Our Road Trip to Florida: Part II – Florida Keys

After a long drive from Tampa and a stop for groceries, we finally crossed the bridge to the Keys just as the sun was about to set down. We stopped for dinner at the aptly named Sundowners restaurant in Key Largo. More yummy seafood plus beautiful views.

view from Sundowners restaurant in Key Largo

Camping at Sugarloaf Key

Our destination was a KOA campground down at the Sugarloaf Key. My original plan was to book a site at Bahia Honda or any other state park in Florida Keys. Unfortunately, since campsite reservations for Florida parks open eleven months in advance, there were no campsites left by the time we started planning our trip. After some research, I found a KOA campground not far from Key West. During our road trips, we often book cabins at various KOAs for one- or two-night stops. It is less expensive than a hotel room and doesn’t interfere with the whole camping vibe of the trips. We weren’t sure about tenting, though, since the tent sites we’d seen at different KOAs varied significantly – from decent-size wooded lots to small pebble-covered patches tucked in between RVs. The site we got at this KOA exceeded our expectations by a lot: it was further away from the RVs, and had lots of shade and space (enough space to even play soccer). We then discovered that there were other tent areas, with the green one (where we stayed) and the yellow one being the best. All the others were across from the RV area, which looked more like a parking lot than a campground and made me claustrophobic every time I had to walk through it.

two tents at the Sugarloaf KOA campground

playing soccer at Sugarloaf KOA  playing soccer at Sugarloaf KOA

The campground as a whole was far from the wilderness camping experience we are used to and reminded more of a resort with its own bar, café, tiki huts and inflated bouncing and climbing structures in the beach area. It had some nice features, though, like kayak, canoe and boat rentals, and was a good base for exploring the Keys and visiting Key West (plus we had lots of wilderness waiting for us over at Everglades). We stayed there for three days going on bike rides, kayaking, soaking up the sun and watching pelicans and iguanas. Pelicans were abundant, especially around the fish cleaning station waiting for occasional fish remains or lining up on the fishing bridge seemingly oblivious of the people right next to them. Dozens of iguanas were sunning in the mangroves, their striped tails hanging among the branches. It was a fun game to see who could find the most of those masters of disguise. Sometimes, they would scatter around the campsite or play hide-and-seek around the car. (For more pictures of pelicans and iguanas, go to my Random|Pix blog.)


fishing bridge

pelicans  pelican in a tree

iguana in a tree   iguana in a tree

iguana on a car tire   iguana on a car tire

The best part of the trip, of course, was getting to spend time with my family, my brother and his wife. In the evening, we would have long conversations around the fire or listen to our friendly neighbour Roger play his guitar.

around the campfire

Key West

We dedicated one day to exploring Key West since it was only 20 miles away from the campground. Instead of driving there, we decided to take public transit. There is a bus running all the way through the Lower Keys and it only costs $4 for adults and $2 for kids. Biking would be another green transportation option since there is a bike lane along most of Highway 1 that runs from Key Largo to Key West. The bus does take some time, though, since it makes frequent stops and circles a bit around Stock island and Key West but then you don’t have to worry about finding parking, not an easy task in a town as busy as Key West.

key west

Key West is a pretty, lively town at the very south of Florida Keys so almost everything has ‘Sounthernmost’ in its name, like “Southermost Hotel’ or ‘Southernmost Beach.’ The southernmost point in continental USA actually features a huge buoy with the ’90 miles to Cuba’ marker, a very popular destination with a huge lineup of people wishing to take a picture in front of it. I guess this fascination can be explained by the fact that for now Americans can’t get any closer to Cuba. ’90 miles to Cuba’ is another popular sign you’ll see around the city.

90 miles to Cuba

two boys near the sea  sea

southernmost beach

Key West, just like the rest of the Keys, has a bit of a Caribbean vibe. Beautiful houses, tropical plants, roosters wandering in the streets, lots of restaurants and cafes, delicious seafood (again), yummy ice-cream and famous Key Lime pie, music and dancing everywhere. And, of course, the sunset celebration at Mallory Square with flaming skies and street performers.

key west

rooster in key west

ice cream shop  restaurant


sunset at Mallory square


street performer at Mallory square

We had great time exploring the city and taking silly pictures, like looking over the fence of Hemingway’s House or pretending to be taking a selfie with a statue at the Museum of Art and History.

hemingway's house in key west

mallory square in key west

key west   selfie

For more pictures of Key West, check out my Random|Pix blog.

Before long, it was time to leave Florida Keys. As always, it felt that there was so much we hadn’t done. We had plans to stop at Bahia Honda Park on the way back since it has the best beach in all of the Keys. Unfortunately, the day use area was packed so we had to readjust our plans. We ended up at Sombrero Beach, a lovely public park in Marathon. It felt surreal to be swimming in the ocean at the end of December and the water was the warmest we’d experienced in 2014 (yes, much warmer than the lakes in Canada were this past summer). After a few hours on the beach and a grocery shopping trip, we headed for Everglades, with a beautiful Florida sunset in our rear-view mirror.

sombrero beach in marathon

sombrero beach in marathon  reading

seven mile bridge  seven mile bridge


Off to Everglades…

Our Road Trip to Florida: Part I – On the Road

We like long road trips. Every summer we hit the road to explore parks around Canada and the United States. This summer, though, we weren’t able to take time off so we decided to make up for it with a winter camping trip to Florida.

On the road

The drive from Toronto down to Florida usually takes about two days (depending how far south you want to go) but it’s a fun trip in the winter. As the temperatures outside go up, the amount of clothing you have to wear goes down. You shed coats, sweaters and boots like trees shedding leaves in the fall and after two days emerge on the other side of the weather spectrum: hot, humid and sunny.

Our trip was pleasantly uneventful. Even border crossing was surprisingly quick. We really enjoyed driving through both Virginias: beautiful mountain vistas with clouds grazing the tops. I was trying to imagine those peaks dressed up in summer greens and already planning a trip there once it gets warmer.




We decided to break up our drive a bit and make a stop at Savannah. Ever since reading and watching “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” I wanted to visit the city– it seemed so mysterious and charming. It didn’t disappoint and delivered every ounce of promised charm and mystery. Unfortunately, it also delivered copious amounts of rain. Light drizzle on the first day added to the charm and we had fun taking pictures with an umbrella. However, the drizzle turned into a downpour on day two, plus our younger son decided it was a good time to come down with a fever so we had to cut our explorations short. We did manage to see some of the old city and enjoy a delicious dinner at the Shrimp Factory down on River Street.

Forsyth Park, Savannah

Savannah Riverfront

With Marilyn Monroe at City Market

kid near a fountain  playing in the fountain

Shrimp and grits  Shrimp and crab

For more pictures of Savannah, check out my Random|Pix blog.

Another highlight of the trip was our cabin at the KOA campground. We arrived late at night and at a first glance it seemed no different from any other KOA we’d stayed at before. Then we noticed big white spots all over the lake by our cabin. In the morning, it turned out they were swans. The birds were everywhere – gliding, flying, cleaning their feathers and quite often fighting. There were also ducks, cormorants, Canada geese and wood storks. Quite a site to wake up to in the morning.


swans and canada goose


I posted more pictures of swans on my Random|Pix blog.


When we left Savannah, we headed south to Tampa, Florida, to visit my brother. Since our son was still sick and needed time to rest, we didn’t see much of the city. All we could squeeze in was a short walk along the waterfront and more delicious seafood. Oh, and an epic game of Settlers of Catan. The combination of rest, sun and family fun did the trick and our son was back to normal the next day. So we set out for the Keys.

tampa waterfront at night

waterfront in Tampa

ship detail     ship detail

what's that

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