Inspired by the Netflix series ‘Bloodline,’ a native Floridian goes off-the-beaten path in the Florida Keys
By ADAM H. GRAHAM | WSJ.com
GOLDEN RULE number one in the Sunshine State: Older is often better. Take, for example, the Old Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys. Built in 1912 as a railroad causeway, it’s now a fishing (and cycling) pier spanning the turquoise water of the Moser Channel. Running parallel is the new Seven Mile Bridge, completed in 1982 and part of the Overseas Highway that leads to the terminus of Florida’s island chain, rollicking Key West. Having grown up in Florida, I’ve been stuck in traffic on that new bridge too many times to count, wedged into a phalanx of cars with out-of-state license plates bound for the island of Hemingway tchotchkes and frozen-daiquiri dispensers.
But on this trip—partially inspired by the Netflix series “Bloodline,” which is set in the sleepier Upper Keys—my husband and I opted to skip Key West and seek out the more authentic pockets of the 120-mile-long archipelago.
A single town comprising five islands, Islamorada is full of 1950s architecture, shady palm groves and empty beaches. If one place in the Keys represents the Old Florida that I always long to see, this is it. The first season of “Bloodline” used Islamorada’s Moorings Village inn as a primary location (the second season starts in May), and with its inviting beachfront and wide, white-trimmed porches, it certainly exudes tropical Floridian elegance. If you can’t shell out $1,000 for two nights to stay there, you have options. We chose the Pines & Palms, a former coconut plantation on Islamorada’s Atlantic side that’s now a friendly motel with a few beachfront bungalows and a tiny tiki bar.
Islamorada was full of quirky spots that offered welcome doses of real, idiosyncratic Florida, such as the roadside Midway Café, where the “Golden Girls” décor (chairs are magenta and aquamarine) doesn’t quite fit with the clientele—brawny guys from the nearby boatyard. At Robbie’s Marina, where vendors sell oil paintings of pelicans and wind chimes strung with shells, we set out on a snorkeling tour to Alligator Reef lighthouse and swam in gin-clear waters with barracuda, needlefish and midnight parrotfish.
About a 20-minute drive from Islamorada, Long Key State Park has a 1-mile trail that loops around black, red and white mangroves and glossy poisonwood trees. We were hoping to take advantage of its secluded beaches (one of which was used in a pivotal scene in “Bloodline”), but it started to rain so we continued south to Marathon.
Marathon, a cluster of islands in the Middle Keys, is rough around the edges. The main highway is lined with beat-up strip-malls, trailer parks and derelict boat yards. But there is evidence of heart there too. A strip bar has been converted into a hospital for endangered turtles (it’s open for tours) and a scuttled retail development is now the impressive 63-acre Crane Point Museum, dedicated to the maritime history of the Keys and home to a network of nature trails.
On our last night, we dined at Lazy Days restaurant in Islamorada. The waitress told us that the place is usually full around 6 p.m., but by 9 p.m. it was nearly empty. We sat on the oceanfront patio lit by tiki torches and lingered over baskets of peel-and-eat shrimp and a plate of homemade Key lime pie, listening to the waves roll in. Sometimes finding Old Florida is just a matter of timing.
THE LOWDOWN // FINDING THE CLASSIC AND THE QUIRKY IN THE KEYS
Getting There: Islamorada is a 90-minute drive from Miami, depending on traffic.
Staying There: Islamorada’s Moorings Village & Spa, which serves as a backdrop in the Netflix series, “Bloodline” has luxurious one- to three-bedroom cottages, a great beach and a hefty price tag (from about $465 a night, two-night minimum, themooringsvillage.com). Built in the 1950s, Pines & Palms in Islamorada has beachfront bungalows with kitchenettes (from about $290 a night, pinesandpalms.com).
Eating There: Ziggie & Mad Dogs, a no-frills steakhouse, is usually packed with locals burnt-out on fish. Skip the bland mac and cheese and go for the Delmonico steak (8300 Overseas Highway, Islamorada, ziggieandmaddogs.com). The oceanside Lazy Days restaurant serves tasty beach fare, like conch fritters and shrimp in a basket (79867 Overseas Highway, Islamorada, 305-664-5256). Midway Café looks girlie, but offers man-sized breakfast burritos (80499 Overseas Highway, Islamorada, midwaycafecoffeebar.com). On a pier in Marathon, Keys Fisheries has great lobster Reuben sandwiches and cheap stone crab claws (3502 Gulfview Ave., keysfisheries.com).