Are you heading to the Florida Keys for Spring Break?
These words from The Beach Boys’ song, “Kokomo”, might start running through your head!
Aruba, Jamaica, oh I want to take ya
Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty mama
Key Largo, Montego, baby why don’t we go, Jamaica
Off the Florida Keys, there’s a place called Kokomo
That’s where you wanna go to get away from it all
Bodies in the sand, tropical drink melting in your hand
We’ll be falling in love to the rhythm of a steel drum band
Down in Kokomo
Spring Break in the Florida Keys
The girls loved our previous California Spring Break in 2019 and the 7 Super Spring Ideas for Oceanside, CA. Let’s hope Florida lives up to the “cool” vacation spot vibe.
The Florida Keys, a relatively small section of Florida, is jam-packed with activities for all ages and interest levels. As a family of four this trip (one of girls decided to stay home) we were excited for beach days and sunshine and snorkeling and trying key lime pie. Coming from Colorado and shoveling out from under a blizzard in the previous week, the Keys were sounding pretty good.
If you happen to travel from the Denver International Airport to Miami, Florida, you know that Pikes Peak parking lot has been closed since shutting down with Covid. I hope they plan to open up soon since it is a huge inconvenience to have to look elsewhere for parking.
Chris made a reservation at the Parking Spot. It is nice with shuttle service to the airport; it just adds about 30 minutes onto the time we need to get to the airport.
Chris no longer has status on Southwest Airlines! I guess that’s not quite so bad as the status he isn’t earning on United right now either! So, we had to go a little earlier in order to check our Luggage. With the new self-check kiosks at Southwest check-in, it does make getting through the line a whole lot faster.
We had plenty of time to stop and get some dinner before taking the train to the C Concourse. If you aren’t familiar with the Denver International Airport, the food options at the Denver Airport are much better on the B Concourse.
As the four of us walked up to our gate toting our Backpack Carry-ons, we were recognized by a fellow passenger who turned out to be my second cousin. Plus, she grew up with Chris and knew him too. How she recognized us in masks, I don’t know.
We were happy to chat with Jocelyn and found out that she and her family were also on our flight to Miami, Florida for Spring Break. It is amazing the chance encounters we make as we travel. We chatted with Jocey and her family a little before the flight, and then they waited for us after the flight landed in Miami to walk with us to the baggage claim.
Chris and I walked with Jocey and her family to baggage claim and accidentally left our girls (ages 15 and 21) behind as they went to the bathroom after deplaning. Our girls tried to find us in the confusion of a new airport. I went back upstairs from baggage claim to see if I could spot them. All good, though they weren’t very pleased that we ditched them in the first place. “Not cool, parents! Not cool.”
Note to self. Kids, even adult kids, don’t like to be left behind.
After retrieving all of our luggage, we trekked to the rental car tram. If you’re traveling to the Miami Airport in Florida for the first time, take note, that trek seemed like a half mile walk! We settled on a small SUV for a rental car. It was fine for the four of us but would not have fit all five of the peeps in our family.
There are a multitude of options for hotels in and around Miami. Chris booked a room at the TownePlace Suites Marriott in Homestead, Florida about 45 minutes away from the airport. It was midway between many of the activities we had planned for the next few days. We were fortunate that a family suite with two bedrooms was available. The girls had to share a king-size bed, but I don’t think they minded since they had a separate room. It was nice to be able to spread out and all have our own space.
Knaus Berry Farm
Once Amy and Kristen were up and about, we spread on the Sunscreen and headed off to a U-pick strawberry patch called Knaus Berry Farm. That is not to be confused with Knott’s Berry Farm in California.
Knaus Berry Farm was a much smaller operation that boasted fresh cinnamon rolls in the bakery as well as ice cream, milk shakes, and fresh vegetables at their roadside stand. And, of course, rows of strawberry plants ripened in the Florida sun just for the picking. It was a little late in the season, and the owner suggested that we head to the opposite ends of the rows in hopes of finding strawberries.
We filled a two pound container. And let me just say, two pounds is a lot of strawberries to eat. Just note that they won’t be as nice the second or third day as when they are freshly picked. We paid just under $10 for the strawberries.
Chris indulged in a milkshake, Amy (who is lactose intolerant) took her Lactaid pills and had a strawberry sundae, and Kristen and I stood in line for two cinnamon rolls and one dozen dinner rolls. The dinner rolls would come in handy for lunches throughout the week.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park and Crandon Park
Our arrival at Bill Baggs State Park was later in the afternoon and big signs were posted at the entrance that the beach was CLOSED. Boooo. I imagine that we could have waited in line for other cars to leave the park so that as cars left, more cars would be allowed in.
We had been looking forward to spending an afternoon at the beach at Bill Baggs State Park which boasted a variety of activities for families. Weekends in Florida proved to be an extraordinarily busy time for the beaches.
My recommendation is to get there earlier in the morning.
I was disappointed to miss out on seeing the lighthouse.
Instead of waiting, we chose to double back to Crandon Park a couple of miles away located on the Atlantic side of the Florida Keys. Amy and Kristen were excited to hit the sandy beach and play in the ocean whether it was Bill Baggs or Crandon Park. It was all the warm weather in Florida!
If you are like me and try to stay out of the sun, there were plenty of palm trees providing shady spots along the beach where you could spread out your towels. Chris and the girls were off to the ocean. I relaxed on a towel in the shade keeping an eye on our Foldable Cooler, Tote Bag, and stuff and enjoyed the afternoon. It was in the high 70s and just a great day for lazing at the beach.
Playing in the water? That was a different story. Kristen and Amy came back after ten minutes or so to start working on their tans. I joined Chris in the water, and it was not exactly warm. I waded in a short ways, but wasn’t interested in immersing myself. I’m kind of a chicken when it comes to cold water!
We left the beach around 4:30 pm to go in search of dinner.
Again, the food options were unlimited in the area. We drove back to Homestead, Florida for dinner and, after changing, found Le Quebradita on the Yelp App. Sitting outside on the patio was perfect. The guacamole even more so. If you are a guacamole fan you’ll love this place.
Normally, when Chris and I travel, we love to eat simply for our afternoon meals. Usually we find bread, cheese, meat, some carrot sticks, drinks, and fruit. Of course, the lunch fare tastes a little better in the Italian countryside, but we enjoyed it in Florida too. Before returning to the hotel, we stopped across the street from the hotel at the Publix grocery store to stock up for the next few days.
Since we had a rental car, we also purchased a large pack of bottled water, Gatorade, and some Bubly (a fizzy drink). Staying hydrated as you travel is important. Especially important when you are in the sun all day long while playing tourist in Florida.
Travel Tip: Pack a Foldable Insulated Cooler in the bottom of your suitcase. That way you can fill it with drinks and lunch as you take day trips. I also pack a gallon-size Ziploc bag and fill it with ice from the hotel’s ice machine. It works like a charm to keep snacks, lunches, and water bottles cool.
I also recommend that you place some of your water bottles in the freezer (if your hotel room has one) or the in-room fridge if that is available. Add ice to the bottles in the morning.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Are you like us and want add a little spirituality to your Sabbath? With current Covid conditions, we were able to watch our Colorado church service via a Zoom link in Florida.
We planned to kayak through the mangroves at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Depending on traffic, the park was about 45 minutes to an hour from our hotel in Homestead.
The Sunday traffic for us was crazy busy and slow. I’m sure it was extra busy because it was the weekend. These drivers just could not manage a merge lane without having to stop traffic completely. And, you might as well know, most people didn’t seem to know that they had a turn signal in their car either! If they could cheat the merge and drive as far ahead as possible, they would, even so far as getting out of their spot in the line of cars and hopping the line. It was karma when a big silver truck behind us began blocking the line hoppers.
Our reservation for Kayaking Through the Mangroves included two double kayaks for two hours.
Amy and I paddled together while Chris and Kristen occupied the second kayak. Amy and I were fairly crazy drivers as we tried to coordinate our oars and efforts.
The kayak tour employee suggested a route that might have taken two hours, but we found we could have finished it in an hour. Instead, we paddled around through the mangroves, finding some dead ends and many low-hanging branches to entangle our hair and our oars.
I recommend that you wear swim bottoms as you will get wet from paddling the kayak. I just had on some capris and they were soaked within a short amount of time. As they dried, the saltiness of the water left white water marks all over them.
We returned the kayaks and went in search of a covered picnic table, unpacked our food from the Foldable Insulated Cooler, and dined on our lunch fixings. The day and the weather in Florida was just perfect. In contrast, the recent snow in Colorado was still melting.
You can follow paths through a hammock (stand) of trees and try the boardwalk through the mangroves. The boardwalk didn’t take us far as it had been damaged in the last hurricane. Park officials decided that it wasn’t worth the effort to try and repair it.
Returning to Homestead, we found Mamma Mia’s Pizzeria for dinner. Kristen was disappointed that they weren’t playing ABBA’s “Mamma Mia” song!
If you happen to stop at Mamma Mia’s, be prepared for huge servings of pasta and bread. Our garlicky cheese rolls were served by the dozen in a large bowl. Though delicious, there was no way we were going to be able to finish them off.
See that roll in the bottom right of the picture? And that blob of cheese on top? I thought it was cheese until I popped it into my mouth and then promptly spit it out when I realized it was just a blob of minced garlic. GAAAAA! The girls were happy to mock me for the rest of the evening. “Mom, why would you even do that?”
We knew we wouldn’t be able to eat the leftovers as we were leaving the hotel the next morning and driving to Key West. However, our waiter, Benjamin, wasn’t about to let us leave the restaurant without taking some food with us.
We arrived back at the hotel only for Kristen to realize that she had left her purse hanging on her chair at the restaurant. Chris was kind enough to drive back across town with her so that she could retrieve it. Fortunately, there wasn’t much of value in it. Fortunately, it was still there.
I rinsed the dried saltwater out of my pants and was pleased to see no lasting damage.
The Florida Keys
If you are planning to drive from Homestead to Key West, the furthest point along the Florida Keys, it should take you about two and a half hours—unless you make stops along the way. The traffic today was 100% improved. There was still some slowing, but the amount of cars on the road was greatly diminished for a Monday morning. And these drivers had no problems whatsoever merging without coming to a complete standstill.
Rain Barrel Village
We stopped at the Rain Barrel Village, complete with a giant lobster—Betsy—at the entrance. The open-air mall consisted of a variety of smaller shops, boutiques, eateries and galleries offering art, custom jewelry, trinkets, snacks, and mementos. We didn’t buy anything here but enjoyed a leisure day of stopping as we pleased.
If you want to stop and snap a picture with the 30-foot tall Betsy the Lobster, you’ll find her along the Overseas Highway in Islamorada. Betsy will be on your right if you are driving toward Key West.
Truth: Vacation calories don’t count!
Our next stop? Robbie’s, also in Islamorada. Chris read about this tourist site on TripAdvisor. Robbie’s is a must-visit destination, famous for more little shops, tarpon fishing, crazy pelicans, and water sports and excursions.
We watched the pelicans fight over fish guts as small fish were cleaned for feeding the tarpons. These Florida pelicans were determined. Our girls were not interested in touching the fish or feeding the tarpons, so we just watched.
Amy and Kristen were, however, happy to stand in line for shaved ice and had orange tongues to show for it!
You’ll also find the usual tourist grabs at Robbie’s: Sunglasses, hats, jewelry, and food.
As you drive closer to Key West, Florida, the water changes to a brilliant hue of blue on both the Gulf of Mexico side and the Atlantic Ocean side. The road often narrows to two lanes with water on either side of the road.
We stopped for a quick lunch at one of the pull offs and enjoyed the sandy beach, blue sky, and azure blue ocean. Lots of families were enjoying the small bit of beach as well.
Key West, Florida
We arrived at our hotel in Key West; it was not nearly as impressive as the TownePlace Suites in Homestead. We had a single room with two queens for the next two nights.
If you have ever been to Key West, you know that roosters and chickens of all shapes and sizes have their run of the island. And you’ll know it when they start crowing at 4:45 in the morning. You might even find yourselves muttering, “Stupid roosters” each morning. The roosters and chickens are everywhere! Why?
“There have always been chickens in Key West. When people stopped the laborious process of turning live chickens into Sunday dinner many decades ago, some backyard chickens gained their freedom. Other roosters were released when cock-fighting became illegal.”https://www.floridarambler.com/funky-florida/key-west-chickens-key-west-roosters/
We arrived with just enough time to unload all of our stuff in the hotel room, pack up a few things in a Backpack, and catch the shuttle bus to the Historic District of Key West. The bus driver was kind enough to wait for Chris to join us as the girls and I had rushed out of the room to catch the shuttle before it left.
The shuttle ride took about 15 minutes. The Historic District and Mallory Square were lively with tourists of all kinds and ages.
Urban Adventure Quest Scavenger Hunt
Our plan? Start the Urban Adventure Quest Scavenger Hunt that Chris had purchased. We have completed these scavenger hunts in various locations across the United States and always have fun with them. This Florida version did not disappoint.
The scavenger hunt is a covid-friendly outdoor adventure where you will be solving clues and completing challenges as you learn the history or an area; it lasts between two to three hours. Take your time or race your friends to see who can get the better score.
This one began to wear on a little long, especially after we got locked into a gated neighborhood and had to wait for some residents to come along and let us out!
The instructions suggested that we plan to be done with the hunt by 7 pm when they cemetery closed. The girls and I were all adamant that we DID NOT want to get locked into the cemetery!
The Urban Adventure Quest will have you counting anchor links, looking for the ingredients of Kermit’s Key Lime Pie, and unscrambling words to name a few activities for Key West, Florida.
We stopped the timer at Kermit’s Key West Lime Shoppe to taste some of their offerings. Amy and Kristen tried a lime slushie and Chris and I shared a dark chocolate-covered frozen slice of key lime pie on a stick. It was my first time trying key lime pie and it was awesome. Enjoy your treats on their cute little patio.
Since we ended up by the cemetery shortly before 7 pm, we started walking back toward the main hub of activity at Mallory Square. Mallory Square is a hub of activity with tourist shops, restaurants, museums, boat tours, hotels, and spas. You’ll find a little bit of something for everyone in your group.
We came upon a restaurant out of the tourist section of town—Mangia Mangia. Some of the locals said it was their favorite place to eat. We always love to find non-touristy locations since they are quieter and usually have great food. It is rated by Fodor’s as one of the best places to eat in Key West, Florida.
Mangia Mangia offered a great selection of fresh pastas. To avoid the abundance of extra food that we had the previous night, we ordered two entrees and two salads to share. The amount was just right.
You can even purchase one of their shirts! “Pasta to the People!”
Snorkeling at Bahia Honda
Tuesday was an early day, but not as early as we hoped. The clocks in our room had not been updated to daylight saving time and were still an hour behind. We had wanted to leave the hotel by 7:30. When Chris and I were up around 6:30 am, he looked at his iPhone and realized that the clocks were wrong!
I quickly got the girls up and going, not to their delight at all! We pulled together lunch, drinks, swim stuff, Sun screen, towels, and hoped we didn’t forget anything as we drove back along the Florida Keys to Bahia Honda State Park at mile marker 37 in Big Pine Key for a Snorkeling Expedition and then planned to spend the rest of the day at the beach there.
Bahia Honda pronounced Ba-ee-a-onda.
We arrived early enough in the day that the park was not full at all. We overheard an attendant say that the park allowed 100 cars in (it has capacity for 150) and when it was full, the cars still arriving had to wait for cars to leave before they were allowed in.
Chris called the snorkeling expedition office and told them we were running late. Not too worry, we still made it with time to fill out waivers, get some snorkel equipment, and be fitted for and change into wetsuits.
In the words of Amy, “There’s nothing like wearing a wetsuit to make you feel even ‘better’ about yourself!” Indeed! The wetsuits weren’t necessary for the snorkeling, but they sure did take the edge off the colder water.
Captain Dave and his assistant Annie were our guides for the day as we boarded the Sundance for our morning excursion.
Captain Dave drove us about 30 minutes out to Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary where our boat was anchored and the 31 guests were allowed to snorkel. It was the first time snorkeling for Kristen. She and I got to use the new masks that Chris had ordered. They covered our whole face and were so much easier to breathe in and use.
Did you know that Johnson’s Tear Free Baby Shampoo diluted with water is great for keeping your snorkel mask from fogging up? Before we put the masks on, Annie went around and squirted the solution into everyone’s mask. Worked like a charm.
With the excursions we chose, we had about an hour and a half to snorkel before heading back to the state park.
There were plenty of fish to see in a variety of colors. We even saw deep sea divers, a barracuda, and a small shark!
If you have time before you leave on your trip and you will be playing in water, invest in a Waterproof Camera and have a little fun.
After peeeeeeeeelllllling off the wetsuits and turning them back in, we found a shady spot for lunch and spread out our towels. Again, our Cooler came in handy.
Chris and I wanted to walk up on the Old Train Bridge and got the girls settled with a rented umbrella and sand chairs at the beach.
They were happy to relax in the Florida sun for the afternoon. By this time, Amy was getting a pretty good sunburn. She purchased a long sleeve swim shirt to protect her arms and shoulders.
Chris and I were disappointed that the old train bridge did not allow pedestrians to walk too far along the bridge.
The girls were lounging on the Gulf side beach; Chris and I thought they might enjoy the water and sand more on the Atlantic side.
They packed everything up, umbrella included, and crossed under the bridge to where we met them.
It was a lovely, perfect day at the beach. Even the staff working there said it was the nicest, non-windy day they had enjoyed in awhile. Who knows, maybe they say that to all the tourists to make them feel special!
The girls sunbathed, until Chris and I could see them changing color. We packed up and drove back to Key West. We were all ready for showers, but the girls wanted to check out the “resort” pool first.
Fine with me. I grabbed my Toiletry Bag to shower first and they all followed after me.
Southernmost Point Buoy
If you are visiting Florida’s Key West, you’ll want to get a picture at the Southernmost Point in the continental United States.
A fair amount of people were in line when we arrived. If you go, pick a time later in the evening or earlier in the morning when crowds aren’t as plentiful. You’ll have to wait in line for a bit, but you’ll get your turn. And people are always willing to take a picture of your whole group!
There is very limited free parking in Key West, so even for your fifteen-minute stop you will have to pay for parking.
Sunset in Key West
Sunset was at 7:40 pm that night. “See you at sunset” an iconic phrase that embodies the spirit in Key West. Join the crowds along the pier to watch and capture the scene. It is pretty much the “thing” to catch the sunset, take a sunset cruise, or find a spot at the restaurants along the pier to celebrate the view. It was an awesome sight, so I think you’ll be glad you did.
After some walking around the Historic District and Mallory Square and then driving to find a place for dinner, we settled on Moondog Cafe and Bakery. Parking was crazy and Chris spent another 20 minutes trying to find a spot. Amy and I went in early to get seats.
Three of us had mahi-mahi tacos and Kristen ordered a Margherita pizza.
Since our first slice of key lime pie was actually a frozen treat, Chris and I ordered a real slice of pie piled high with meringue to share and the girls each ordered a macaron from the bakery.
I much preferred the frozen chocolate-covered key lime bar to the meringue-covered pie. It was okay. I’d have to try a few more offerings to decide if I truly liked it.
Shark Valley in Everglades National Park
Another EARLY day for our Florida Spring Break. Our girls groaned. Good thing we let them sleep in so much earlier in the week. Our plans for the day included riding bikes through Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. Why call it Shark Valley since we were riding bikes through an alligator habitat in the mangroves?
According to one of the Park Rangers though, the name Shark Valley comes from the Shark River area of the Gulf of Mexico where the water in the Everglades flows.
If you already have a National Park Pass, be sure to bring it and use it to enter the park.
We rented bikes to ride 15, yes FIFTEEN, miles through the park. Riding bikes isn’t the only option for seeing the park, but if you do, you’ll ride along a paved path with a marshy grassland on your left and mangroves on your right. You can walk on the path, sign up for a trolley tour, or rent bikes at Shark Valley.
Many of the alligators were sunning themselves in the mangroves right next to the path. Mangroves are shrubs or small trees that grow in coastal saline water.
We did pass one alligator sunning itself part way on the path as we pedaled past. They are pretty acclimated to humans, but we were advised to exercise caution. We did. You should.
You might even bike past a “pod” of twenty or so freshly hatched baby alligators.
We stopped after seven miles and ate our Subway sandwiches. Already my gluteal muscles were feeling sore and we still had 8 more miles to go!
What I would recommend would be to turn around and go back the same way you just came. It was much more interesting than the last eight miles. If you are a bird watcher, you might enjoy it more, but it was mostly marsh land on either side of us with only one alligator sighting. Lots of birds though.
Note: There is very little shade along the pathway. We were all pretty good about applying face Sunscreen. I think the off brand body spray I bought was pretty much a dud though. I watched my hands and arms get more and more red throughout our bike ride. I was grateful to be wearing my Visor.
We had seen probably thirty alligators on the first section of our bike ride.
After rolling into the ranger station and happily turning in our bikes, we drove to our final activity of Spring Break in Florida: an airboat ride through the Everglades.
Everglades Safari Park Airboat Rides
The Everglades Safari Park was only twenty minutes from Shark Valley. We arrived just as an airboat left on a tour and had to wait another 30 minutes for the next one. The boats do go pretty regularly.
Now, if your goal is to see lots of alligators, I would recommend Shark Valley. You’ll see a lot more alligators there.
We did, however, see one alligator jump up out of the water and dive during our Everglades airboat tour. So that was cool.
The not-so-fun part? The four-hour flight home with sore muscles from riding bikes.
Final Thoughts on Fun in the Florida Keys
Spring Break in the Florida Keys did, in fact, live up to the coolness factor my girls were anticipating. If you are looking for a fun place to visit with fantastic weather and beautiful sandy beaches, look no further than the Florida Keys.
Need ideas on what to pack?