Overseas Highway is America's Scenic Drive through the Florida Keys

Overseas Highway is one of the most beautiful scenic drives in America. This highway - the southernmost leg of U.S. 1 - is where visitors from Florida's mainland can cross countless coral and limestone islets through that special world of the Florida Keys. It's one of the most scenic drives in the world, mostly over water, allowing you to enjoy the beautiful scenery and the ocean and, of course, the incredible sunrises and sunsets depending on when you’re driving.

Overseas Highway

How did they build the Overseas Highway?

This asphalted highway — sometimes called "the Highway that Goes to Sea" — follows a trail originally blazed in 1912 when Henry Flagler extended his Florida East Coast Railroad from Miami to Key West. These bridges, currently open to vehicular traffic only, are achievements in engineering. They are the survivors of Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway, intended to connect the Keys to the mainland. Construction began in 1905 and finished in 1912. However, Flagler's rail project was unfortunately short-lived. A 1935 hurricane destroyed more than 30 miles of track. Restoration took years. In the process, workers converted the rails to highways. The Knight's Key Bridge -- now called the Seven Mile Bridge for the nearly 7 miles (11.2 kilometers) of water it spans -- is breathtaking to traverse. The construction of the highway began in the late 1930s, and it was an incredible engineering feat, with 113 miles of roadway and 42 overseas bridges, leapfrogging from key to key in a series of giant arches of concrete and steel. It was completed in 1938, and in 1982, 37 bridges were replaced with wider, heavier spans, including the well-known Seven Mile Bridge at Marathon. Its foundation utilizes some of the original spans as well as the coral bedrock of individual keys and specially constructed columns. Many take this highway-bridge combo to cross between mainland Florida and the vacation hotspot the Florida Keys, experiencing the feeling of driving across the ocean for miles and miles.

Is the Overseas Highway scary?

Driving the Overseas Highway can be scary for those who suffer from anxiety driving a long time on bridges over the sea. At the same time, a few years ago, the road was pretty dangerous because it was very narrow and had maintenance issues. Today the road is generally safe, although there are still many areas with poor road maintenance. The bridge itself doesn’t seem that scary. But its position in the Florida Keys makes it a prime target for the region’s many hurricanes. In fact, the current bridge is the second iteration. The newer bridge scrapped the swing span concept of the original in lieu of a sturdier 65-foot-high arch to allow boats to pass by. While it may be sturdier, we still wouldn’t want to be on it during a storm.

How long does it take to drive the Overseas Highway?

The road is 181 km (113 miles) long and runs from Key Largo to Key West through 42 bridges. Allowing for traffic, it takes around two hours to drive it one-way. It’s one of the best coastal drives in the world.

Which movies have been filmed in the Overseas Highway?

The most famous part of the highway is the iconic Seven Mile Bridge. It’s a 10.887-meter (6.765 miles) long bridge and was one of the longest bridges in the world when the first section opened in 1912. With a starring role in action thrillers 2 Fast 2 Furious, Mission Impossible III, I Am Number Four, and James Bond movie License to Kill, the Florida Keys’ Seven Mile Bridge looks as impressive on film as it does in real life.

Is the Overseas Highway scenic?

The drive is definitely worth it. Don’t forget your camera! Take time for the dramatic sunsets and many Viking Yachts that can be seen running on the horizon. When the giant red ball of the sun plummets into the blue of the sea, as it often does in the tropics, it sends radiant pink, orange, and purple-blue fingers across the evening sky. The sunrises, too, are spectacular enough to arrest a camera's eye, as the ever-growing glow spreads beams of glistening light over the sea. This road has been heralded as one of the most spectacular roads in the world by dangerousroads.org users, and in 2009, the Overseas Highway was named an All-American Road by the National Scenic Byways program administered by the Federal Highway Administration. Driving across here during sunset is highly recommended. This low-intensity drive allows the driver to settle into the car and drink in the views as they pass from island to island over the sea.

Is the Overseas Highway busy?

The surface of the road is totally paved. After the construction of this modern wonder, the Florida Keys — which now host more than three million visitors annually — became an easily accessible tourist destination by car and bus. Seascapes as colorful as any artist's palette, colors of shimmering sea from turquoise to blue to deep green, landscapes of rustling pine, swaying palms, silver buttonwood and water-rooted mangrove, all vying for life under a horizon-to-horizon blue sky dotted with fleecy white clouds. It's essentially a drive over water, and if you manage to coincide a part of your trip with a sunrise or sunset. The only drawback is that if you happen to be here in the holiday season, the traffic might bother a few, but for the most part, the scenery is so spectacular that there is no road rage here, and being stuck hardly feels like a prison. However, it's important to drive cautiously to avoid any potential car accident, especially during busy holiday periods.