Florida’s Best One-Way Car Rental Routes: Miami to Key West


This Trip at a Glance

  • Pick up your rental car at Miami International Airport.
  • Grab a coffee and experience Cuban culture in Miami.
  • Go snorkeling at an undersea state park in Key Largo.
  • Have a slice of Key lime pie at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen.
  • Follow in Ernest Hemingway’s footsteps along Duval Street.
  • Drop off your rental car at Key West International Airport.

Tropical and Latin-inspired, a trip from Miami to Key West offers thrills at every turn. After flying into Miami International Airport, get your rental car and start your one-way adventure with a night or more in the “Magic City.”

Hundreds of fabulous hotels dot the fine beaches here. The Setai is a swanky South Beach standby; on quieter Key Biscayne, The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami beckons with less-crowded beaches and proximity to beautiful Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, which has an undeveloped, mile-long beach and a historic lighthouse dating back to 1825.

The Cape Florida Lighthouse at Bill Baggs State Park in Key Biscayne, Florida, offers tours at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Thursday through Monday. Climb 109 steps to the lookout window for vast views of the key.

Get your morning going with a Cuban cafecito, a type of espresso, at Cafe Versailles in Little Havana. Add dramatic color to your Instagram feed with shots of the street murals at Wynwood Walls. Miami’s many cultural attractions include the Perez Art Museum Miami, with its celebrated collection of contemporary international art, and the National Historic Landmark Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, where you can tour the stunning European-style villa and formal gardens of Chicago industrialist James Deering.

When it’s time to pack up the car, journey south to the Florida Keys, a string of small islands off the southern tip of the state. The 160-mile drive from Miami to Key West is one of the most scenic in the country — take time to enjoy the water views out every window as you cross the system of bridges connecting the island chain. From downtown Miami, drive 50 miles south on the Ronald Reagan Turnpike, U.S. Highway 1 and the mangrove-lined Card Sound Road to northern Key Largo, stopping at the waterside dive, Alabama Jack’s, where crispy conch fritters await.

Stretching for 33 miles, Key Largo is the largest of the Florida Keys and famous for snorkeling and scuba diving within John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the nation’s first underwater state park. With so many outdoor activities nearby (like swimming with the dolphins at Dolphins Plus or pretending to fly with Jetpack Waterflights), you might want more time here, so stay at the Hilton Key Largo Resort.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in the Florida Keys is the nation’s first underwater state park. Visitors can hike, picnic, swim, scuba dive, snorkel, boat, canoe, kayak and paddleboard.

Continue the leisurely drive south and west through the Keys along U.S. 1, making an obligatory stop at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen for its famous Key lime pie.

Fishing lovers should pull off in Islamorada to hop aboard the Dirty Boat for half-day to full-day charters. Outdoor enthusiasts can continue 45 miles south to Bahia Honda State Park for fine waterfront cabin camping. Just outside Key West, stop at Stock Island for a delicious hogfish slider at Hogfish Bar & Grill, where outdoor tables sit on the working shrimp docks and bobbing boats fill the view.

In Key West, you’ll find all manner of accommodations, from tiny bed-and-breakfasts to grand waterfront resorts. For a room just a couple of blocks from the southern shoreline — right near the monument marking the southernmost point of the continental U.S. — stay the night at the Best Western Hibiscus Hotel.

The end of the road in Key West is hardly the end of the fun. Go snorkeling at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. Join the nightly sunset celebration at Mallory Square, an outdoor festival with food and craft vendors, set right along the water near the northern end of Duval Street, the main drag. Tour the Hemingway Home, where the author wrote several of his famous works. Head to Sloppy Joe’s, the famous bar on Duval Street, where Hemingway used to raise a glass.

While Duval Street is full of restaurants and bars, it’s well worth venturing off the beaten path to find a gem of a restaurant to celebrate your drive through paradise. Tucked away on the western end of the island, Santiago’s Bodega serves up tasty tapas like chorizo skewers and yellowfin tuna ceviche in rustic-chic surrounds that Hemingway himself would have loved.

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About the Author

Terry Ward is a Tampa-based freelance writer who loves nothing more than enjoying a strong cafecito and a cheap and tasty Cuban sandwich on a trip around Florida. You can see more of her work on her website, Terry-Ward.com.