The Overseas Highway: Miami to Key West

Ohio Key, Monroe County, Florida
••• The Overseas Highway is also known as The Highway That Goes to Sea. © Photographer, Bob Sacha/Getty Images

The Overseas Highway, the southernmost leg of U.S. Highway 1 and sometimes called "The Highway That Goes to Sea" is a modern wonder. The road, that follows a trail originally blazed in 1912 by Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railroad, stretches from Miami to Key West. Condé Nast Traveler calls a journey down this highway the "Perfect Florida Keys Road Trip." 

The 1935 Labor Day hurricane caused severe damage to the original railway infrastructure along the route, which caused the railroad to cease operation.

Construction of the highway began a year or so later. Its foundation included some of the original railway spans as well as the coral bedrock of individual keys and specially constructed columns.

When it was completed in 1938, the highway marked the beginning of an incredible adventure for the North American motorist, who could now travel 113 miles of roadway and cross 42 bridges to travel from Miami to the southernmost point in Key West. In 1982, 37 bridges were replaced with wider spans, including the well-known Seven Mile Bridge at Marathon.

In 2002 the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail was added, which includes the Grassy Key Bikeway. Spanning mile markers (MM) 54.5 to 58.5 bayside, the eight-foot-wide Grassy Key Bikeway is landscaped and furnished with a split-rail fence as well as bollards to prohibit automobile access.

The Heritage Trail is a paved recreational path along old Flagler railroad bridges and the Florida Department of Transportation right-of-way that features crossways between bay side and ocean side.

Stretching from MM 106.5 to MM 0, the trail includes interpretive trail heads designating attractions and other public areas on and off U.S. Highway 1 – as well as benches, an art bicycle rack and a limestone column sign with an Overseas Heritage Trail map.

Today, motorists can travel the highway in less than four hours from Miami.

However, drivers should allow time to experience the natural beauty of the ever-changing scenery of the seas and wilderness bordering the roadway, and the magnificent sunrises and sunsets.

Suggested Stops

  • Don't start your trip hungry. Try the conch fritters at Alabama Jack's in Key Largo, where no-frills seafood is served at their roadside location.
  • Only up for a snack? Who can resist a cool slice of Key Lime Pie? Try a slice at Mrs. Mac's Kitchen, also located in Key Largo.
  • If you would like to stretch your legs and don't mind a modest admission fee, make a stop at the History of Diving Museum in Islamorada, where you'll find diving artifacts and learn more about mankind's quest to explore under the sea.
  • Time your trip down or back during breakfast or lunchtime for a stop at the fifties-era diner in Marathon, the Wooden Spoon, where you'll find friendly service and excellent eats.
  • No drive to Key West is complete without a stop at the Bahia Honda historic railway bridge, which runs adjacent to the highway. It is part of the Bahia Honda State Park located on Big Pine Key.

Tips for Driving The Overseas Highway

  • Pay attention to the speed limits, as they fluctuate. Also, do not speed. The highway is well patrolled and monitored by local sheriff's deputies and the Florida Highway Patrol.
  • Skip the highway if you're impatient in traffic. Despite speed limits of 45-55, traffic often moves at a slower pace since there are motorists entering and leaving the highway constantly.