As Jimmy Buffett extols, âChanges in latitudes, changes in attitudes.â If the dog days of Miamiâs summer are getting you down, maybe itâs time to hop in the car and head south for a daytrip to the Florida Keys. While a drive to the end of the road in Key West is best reserved for an overnight trip, you can still get into a Keys state of mind (saltwater, conch fritters, key lime pie and all) with a daytrip as far south as Islamorada. Punch these points into your GPSÂ and your wories will melt away as downtownâs high-rises shrink out ofÂ sight in your rear view mirror.
Stop 1: 10 a.m. Schnebly Redlands Winery & Miami Brewing Co., Homestead
Pay a visit to Miamiâs tropical countryside, and the heartland where tomato fields and mango groves Â provide the heart of the farm to table culinary movement. An hourâs drive from downtown, youâll find long, one-lane country roadÂ surrounded byÂ acres of farmland. The tempo slows down and the sights consist of flat green fields, lush sturdy palms, and a giant blue sky with cumulous clouds floating lazily in the upper strata.
Here, youâll find Schnebly Redlands Winery, an only-in-MiamiÂ noveltyÂ that produces 22 varieties of wine from tropical fruits, like mangos, lychee, passion fruit, guava, starfruit, coconut and even avocado.
âItâs an escape from normal lifeâcell phones, traffic, noise pollution, cement,â says founder Peter Schnebly, a farmer and packager turned winemaker. In 2012, after eight years producing tropical wines, he added the Miami Brewing Co. to his portfolio. The craft brewery creates beers with a sense of place, like Big Rod Coconut Ale and Shark Bait MangoÂ Wheat Ale.
Come for a tasting and tour ($7-$10) of the sprawling and lush Napa-meets-South-Florida facilities and stay for lunch at the newly opened RedLander restaurant onsite helmed by chef Dewey LoSasso.
Stop 2: 12 p.m. Alabama Jacks, Card Sound Road
As you depart the mainland, opt for the road less traveledâCard Sound Road, an alternate route to Key Largo. Youâll soon come across Alabama Jacks, a roadside, water front fish shack where boats tie up and locals while away the afternoon with a fried grouper sandwich and cold lagers. The atmosphere is a little bit country and a lot of Keys color with license plates nailed to the walls, lobster trap and dive buoys strung from the ceiling and the requisite blue marlin mounted above the bar. Stop here for a bite to eatÂ with live music and a boisterous crowd. Donât skip the conch fritters and smoked fish dip.
Stop 3: 3 p.m. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo
NoÂ trip to The Keys is complete without an excursion offshore. Discover some of the most unspoiled sections of the Florida Straits (the third largest barrier reef in the world) with a two and a half hour snorkel trip ($30 adults, $25 children, not inclusive of gear rental) at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. The park extends three miles into the Atlantic and runs the length of the shore approximately 25 miles. Youâll learn about the delicate marine ecosystem and swim amidst a variety of coral formations, purple sea fans, yellowtail snapper and rainbow parrotfish. Keep your fingers crossed to spot an endangered loggerhead sea turtle, a stingray gliding along the sandy bottom or a pod of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins playing in the wake of your boat.
Trips depart six times daily and reservations are strongly recommended. Scuba and glass bottom boat excursions are also available, as well as boat rentals and kayak tours.
Stop 4: 6:30 p.m. Sid & Roxieâs Green Turtle Inn, Islamorada
Take the scenic Overseas HighwayÂ another 20 miles south to Islamorada and watch as the green trees of Key Largoâs hardwood hammocks give way to unobstructed views of pale blue salt marshes. The aquamarine water of The Keys all but surrounds you. If you thought you escaped Art Deco kitsch in South Beach, think again as the neon glowing sign of Sid & Roxieâs Green Turtle Inn lures you in from the road for dinner. It was established in 1947 when the first motorists began making their way down to The Keys.
Today, while itâs no longer an inn to spend the night, the cafĂ© is still open and imbued with Old Florida charm. While the fare and the vibe is casual, the dinner menu offers sophisticated dishes, like fresh caught fish âa la Roxieâ with jumbo lump crab, tomato, onion and beurre blanc or âa la Sidâ with Florida spiny lobster, orange ginger, vanilla and butter sauce. This is also your chance to end the day with a sweet and tart slice of key lime pie made with a macadamia nut crust.
Stay the Night Option: Post Card Inn Beach Resort & Marina at Holiday Isle, Islamorada
You could turn around after Sid & Roxie’s. But if youâre not in the moodÂ for aÂ two hour drive back to Miami,Â check intoÂ the Post Card Inn Beach Resort & Marina at Holiday Isle a few miles up the road. The sprawling property features an onsite restaurant, tiki bar, pool, beach and marina, and the rooms and common spaces are surprisingly hip and updated with an eclectic beach house aesthetic. You could easily while away the next morning there with a margarita in hand gazing at the Atlantic with whatever Buffett song happens to pop in your head.
A version of this story originally appeared in The Miami Herald’s Tropical Life section, p.Â E1.