Bahia Honda and Key West – our first 2 weeks in the lower keys – March 8 – 21, 2024

We originally had 19 nights booked in the lower keys – 14 at Bahia Honda State Park (not waterfront) and 5 at Curry Hammock State Park (right across from the dump station). We managed to pick up some cancellations, improving our campsites and extending our stay in the lower keys to 28 nights. We shortened our planned visit at John Pennekamp State Park from 14 days, to 2 days. We had never been there, but no other campers even mentioned it, so we assumed it wasn’t great. This post will cover the first half of our time in the lower keys. We s.pent the entire two weeks at Bahia Honda State Park

When we drove to Bahia Honda last year, it was the Saturday before Easter. We also drove through Miami. Avoiding Miami, this year, and driving on a normal Friday was much easier. We were very happy that there was no smelly Sargassum seaweed in the area (at least not yet), like last year.

We had scoped out all of the campsites last year, so we knew ours would be decent, even if it wasn’t oceanfront. It was just a short walk to a fishing area, near the bridge, which was a perfect waterfront place to drink coffee in the morning. It is a fairly large park, with lots of areas to walk or run to, including 2 beaches, a nice gift shop, a marina, 3 campgrounds and section of the Old Bahia Honda Rail Bridge restored for walking and as a scenic overlook.

During our first two weeks, we went to some places we discovered last year and also some new places. We took two trips into Key West. The first was to meet up with some Maui friends for an afternoon/evening. We went to Hog’s Breath Saloon, Sloppy Joe’s, Sunset Pier and Angelina’s Pizzeria. These are all places went first visited back in the early 2000’s.

The second visit to Key West was on St. Patrick’s Day. We had reserved a room at an historic inn and took the bus to Key West. The bus stop was right across from the park entrance. It was only $4 and we didn’t have to worry about parking our large, HD truck overnight. It was a great way to experience Key West at night, without a long drive home. The inn was located toward the more quiet end of town. It housed a cozy little rum bar. Most people who know us, no we don’t usually drink fancy cocktails, but we received coupons for a free Painkiller at the bar. They were delicious!!!. They used fresh ground nutmeg and a very smooth dark rum. I plan to attempt making these at home.

We learned that the big St. Patrick’s Day celebration, including the parade, was the day before, but there was plenty of activity in town. We were not disappointed at missing the craziness.  We walked around town, had a great mexican dinner, listened to some live music and met some very cool people. We especially enjoyed walking around town in the morning. We had a great breakfast and went to the Hemmingway Museum. We hopped on the bus and returned to the campground before town became really busy again.

Driving across the Seven Mile Bridge toward Bahia Honda State Park. Yayyy, we’re back!!! On the right is the old bridge, part of which has been restored as a hiking and biking trail.
We wanted to max out our useable space in this campsite and we did! The slideout missed the fence by less than a half inch. We had a space of an inch or two in the back. Unfortunately, I forgot to get a shot of the entire campsite.
Bahia Honda State Park, site #28
Ibis enjoying the puddle at our campsite. After it rained, we had a waterfront site, afterall.
Bahia Honda State Park, site #28
This is one of our favorite places – great view, friendly staff, nice breeze, great food and great live music on the weekends. There is limited seating so over 21 only, but dogs are welcome. (Lots of seating for families on the lower level) Keys Fisheries Upstairs Bar, Marathon, FL
Keys Fisheries Seafood Market and Restaurant is very popular. It is our favorite place to buy seafood in the area. There is often a long line of people, stretching into the parking lot, waiting to order lunch or dinner.
Keys Fisheries Upstairs Bar, Marathon, FL
Stone crab claws with mustard sauce at Key’s Fisheries, Marathon, FL
Morning coffee at a fishing area at Bahia Honda State Park
This section of the Old Bahia Honda Rail Bridge was restored as a walkway and scenic lookout in Bahia Honda State Park. Calusa beach is in the background. In the distance and to the left is the campground.
Sand sculpture near the nature center at Bahia Honda State Park. Most of this, except for the Lego man, withstood a couple of torrential rainstorms.
Mural near the beach at Bahia Honda State Park
The daily blowing of the conch shell ceremony at sunset, near the bridge at Bahia Honda State Park.
Sunset at Bahia Honda State Park
Beach day at Loggerhead Beach, Bahia Honda State Park. During our stay last year, this beach was closed because the Sargassum Seaweed resulted in high levels of bacteria. This side of the park smelled terrible! This year, there was just the usual seagrass.
Live music at Dockside, Marathon FL. We went there often to enjoy the extremely affordable happy hour and listen to music. We also met many very cool people there.
At Mallory Square in Key West, with friends, Dan and Julie. We drove in to Key West, one day, to spend and afternoon and evening with them. We met them in Maui a couple of years ago. They live on the west side of Michigan. Mallory Square has changed since our visits there in the early 2000’s. It used to be fairly busy, with many different street performers. Now, there is a parking lot, large crowd and only 2 street performers.
Speakeasy Inn and Rum Bar, Key West, FL
It was home to a rum-runner during Prohibition.
Speakeasy Inn and Rum Bar, Key West, FL
Captain, the resident cat at Speakeasy Inn and Rum Bar, Key West, FL
Our first ever Painkillers at Speakeasy Inn and Rum Bar, Key West, FL
Our room at the Speakeasy Inn and Rum Bar, Key West, FL. It also had a private bathroom and kitchenette.
On St. Patrick’s day, we listened to a very talented band at Hog’s Breath Saloon
Key West, FL
We have been streaming Pirate Radio Key West WKYZ, since we were here last year. We have been listening to adds for the Cuban Coffee Queen, so we had to check it out. When all of Key West was quiet in the morning, there were people lined up there.
Very tasty cafe con leche and breakfast sandwiches at the Cuban Coffee Queen, Key West, FL. Now we know what all the hype is about.
Hemingway Home and Museum, Key West, FL
We are pretty certain they use variable pricing for entry fees. We did not visit last year because it was extremely expensive (town was very busy).
Hemingway Home and Museum, Key West, FL
Ernest Hemingway’s writing studio
Hemingway Home and Museum, Key West, FL
Polydactyl cat paws. The descendants of Hemingway’s polydactyl (many-toed) cats still live at his home. There are about 60 cats. The are all clearly, well-cared for and content.
Hemingway Home and Museum, Key West, FL
Photos of Hemingway’s boat, Pilar, at the Hemingway Home and Museum, Key West, FL
The famous Southernmost Point in Key West. From there it is 90 miles to Cuba. To get a photo next to the buoy, you must wait in line for 20 minutes or more.
Near the Southernmost Point in Key West. In the background is the Naval Air Station to the left and the Southernmost House, to the right.
Slushie, celebrating the first day of spring at Bahia Honda State Park.

Fort De Soto Park & St. Pete Beach and Big Cypress National Preserve – Feb 24 – Mar 7, 2024

Fort De Soto is very popular and it is difficult to find availability. Local county residents are able to book a month earlier than anyone else. Somehow, we got lucky and found available campsites.

The campground has 238 campsites, many of which are on the water. We had two different large, pull-thru sites with water and electricity. We were not fortunate enough to book a waterfront site. The park is very popular for fishing, cycling and birding. The fort was built between 1898 and 1906 for the purpose of military defense, though was never involved in combat. It was eventually abandoned in 1923 and sold back to Pinellas County in 1948. It became a county park in 1963.

There is a paved bike path running through the park.  We rode our bikes almost every day and were able to ride around 15 miles in the park, without looping around again. Many days I walked, ran and cycled, mixing in a lot of birdwatching. Needless to say, I was really feeling great and have been, since.

We spent  many afternoons and evenings exploring St. Pete Beach. We met some locals who told us where to eat and where to hear good live music. Once we figured out how to deal with the lack of parking, we really enjoyed it. It’s so casual and affordable compared with Maui and even metro Detroit.

After 12 nights at Fort De Soto, we headed south toward the keys. Midway Campground in Big Cypress National Preserve was, ironically, midway along our route to Bahia Honda State Park. The route allowed us to avoid driving through Miami, which is pretty crazy.

It was the only campground in the area with power and it also had water. The sites were level and paved, but were 90 degrees to the driveway, so it was impossible to back in without driving on the grass. It was literally in the middle of nowhere, with zero cell service. It was a really great feeling. I might have felt otherwise if severe storms were moving through, but the weather was really nice.

A spacious pull-thru site at Fort De Soto Park. We did have several sets of annoying neighbors making a lot of noise, smoking, dumping gray water on their site (all part of campground life, I guess). Our favorite neighbors were two small racoons who would sit near the campsite and watch Dave cook on the outdoor stove at night. One day, at sunset, there was a loud commotion with screeching up in a tree, then a loud thud. They were apparently fighting and one fell out of the tree. He sat there, stunned for about 20 minutes and didn’t move as we were talking to him. (site # 189)
Campsite at Fort De Soto Park (site #175)
Exploring the Old Fort De Soto
View of the beach near the old fort at Fort De Soto Park
Willy’s, St. Pete Beach’s most popular burger joint/dive bar
Dave’s “Big Gooey Burger” at Willy’s, St Pete Beach. We almost returned the next day, because the food was so good AND reasonably priced.
Seared tuna with seaweed salad at Willy’s, St. Pete Beach
The tuna was phenomenal and I haven’t had seaweed salad since my time living in Japan in 1998.
Aloha from Willy’s, St. Pete Beach
Near the campground at Fort De Soto Park
Exploring the old fort at Fort De Soto Park
A happy hour drink at Crabby Bill’s, St. Pete Beach
Near the fishing pier at Fort De Soto Park
The fishing pier and ferry dock at Fort De Soto Park
Egrets on the fishiong pier at Fort De Soto Park
Near the old fort at Fort De Soto Park
An oceanside retaurant/bar, St Pete Beach.
We discovered when we got there, that “theme” is an all-female, young staff wearing only the tiniest bikinis. The beach view was beautiful.
Cycling in Tierra Verde, FL, just outside of the park
East Beach at Fort De Soto Park
Arrowhead Fishing and Picnic Area, Fort De Soto Park
North Beach at Fort De Soto Park
We saw and/or heard flocks of Green Parakeets daily at Fort De Soto Park
Spring breakers enjoying sunset at St. Pete Beach. The beach was pretty packed with college-aged kids.
At Midway campground in Big Cypress National Preserve, just north of the Everglades. Dave is polishing the front of the RV. Site #8
Midway Campground in Big Cypress National Preserve
Midway Campground in Big Cypress National Preserve