The Florida Overseas Highway is as close a step into an otherworldly Atlantis as this planet has to offer. Aquariums, parks, and mysterious but colorful communities dot the length of this route, which begins just after Florida City. A series of islands that were connected as early as 1935 via railroad, the Overseas Highway is a mystical journey into a watery world of relaxation and whimsy. Pack a swimsuit and a camera rich in memory, because adventure awaits at these six iconic destinations.
Seven Mile Bridge
Only recently open to pedestrian traffic in January of 2022, the old Seven Mile Bridge sits proudly parallel to the current bridge, separated by a small gap of only several meters. The former was a converted railroad from 1935, that was replaced with a more structurally sound bridge in 1982. The total length is just shy of 11 thousand meters, making it the perfect annual host of the Seven Mile Bridge Run each spring. Having been used in several films and television series, including 2 Fast 2 Furious, the bridge is a popular destination for cinema buffs who do not go for the destination, but the drive itself. Halfway through the journey, an island resembling another world can be seen, with a house sitting far away from civilization at its center. Views of marine life are not uncommon, including rays, turtles, and even sharks. “Seven Mile Bridge” is a deceiving name for a place that tempts visitors into indefinitely lengthening their trip through repeated forays.
Rain Barrel Village
Easy on the harpoon, that crustacean is just a recreation! At several meters high, Rain Barrel Village of Islamorada hosts the largest lobster statue in the world, whimsically named ‘Betsy.’ Besides this initial attraction, Rain Barrel Village is a necessary stop in any true Overseas Highway excursion. Upon entering the premises, colorful signs point the way to bars, cafes, gift shops, art rooms, and many more attractions. The architecture, with balconies, seashell decorations, and driftwood walling, looks like it was designed by an artistic child and then built to scale. Visitors sip on straws sticking right out of entire coconuts, a truly rustic atmosphere. Statues of Neptune hang next to humorous, albeit often profane, slogans knitted onto doilies. As eccentric a spot as it is, Rain Barrel Village provides a valuable opportunity for guests to support local artists and artisans. You will not regret having a quirky souvenir to brag about to friends back home, that is for sure.
Tucked away amongst the Boot Key marinas, parks, and country clubs is the Turtle Hospital. Best experienced as an educational tour, and particularly popular among classrooms of all ages, the Turtle hospital prides itself on restoring to health stranded turtles of all varieties. These turtles are affected by weather upheaval, human-development overreach, and sickness. Therefore, the staff are knowledgeable and equipped to facilitate a healing environment for our marine friends. Quite explicitly, the center does encourage appointments to ensure that all interested visitors are given equal access and attention, as well as to maintain a stress-free atmosphere for the reptiles in recovery. With tours an hour and a half long, guests will learn about rehabbing and release procedures and even be provided the opportunity to ‘adopt’ certain turtles for around 35 dollars per year. A great way to support the center is by stopping through the gift shop for souvenirs. By finding the perfect memento that matches your personality, you can feel pride in having endorsed the ongoing efforts of the Turtle Hospital.
Providing a little privacy, a little peace, and plenty of joy, Oceanfront Park is the perfect midway stop while gallivanting down the Overseas Highway. Located next to activities such as the Marathon Air Museum, Oceanfront Park features a dog-friendly space, kayak launches, a fishing pier, and quiet picnic areas shaded by palms. A common occurrence is groups of old and young holding fast to strings to guide kites in the air as if they were stirring the sky. Nearby, Pelicans are known to dive for fish within only a few meters of onlookers, an experience that a typical beach cannot provide. All of these unique traits are what make Oceanfront Park so cherished by Marathon residents, which is why the park was quickly restored after significant damage from Hurricane Irma in 2018. Worth investigating is the view from the bridge over the launch area, where a spectacular sight of an olive-green river connects with the rest of the ocean, between lush forest hedges.
The fear of the deeps is quickly transformed into a joy of the seabed, at Sundance Watersports. For beginners, this location offers SNUBA diving which is a form of diving that does not require certification beforehand. A raft hosts an oxygen tank, and a snorkel-esque mask allows the diver to make the most of their time underwater. Sundance Watersports has been in operation in Islamorada since 1994, so professionalism is their expertise. This marine pride extends to activities like parasailing and private charters as well, be they corporate or personal. The organizers are reputed for being adaptable to the needs and goals of their patrons, to ensure the most memorable experience. Tools like precision goggles help explorers spot all the sea life activity while vibrant music helps set the mood. As the name suggests, the sunsets are the defining feature of outings, and page after page of positive reviews are a testament to the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that Sundance Watersports provides.
A serene place, far removed from the trappings of industry, Horseshoe beach is located in Big Pine Key just before a humble Boy Scout Camp. Considered to have the “most gorgeous turquoise waters in the Keys,” Horseshoe beach is a quiet place ideal for all types of swimming and snorkeling. The prongs of the beach act as a seawall, preventing rough surf from irritating the gentle atmosphere. A lack of facilities, restrooms, and vendors is what preserves Horseshoe Beach as a secret known only to the locals. But another word for ‘absence’ is ‘opportunity,’ and this presents the perfect time to pack a picnic with a loved one; if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. The structure of this iconic beach is artificial, given that it was originally dug out as a quarry. Low tide is the advised time to explore the beach and area, which is impossible to miss when you already planned to stay the whole day here at Horseshoe Beach.
The cherry on top of a visit to the Florida Overseas Highway is the reality that you do not have to say goodbye to your favorite places on the way out. By design, a departure necessitates double dipping in the same spots you enjoyed on the way to mile marker 0 in Key West, ensuring the opportunity to hit any locations you missed out on or did not get enough of. If you are lucky and can avoid blinking, you might even spy dolphins effortlessly breaching the waves next to you as you drive, a final mystical farewell from Florida’s slice of Paradise.