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Tampa to Key West Drive Time for a Memorable Road Trip

Tampa to Key West Drive Time - Road Trip to Key West

Tampa to Key West drive map Google
The Tampa to Key West drive has several options. How fast or how fun are two of them!

Perhaps there is no city in Florida that has more fascination surrounding it than Key West. The Tampa to Key West drive time 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 a Tampa to Key West road trip 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. The first thing you need to know is how far is Key West from Tampa?

Florida Travel Blog will give you some distances, options and ideas about your Tampa to Key West drive on your road trip.

tampa to key west stops - Clyde Butcher Galleries
One of the stops we highly recommend is the Clyde Butcher Galleries in the middle of the Everglades. One of the most prolific artists of our time.

How far is Tampa from Key West?

Following I-75 to Route US 1, and directly to Key West is about 425 miles. However, there are more interesting ways to take a Tampa to Key West road trip.

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 Tampa to the Florida Keys 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 the Tampa to Key West drive time but avoids the Miami traffic.

How long does it take to drive to Key West?

The Tampa to Key West drive time 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.

Tampa to Key West drive- this alligator is common
This guy and his friends are common sights on the Tamiami Trail, an alternate route on your drive from Tampa to Key West. Rarer sight on the misnamed Alligator Alley.

Is it worth driving from Tampa 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.

Tampa to key west drive - Key West Express
The Key West Express is an option to get to Key West. You can only catch it in south Florida.

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.

things you need when flying

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 10-14 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 from Tampa 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.

tampa to key west and smathers beach
You could be lounging on Smathers Beach in Key West in 7.5 hours but there are more fun things to do along the way.

Best Tampa to Key West Road Trip – 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 Tampa to Key West road trip.

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. The Tampa to Key West drive time varies based on your interests.

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 through, stopping only once for fuel, your Tampa to Key West dive time would be  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 and how much it will affect Tampa to Key West drive time.

You can choose a recommended stop going south to Key West, or stop on your way back north to Tampa.

Tampa to Key West stop at Punta Gorda - TTs Tiki
After about 2.5 hours of driving, if you are hungry or thirsty, try TT’s Tiki in Punta Gorda, one of our recommended stops from Tampa to Key West.

List of Stops on Tampa to Key West Road Trip 

 The potential Tampa Key West road trip stops start about an hour and a half south at Venice, Florida. These are options on your Tampa to Key West drive time.

  • 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.
Tampa to Key west drive - Naples shops
Some of the best upscale shopping in Florida is on 5th Avenue in Naples. Plan to stop for stroll.

Optional Stops That Affect Tampa to Key West Drive Time – 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 on 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.

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.

Tampa to Key West road trip - smallest post office
This full operational post office is smaller than a jail cell!

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 from Tampa 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.

Note: Check out our 2023 mile-by-mile guide – Mile Markers of the Florida Keys for more details.

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.

tampa to key west drive sunset in Key largo
This is a sunset in Key Largo taken near Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill.

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 who 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!

Tampa to Key West road trip spiny lobster
There are a lot of things to see on a Tampa to Key West drive including Big Betsy, the spiny lobster.

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 see 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 and 40 Minutes Left on Your Tampa to Key West Drive Time

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.

0 Mile Marder on Tampa to Key West drive
When you leave Tampa for your drive to Key West, this is your goal on Whitehead Street.

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, Florida. 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. 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 details on attractions in 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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