Travel to the Florida Keys is an adventure. Whether you’re driving or flying, you’ll get a taste of paradise: the water, the bridges, the openness of it all. But when you get to your destination, or even along highway pit stops, you’ll need to know a few things.
Here is a guide on keeping safe while you take in the sights and enjoy the events on Memorial Day weekend:
1. Driving to the Keys
The Overseas Highway, the only major road through the island chain, is not a place to speed or text. You’re on one of the most famous, spectacular drives in the U.S. — but it’s also one of the most dangerous.
The maximum speed limit is 55 mph, and in several places it’s 45. At night, the speed limit on Big Pine Key drops to 35 mph to protect the endangered Key deer who roam about.
Most of the road is two lanes. Passing is limited. And while the scenery is divine, it comes with distractions.
This is a rural area and the Keys only have three hospitals from Key Largo to Key West. You don’t want to wind up in one of them, or worse, airlifted to a Miami trauma center.
About passing: It’s dangerous and largely futile. Impatient drivers can blow past a few cars thinking they’re way ahead of the game, only to eventually find themselves at the same traffic light.
Memorial Day weekend is one of the busiest times for traffic in the Keys. Expect the longest delays heading into the Keys on Friday and leaving on Sunday. And on any weekend day, you can bank on tie-ups along U.S. 1 in the five-island Village of Islamorada, from mile markers 90 to 72.6.
Keep in mind that U.S. 1 will be heavily patrolled over the holiday stretch by Monroe sheriff’s deputies and Florida Highway Patrol troopers. The sheriff’s office said it is assigning extra deputies to patrol this weekend looking for speeding and reckless driving, illegal passing and drunk or high drivers.
2. On the water
Expect a heavier-than-normal law enforcement out on the Atlantic Ocean, Florida Bay and Gulf of Mexico this week and weekend.
Deputies assigned to marine patrol and officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will be on the water looking for unsafe boating practices, especially drunk boating.
It isn’t illegal to drink alcohol on a boat or have open containers, but boating while drunk or high — just like driving a car — is illegal. Police ask that you designate a sober driver to get everyone back to the dock safely.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission offers the following advice for this weekend:
Life Jackets Save Lives, and so does the engine cut-off switch. FWC encourages boaters to wear a personal flotation device while underway. When an accident happens on the water, it happens fast. A boater may not have time a locate a PFD. Wear the engine cut-off switch, if a boater does end up in the water unexpectedly, engaging the engine cut-off switch will provide protection from a running out of control vessel that can strike victims at the surface.
Speed should be appropriate for conditions; when the waters are congested, rough or it’s dark, slow down. Excessive speed is a common variable in boating accidents.
Watch for signs on the water, “Slow Speed” and “Idle Speed” around residential areas. Look for “No Motor Zone” signs and buoys that protect grass flats. Manatees are on the move this time of year so be aware of the “signs” of manatees. Manatees leave a flat swirl footprint on the surface as they swim. If you see evidence of a manatee, slow down. Manatees should not be approached — observe them and respect the space they need from boating traffic.
Always be aware of your surroundings. Boaters need to pay attention and maintain a 360-degree awareness when the vessel is underway.
The FWC reminds boaters that boating while impaired by alcohol or drugs is dangerous and illegal. FWC officers will be looking for impaired operators and these operators will face arrest if found to be operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs. According to FWC boating accident statistics, 20% of the boating fatalities in 2021 were alcohol or drug related.
For information regarding saltwater fishing licenses, visit: https://myfwc.com/license/recreational/saltwater-fishing/
To report people who are operating boats dangerously, call 888-404-FWCC or text Tip@MyFWC.com. More information can be found by visiting MyFWC.com/Boating. You can even search there for the Florida Boat Ramp Finder to help you find a great place to launch your boat.
3. What’s the weather forecast?
The preliminary forecast for the Florida Keys this weekend looks good for boaters and beachgoers, with much lighter winds and flatter seas than in recent days, said Jonathan Rizzo, coordinating meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Key West.
Expect the occasional rain shower or thunderstorm, but a washout during any of the three days is unlikely, Rizzo said. But people spending time on the water need a weather band radio that will alert them to changing conditions.
“Keep a weather eye on the sky if you’re out there boating, and make sure you have your flotation devices and life jackets and be ready to head for port should thunderstorms approach,” Rizzo said.
Otherwise, it’s expected to be mostly calm on the water, with one- to two-foot seas outside the reef and inshore seas one foot or less — with light winds, Rizzo said.
It’s fast approaching summer, which means temperatures in the Keys will be in the high 80s and low 90s just about every day from now until around October. The heat index this weekend, how it really feels, is expected to be 95 to 98.
“Make sure you keep hydrated and wear a hat and cover up from the ultraviolets from the sun,” Rizzo said.
4. What’s going on in the Keys this holiday weekend?
The Matecumbe Historical Trust is scheduled to hold its annual Memorial Day Service at 9 a.m. Monday at the Islamorada Hurricane Monument, mile marker 81.8 on the ocean side of the highway. The monument honors the victims of the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, many of whom were World War I veterans. Guest speakers expected at the event include District 120 state Rep. Jim Mooney, Monroe County Mayor David Rice and Islamorada Mayor Henry Rosenthal, who plans on giving a brief history of the monument. Barbara Edgar, president of the Historical Trust, will make the introduction and invocation.
The 24th annual Afro Roots Fest comes to the Florida Keys Brewing Co. in Islamorada at mile marker 81 on Saturday and Sunday. Johnny Dread and Javier García play Saturday at 6 p.m. At 4 p.m. Sunday, it’s the nine-piece Latin funk band Suenalo and the Bad Apples Brass Band. Admission is free.
Spend some time at Sombrero Beach, which offers views of the ocean, picnic spaces, and volleyball courts. It’s off U.S. 1 at mile marker 50. Turn onto Sombrero Beach Road toward the ocean and it’s at the end of the road.
Key West turned 200 this year. The island’s people, culture and community over the centuries are captured in the “Key West 200” exhibit at the Custom House Museum, 281 Front St. The Key West Art and Historical Society’s exhibit includes sponging equipment, cigar roller tables and tools, clothing, journals and photographs.
5. What are some must-see spots in the Keys?
Robbie’s Marina of Islamorada: Robbie’s, at mile marker 77.5, has charter fishing trips, parasailing, boat and kayak rentals along with a restaurant and open-air market. But it’s the chance to feed tarpon by hand at Robbie’s that makes it a classic Keys roadside attraction.
Crane Point Hammock: Walk the trails and boardwalks at this nature center at 5550 Overseas Hwy. in Marathon. There are four butterfly gardens, a lagoon and museum.
Sunset Celebration: Watch the sunset at Mallory Square. The daily Sunset Celebration, a mini-festival of stunt performers, vendors and musicians, starts about two hours before sunset at the waterfront square and ends soon after sunset.
6. What if I get sick in the Keys?
Monroe County has three hospitals, with one marking each major section of the island chain from Key Largo to Key West.
For major traumas, patients are airlifted by helicopter to medical centers in the Miami area. Addresses and phone numbers for the hospitals are listed below, but if you have a medical emergency, call 911.
Lower Keys Medical Center
5900 College Rd., Key West
Key West’s Lower Keys Medical Center has 167 beds spread over two locations. The main campus with an emergency room is on College Road on Stock Island.
Fishermen’s Community Hospital
3301 Overseas Highway, Marathon
This hospital is in the Middle Keys city of Marathon and run by the nonprofit Baptist Health South Florida. The 33,330-square foot, 22-bed hospital offers specialized services such as 24/7 emergency care with nine emergency department beds.
91500 Overseas Highway, Tavernier
In the Upper Keys, Mariners Hospital is a 25-bed hospital run by Baptist Health South Florida. Mariners dates back to 1962. It’s home to the only hospital-based hyperbaric chamber in the Keys. It uses oxygen therapy to treat illnesses that include diving-related decompression sickness.
7. What if you think you might have COVID?
Here are some testing sites provided by the Florida Department of Health if your primary healthcare provider recommends you get tested for COVID-19.
Advanced Urgent Care Key West — Appointments only: 305-294-0011. 1980 N. Roosevelt Blvd., Key West. Call 305-294-0011.
Dr. John W. Norris III MD PA — Appointments only: 305-296-1022; 508 Southard St. #103, Key West.
Doctors Test Centers @ JW Plastic Surgery. Available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 866-865-7400. Book appointment online at: www.doctorstestcenters.com. 1075 Duval St., Key West. Rapid test with results in one hour.
Key West Urgent Care — 305-295-7550; 1501 Government Rd. Key West. Diagnostic/PCR test provided. Hours: Monday to Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Key West Medical Center, Dr. Elias Gerth, MD — 305-295-6790; 2505 Flagler Ave. Key West.
My Wellness Express — 305-901-2243; 3428 N. Roosevelt Blvd, Key West. PCR, results in one to two days; By appointment, Accept walk-ins; Monday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Rural Health Network Monroe County — Free testing following screening. Appointments call 305-517-6613, Ext 500; Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; www.rhnmc.org; 3706 N. Roosevelt Blvd. Suite G, Key West.
CVS Pharmacy Minute Clinic Stock Island — 305-295-2858; 5610 Overseas Highway, Stock Island. Appointments at Minute Clinic.
Keys Pediatrics — For established patients only. 305-293-4233; 1714 N. Roosevelt Blvd., Key West.
Walgreens — 30351 Overseas Hwy., Big Pine Key. Appointments at: www.walgreens.com.
Advanced Urgent Care — 13365 Overseas Highway, #102, Marathon. Call 305-294-0011.
CHI — Free testing following screening. 305-252-4820 or email KeysCovid19@chisouthfl.org. Make an appointment online at www.chisouthfl.org. 2805 Overseas Highway, Marathon. Drive through Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Good Health Clinic provides diagnostic testing at its Marathon Office — 305-853-1788 at Bayview Medical Building, 13365 Overseas Hwy., St. 101, Marathon, Tuesdays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free testing for current patients and those who qualify.
AHEC — 305-743-7111 Ext. 210; Testing provided only to students, staff and limited family members of Monroe County Schools at all school sites. Rapid and PCR test provided.
Walgreens — 5271 Overseas Hwy., Marathon. Appointments at: www.walgreens.com.
Walgreens — 10870 Overseas Hwy., Marathon. Appointments at: www.walgreens.com.
Curative — Appointments at www.curative.com Free PCR testing, self-collected at Founder’s Park, 87000 Overseas Hwy., Islamorada. Hours vary by day; please check link.
Advanced Urgent Care — 100460 Overseas Hwy., Key Largo. Call 305-294-0011.
Islamorada Medical Center — 305-852-9300, 90130 Old Highway, 2nd Floor, Tavernier.
Good Health Clinic provides diagnostic testing at its Tavernier Offices: 305-853-1788 at 91555 Overseas Hwy., St. 2, Tavernier, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free testing for current patients and those who qualify.
CVS Pharmacy Minute Clinic — 888-300-4419; 99434 Overseas Highway, Key Largo; Drive-Up tests limited; appointments available to patients who qualify; Make an appointment at Minute Clinic.
AHEC — 305-743-7111, ext. 210; Testing provided only to students, staff and limited family members of Monroe County Schools at all school sites. Rapid and PCR test provided.
Ocean Reef Medical Center — For Ocean Reef Club members only. 305-367-2600; 50 Barracuda Ln., Key Largo.
Walgreens — 99501 Overseas Hwy., Key Largo. Appointments at: www.walgreens.com.