For Floridians, the Keys is an easy drive and can be a weekend getaway. It is close enough to make it there within 4-5 hours, depending upon your end destination in the Keys. If you live in the Miami area, it is a short ride of only 1-2 hours. But the one thing in common for all is that once you begin on Hwy 1, it generally takes one hour or more to reach the end at Key West. This is because it is a two-lane road for most of the way, tourists, slow traffic. It can take you 45 minutes to reach Florida City from Islamorada (or vice versa), which is in the Keys. So, add this travel time to your plan.
From the Gulf Side
If you live on the Tampa side of the state, the drive takes anywhere from 3-5 hours to go the 280-mile drive. From Sarasota, Venice, Port Charlotte, it generally takes 4 hours to reach Islamorada in the Keys. Most drivers will take I-75 south to Naples. It is at this point, one must decide what to do:
1. Continue on I-75 (toll road) to Weston on the Atlantic side, or,
2. From I-75, take Exit 101 to Collier Rd south until you intersect with Hwy 41.
Taking I-75 across the state is faster by 30-40 minutes not only because most drivers are going 80 mph, but there are two lanes in both directions. Hwy 41 is the old road (before I-75 was built) and a two lane road. It is more scenic for sure and most drivers move along at 65 mph. There is a dead cell phone area along this road as you are going through the Everglades. Both roads are in good condition.
In either case, once you begin, it will take another hour or so to reach the Miami side of the state. Once on the Atlantic side of the state your choices are:
1. If using I-75, you can simply continue on it to reach Hwy 1. But, taking the cutoff using the Ronald Reagan Turnpike from it will bypass a lot of urban sprawl with no stops. Upon reaching Weston after crossing the state, it will take one hour to travel to Hwy 1 that leads to the Keys using any roads. Using the RR Turnpike will cost nearly $11 in road tolls (all electronically done).
2. If you do not wish to pay road tolls, a great alternative is to exit off I-75 before Weston at Hwy 27. This is a two-lane road in both directions and most travel at 65 mph despite what signs indicate. At the end of Hwy 27, you will take a right turn onto Hwy 997. This is a two lane road in parts, but the speed limits are variable and mostly ignored, Most drivers are going at least 60 mph or more. It's a very nice road that takes you along the fringe of Miami where many landscaping firms exist in open areas. Hwy 997 takes you through Florida City, which is the only slow part, but it is not bad, until connecting with Hwy 1.
For those using Hwy 41 to cross the state from the Gulf side, Hwy 41 will intersect with Hwy 997, make a right onto it and follow it to Hwy 1.
From the Atlantic Side
For those coming from the north of Ft. Lauderdale, your options are:
1. Take I-95 south until it hits Hwy 1. It will take you much closer to the Miami urban sprawl and with it, all of the traffic.
2. If you wish to avoid it, take I-595 west to Weston when near Ft. Lauderdale and then take I-75 south (as above) until you reached Hwy 1 using the RR Turnpike.
3. Again, if you wish to avoid tolls, continue on I-75 south past Weston until the exit for Hwy 820 (Pembrooke Rd) and continue west until reaching Hwy 27. Turn left and continue until the road splits off at Hwy 997. Take Hwy 997 to Hwy 1.
A great place to stop for food is at the Bonjour Restuarant and Bakery. There is one located in the Kendall section of Greater Miami and one in Weston. Neither will take you far from your main road.
To recap, reaching the keys for most Floridians can be done easily. It can be either a weekend getaway or just a day activity. For instance, I live on the Gulf side near Sarasota. Snorkeling at Alligator Reef (so amazing) in Islamorada (Keys) can be done in one day. Driving there took 4 hrs. The snorkeling last 3 hrs., afterwards, we had some dinner and drove home. We left at 8 am and returned at 10 pm.