Monday morning, the in-laws went to partake in the free breakfast at the onsite restaurant. We’re not really breakfast people, so we chose to sleep in and make coffee in the room. They came back with a bunch of gossip from the restaurant owner, who is apparently different than the guy who runs the resort. He had no end of complaints about how the owner had no interest in upgrading the place at all, and just wanted to make money off it. Which is sad, because it was a beautiful location with a ton of potential.
The beach didn’t look so bad in the morning. Still no Jamaican beach, but it looked more swimmable at high tide. The waves were really rough, though, so the guy who ran the boats said it was unlikely we’d be able to go out that day. Which was fine, because we had other plans involving the ocean.
We drove south into Marathon and stopped at Publix to buy a styrofoam cooler and picnic food. We got crusty bread with cheese and cured meat, grapes, snacks, beer, and water, packed everything up in the car, and drove to Bahia Honda State Park.
The park map showed two beaches, so we picked one and headed that way. It turned out that there was just a parking lot separating the two of them, one facing the Atlantic and one facing the Gulf. We decided to check out the Atlantic side first, so we grabbed all our stuff from the trunk and climbed over the dune to find this:
The beach was gorgeous and uncrowded. Judy and Harlan set up towels and parked themselves on the beach with beers, while Matt and I took ours in the water. It was so nice there, I didn’t even care about our less-than-optimal hotel beach.
We bobbed around for a while, and ended up talking to a guy from Madison, Wisconsin (we always meet people from Wisconsin on vacation, and I’m not sure why) who said he and his wife were camping there at the park. They had to make reservations a year in advance, and the place fills up within a few hours of the reservations opening. I wasn’t surprised at all. He said they once made the mistake of not setting up their tent on the provided pad, and his wife had chigger bites so bad she had to go to the hospital. Wow.
After a while, we went to grab masks and my snorkel. The waves were a little rough because of the storm offshore, but I couldn’t believe how much life there was even within ten feet of the beach. I saw a few live conch, too! As requested by the state of Florida, I left them alone to crawl around the sea floor.
After snorkeling and exhausting ourselves swimming back to the beach against the current, we decided to go over to the other side of the peninsula and have our lunch. We found a picnic table with this view, so it was obviously the perfect spot.
The west-facing side of the park features the old railroad bridge that was originally the only way to travel down the Keys over land. It makes for a really picturesque view, too. The overseas highway isn’t pretty, but it’s a fascinating structural feat.
After lunch, we walked up to see the railroad bridge up close.
This is the gulf-side beach from above. It seemed to be more crowded than the Atlantic side, and the water wasn’t as clear.
The in-laws went to wander around and see the historic sites while Matt and I went for a swim at the beach. After a while, we headed over to the shower building to clean up and change, and then we were back on the road heading north over the 7-mile bridge. I wanted to do some shopping, so we stopped at the sandal shop, and at a giant shell store in Marathon to pick up souvenirs. While we were there, we asked the girls working (who I’m pretty sure weren’t old enough to drink, but whatever) if they could recommend a good tiki bar in the area. They gave us a couple options, and we headed out.
Tiki bars are tricky in Florida, because that’s their name for everything with a thatched roof, as far as we could tell. You’re sometimes lucky to find a place that can make you a mojito, much less a classic tiki drink. At that point, I just wanted a bar where we could sit outdoors and have a pina colada.
One of the places they recommended was Lulu’s, right down the street. It’s a restaurant in a cute house, but the main attraction for us was the gigantic round tiki hut in the garden next door. It reminded us of our favorite spot in Negril, 24/7 (R.I.P.). We parked in back and chased off a few big iguanas from the yard, then got seats at the bar. The bartender was a quiet older guy who warmed up once my in-laws started talking to him. We all ordered boat drinks, and Judy and I got the pina coladas we wanted.
After a while, I went to check out the garden. It reminded me a lot of Just Natural in Negril, and there were iguanas and geckos hanging out all over the place. Even though the garden is right near the road, it’s a really quiet little oasis. I would love to have a place like that someday.
The in-laws wanted to go back to the hotel for a mid-afternoon nap, so Matt and I dropped them off and headed back to Marathon. We stopped at a combination deli/liquor store and stocked up on supplies for later, then drove back down to the beginning of 7 Mile Bridge. There’s a small parking lot where you can stop and walk out onto the old bridge, which runs alongside the new one. It extends to Pigeon Key (which you can still only visit via boat, unless you want to bike or jog there), and then there’s a gap before it continues on alongside the modern bridge.
We walked out on the bridge for the view, and to watch the Atlantic and Gulf run together. That looked kind of turbulent.
Afterwards, we drove down around to the other side of the bridge to visit Sunset Grille. The place looks like a gigantic tiki hut, so of course I took note of it every time we drove past. We got mojitos and Matt ordered smoked fish dip, which is something he and his parents would end up eating about 10 more times on the trip.
We sat at the rail overlooking Seven Mile Bridge, the ocean, and a giant patio with a swimming pool, a smaller tiki bar, and what appeared to be a movie screen. It was basically the template for the bar I went to own someday.
We had another round just to sit there enjoying the view, and then it was time to head back to the hotel to pick up the in-laws for dinner. We headed back down to Marathon to Island Fish Company, another place that had been recommended to us more than once. We were seated on the patio right by the docks, and ordered mai tais. Our server was awesome, and told us he used to live in the Twin Cities, working for Northwest Airlines. Now he splits time between the Keys and Maui. (Matt and I died of envy at this point.)
They had a veggie burger on the menu, which made me pretty happy. Also, the view did not suck at all:
Before leaving, we got our server’s advice on bars where locals hung out, and that were unlikely to close at 8pm. He recommended Brass Monkey as the place he hung out most often, because they have bands all the time. When he told us it was in the strip mall behind the K-Mart, Matt and I knew that was a place we had to see.
If you picture what a bar in a strip mall might look like, you’re on the right track. It was dark, smoky, a huge dive, and had a fantastic jukebox and cheap drinks. I cringed when my father-in-law ordered a stinger, waiting for the bartender to ask what the hell he was talking about. But he was very professional, and said “sure!” and headed to the back of the bar where we saw him quietly asking the other bartenders, who I’m pretty sure Googled it. Awesome.
There was Appleton VX and Bubble Butt on the jukebox, and nobody even seemed to care when Harlan went to play a cheesy country song. I wanted to stay there forever, but of course we had plenty to see before noon the next day.