Tampa to Key West Drive - Road Trip to Key West
Perhaps there is no city in Florida that has more fascination surrounding it than Key West. A Tampa to Key West drive is most likely on many central Floridians’ minds this time of year. And, why not?
What city in Florida is surrounded by waters from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean with public access by plane, car and boat? What city in Florida has more cultural diversities? What city in Florida has a richer and more exciting history? What city in Florida has 195 bars in a 2-mile by 4-mile square area? What city in Florida has hosted writers like Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, John Hersey and so many more?
Treat Your Tampa to Key West Road Trip As An Adventure
Road trips are fun, but this Florida road trip from Tampa to Key West is better than most. You have many decisions to make. You also have a choice of which Florida attractions along the way you want to see.
Florida Travel Blog will give you some options and ideas about your travel from Tampa to Key West.
How far is it from Tampa to Key West?
Following I-75 to US 1, onward to Key West, it is about 425 miles. However, there are more interesting ways to drive to Key West from Tampa.
For instance, our preferred way is to take I-75 to Rt. 41, the Tamiami Trail, in Naples, and go across the Everglades to Rt. 997 through Homestead to Rt. 1 and then on to Key Largo. You are guaranteed a much more scenic drive and many opportunities to have some fun as described here – Alligator Alley (I-75) vs. The Tamiami Trail. This adds about 20 minutes to your trip but avoids the Miami traffic.
How long does it take to drive to Key West?
The drive time to Key West from Tampa is about 71/2 hours (depending on the time of day) and your chosen route (see above). Few people drive straight through since there are so many sights, attractions and fun along the way.
Is it worth driving to the Florida Keys?
If you like water, islands and beautiful views, it is our opinion that the drive from Key Largo to Key West through the Keys is astounding. The drive through the Florida Keys can’t be duplicated anywhere else in the world.
Of course, you can go by airplane or the Key West Express. Those options are described in our guide to the Florida Keys.
Is there a ferry from Tampa to Key West?
Technically, no. However, there is a ferry boat in Ft. Myers Beach, but not from Tampa. If you want to drive a couple hours, hop on a ferry at Ft. Myers Beach and be in Key West by lunchtime, you can do that. We have enjoyed the Key West Express several times. The Key West Express schedule is here.
Can you boat from Tampa to Key West?
Yes, if you have a decent size boat. You are looking at a long ride. Even if the Gulf is smooth, you will be looking at 9-14 hours at sea, depending on your speed and the seas. The distance will be about 230 nautical miles. There is a ferry to Key West (see above).
Are there airlines that fly to Key West?
Go to Tampa International Airport and fly with Silver Airways, United Airlines and American. Silver is the easiest airline to fly with, and our favorite if we fly. The non-stop flight to Key West is about two hours.
Best Florida Road Trip the Tampa to Key West Drive – The Best Way To Get There
It seems we are frequently writing about Key West and the Florida Keys. The interest from both domestic and international travelers is ever-increasing. We cover the best beaches in Key West, the best food in Key West and the best restaurants. However, nothing piques our interest more than a road trip from Tampa to Key West.
There are so many things to see and so many things to do along the way to Key West that you could take weeks to get there! Getting there is half the fun.
To make your road trip to Key West even more interesting are the neighboring islands, the Keys. There are many irresistible destination choices as you go through the 43 islands and cross the 42 bridges, we call the Florida Keys.
The Beginning of Your Tampa to Key West Drive
You have the car packed and are anxious to get on your Tampa to Key West drive. At least for the first couple of hours, you will start your drive heading south on Interstate 75. The freeway is the quickest way to Key West – if you were going straight there. If you wanted to drive straight to Key West, stopping only once for fuel, you can get there in 71/2 to 8 hours by taking I-75 to US -1 at Florida City. From there, it’s straight to Key West – except for those other islands and bridges.
A Tampa to Key West drive can get pretty boring on the interstate. A true Tampa to Key West road trip will bring many stunning Florida attractions including some fun things you can only do on the road to Key West. It can take from a few hours extra to a few days to get to Key West on a real road trip. Your choices are many.
Your Tampa to Key West Road Trip Stops
Our suggestions to stop on your drive to Key West from Tampa, Florida can be a few or a few dozen. You can choose your pace and places. Our recommendations include the time the stop or detour will take or delay your Tampa to Key West drive.
You can choose a recommended stop going south to Key West, or stop on your way back north to Tampa.
List of Stops on Key West Drive From Tampa to Naples
We start the potential Key West road trip stops about an hour and a half south at Venice, Florida. These are options on your Tampa to Key West drive.
- Venice, Florida – a little town just off I-75 about 10 miles is the “Shark Tooth Capital of the World”. You can step on the beach and have some lunch at Sharky’s. Enjoy the long Venice pier in front of the restaurant. The next potential stop is 30 minutes away.
- Punta Gorda, Florida – take Rt, 17 off I-75 just as you get across the Peace River from Port Charlotte. If you want a quick break, stop at TT’s Tiki or lunch at Fisherman’s Village for food and shopping. Time of detour is one hour or as long as you want to make it in Punta Gorda. The next potential stop is 30 minutes away.
- Ft. Myers Beach, Florida – Ft. Myers Beach is where the Key West Express is located and running. However, in late September 2022, the beach was struck by Hurricane Ian. The entire beach was pretty much destroyed. It will be a couple years before this can be a regular stop other than to catch the Key West Express. The next potential stop is 45 minutes away.
- Naples, Florida – this is where we not only recommend a stop but making a detour from I-75 for a much more interesting way to get to Key West and the Keys. The stop to Naples can take an hour or two if you head into Old Town and the 5th Avenue shopping and restaurant district.
Stops on the Way From Tampa to Key West Drive – The Detour to the Tamiami Trail
Of course, you may remain on I-75 and go across the misnamed “Alligator Alley” (I-75).
In our opinion, for a time increase of only about 20 minutes, the Tamiami Trail, Rt. 41 is a stunning way to get to the Keys while seeing the Florida Everglades. Florida Travel Blog considers the Tamiami Trail from Naples to Mile Marker (MM) 40 the real “Alligator Alley”. You will see more of these prehistoric inhabitants, alligators, on the Trail than the expressway I-75. See our comparison between the Tamiami Trail versus Alligator Alley.
You may just want to enjoy the Everglades’ scenery and make no stops until Key Largo at the beginning of the Keys, but here is a list of ideas along the Tamiami Trail.
- Big Cypress National Preserve Headquarters – the Big Cypress National Preserve Headquarters is an optional stop. The Big Cypress preserve is one of the most important ecological reserves in the country. Worth the stop just before reaching Ochopee.
- Ochopee, Florida – the smallest post office in the world.
- The Skunkape Headquarters – yes, the Everglades has their version of Bigfoot!
- Clyde Butchers Galleries – one of the most famous in Florida.
In addition to these famous locations, there are numerous places to pull over for a picnic and view mother nature from parks along the Tamiami Trail.
Best Places to Stop in the Florida Keys on Your Tampa to Key West Road Trip
The Florida Keys include over 100 miles of fun places to visit. There are great restaurants and unbelievable views. You could spend a month just getting to Key West with all the attractions on these 40-plus islands. Your driving time from Key Largo to Key West will be about 21/2 to 3 hours subject to traffic conditions if you make no stops.
Key Largo – this is the largest of the islands in the Florida Keys. Choose your potential stops based on the mile marker you will find alongside the road from MM 106 in Key Largo to mile marker 0 in Key West.
Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill – MM 104 -as you enter Key Largo Jimmy Johnson, of NFL coaching fame, has a place called the Big Chill. The huge tiki bar has a great view of Florida Bay and some great food with a view.
John Pennekamp State Park – MM 102.8 – if you love snorkeling and/or diving, this is a must-see stop. Even if for a few minutes, a walk through the park will give you plenty of insight for a future trip. Just a note to say 70-plus acres of the park is underwater.
Islamorada – this island is known as the Sport Fishing Capital of the World. While you may not have time to charter a trip for some sail fishing, here are some potential quick stops;
Theater of the Sea – MM 84.2 – If you want to learn about the wonders underwater and have fun, stop for a show that features the creatures of saltwater. Fun and educational, but plan on 2 to 3 hours.
Post Card Inn Tiki Bar – MM 84.1 – Next door to the Theater of the Sea, the PCI was pretty much destroyed by a hurricane in 2017. They built back bigger and better. Stop for a walk through the fishing charter boats and a cold margarita. Just 1/4 mile from the previous Theater of the Sea.
Robbie’s – MM 77 – We doubt there is a serious Florida Keys traveler that has never stopped at Robbie’s. The fun is feeding 200 pound tarpon by hand on Robbie’s docks. Of course, there are souvenir shops and snacks to go along with the fun.
Marathon – MM 59 – You are about halfway to Key West when you reach this island. While there are dozens of possibilities, here are a couple of sound ideas for a stop here.
Crane’s Point Museum – MM 50 – If you want to learn about the history of living on the Florida Keys, this is a great place to spend a couple of hours.
The Stuffed Pig – MM 49 – Need some breakfast or lunch? Then eat with the locals at this unpretentious little place as you are about to leave Marathon. This is old-style country cooking!
The Seven Mile Bridge – MM 47 – As you leave Marathon, have your cameras and video equipment ready for what some people call the 8th Wonder of the World. Your next 7 miles are breathtaking views on both sides of the road. This is as good as it gets traveling in Florida!
Big Pine Key – MM 30.2 – As you approach this island, you should be seeing many signs about slowing down for deer. While you have seen deer signs before, we doubt you have ever seen deer the size of a large dog roaming the streets of Big Pine Key.
Key deer here look exactly like their white-tailed cousins up north, but just about 1/3 the size. If you want to take a few minutes and turn right at the first traffic light on the island, you may see these little deer alongside the roads of many streets on the island.
30 Miles Left on Your Tampa to Key West Drive
By the time you leave Big Pine Key, you have 45 minutes left to get to Key West. After years of driving to Key West from Tampa, we suggest most people get anxious to get to Duval Street and forgo many stops. You can almost taste the margaritas now.
However, if for any reason you want to make a stop, we could suggest The Square Grouper (MM 22.5) or Mangrove Mama’s about MM 20.
There is one special place to eat on Stock Island (MM 5), a mile or two before you cross the bridge to Key West that we highly recommend.
Hogfish Grill on Stock Island has two things – an atmosphere that represents the Keys and some of the best food in and around Key West. The Hogfish is just a few blocks off the Overseas Highway (US Rt. 1) you are traveling, but it is still not easy to find. The address is 6810 Front Street, Stock Island, Forida. The waterfront location may sound easy but use your GPS or phone for instructions to wind around the small streets on this island.
From Stock Island, you will reach the Cow Key Channel Bridge at MM 4.1. This is the bridge that takes you to the Island of Key West.
Your Tampa to Key West drive is essentially complete. You can follow US route 1 to MM 0 which is on Whitehead Street. In order to get to MM 0, you crossed Duval Street which may be the busiest street in America. Enjoy places like Sloppy Joe’s, Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, Irish Kevin’s, Hog’s Breath Saloon and The Smallest Bar in the World – all on Duval with many more famous places nearby.
For more detail on attractions Key West see these sites –
Key West – The Ultimate Florida Road Trip
The Best Food and Restaurants in Key West
10 Things You Most Do in Key West
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