8 Days in the Florida Keys: The Best Itinerary for Families
In the last few years, we have become quite the road trippers, but nothing tops a trip through the Florida Keys. We weren’t sure how kid-friendly this trip would be, but we were pleasantly surprised. So much so that the kids name this one of their favorite trips of all time.
For our trip, I had to move a couple of things around for scheduling purposes, and sadly, we had to miss out on the Dry Tortugas. But this is our ideal Florida Keys 8-day road trip itinerary when traveling with kids. Be sure to read my tips at the end and get more details from my other Florida Keys posts!
Arrive in Miami or Ft Lauderdale. Miami is ideal but Ft Lauderdale is super close so check ticket prices.
Depending on what time you arrive and what your interests are there are several activities to choose from:
~Do an airboat ride at Everglades Safari Park. They will provide you with earplugs, but ear muffs for the kids are a good idea. And don’t forget sunglasses for everyone!
~Tour the lighthouse at Bill Bags Cape Florida State Park (check website for tour times and park hours).
~See the murals in Wynwood Walls.
~Watch the sunset at Tropical Park.
We chose to visit Everglades Safari Park for the airboat tour. Since we were there later in the day we got a semi-private tour and then got to explore the park with no crowds at all!
Miami may not technically be part of the Florida Keys, but you have to experience a little of it before you head south. Take the Little Havana Cultural Walking and Food Tour with Art Deco Tours. This tour isn’t necessarily geared toward kids and there are a few parts that may be boring for them. But overall, the tour guides are great about keeping the tour moving and keeping the kids engaged. Plus this is an experience they’ll appreciate one day. I have a lot more moments from this tour on my Instagram highlights if you need convincing.
After the tour, start driving toward Key Largo.
Make a pit stop at Robert Is Here fruit stand along the way. This place is a tourist destination in itself. Feed the animals and taste all the samples. Then get a smoothie for the road (Have it sweetened with honey. So good! Trust me!).
Once you arrive in Key Largo, relaxing on the beach or by the pool is definitely worthwhile.
If you have time, take a canal cruise on the African Queen. This is the original boat from the Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart film, now fully restored for tours.
There is also parasailing in Key Largo if your kids are old enough!
Visit John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park – This is the only underwater park in the US. It’s great for diving and snorkeling, and is where the Christ of the Abyss statue is located as well as some old shipwrecks. You can book scuba and/or snorkeling tours through the state park, or just hang out on Cannon Beach (they have real canons!).
Even if you’re not into diving or snorkeling, there are several glass-bottom boat tours in Key Largo. The view isn’t quite as good, but you still get to see some of the reef!
Be sure to eat at Lazy Lobster and order the Yellow Tail Gus or Jalapeño Encrusted Yellow Tail. Or Yellow Tail anything! Just trust me. This was our favorite restaurant in all of the Florida Keys. They also had my favorite slice of key lime pie in all of the Keys!
Start moving south to Islamorada (pronounced like isle, not like the Spanish pronunciation) and spend the majority of your day at Theater of the Sea. They have several hours’ worth of animal shows, each one more fantastic than the last. This is also THE best place in the Keys to have animal interactions, like swimming with dolphins, painting with a sea lion, or meeting all sorts of exotic birds. I have a whole post on our experience here–> Splashing with the Dolphins at Theater of the Sea! If swimming with dolphins isn’t the quintessential Florida Keys activity then I don’t know what is!
Make sure to eat dinner at Robbie’s and before sunset, feed the tarpon off the dock.
Marathon, Florida claims to have some of the best sport fishing in the world. So why not take a half or full-day fishing charter? Just take your Dramamine and don’t forget about the kids who “never get sick.” Again, just trust me.
Marathon is also home to The Turtle Hospital, where sea turtles from far and wide are sent after being rescued. They give a tour every 30 minutes during the day where you can see turtles in various stages of rehabilitation. This is such a great educational experience and is an absolute must-see!
Just south of Marathon is Seven Mile Bridge. Though the old bridge isn’t drivable anymore (it’s not even fully intact most of the way), the first portion on the Marathon side is now open as a pedestrian bridge. Whether you walk it or simply drive beside it along the new highway, it’s an interesting piece of history to see.
It is also worth mentioning that Marathon is home to several very nice resorts. Hawks Cay on Duck Key, for instance, is a beautiful resort with an abundance of activities for families of all ages. But it definitely costs a pretty penny. If you go, tell me all about it!
Before you go all the way to Key West, you still have to explore some of the other lower keys.
Bahia Honda State Park has beaches on both sides of the island and the view of the old rail bridge somehow makes the area quite picturesque. They also do snorkel tours, rent kayaks, and pretty much all the typical state park activities.
National Deer Key Refuge in Big Pine Key is home to hundreds of tiny key deer. They have short trails where you’re nearly guaranteed to see several of these deer that are only found in the Florida Keys. Your best bet is to go in the morning or just before sunset. But if the refuge happens to be closed, you can still see the deer wandering all over town and through the neighborhoods.
Looe key has a whole resort dedicated to diving, but even if you don’t stay you can go diving and/or snorkeling with them. This area is known both for the reef itself with a variety of coral, but also for having an abundance of larger species of marine life.
Key West! You made it!
First of all, I have a separate post for Key West so you need to check out all the details there –> Key West With Kids: Everything You Need to Know.
But here are a few highlights you can’t miss.
~Get tickets for the hop-on/hop-off trolley or train.
~Snap a selfie at the southernmost point buoy, the mile marker 0 sign, and at the directional sign.
~Stroll down Duval Street for a little shopping and maybe a drink or two.
~Tour Hemingway’s house and go to the top of the lighthouse.
~Visit the Harry S Truman Little White House presidential museum.
~Spend the last bit of daylight in Mallory Square. Grab some conch fritters and a drink, watch the street performers, then enjoy the grand finale as the sun sets over the water.
If you thought ahead (like at least 3 months), you got tickets for the Yankee Freedom ferry to Dry Tortugas National Park. This park is only accessible by boat or seaplane. There are seaplane charters, but they’re quite expensive (and also sell out quickly- I checked!).
Get to the ferry terminal early to secure your family a good spot on the boat.
Bring lots of sunscreen and a camera!
Explore the fort, then swim on South Beach, and see how many different types of fish you can find snorkeling from the shore.
Return back to Key West in time to pack up and enjoy one more seaside dinner.
Extra tips (free of charge)
-Before you start planning this trip, keep in mind that the Florida Keys are VERY expensive. We knew this, and yet it still caught us off guard. Price everything ahead of time, triple your food budget, and check your pockets for holes!
-As you’re cruising down the overseas highway, you will notice a LOT of police cars parked on the side of the road. The funny thing is, most of those cars are empty, presumably to deter tourists from speeding. But every once in a while, you’ll come across one of them actively monitoring, so heed the posted speeds!
-Keep in mind that most (though not all) of the sandy beaches in the keys are man-made and have relatively short sand bars. The rest of the shores are rock. There aren’t any big waves anywhere in the Florida Keys, because they break on the reef a few miles offshore. But that also means there is amazing scuba diving and/or snorkeling just about anywhere in the Keys and it’s only a short boat ride.
-One activity you have to do with the kids is to sample and rank the key lime pie every chance you get. We literally tried it in every single restaurant, and then sought out a few more. We tried it in every form we could find. My personal winner was the key lime pie at Lazy Lobster in Key Largo.
There you go. That’s everything. We had THE best time in the Florida Keys and I’m sure you will too.
Did I leave anything out?