A Day Trip to the Florida Keys
From Miami to Islamorada and back in 12 hours - plus an overnight option, if you’re so inclined.
As Jimmy Buffett extols, “Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes.”
With summer on its last, warm breaths, now is the time to hop in the car and head south, for a day trip to the Keys.
Go as far south as Islamorada (any farther is best served with an overnight stay) and find your Keys state of mind: salt air, conch fritters, margaritas and all.
Punch these points into your GPS, and let your worries melt away as downtown Miami’s highrises shrink out of sight in your rearview mirror.
Stop One: 10 a.m.
Schnebly Redlands Winery & Miami Brewing Co.
Pay a visit to Miami’s tropical countryside, where tomato fields and mango groves provide the heart of South Florida’s farm-to-table culinary movement. An hour’s drive from downtown, you’ll find long, one-lane roads surrounded by acres of farmland and sturdy palms.
Here is also where you’ll find Schnebly Redlands Winery, an only-in-Miami novelty that produces 22 varieties of wine from tropical produce like mango, lychee, passion fruit, guava, starfruit, coconut and even avocado.
“It’s an escape from normal life — cellphones, traffic, noise pollution, cement,” says founder Peter Schnebly, a farmer and packager turned winemaker.
In 2012, after eight years producing tropical wines, Schnebly added the Miami Brewing Co. to his portfolio. The craft brewery creates beers with a sense of place, like like Big Rod Coconut Ale and Shark Bait Mango Wheat Ale.
Tours and tastings available. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday. 30205 SW 217th Ave., Homestead; 305-242-1224; schneblywinery.com
Stop Two: Noon
As you depart the mainland, opt for the road less traveled — Card Sound Road, an alternate route to Key Largo.
You’ll soon come across Alabama Jack’s, a roadside, waterfront fish shack where boats tie up and locals while away the afternoon with fried grouper sandwiches and cold lagers.
The atmosphere is a little bit country and a lot of Keys color with license plates nailed to the walls, lobster traps and dive buoys strung from the ceiling, and the requisite blue marlin mounted above the bar. Stop here for lunch with live music and a boisterous crowd, and don’t skip the conch fritters and smoked fish dip.
11 a.m.-7 p.m. daily. 58000 Card Sound Road, Key Largo; 305-248-8741
Stop Three: 3 p.m.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
No trip to the Keys is complete without an offshore excursion. Discover some of the most unspoiled sections of the Florida Straits (the third largest barrier reef in the world) with a two-and-a-half-hour snorkel trip ($30 adults, $25 children, not inclusive of gear rental) at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
The park extends three miles into the Atlantic and runs the length of the shore, approximately 25 miles. You’ll learn about the delicate marine ecosystem and swim amid a variety of coral formations, purple sea fans, yellowtail snapper and rainbow parrotfish. Keep your fingers crossed in hopes of spotting an endangered loggerhead sea turtle, a stingray gliding along the sandy bottom or a pod of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins playing in the wake of your boat.
Trips depart six times daily and reservations are strongly recommended. Scuba and glass bottom boat excursions are also available, as well as boat rentals and kayak tours.
102601 Overseas Hwy., Key Largo; 305-451-6300; pennekamppark.com
Stop Four: 6:30 p.m.
Sid & Roxie’s Green Turtle Inn
Take the scenic Overseas Highway another 20 miles south to Islamorada, and watch as the green trees of Key Largo’s hardwood hammocks give way to unobstructed views of pale blue salt marshes. The aquamarine water of the Keys all but surrounds you.
If you thought you escaped Art Deco kitsch in South Beach, think again as the neon glowing sign of Sid & Roxie’s Green Turtle Inn lures you in from the road for dinner. It was established in 1947 when the first motorists began making their way down to the Keys.
Today, while it’s no longer an inn to spend the night, the café is still open and imbued with Old Florida charm. While the fare and the vibe are casual, the dinner menu offers sophisticated dishes, like fresh-caught fish “a la Roxie” with jumbo lump crab, tomato, onion and beurre blanc, or “a la Sid” with Florida spiny lobster, orange ginger, vanilla and butter sauce. This is also your chance to end the day with a sweet and tart slice of Key lime pie with a macadamia nut crust.
7 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. 81219 Overseas Hwy., Islamorada; 305-664-2006; greenturtlekeys.com
Stop Five: Overnight
Post Card Inn Beach Resort & Marina at Holiday Isle
You could turn around after Sid & Roxie’s. But if you’re not in the mood for a two-hour drive back to Miami, check in to the Post Card Inn in Islamorada, a few miles from the Green Turtle.
The sprawling property features a restaurant, tiki bar, pool, beach and marina, and the rooms and common spaces are surprisingly hip and updated with an eclectic beach house aesthetic. You could easily (and happily) spend the next morning there with a margarita in hand, gazing at the Atlantic with whatever Buffett song happens to pop in your head.
Rooms start at $188 a night for Florida residents. 84001 Overseas Hwy., Islamorada; 305-664-2321;