96 Hours in Florida: Day 1

My long weekend in Florida was something I really, really needed. I think the necessity was due to the fact that I spent a solid six weeks studying for an exam earlier this year and it burnt me out. I really hate studying. Okay, I know everyone hates studying, but I really hate it. In junior high, in high school, while I was at university, I didn't really study. I went to classes and did the homework and that was enough to get me through any testing and midterms. But, in this particular case, I was taking an exam encompassing a plethora of topics, 90% of which I hadn't even thought about since my days as an undergrad so studying was a necessity. Well, thank goodness I put in some effort because I passed! But, the stress of studying, the stress of an 8-hour long test, and the stress of waiting a month to find out the results took a toll on my already aging body. Plus, add in my 45+ hour week, going on random business trips (one of which required me to show up at the airport at 5AM and got me back at the airport at 10PM), while still trying to maintain some semblance of a social life and you see, I really, really needed this trip.
It was a deliciously relaxing trip for several reasons. For one, looking at palm trees is like taking a Valium; it automatically puts me in a relaxed and happy mood. Secondly, we got a rental car which meant we could mosey along at our own pace. We gave ourselves a v. loosely defined itinerary - I say loosely because we booked a different hotel each night so we just had to make our way to our beds by the evening with no other true set plans in between. Basically, we went into relaxed-holiday-mode as soon as we touched down in Fort Lauderdale.

Here's what I packed:
My packing philosophy for this trip was that every item of clothing had to fit inside of one medium-sized packing cube; no exceptions. That was pretty easy since summer clothing and swimwear take up v, little space anyway. For this 4 day trip, I packed three swimsuits (knowing the fourth day would be spent in a spa), three coordinating beach coverups, and a super comfortable romper to wear to dinner (yes, the same one all three nights; why not?). And of course, I had my airport outfit, which consisted of clothes capable of keeping me a big more snuggly and warm on the freezing cold plane and then an extra "emergency outfit" made up of existing components in case my dinner romper got dirty or I didn't feel like dealing with the tube top on a particular night.
I think for more fashion-centric trips, I tend to choose a color scheme and work around it but for beach/island/tropical getaways, I say the more color, the better. I think it's more fun and amps up the relaxing vibe of lounging on the sand and kind of says "F YOU!" to looking matchy and coordinated because let's face it, we're too busy being laid back to care. So, I lean towards bright hues (namely yellow in this case), palm prints, and of course, my trusty yellow pineapple bag is always in tow when I'm headed to surf and sand.

We lucked out on the way down to Florida. All of the "complementary" seats were already reserved so we just checked into our flight and let United choose our seats for us. We ended up in the economy plus area, which meant more legroom, and we were basically two rows behind first class, which meant we were able to exit the plane quickly after we landed.
Courtyard Fort Lauderdale Airport & Cruise Port
Since we were landing so late (around 11PM), for that night I booked a hotel just a few minutes from the airport. It was in a good location - literally a 5 minute drive from the rental car station - and it was a clean and comfortable hotel. The staff were so friendly and gave us an upgraded room (not that we really needed it, but hey, I'll take it) and we fell asleep in our cozy bed as soon as our heads hit the pillows.
We woke up bright and early the next morning so we could hit the road and get down to the Keys before traffic started building up. We made a pitstop at Walgreens on the way so we could grab some spray sunscreen (my favorite is the Neutrogena SPF 100+), Dramamine, and some snacks.
It was a gorgeous day, though we did hit a sunshower or two passing Miami, and we really enjoyed the drive. Traffic was 100% bearable and once we got onto the Overseas Highway, we leisurely made our way down, stopping here and there to enjoy the views and some food.
Bitton Bistro Cafe (Islamorada)
By the time we'd made our way through Key Largo, our tummies were rumbling so we decided to stop in Islamorada for breakfast. I had pinned a bunch of places beforehand so we just randomly picked Bitton and it was an awesome decision.

We were so hungry we ended up ordering three dishes: the lox, tomato, & caper on a croissant, the ham, mushroom, & gruyere crepe, and the nutella & banana crepe. Everything was delicious and the crepes were made by a real French guy, which made them taste even better.
Bahia Honda State Park
At the suggestion of my coworker, we stopped by Bahia Honda (ba-EE-ah OHN-da) to enjoy the beach a little. The park ranger suggested we drive along the entire park to see everything and encouraged us to walk along the old bridge.
The views from the bridge were pretty amazing and the color of the water was that beautiful Caribbean turquoise I've come to love.
I'd read that Sandspur was the nicest beach so we headed over. Unfortunately, there was a bit of a seagrass epidemic, but that didn't stop us from lying out or enjoying the water.
Fairfield Inn & Suites Key West
After lounging about at the beach, we finished driving down the Overseas Highway to our final destination for the day: Key West. We settled into our hotel, which was roomy and comfortable, before heading out to explore. Our hotel was located towards the north end of the island, which meant we had to drive into town. But that was fine, as there was plenty of parking.
We found a metered spot on Simonton and then we walked around, enjoying the liveliness of Duval and we hit up some of the must-see photo ops.
Since it was boiling hot and we weren't quite used to the temperatures, we needed to cool off. We headed to Matt's for a frozen treat. I opted for the dulce de leche in a cup while sister went for the cookies 'n cream. The ice cream was sublime - rich and creamy - and because we needed to hydrate, we also got a key limeade, which was tart and refreshing.
Southernmost Point
Of course we stopped by the Southernmost Point buoy to take the obligatory shot. There was a huge line though, so I just grabbed a quick snap in between selfie-takers and then we sat on a little bench and tried to grab our own line-less selfie.
Statue of the Conch-Blowing Greeter
I won't lie and say I knew what this statue was for until just now when I looked it up. Basically, this was a statue erected to honor a gentleman, Albert Kee, who was known for blowing on a conch and welcoming tourists to Key West. I asked him to hold my purse for me.
By the way, we saw chickens everywhere. I guess this happens on islands; someone brings over a few chickens and then they breed like crazy and there are no predators so they end up wandering the island the same way that squirrels do in my neighborhood.
Thirsty Mermaid
For dinner, we went to a little raw bar. The main reason I chose this place was because I love mermaids, but also, it had fantastic reviews.
We started with the ceviche of the day, which was a snowy grouper with cucumber, pepper, and jalapeno. It was bright and fresh without being too acidic; we loved it.
I also asked for one of each oyster on the menu. They came with a mignonette and a fresh cocktail sauce (which was basically grated horseradish with some tomato; so good). The oysters were gorgeously presented and super fresh and delicious. I could have eaten hundreds (but my wallet couldn't afford that).
For her main, my sister got the seared ahi tuna over jasmine rice, which was drizzled with a pickled ginger cream sauce. The fish was fresh and delicious and I loved the accompaniments. The rice was nice and fluffy, the pickled vegetables underneath added some tang, and the sauce gave the whole thing a lovely unctuousness.
I opted for the special of the day, which was a seared snowy grouper served on top of a pile of potato gnocchi with a lobster butter sauce. It was sublime. The lobster butter sauce was so delicious, I wanted a straw to slurp it up. The fish was tender with a crisp crust, the gnocchi were a little gummy but still light and delicate, and the mushrooms were awesome because they acted like little sponges for the lobster butter.
Custom House
After dinner, we needed to kill a little time before heading down to Mallory Square to see the sunset so we walked around having fun with the statues surrounding the Art & Historical Society museum.
Mallory Square
As one is obliged to do on island getaways, we spent our final hours of the evening enjoying the sunset from Mallory Square. Unfortunately the clouds and general haze prevented the sky from lighting up with the gorgeous pinks and oranges we're used to, but it was gorgeous nonetheless, especially with the silhouette of Sunset Key and passing sailboats.

Our first day was a busy one; we felt like we accomplished a lot but we didn't exhaust ourselves and we felt like it was a leisurely fun day.
We had just as much fun during the subsequent days so I'll be sharing all of that in upcoming posts.