The Ultimate Guide to Driving from Orlando to Key West

You can follow two routes to get to Key West from Orlando : either US-1 on Florida’s east coast or Interstate-75 on its west coast. Both routes showcase the beauty of Florida’s coastline and allow you to visit some excellent towns, cities, and beaches. Bring paddleboards, kayaks, or jet skis.

Visit Skyviews Miami Observation Wheel, Bayside Marketplace, Luminary Hotel, Heathcote Botanical Gardens, Sawgrass Lake Park and many more. In this article you will find our suggestions for the best road trip routes between Orlando and Key West. Be sure to check out the detailed route, where to stay and the best things to do along the way.

Planning the Trip

Table Of Contents

A. Best Time to Visit

March to May is the best time of year to visit Key West. In late March, Key West is at its best weather. Hotel prices start to drop from the end of February into March. The high season stretches from December through April. December through February are the coolest months of the year, with average highs in the mid-seventies. March and April feature pleasant mid-eighties temperatures, the best time to go to Key West. 

B. Duration of the Trip

Factors to consider for determining the trip duration

  • Budget
  • Time of the year
  • Your travel bucket list
  • Type of travel experience you want to have
  • Travel companions
View Scenic Drive Map

Suggested minimum and maximum time required

You can spend a week in Key West, but 3-4 days are optimal if you want to do it all and still have time to relax. Three days for a Key West weekend getaway requires one to pack a lot into each day if you want to hit all the popular attractions.

C. Mapping the Route

Various route options are available.

You can follow two different routes to get to Key West from Orlando: driving along either US-1 on Florida’s east coast or Interstate-75 on its west coast. The US-1 will take you all the way down to Key West on a route that covers a 400-mile distance and takes about 9 hours and 30 minutes to complete.

Compare and contrast different routes.

The US-1 covers less mileage than the Interstate-75. You will be driving through the bright lights of bustling cities. The Interstate-75 takes you to the western coastline of Florida, and across through the Big Cypress National Preserve and the Everglades National Park before joining up with the US-1 around Palm Springs North.

D. Necessary Permits and Documents

  • All passengers 18 years or older should have valid photo identification, a driver’s license, or a passport to travel.
  • Passengers under 18 years must be accompanied by an adult.

Preparing for the Journey

A. Vehicle Maintenance

Checklists for vehicle inspection and servicing

  • Quality auto coverage starts here
  • Check your car’s battery
  • Inspect belts and hoses
  • Top off fluids and replace filters
  • Verify lights and electrical equipment are working
  • Check the brakes
  • Inspect tires

Importance of having a reliable and road-worthy vehicle

Maintaining your car’s roadworthiness is for your safety and others on the road. It ensures its longevity and reliability. A roadworthy vehicle is less likely to break down or have mechanical failures while on the road, reducing the risk of accidents.

B. Packing Essentials

  • Water shoes, flip flops, walking shoes
  • Beach bag
  • Sunscreen & lip balm
  • Sun hat & sunglasses
  • Packing Cubes
  • Hand Sanitizer Spray
  • Virtual Private Network 
  • Cooling Towel
  • Quick-Dry Travel Towel
  • Essential items to pack for the road trip
  • Clothing, accessories, and emergency supplies

C. Accommodation Options

Different types of accommodations along the way

  • Townhomes
  • Houses
  • Condos
  • Apartments

Recommendations for hotels, motels, and campgrounds

  • NYAH Key West
  • Hampton Inn Key West
  • DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Hotel Grand Key 
  • Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Key West
  • John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park campground.
  • Long Key State Park campground.
  • Curry Hammock State Park campground.
  • Bahia Honda State Park campgrounds.

D. Dining and Refreshments

Suggestions for dining options and local cuisine

  • The Surf Club Restaurant
  • Taquiza
  • Blue Heaven
  • Garbo’s Grill
  • The Lobster Shack Key West

Exploring the Route

A. Day 1: Orlando to Tampa

There are Lake Louisa State Park cabins that overlook a lake for an epic sunset that you can enjoy from your cabin. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge is an icon of Tampa Bay, and this is a bridge to drive across. If you want to go camping on Siesta Key, the Turtle Beach campground is your next stop. You can be lucky to watch dolphins swimming along the shoreline from Turtle Beach. 

Camping availability is a hustle as campsites get booked up as soon as they are available months in advance. You can stop at Myakka River State Park for a pleasant nature stop with lots of green. There is the Sanibel Causeway toll for driving the bridge to Sanibel Island. For a better experience, tour around the Ten Thousand Islands through a boat tour.

B. Day 2: Tampa to Marco Island

Noteworthy sights on Marco Island include Tigertail Beach, South Marco Beach, Marriott Beach, Marco Beach, Hideaway Beach, Marco Island Ski & Watersports, Marco Island Marina, and Rose Marina. While on South Marco Beach, you can enjoy Jet-skiing, paddleboarding, kayaking, and parasailing.

C. Day 3: Marco Island to Miami

One of the best places to see alligators in Florida is along the Tamiami Trail between Marco Island and Miami. Make several stops along the Tamiami Trail for a chance to see alligators. The Oasis Visitor Center is the best place to see alligators in Florida. The alligators are so close to the Tamiami Trail that you can see the cars driving along the Tamiami Trail as you are looking at the alligators.

D. Day 4: Miami to Key West

All land-based activities in Everglades National Park that you can drive to are on the Miami side, and one of the best places to see alligators in Florida is in Everglades National Park. Everglades National Park is known for alligators, wetlands, and airboats. The experience takes one day in Everglades National Park or just a few hours. However, there is no guarantee to see alligators. Try Flamingo Campground, Flamingo Everglades eco-tent camping, or Long Pine Key Campground. The Southernmost Point is a touristy spot, so expect crowds in Key West. You can make Smathers Beach your first destination in Key West. Smathers Beach is one of the best beaches in Key West with tropical vibes.

Key West Experience

A. Popular Tourist Attractions

  • The Hemingway Home and Museum
  • Southernmost Point of the Continental U.S.A.
  • Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
  • The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
  • Dry Tortugas National Park 
  • The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum 
  • Key West Butterfly and Nature Park

B. Outdoor Activities

Recommendations for water sports, hiking, and biking

  • Cruiser / Path Biking 
  • Kayaking 
  • Paddleboarding 
  • Snorkeling 
  • Scuba Diving
  • Road Biking
  • Mountain Biking
  • Electric Biking
  • Fat Biking
  • Canoeing
  • Rafting

Opportunities for snorkeling, diving, and fishing

  • Biking
  • Kayaking
  • Snorkeling
  • Scuba diving

C. Nightlife and Entertainment

Key West is popular for its nightlife. Bar hopping on Duval Street is a natural pastime after sunset. It tends to be wilder with bars and nightclubs, while Upper Duval has a more sophisticated side with wine bars and cocktail dens like Grand Vin and Point Five. Key West features low-key pubs and high-energy dance clubs. Key West’s nightlife is filled with fun, cocktails, and music. There are endless bars, clubs, and music venues. 

Amongst the popular bars in Key West are the Irish Kevin’s, The Bull and Whistle, Rick’s Bar, Bourbon Street Pub, Aqua Nightclub, The Smallest Bar, Sidebar, The Tiki House, Virgilio’s, The Rum Bar, and The Sunset Pier. These bars offer a range of experiences, from live music and dancing to craft cocktails and beachfront views. These are a must-visit for anyone looking to experience the unique nightlife of Key West. Live music can be found in the afternoon, at happy hour, late at night, on the street, and at the daily Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square. There is also live music at Boondocks Grille, Captain Tony’s Saloon, Comedy Key West, General Horseplay, Green Parrot Bar, and Hank’s Hair of the Dog Saloon. Cultural events are celebrated through unique customs, celebrations, and architecture.  

Summary and Key Takeaways

In conclusion, the Orlando-Key West route is famous for its beaches, natural sceneries, and theme parks. Florida’s natural beauty is in state parks, islands, and beaches. Along the way, each city brings its flair to the trip. In between, there is Miami, Marco Island, and Tamba. This four-day trip is full of unique cuisines like Agora Mediterranean Kitchen, a beautifully decorated Turkish restaurant. Try to hit all the major sights and ensure you have the most out of your east coast experience. Each destination on this list will give you the best Florida experience behind the wheel of an RV.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the driving distance from Orlando to Key West?

The driving distance is from Orlando to Key West 394 miles. 

How long does it take to drive from Orlando to Key West?

The drive from Orlando to Key West takes about 6 hr 36 minutes. It is a 394 mile journey. Consider planning your route in advance, factoring in rest stops, dining options, and potential detours to explore points of interest in the Florida Keys. Enjoy your trip to Key West!

Which is the best route to take for the road trip?

For a scenic road trip from Orlando to Key West, take coastal highway US 1. This route offers views of the Florida Keys and the Atlantic Ocean, passing through towns and crossing bridges with ample picturesque spots. Plan for a long drive with potential traffic delays, rest stops, and overnight stays if needed. Check for road closures or updates on US 1 before your trip. 

Are there any tolls along the way?

Yes, there are tolls along the drive from Orlando to Key West, particularly when taking Florida’s Turnpike. You would encounter tolls along Florida’s Turnpike as you make your way south. It’s advisable to check the most up-to-date toll information and payment options before your trip, as toll rates and routes can change over time. Additionally, consider using a SunPass or another electronic toll collection system to make the process smoother and more convenient.

Can I rent a car for the trip?

Yes, you can rent a car, but a one-way drive attracts a drop-off fee.

What are some recommended stops between Orlando and Key West?

You can stop at Lake Louisa State Park, Sanibel Island, Marco Island, Everglades National Park, Miami, Florida Overseas Highway, Bahia Honda State Park, and Key West.

What are the must-see attractions in Key West?

Key West offers a variety of must-see attractions:

  • The Hemingway Home and Museum: Explore Ernest Hemingway’s former residence, a Spanish colonial-style house with lush gardens where he wrote. Meet descendants of his six-toed cats.
  • Southernmost Point of the Continental U.S.A.: Iconic concrete buoy marks the southernmost point. Great for photos and a symbol of Key West’s unique location.
  • Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park: A Civil War-era fort with guided tours, rich military history, and a beautiful beach for swimming and picnicking.
  • The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory: Walk among colorful butterflies and exotic birds in lush gardens. Peaceful and educational for all ages.
  • Mallory Square: Join the lively atmosphere during the Sunset Celebration. Street performers, artists, and musicians gather as the sun sets over the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Duval Street: Key West’s vibrant main thoroughfare with historic buildings, shops, restaurants, and bars. Hub of activity day and night, offering unique culture and nightlife.
  • Key West Aquarium: Explore marine life native to the Florida Keys, including sharks, stingrays, and sea turtles. Educational and family-friendly.
  • Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum: Delve into maritime history with artifacts recovered from shipwrecks, including treasures from Spanish galleons.
  • Audubon House and Tropical Gardens: Visit a beautifully restored 19th-century home, explore lush gardens, and learn about the island’s history through exhibits and tours.
  • Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters Museum: Climb the historic lighthouse for panoramic views. The museum provides insight into maritime history and the lives of lighthouse keepers.

These attractions embody Key West’s charm, offering history, nature, and culture. Whether you’re into literary history, natural beauty, or vibrant street life, Key West has something for every traveler to enjoy.

What water activities are available in Key West?

Key West offers a variety of water activities for visitors:

  • Fishing Charters: Key West is renowned for its fishing opportunities. Book charters for all skill levels, targeting tarpon, marlin, snapper, and grouper.
  • Sailing Cruises: Enjoy stunning Key West waters with romantic sunset sails, family-friendly day cruises, or snorkeling adventures.
  • Kayaking: Explore serene backwaters and mangrove forests. Rent kayaks or join guided tours for local insights.
  • Scuba Diving: Key West is ideal for scuba diving. Clear waters teem with colorful reefs and marine life. Certified divers can explore wrecks.
  • Snorkeling Tours: Non-divers can experience underwater beauty on guided snorkeling trips. Encounter tropical fish, coral, and sea turtles.
  • Jet Skiing: Rent jet skis for thrilling coastal exploration or join guided tours for safe excitement.
  • Parasailing: Soar above the ocean for breathtaking views of Key West. An adrenaline rush with a unique perspective.
  • Paddleboarding: Rent paddleboards for relaxation and fitness. Explore calm shoreline waters or try SUP yoga.
  • Dolphin Watching: Witness playful dolphins in their habitat. Tours offer an unforgettable experience for all ages.
  • Sunset Cruises: End your day with a romantic sunset cruise, a perfect way to admire Key West’s famous sunsets from the water.

Remember to confirm availability, pricing, and any requirements with local operators. Key West offers water activities for every preference, from relaxation to adventure.

Are there any popular festivals or events in Key West?

Key West hosts a variety of festivals and events:

  • Fantasy Fest: This late October week-long celebration includes elaborate costume parties, parades, and a vibrant street fair, highlighted by the imaginative Fantasy Fest Parade.
  • Hemingway Days: In July, Key West honors author Ernest Hemingway with events like the Hemingway Look-Alike Contest, literary readings, fishing tournaments, and Caribbean-themed parties.
  • Goombay Festival: Held in October, this lively street fair celebrates Bahamian and African cultural heritage with parades, live music, Caribbean food, and arts and crafts stalls.
  • Key West Pride: In June, Key West Pride celebrates LGBTQ+ pride with a lively parade down Duval Street, drag shows, pool parties, and LGBTQ+ friendly events, promoting diversity and unity.
  • Key West Songwriters Festival: Held in May, this festival showcases talented songwriters from various genres, offering intimate live music experiences and opportunities to interact with the artists.
  • Masquerade March and Costume Parade: Key West hosts various masquerade and costume-themed events, including the Pet Masquerade Costume Contest and the Masquerade March, fostering creativity and community spirit.

For the latest event details and dates, check the Key West official tourism website or local event listings. Enjoy the festivities!

What are some family-friendly activities in Key West?

Key West offers a range of family-friendly activities that will make your visit memorable. Here are some fantastic options:

  • Parasailing Adventures: Soar high above the crystal-clear waters of Key West as a family. Parasailing offers breathtaking views of the island and the chance to spot marine life from the sky. Many local operators provide safe and thrilling experiences suitable for all ages.
  • Shark and Wildlife Viewing Adventures: Key West is home to a diverse array of marine life, and your family can embark on boat tours or excursions to observe sharks, dolphins, sea turtles, and various species of colorful fish. These tours often provide educational insights into the local ecosystem.
  • Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum: Dive into the rich maritime history of Key West at the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum. This engaging museum showcases fascinating artifacts recovered from shipwrecks, including treasures from Spanish galleons. It’s an excellent opportunity for both fun and learning.
  • Beach Days: Key West boasts some beautiful family-friendly beaches like Smathers Beach and Fort Zachary Taylor State Park Beach. Spend a relaxing day building sandcastles, swimming, and enjoying the warm Florida sunshine.
  • Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory: Discover the enchanting world of butterflies and tropical birds at the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. Walking through lush gardens filled with colorful butterflies is a captivating experience for all ages.
  • The Conch Tour Train: Hop on the Conch Tour Train, a guided excursion that takes you around Key West’s historic sites and landmarks. It’s an entertaining and educational way for families to explore the island’s rich culture and history.
  • Key West Aquarium: Delve into the underwater world without getting wet at the Key West Aquarium. You’ll get up close with various marine species, including sharks, stingrays, and sea turtles. Interactive exhibits make it a hit with kids.
  • Water Sports: Key West offers an array of water sports activities like snorkeling, kayaking, and paddleboarding. Many operators provide family-friendly options with experienced guides to ensure everyone’s safety and enjoyment.
  • Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square: Wrap up your day with the famous Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square. This nightly event features street performers, artisans, and breathtaking sunset views. It’s a festive atmosphere that the whole family can enjoy.

Remember to check operating hours, age restrictions, and any other relevant details for these activities to plan your family’s Key West adventure seamlessly. Enjoy your time in this beautiful island paradise!

Leave a comment