RV Florida Keys: Marathon & Key West

If you RV and you’re in Florida, chances are you’re going to want to stop in the Florida Keys. It’s as close to a tropical island oasis as it get’s in the United States (afterall you are just 105 miles from Cuba). We can’t blame you after all, with the beautiful blue water, the cool breeze, and the warm sunshine it’s a perfect place to park your RV and call “home” for the winter, even if it’s just a week or two. The Florida Keys are small, only 137 square miles (that’s really tiny in the big scheme of things), and land in general is limited. If you’re a planner and call well in advance (at least 6 months to a year), you can likely get a spot at one of the  incredible State Parks that have affordable camping (sometimes right on the water), like Bahia Honda State Park or Long Key State Park. However, if you aren’t one of the lucky ones to snag a spot there, parking your RV in the Florida Keys will be expensive. I’m talking $150 – $300 PER NIGHT in peak season (which is Winter of course). Our vist was post Hurricane Irma (which made a direct hit to the Keys on Sept. 10th, 2017). Because of this, all of the campgrounds at the state parks were closed for the season for repairs and maintenance. That left us in quiet a pickle. We wanted to visit the Florida Keys, but we didn’t want to pay $1,000 to stay a week down there. So what to do?

Well if you’re lucky, you have family that lives on one of the Keys like we do! My sister and brother in law recently moved to Marathon Key, which is one of the middle Keys about 50 minutes from Key West. Our brother in law is the manager of Marina and allowed us to park our RV there during our stay. We didn’t have any hookups and didn’t want to have to worry if our measly 120 watt solar panel could keep up, so we shut the rig down and moved all of the items we needed (including our freezer and refirgerated items) into their home for 10 days. It was quiet a bit of work, but ultimately worth it to park for almost no cost and get to be with our family (especially since there my new one month old niece was there)!

On the three sunnier and slightly less windy days, we opted for the beach! Ready for some sun and beautiful views, we suited up and grabbed all the snorkel equipment you could think of and headed to Sombrero Beach. It’s the only free beach on Marathon and was REALLY nice! We waded in the water looking for little sea creatures in the sand and crevices of the shell floor, read books, took naps, and just relaxed. It was exactly what a beach day should be. Our second beach adventure was a bit of a hike, just over the seven mile bridge (…you guessed it, it’s 7 miles long), at Bahia Honda State Park. As previously mentioned the park is undergoing renovations and repairs from Irma. The gulf side of the park was open (and beautiful), but the Atlantic Ocean side of the park had large fences up and was completely closed off, largely due from erosion from the storm. The actual beach was rather windy, a bit chilly, and the water was too cold to actually get in but the view was picturesque! The picture of the washed up boat is unfortuntely a side effect of the storm. Even though we were there nearly 4 months after the storm, there was still a ton of debris as we drove up route 1. Pieces of mobile homes, refrigerators, wood debris, you name it, is strewn about in the mangroves and small inlets along the road. There are also stranded boats in a lot of places. It’s estimated nearly half the boats in the Keys were capsized (sunk) or washed ashore. Some people are still living in them wherever the landed, others abandoned them. It’s becoming a big problem for the Keys to locate the owners to clean move or claim their boats.

When you think of the Keys you think of tropical, or at least I do. Lobsters, warm sunshine, salty breeze, and umbrellas in my drink flutter to my mind when I just hear the words “the Florida Keys”. I wish I could say our stay brought all of that and more, but the weather had other plans. During our 10 day stay, 7 of the 10 days were windy (15-20 mph winds sustained), and overcast. We made the most of it however by either working inside on the really crummy days, or getting outside and going for nature walks through the local state parks, and Crane Point Hammock. We especially liked Crane Point Hammock, (my sister has an annual pass which is good for up to 4 people), so we went twice. It actually has a home on that was native to the island over 100 years ago (built with ground up sea shells)! We learned a lot about the history of Marathon, saw some of the native animals, and got us outside. We’ll say that’s a win-win, even if the weather wasn’t perfect.

Of course we had to go to Key West while we were there…I mean after all it’s what the keys are known for. About an hour drive from Marathon, the island of Key West is a tourist destination and a once stop shop for day drinking, delicious food, and crazy characters. This place is always happening and you never know what you’re going to see when you’re there. Liz has been several times (including her bachelorette party) but this was a first for Dennis. We didn’t do all of the touristy stuff like the Hemingway House (which is worth a visit if you like Hemingway or just enjoy cats and old homes), The Southern Most Point (we refuse to wait in a line just to take a picture), and Mallory Square. We just drove by the southern most point, snapped a picture and headed to the docks. We love to grab a beer and take a stroll down the boardwalk looking at the beautiful yachts. (Side note: if you didn’t know you can take your drinks to go throughout Key West and it’s awesome)! While any of the bars along the marina are good, we suggest The Waterfront Brewery, it’s the only brewery on the island and their beer is pretty decent (nothing spectacular but good). More in the “center of town” is our favorite bar in Key West, Bar Agave. They specialize in tequila and make some pretty incredible margaritas! While they’re in a pretty touristic part of the Keys, if you blinked you’d miss it. We like to go there because it’s quiet, it gives us refuge from the heat and Key West noise.

If you’re spending a day there it’s likely you’ll want to eat – and there is no shortage of great restaurants to try. If you’re looking for less touristic restaurants, we suggest Garbos Grill. They are making asian mexican fusion in a vintage airstream with an outdoor patio that begs for you to enjoy the Florida weather. They only have 9 items on their menu, all of which is delicious! Another great stop is Bad Boy Burrito. It’s a simple, walk up and order burrito joint that serves way better than average burritos, prepped and made fresh daily. It’s worth it, trust me. If you’re looking for something a bit nicer for dinner, Antonio’s is a bit upscale but makes incredible authentic Italian food! While I haven’t personally been, it’s my sister and brother-in-law’s favorite. They go there whenever they are in Key West.

Photo Cred Trip Advisor. We were too hungry to take any pictures. 🤷🏻‍♀️

We ended the night watching the sunset drinking two-for-one drinks at a local  bar inside a town share. It’s a “secret” spot to watch the student that lot of locals visit. I wish I could share the name with you but then my sister would kill me, so unfortunately you’ll have to watch from Mallory Square (which is still a beautiful spot to watch the sunset from). This bar had lounge chairs on a wooden dock over the water, live music, and sailboats slowly drifting by. It was a pretty great way to end our day.

The majority of our time was spent just hanging out, being family, playing games, talking, and enjoying their new beautiful baby girl. We love my sister and brother-in-law and cherish every minute we get to spend with them. As we neared our last day there, we decided to have a mock Sunday Funday (it was actually Friday). We made a big breakfast, had mimosas, and pretty much had a freaking blast. I could do nothing with them and still have fun!

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