Just Florida Things: Epic Beach Crawl 2017: Southernmost Point, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, & Smathers Beach, Key West, FL
We spent a couple of days in Key West on our Epic Beach Crawl this summer. Turns out, there is rather a lot to do in just a few square miles! Of course, we didn’t do nearly everything, but these were the highlights we felt were must-do’s:
Rent a Bicycle
We ditched the car on arrival. An island only a couple of square miles with lots of one way streets sounded like a clogged nightmare to us, so we parked immediately. Originally, I had planned for us to walk to our destinations, but Justin felt this was much too ambitious, so on the way in, I found Eaton Bikes just a short jaunt from the parking garage and we rented a bicycle built for two. This turned out to be a great, unplanned adventure. We got around much faster and cooler, spent some quality team time together, and best of all – no one got left behind!
Stop at the Southernmost Point
Also called Mile 0, the Southernmost Point is a painted buoy that makes a great photo-op and is a relatively quick stop since there’s not much else to do immediately nearby. It’s literally right next to the road. When we arrived early morning, there was already a surprisingly organized line along the sidewalk. Thankfully, it moved fairly fast. Looking back through our photos, I later realized that Justin color-coordinated with the buoy! As we were leaving this spot, we saw our first, but certainly not last Key West rooster and chickens strutting around on someone’s lawn!
Explore Fort Zachary Taylor and its beach
I love exploring old fortresses. Fort Zachary Taylor is not incredibly large, but was substantial enough to spend more than an hour discovering all the nooks and crannies. We saw a crazy number of iguanas – some quite large – sunbathing and walking around on the fort’s rooftop deck. I spotted a heron in the moat outside one of the windows.
In addition to the fort, this state park also boasts its own, natural keys beach. By natural, I mean not the soft sand you might expect, but much coarser coral sand mixed in with plenty of rocks. The water was a gorgeous baby blue aqua color, almost like a pool, but ocean! The day we went, there were lots of waves and, since we were both sunburned from a previous beach day, we opted for meandering around rather than laying out or swimming.
Wander down Duval Street and around Mallory Square
When we rented our bikes, we learned that you can ride on the sidewalks everywhere in Key West except Duval Street. Upon arrival, we could see why – restaurants and shops are packed like sardines along this strip and, since it’s the place to be, so are the people! We are not really into shopping and don’t always eat out on vacation, but we wandered this way to say we had been and also in pursuit of the original Margaritaville. After lunch, we continued wandering towards our hotel on the west side of the island to check out Mallory Square. By now, the cruise ships had left for the day so it was much quieter than I imagined it would be with such a large influx of people. In fact, I do believe the people present were outnumbered by the random chickens!
Eat, Drink, & Be Merry at the original Margaritaville
Out of all of the restaurants on Key West, I decided we couldn’t not go to the original Margaritaville! I mean, we’ve been to the largest Margaritaville in Turks & Caicos, after all… Even better, I had found a coupon in a tourism book for a free slice of key lime pie if you spent x dollars. This wasn’t too hard to accomplish as everything here was expensive and small (I imagine everything is on Key West, though, not just this restaurant). Justin and I shared a meal, an alcoholic frozen beverage that came in a glass the size of a kiddie drink, and a lemonade we didn’t really want but needed something cheap to meet the limit. A tasty, not too heavy late lunch. The key lime pie, we saved for sunset-watching later.
Go for a long walk on Smathers Beach
Smathers is on the east side of Key West and runs alongside highway A1A. There’s not nearly as much on this side as the west – mostly a couple of hotels and condos – and if you aren’t staying at one of them, there appeared to be only parallel parking along the highway. For the two nights we spent in Key West, we spent one on the west side so we could catch the Dry Tortugas ferry in the morning and one on the east side so we could relax on Smathers before starting our return journey. Our hotel was just across the highway and when we went for a long stroll in the morning, the beach was mostly deserted. A far cry from spring break, I imagine! The sand was white and mostly clean with an ocean debris tide line. Its texture felt a lot like playground sand and my research just now confirmed it is a manmade beach, but when you’re in the keys, you can’t be too picky!
Take an excursion to the Dry Tortugas
We’ll save you the details for our next post, but Key West is the jumping off point for either a seaplane or the ferry to visit the Dry Tortugas, a secluded island national park and site of Fort Jefferson. All single-day trips (unless you’re brave enough for camping!), the journey makes for an early morning and a long day, but was well worth it! Reservations recommended; here’s where we booked ours: DryTortugas.com
Watch the Sunset!
Our research told us that gathering at Mallory Square to watch the sunset is a must-do, but since we were lucky enough to snag a good hotel view, we opted to watch from the comfort and peace of our room. Really, anywhere on the west side of the island seemed like a pretty ideal spot. The hotels and restaurants that line it certainly figured that out! Watching the sun rise or set in Florida never gets old and Justin and I sat out on our balcony, enjoying our itty bitty slice of key lime pie. This was the last thing we did that day, as the next started early to catch the Yankee Freedom ferry!
Have you been to Key West? Tell us about your visit in the comments!
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Our Favorite Photos from the Trip:
Top Tips & Notes for Next Time:
About our Epic Beach Crawl
One random Saturday, Justin and I were discussing our hopes and dreams and landed on the topic of our chosen home state of Florida and how little of it we’ve seen, even after living here for several years. One thing lead to another and the question popped up: “How long would it take to drive around the entire coast of Florida?” According to Google Maps, roughly 24 hours give or take. And thus, the Epic Beach Crawl idea was born. Fortunately, after beginning our research, we came to our senses and realized there is far too much to see and do, especially since our modus operandi is along the lines of long walks on the beach paired with mid-afternoon naps! And so, we have split our Beach Crawl to End All Beach Crawls into Epic Beach Crawl part 1, the Florida Keys, a 10 day adventure we took this summer, to eventually be followed by Epic Beach Crawls 2-infinity, TBD.