Driving To Sugarloaf Key
The Overseas Highway is 113 of the 174 mile drive from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to Sugarloaf Key (17 miles from Key West) and it is a lovely and interesting drive (even in the rain, though it was only overcast with the occasional drizzle). You take the Florida Turnpike through mainland Florida and head south when you hit the Overseas Highway in Key Largo. There are toll roads on mainland Florida (but not on the Overseas Highway) and most are only collected electronically, so check the toll policy of your rental car company. Alamo charged our credit card a daily fee plus the tolls on days we used the SunPass (Florida’s prepaid electronic toll program) installed in the rental car.
The drive itself is a tourist activity encompassing five regions (Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, The Lower Keys and Key West). The Atlantic Ocean is to the left and the Gulf of Mexico is to the right. With no stops the drive will take about four hours but why rush it? There are scenic views, attractions and restaurants along the way that merit a whole day. You can’t drive very fast through the small towns anyway.
Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen
About an hour and a half into our drive, we stopped at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen in Key Largo for breakfast. It’s a cute place serving very rich, down home food and a very good, if very sweet Key lime pie.
Seven Mile Bridge
Then we made our way through Islamorada and Marathon and went over the Seven Mile Bridge to the Lower Keys. Soon after crossing the Seven Mile Bridge, you will come to Bahia Honda Key and Bahia Honda State Park. You can pay for daily entrance to the park or arrange to overnight there. The park has the largest natural sand beach in the Florida Keys, so if you want to get your swim on, this is the place to go.
Coconuts Bar & Liquor Store
On Big Pine Key we stopped for beer at Coconuts Bar & Liquor Store. It has a drive thru, which we had never seen before, so we just had to check it out. It was a little odd, because there is no drive thru window. You’ve got to get out of the car once you drive up to the sliding glass door but the package store is ALWAYS open. Gotta love that.
We were looking forward to staying at Sugarloaf Lodge again. It’s an older hotel and a little dated, but the rooms are large and comfortable and all overlook the Sugarloaf Sound, a mangrove lined bay. It had been lightly raining for most of our journey on the Overseas Highway but it POURED in the evening. I had never before heard rain that intense for that long of a period of time. It was so loud, it kept waking us up! It rained on and off for the rest of our trip, but never as hard as that night on Sugarloaf Key.
Sugarloaf Lodge Tiki Bar
We watched it storm from our balcony until the sun went down and then we took a nap. When we woke up, we went down to locals favorite, Sugarloaf Lodge Tiki Bar located right on the lodge premises along with Sugarloaf Pizza restaurant. The restaurant was closed when we were there in February, but in December we picked up a pizza and ate it in the tiki bar and it was quite good! (There should have been a waitress at the tiki bar but she had gotten in a car accident recently). The drinks are strong and reasonably priced and there are trivia nights and live entertainment on the weekends. Even smaller places in the Florida Keys manage to hire live musicians, which is quite pleasant. I had an excellent Pina Colada and a very good Planter’s Punch and the even stronger Sugarloaf Punch. Good thing we were staying overnight at the lodge!
Blue Parrot Inn
In the morning, we had complimentary coffee in the tiki bar and then drove to Key West and checked into the Blue Parrot Inn. The inn is located in a quiet area just a few blocks from Duval Street. It’s an old building and the rooms are small but reasonably priced. Complimentary breakfast of coffee, juice, fruit and packaged bagels is served poolside and there are various porches throughout the property to relax on.
Mam’s Best Food
We walked across the street and purchased an umbrella at CVS, but they were out of rain ponchos (which we should have picked up on the way from Sugarloaf Key). Then we walked in search of Mam’s Best Food, a little restaurant, made up of a little kitchen, in a little house, with food served at a little counter, with a few tables set up outdoors under a canopy tent, which we huddled under to order and eat, because it was full on raining by the time we found it. Mam prepares authentic Middle Eastern food and the falafel was fantastic. I think she disapproved of my boyfriend’s choice of tuna salad. (He didn’t really look at the menu and was expecting fresh tuna or else he probably would have ordered something that Mam would have approved of.) We sat and talked with Mam’s son, who recommended The Porch (on Duval in a hotel) for a quiet drink amidst all the action and the Green Parrot Bar (around the corner from Mam’s) for a divey local’s joint. When we first got there, it was crowded with other patrons taking shelter under the canopy, but when our food was ready, we were the only ones, so we got to sit and chat and enjoy the local rooster, who strutted around just feet from us. I wish I had access to a Mam’s falafel sandwich right now.
Green Parrot Bar
I guess the Green Parrot Bar is famous, like Sloppy Joe’s, because there is an attached gift shop that sells Green Parrot promotional items and we were able to get rain ponchos there (but of course we didn’t really need them by that time and never took them out of the pouch). Their celebrated bloody mary was quite good.
Also Read Part 1: Florida Keys | What You Can Learn From My Trip: Part 1