Boating to Key Largo, dolphin pods in the bay, and conch fritters at Alabama Jacks.

When reflecting on what I’ll miss about my fleeting time in Miami, spending time out on the boat is one of the biggest contenders. Propelling across the bay with nothing but the sun and the air and the salt affords for a true escape from the realities waiting at the dock. Our family boat, unofficially named the Rusty Bucket, is no sprawling yacht — just a cozy vessel for trips to the Upper Keys, and rides up the Miami River.

On this particular excursion, I accompanied my parents on a day trip down to Key Largo for lunch at a local gem, called Alabama Jacks. This joint embodied everything that the Keys represent; it was dirty, salty, full of beer, and offered finger-lickin’ grub all afternoon long. The elder Boue’s were pumped on the idea of chowing down at Alabama Jacks, but I had never experienced it before, so I just sat back and enjoyed the ride down from Matheson Hammock in Miami.

The restaurant sits perched along a bank of Card Sound — basically at the base of the Keys, to give perspective to anyone who has had the pleasure of taking the beautiful drive down through the islands. The wood planks surrounding the establishment are mismatched and sloppily painted; this place has boater dive bar written all over it. We docked the boat along the side of the restaurant, and took the best table at the house in the back corner overlooking the water.

We ordered a combo platter with fried Mahi fingers, piles of conch fritters, crispy crab cakes, french fries smothered in cheese, and homemade potato salad. Served in a messy heap of seafood glory, everything was absolutely delicious. I’m not the biggest fan of oysters, clams, or conch, but the fritters at Alabama Jacks were too outrageous to resist. The conch was perfectly breaded and had an addicting crunch as you munched away. Top it all off with a cold beer, and you’ve got yourself a winning combination.

While I deeply enjoyed my down-home, no-frills experience at Alabama Jacks, I would highly recommend that any visit to the area be taken via watercraft. Whether you roll up in a mega yacht, humble fishing vessel, or even a seaworthy canoe, half of the overall vibe felt at this restaurant is fostered by interaction with the water you sit perched above while getting your fill of seafood and salty air. Driving down to load up on conch fritters would likewise be enjoyable, but traffic and pavement shadow in comparison to a seaside ride.

On the way back to town, we encountered a pod of about six dolphins powering their way up the channel. We spent a few minutes chasing them around so I could get a good shot, and of course during the sole moment of perfectly exposed hind flukes from a dolphin just a few feet from the boat, I had put my camera in my lap to wipe the lens and missed the ideal opportunity. Here’s the next best shot:

Sadly, it will be at least until the next warm season that I’ll have a chance to head out on the boat again. I’ll be leaving on a six week solo trip on September 1, and won’t be back in Miami until the winter – which means no boat for me. In the meantime, I’ll have to get my fill of fresh air up in the mountains.

A weekend in Key West with fireworks, tequila shots, and cotton candy sunsets

After a seven hour haul from Tallahassee, and dumping four years worth of junk into my Miami bedroom, I dove back into my car and cruised down to Key West for a weekend getaway with my best ladies, Brooke and Marisa.

The mini-vacation was exactly what I needed after a rough week. I love a good drive, and the road to Key West is one that cannot be beat. It’s 150 miles along the seaside, over long bridges, and onward through the sunset – which was fantastic on this particular day. I kept missing opportunities to pull over and take some photos, but I finally veered off the road at a beach area and amused some Asian tourists while I hung out of my car snapped shots of the jeweled sky hues.

The next 48 hours after arriving at Marisa’s house on the east side of the island were an absolute blur. I was coaxed out of my break-up shell with too many shots of Patron. I had never tasted it before, and for a lady who can’t take a shot to save her life, I am a big fan of this quality tequila as long as I have salt and lime, of course.

Marisa toured us through a collection of her favorite Key West spots, including Krawl’s little nook of beer heaven, lunch and rum runners at Caroline’s, entertaining live music at Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar, and my personal favorite, the hole-in-the-wall Cuban eatery that served me a giant helping of crispy bacon at 3:20 AM. Not to mention the lovely Key West sheriff with whom I shared a shot of espresso while I waited for my bacon to cook.

The highlight of the trip was the 4th of July. My entire visit to the island was damped by relentless rain, but it finally let up around 5:00 on the 4th, just in time for a great fireworks display on the beach. I snapped hundreds of pictures during the show in the sky, and have a few surprising captures to share. I got lost from the group while I was taking all these pictures, and at first I kind of freaked out about being separated from the herd. After a few minutes of looking around, I resolved myself to my solitude and started to enjoy this new ‘alone’ thing. It’s really not so bad, especially when you find a delicious crab cake stand – and then see your crew huddled right next to it. Double win.

I see many Key West visits in my future, especially if I end up staying in Miami for a few more months. Old Cutler to Coconut Grove will always be my favorite drive, but the trek through the Keys is a close second.

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