From mangrove-lined roadways to “bikers welcome” inns, read where to ride and park your wheels on a tour of the Florida Keys, and find out why it's such a popular spot for motorcycle rides in Florida.
By Amy S. Eckert
Anybody who's experienced a Florida Keys road trip from the seat of a motorcycle knows: There's no better way to enjoy the islands than on two wheels. You'll feel the sun on your skin; smell the tang of swamps; enjoy unobstructed views of pure-turquoise water. Your hair will get snarled and your nose will get sunburned. In a car, you'll pass through the Keys; on a motorcycle, you'll be part of them.
Begin your adventure in Miami. U.S. 1 runs from Miami directly to the Keys, but follow Card Sound Road through mangroves and sawgrass instead of heavy traffic. In Key Largo, the road rejoins U.S. 1, which will take you all the way to Key West. You'll find the islands warmly welcome bikers as a rule, but here's a look at the best Key West motorcycling stops.
Seafood and Saltwater
Take a break to eat at the Pilot House in Key Largo. The restaurant serves fresh seafood on tables of white linen, but you'll feel welcome wearing leather and carrying a helmet. A more stereotypical biker joint is Hog Heaven in Islamorada, where drinks and a full menu are served nightly until 3:30 a.m. The dockside bar attracts locals and is decorated with motorcycle art.
The Islamorada Fish Company has caught and served its own seafood since 1948, and is known for stone crabs and fish sandwiches. The restaurant offers indoor seating, but why do that when you can dine on the docks and look out over Florida Bay? Two miles south, the Islander offers spacious rooms with kitchenettes, screened lanais and Wi-Fi, fresh- and saltwater pools and watersport rentals: kayaks, catamarans and aqua cycles. The Islander serves continental breakfast as well.
If you need a stop farther south, Marathon is a good bet. Banana Bay Resort welcomes bikers to its hotel rooms among lush tropical vegetation: hibiscus, bougainvillea and coconut palms.
Heading south, the famous Seven Mile Bridge offers views of endless sky and sea; it also presents the most challenging riding you're likely to encounter. Fierce, variable winds can whip through this channel, buffeting your motorcycle. Once past Seven Mile Bridge, Florida's Keys become less developed. Wildlife preserves and state parks gradually replace commercial districts, the weather warms, the views get even better and you'll love that you're on a motorcycle and not in a car.
Key West's Best
Key West is your final destination, a town synonymous with island living. Check into a room at the Key Lime Inn, a historic hotel of cottages in the Old Town. Motorcyclists are expected here: The inn provides a shaded, designated bike lot. Much of the city's highlights are only a few blocks away: Sloppy Joe's (with great live music) and Captain Tony's (festooned with business cards and bras), each claiming that Hemingway really frequented their establishment; the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum; the southernmost point in the U.S.; and the wild shops of Duval Street.
Make time for lunch at El Siboney, home of Key West's finest Cuban fare. Marinated pork melts in your mouth, accompanied with yellow rice and beans and washed down with the Keys' finest sangria. For dinner, it's back on the bike for a meal at Hogfish Bar & Grill on nearby Stock Island. The restaurant looks a little rough, with a hodgepodge of neon beer signs and open-air picnic tables. But their Killer Hogfish Sandwich can't be beat, service is warm and friendly, and the locals will talk Key West motorcycles with you.
Drive down Duval Street to Mallory Square for Key West's Sunset Celebration, a nightly festival of street performers, arts and crafts and music before you park your bike for the night. But don't park it too early. In the Keys, the Gulf of Mexico reflects the moon every night, and the air remains warm and muggy until late. Perfect conditions for a night ride.