfast, lunch, smokel equipment and fresh water). If you want to go there, you should plan to stay at Key West or somewhere close to Key West.
We went to see the Coral Castle, which was built by a tiny man, 100lbs and 5 ft tall. Per the story, he built it by himself using mechanisms to help him, from 1920 to 1940. It is really an interesting place to see. We realized after we got there that we had forgotten to bring our camera with us (bummer).
We saw a lot of kite boarders at Anne's beach. The beach looks fine, but we saw the sign warning us about high bacteria in the water with the recommendation that we not swim there. It is the perfect place to see the sunset.
We stopped the Islamorada Fish house on the way back to the resort. The Japanese Octopus salad and Queen Conch salad were so yummy.
The Bahia Honda Park is a great place to go. We went there early and found the parking lot easily. When you enter the park, make a left turn, and you can find a beautiful beach and white sand which can compared to Hawaiian beaches.
If you take the right turn, you can find the old railroad bridge which was built in the 1900s. We rented kayaks and paddled to a small island near there. Per the park ranger, there were a lot of trees on the island, a tornado in 1998 swept away almost all of the trees. We found fish there and 3 sea slugs, which were really neat. I suggest you carry a camera if you go there.
We had a dinner at a Fish House restaurant in Key Largo. The food was so delicious.
Before heading for Miami, we stopped by Vizcaya, which was the winter home of International Harvester vice president James Deering. Built between 1914 and 1916, you will be stunned by the interior design and a huge garden. The mansion has its own unique look, a spanish style house, a breathtaking garden and European interior design.
South Beach Miami is a nice place, white sand and crystalline water. The water temperature was warmer compared to Bahia Honda state park or Florida Keys. Unfortunately, we could not enjoy the beach really long before it started raining. In the end, we just went shopping along Washington & Lincoln st. Since after New Year, all the visitor centers were closed and we had no idea where we should go.
We stopped by a small store to pick up a nice hat and a dress. The lady was so friendly and advised us to check the price of the drinks if they are not listed on the menu so as not to be surprised when it came time to pay.
Miami became one of my favorite places after Sausalito, San Francisco and Charleston.
On the way home to Virginia, we decided to stop at St. Augustine which is the oldest city in the States. First discovered by the Spanish admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565. The town of St Augustine retains some of its original European charms.
We had a long drive home so we did not have a chance to visit every place in the city.
For mass, we went to the Cathedral Basilica of St Augustine which was built in 1565. After mass, we made some stops at Castillo de San Marcos (built from 1672 to 1695), the Oldest drug store, Flagler College and the Spanish quarter. We probably would like to check it again next time. The old city is an amazing place to visit.
Note: You can find free parking close to the Visitor center.
We decided that we should not stay in one place and drive everywhere next time.