Distance from Charlotte: 887 Miles
Sometimes the best type of getaway isn’t accessible by plane. Such is the case with Key West, which you can reach via plane from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or Tampa. But the best way to get there is on a road trip down U.S. Highway 1 — even better, in a convertible. Once you arrive, it’s all about the water — the area boasts the country’s only living reef. Smathers Beach is great for swimming with the kiddies or picnics on the sand. Or, take in the underwater world with a snorkel trip among loveable sea creatures like turtles, sting-rays, and parrot fish. Come morning, delve into the best banana pancakes in town at Blue Heaven (blueheavenkw.com). Its dinner fare includes kid-friendly jerk chicken served with brown rice and beans. Get your seafood fix at Louie’s Backyard (louiesbackyard.com) for fresh fish on the outdoor deck, overlooking the ocean. Menu items feature steak, rack of lamb, free-range chicken, snapper, tuna, or Key West “pinks" — local shrimp. If you want your own private beach to play on with the fam, check in at the Casa Marina (from $249 per night, casamarinaresort.com). Built in the 1920s, it’s the only hotel on Key West with its own private strand of sand. If you want to be in the middle of it all, Ocean Key Resort & Spa (from $390 per night, oceankey.com) is set in a lively spot of town, overlooking Key West Harbor and the ever- popular Mallory Square, home to the Sunset Celebration. The nightly party—held every evening at dusk—is set up like a street fair complete with cot- ton candy, tight-rope walkers, dancers, knife jugglers, and fire breathers. —Tara Bradley
Take a two-hour tour around Key West on a Sea-Doo ride with Island Water Sports (from $120 per person, island-watersports.com). An expert guide will take you through the waterways of both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Plus, you’ll also get some fun history facts. And be on the lookout: you might spot dolphins, manatees, or sea turtles.
By land, bikes are the best mode of transportation. Rental shops like Eaton Bikes (eatonbikes.com) let you explore the character-filled streets of Key West. Must- stop spots include the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum (the author’s home for more than ten years) (hemingwayhome.com), the shops along Duval Street, and the Southernmost Point U.S.A. — a perfect family photo op.
At the Key West Aquarium (keywestaquarium.com), check out the native sea creatures through daily shark and turtle feedings or the Touch Tank, where you can get up close and personal with them. Then take in the Atlantic Shores Exhibit or the outdoor area filled with schools of fish as well as moray eels, barracuda, tarpon, sharks, and parrot fish.