We were quite happy to see our beautiful campsite at Curry Hammock State Park, which is a 30 minute drive from Bahia Honda State Park. It is a smaller campground, with newly rennovated facilities. It was a welcome change from the previous park, which could use some updates. The campground and beach are on the Atlantic/south side of the key, so we had sargassum seaweed fairly close to our site. It was only an issue when the wind shifted and blew from the south.
The weather was still very hot and humid. The low dunes around the campground blocked most of the breezes. We spent mornings walking around the campground and beach, hiking and booking campsites for next year. We didn’t paddle because the seaweed was pretty bad. Unlike Bahia Honda, Curry Hammock does not monitor the bacteria levels. We spent afternoons out, going to the air museum, finding fish markets and happy hours. We went to several local places, but our favorite was Keys Fisheries Upstairs Bar (aka Shannon’s Shuckers and Shakers). There was a great view, affordable drinks and good food. We met 3 separate sets of people from Michigan. One guy lives in the same town that we do. Another couple owns a home where Dave grew up.
We cut our stay short because of the heat and the smell, opting to return to the cool ocean breezes in Flagler Beach. On our last day, we left early because strong storms were moving in. We wanted to get to mainland before they hit. We learned that there had been a tornado warning overnight and all the campers had huddled in the restrooms. We plan to make sure we don’t miss something like that again.
View of our campsite from the beach at Curry Hammock State Park
While we were staying at Bahia Honda State Park, we took a couple of day trips to Key West. We were happy to find a parking lot that would easily accomodate our heavy duty pick-up truck. Next year we will consider taking the shuttle bus that runs between the park and Old Town. We may even spend a night there, so we can experience the sunset festivities at Mallory Square and being on Duvall Street at night.
We used to go to Key West in the early 2000’s, before we bought our place on Maui. They were short, fun, care-free trips, usually with friends. We used to stay at the Ocean Key resort, with rooms overlooking Mallory Square, for about $150/night (now $400 – $800/nt). We would rent bikes, spend afternoons at the pool and evenings out on the town. At that time, we were flying somewhere 4 – 7 times a year, so a shorter trip allowed me to use fewer vacation days.
The first thing we noticed was how crowded everything was and how heavy the traffic was, compared to past visits. We actually limited our walking on Duval Street for that reason. We went to the famous Southernmost Point buoy for a photo, but were shocked to see people lined up on the street, waiting their turn for a selfie. Rather than stand in line for 25 minutes, we skipped it. I’m not sure what was more surprising – the amount of people waiting or the fact that they were politely waiting in line.
We spent some time in the historic seaport district. It was quite busy, but seemed less touristy than Duvall Street. We had a great dinner at the Waterfront Brewery. The first visit, we sort of wandered Old Town, around aimlessly. The second time, we mapped out an itinerary and made sure we saw some historic sights.
Note: The beaches on the south side of Key West were unindated with smelly sargassum seaweed, I think it’s a pretty rare occurence, but I would recommend checking the seaweed status anywhere in the keys, or even Florida, before going.
Sloppy Joe’s Bar – Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bar. We went there many times, about 22 years ago. We attempted to return a couple of times this year, but the place was packed, with no empty seats (even mid-day).
We spent 22 days in the keys, in 2 different state parks and we took day trips to Key West. This post covers the drive into the keys, the first campground and the surrounding area. Part 2 will cover the day trips to Key West. Part 3 will be about Eastern Marathon Key.
Jonathon Dickenson State Park, Hobe Sound, FL
We traveled from Flagler Beach to Jonathan Dickenson State Park in Hobe Sound, near Jupiter, FL. It was a great 1-day stop, to break up the long drive. We have met many campers who regularly drive 8 – 15 hours in a day, to get somewhere quickly. We don’t like sitting too long and prefer to see as much along our route as we can. There are 2 campgrounds at JD and we stayed in the newly renovated Pine Grove loop. The gravel sites are really large and flat and include water, sewer and electricy.
Bahia Honda State Park, Big Pine Key, FL
The drive to Bahia Honda State Park was a very long one. We expected lighter traffic on a Saturday, but it was Easter weekend and we believe people were heading to the keys for Easter break. What should have been a little over 4 hours was actually almost 8 hours. Our campsite was designated for a rig over 30 feet when we booked it, last year. It was changed to 24 foot maximum after Hurricane Ian. We realized that, while trying to book sites for next year. We weren’t notified that we couldn’t camp there, so we decided to show up and give it a try. We were able to fit by angling the RV, but it was tight.
We really loved our campsite with views of the sunset, fish and birds. We were able to launch our paddle boards from our campsite. Swimming was not allowed (except at the beach) ,but that didn’t stop anyone at the campground. We explored the entire park by bike and on foot. We spent most afternoons away from the campground, seeing as much as possible in the area, including Key West. Mainly we were wanting to cool off, as afternoons were very hot and humid. We also learned that happy hours were quite affordable, so we took advantage of being able to go out without throwing off our financial plan.
On our way to Flagler Beach, we spent one night at Kathryn Hanna Abbey Park, in Jacksonville beach. It’s a city park. The park has 1.5 miles of beach and 20 miles of hiking and biking trails. The beach was beautiful and uncrowded for a Saturday during spring break season. The campsites were pretty small and challenging to enter or exit with a larger RV. The main reason we don’t plan to return is that the route to get into the park took us through a high-traffic area of downtown Jacksonville, which also seemd to be a bit unsafe. That particular detour was not worth being at that park, for us.
We were happy to return to Gamble Rogers State Park in Flagler beach again, the next day. This was our third year camping at the small, casual surf town. There are no high-rises and no big hotels, so the town has not lost it’s charm like other towns, such as Daytona Beach or Destin. It’s a top destination for bikers, but our observation is that they are mostly mellow retirees enjoying freedom after a lifetime of work. We know of a great seafood market in the area, where we get local shrimp, tuna, wahoo and mahi. We also really appreciate food and drink prices at the local restaurants (ex: $3 for a beer at happy hour, compared with $12 in Destin)
There are many hiking trails in the area, but I was still recovering from a couple of injuries, so kept my walking to a minimum. We had mostly great weather, so Dave surfed often and we spent time on the beach. By chance, one of my closest friends, Felecia, has been vacationing in the area for many years with her family, and they happened to be renting a house nearby, with friends. We spent an afternoon visting them and had a great dinner. I also had breakfast with Felecia one day and lunch and shopping with the girls, another day. It was really fun.
The highlight of this campground is that the campsites are just steps from the beach. We can hear the ocean 24/7 and watch beautiful sunrises every day. We don’t mind the lack of pavement or grass, to be so close to the ocean. There is another campground across the road, on the river, which has very large crushed gravel sites, surrounded by grass, We have noticed that each campground has it’s own vibe. At Gamble Rogers, people are mostly quiet but really friendly. We have often seen people here that we previously met here or at other campgrounds. We will return next month, as we head north toward home.