Florida Road Trip

Florida Keys

Rain Barrel Artisan Village giant lobster
Gotta stop for a photo of the giant spiny lobster statue

Departing from Miami Beach, we headed down further south into the Florida Keys (low islands formed on coral reefs) on US Highway 1. The portion of US 1 through the Florida Keys is known as one of the most scenic drives in the US, as parts of the route are on long bridges where the beautiful turquoise sea can be viewed on both sides. While Miami and Miami Beach feel like a big seaside city, the Keys have more of a tropical Caribbean island feel to them. There are many interesting communities and stops along the Keys, and we made a few stops along our drive. Our first stop was at the Rain Barrel Artisan Village to see the giant anatomically correct statue of a spiny lobster. The place also has a lot of local artwork and souvenirs at reasonable prices.

Robbie's marina  feed the tarpons
Feeding the tarpons on route to Key West.

The next stop was at Robbie’s Marina in Islamorada in order to feed the tarpons. This was listed as a must-do in a couple of Florida Key road trip publications I’ve read, and it was pretty fun. Basically, the marina has a lot of tarpons (big 4-5 feet long fishes) rounded up near the docks, and people can pay a little bit of money for buckets of fish to feed these big fishes. People lie down on the dock and extend their hand with the fishes down to the water so the tarpons can reach them. The tarpons are voracious predators, but they don’t have sharp teeth so it’s relatively safe. Probably more danger comes from the big hungry pelicans that are around that are trying to steal the bait fishes. Feeding the tarpons was certainly a new experience, and it took a bit of patience since there were a lot of people feeding them, so sometimes it takes a little while for a tarpon to grab the fish out of your hand. But it’s fun when it happens.

Seven Mile Bridge
The new (on the left) and old Seven Mile Bridge(s)

We then stopped at the beginning of the Seven Mile Bridge in Marathon. The Seven Mile Bridge is the longest bridge along the route. There are actually two Seven Mile Bridges: the new one where all the vehicle traffic is on, and the old bridge which is now used as a walkway to Pigeon Key. We didn’t do the walk, but we certainly did enjoy the views of the two bridges over the water.

Florida Keys US 1
Beautiful ocean views from US 1 in the Keys.

Family photo at the Southernmost Point marker in Key West (click to enlarge)

At the end of US 1 lies Key West, the southernmost city of Florida and the “continental” United States. Of course, there is the Southernmost Point marker at the end of Whitehead Street, and we went there to take a picture of that. There is a line-up tourists trying to take pictures, and it’s nice that all the tourists are forming a queue on their own.

Key West Duval Street
Walking down Duval Street in Key West

We didn’t have a lot of time to spend in Key West unfortunately, so mostly we just walked around. Other than the Southernmost Point, we walked up and down Duval Street which was the main commercial street in the old town, and visited Mallory Square (but didn’t quite catch the sunset). It seemed like a nice, relaxing city with a the laid-back tropical island vibe. I wished we had more time, but my vacation days were limited and hotels in the Keys were very expensive.

On our way back to the mainland, we stopped by the Blond Giraffe in Tavernier to have some Key Lime Pie. We couldn’t exactly go into the Florida Keys and not have the signature food of the region. We got several different varieties including key lime pie dipped in chocolate and on a stick, giving us a last little sweet reminder of the Florida Keys.

The Everglades

Everglades National Park pano
The Everglades from an elevated scenic viewpoint (click to enlarge)

Upon returning to the mainland, we headed into Everglades National Park which protects the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. The Everglades is home to many rare animals, and also a lot of alligators, and that’s what we mainly wanted to see. We entered through the main park entrance at Royal Palm and drove down State Route 9336 into the park, stopping by to take walks at all of the elevated boardwalks. The Anhinga trail is the most famous boardwalk in the park and shows the classic Everglades landscape. During the walk, we saw four gators, and two of them were relaxing right next to the trail. The gators we saw weren’t big, about 6 feet long. But they were certainly big enough to be dangerous and there are park rangers around telling people not to get too close.

Everglades National Park gator
A gator right beside the Anhinga Trail

The different boardwalks inside the park show a variety of ecosystems, ranging from the flooded tropical wetlands, to hardwood forests and to mangroves along the coast. On one of our stops along a small lake, we saw a big 10-foot-long American crocodile basking on the ground. American crocodiles are found along the Florida coast near brackish water, and they are easier to tell apart from the more common American alligators by their lighter coloration and V-shaped snout. This guy was probably big enough to eat a person, and so we kept a respectful distance.

Everglades National Park crocodile
Big American Croc resting by a small lake
Everglades National Park  Flamingo
Seabirds flock at Flamingo inside Everglades National Park

At the end of Route 9336 we arrived in Flamingo along the coast of Florida Bay. There is a visitor center, campgrounds, and boat ramps for people to launch their watercraft into the bay. We stopped to enjoy the views of the water, especially the flock of seabirds that were flying around, and headed back the same way we drove in.

Gator Park airboat ride
Fun airboat ride through the Everglades.
Gator Park swimming gator
This gator swam up real close to our boat during our airboat ride.

We left Everglades National Park, but we had one more stop in the Everglades at Gator Park. Gator Park is one of the several private alligator parks in the region that offer airboat rides and alligator shows, and we picked them mainly because they have a couple of coupons that made for a better deal. The airboat ride was very fun, especially when the boat was moving fast. The feeling of the wind and the mist of water driven up by the boat was great especially when it was hot under sun. We also saw a few small gators swimming, and a couple of birds along the ride. In comparison, the gator wildlife show wasn’t as fun, but it wasn’t bad. I even got to hold a 3-year old gator after the show for some photos.

I was shakin’ in my boots holding this guy… no I wasn’t (click to enlarge)

St. Augustine Beach

St. Augustine Beach
Concluding our road trip with a little beach stroll

On the drive back to North Carolina, we stayed a night in St. Augustine Beach in northern Florida. In the morning before starting our drive, we went for a little walk on the beach. St. Augustine Beach has a very nice beach, but there weren’t many people around as the weather in northern Florida wasn’t quite warm enough yet. I’m sure there will be plenty of vacationers once we head into Spring.

———————-

… and that was all of the highlights of our family road trip down to Florida. It’s always great to be able to spend time with family, and now that I’m working these moments are not easy to come by. We had a great time down in Florida, but given the somewhat tight schedule and the amount of driving involved, we were all pretty tired by the end. We drove over 2000 miles and covered a lot of the major attractions along the eastern Florida coast, but there is still a lot of Florida (and Georgia for that matter) that we didn’t get to visit this time. The Tampa/Clearwater area, Tallahassee, Pensacola… these places are all on my radar. And I certainly would like to have spent more time in Key West to do some snorkeling and other water sports. There’s an idea for the next trip :wink: .

2 thoughts to “Florida Road Trip”

  1. bitch, i was looking for a review for a Bleach manga and i looked everywhere for your blog, oogled the crap out of you till i found you again. i used to come over there to troll about the chapters. You were my favorite blogger for many years. i used to work at a blog called That.animeblog many years ago. very fun blog but i stopped as i got into college so i get where you come from. That being said i miss you short reviews. It’s just a suggestion but why not post about Bleach again but this time without any pictures for the chapter. We can talk about it without needing to see a picture. Also, you could always fight your DMCAs, those poopfaced greedy horselovers do that to about everyone with a blog. i wish you had not given up.

    anyways best of luck to you. and all hail Aizen sama, king of trolls and my mentor in (internet) life!

  2. Thanks for the support Ananas. It’s cool that you used to work for That anime blog, which was a pretty popular blog when I started blogging anime and manga.

    I still read manga (Bleach included), but now that I’ve stopped I don’t have motivation to start blogging again. If I had my manga blog on my own server, I probably wouldn’t given a damn about DMCA notices. But my blog was on Blogger and Google decided to delete it, and I didn’t feel like rebuilding the blog elsewhere after that. The DMCA notices are pretty stupid though… I’m pretty sure they are just program that automatically scour Google results and generate complaints.

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