12 Fabulous Florida Road Trips and Scenic Drives For Every Kind of Traveler

The Nature Coast, the Paradise Coast, the Emerald Coast, or the Treasure Coast — these are but a few of the unique Florida coasts to visit.

Truth be told however, there’s a little nature, treasure, and paradise in every part of the Sunshine State —one reason why Florida road trips are such a good idea and a great way to slow travel the state.

Whether you’re a nature lover, beach lover, foodie, history hound or culture buff, there’s something for everyone to do in Florida, and a road trip that’ll please just about everyone. Nature near Disney World? It’s just a short drive away.

Awesome cuisine outside the tourist zones? Oh heck yeah. The food in Florida is worth traveling for. Michelin stars and Gulf Coast seafood shacks on the same Gulf Coast road trip? Yep, that too. High culture and low, Florida’s got a lot to love.

In fact, Florida’s immense size and diversity offers travelers two time zones, four USDA hardiness zones (8-11), two climate zones (tropical and sub-tropical), over 65,000 square miles and 1,200 miles of coastline on both the wild Atlantic and the tranquil Gulf of Mexico.

Add in countless cuisines, over 14,000 years of recorded history, and colorful culture to keep you dancing from Destin to Duck Key, and you’ve got enough Florida road trips to keep you busy til you send the kiddies off to college and move here yourself!

In the meantime, here are our favorite Florida road trip ideas to get you started, in every part of the state — leisurely Florida scenic drives, backroad byways, and Florida day trips we hope you take soon.

12 epic Florida road trips on every coast, and for every every traveler

12 epic Florida road trips on every coast, and for every every traveler

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Florida Road Trips

Table of Contents (click to jump ahead)

North Florida

Tallahassee to Wakulla Springs and Big Bend Scenic Byway

Tallahassee to Pensacola

Gainesville Springs

Beaches of Jacksonville to St. Augustine

Central Florida

Vero Beach to Sebring

Cedar Key to Crystal River and Homosassa Springs

Crystal River to Tarpon Springs

Canaveral National Seashore to Merritt Island and Cocoa Beach

South Florida

Punta Gorda to Matlacha and Pine Island

Sanibel Island to Ft. Myers Beach and Lovers Key

Naples and Marco Island to the Florida Everglades

Miami to Key West Drive

North Florida


Tallahassee to Wakulla Springs and Big Bend Scenic Byway

Distance: 43 miles

As the capital city of Florida, Tallahassee is also without question one of the best stop-overs in Florida as well. There’s history, the arts, excellent restaurants, and a few quirky and fun venues in the city. After you’ve spent a few days in Tallahassee enjoying its charms, it’s time for a quick road trip to one of Florida’s most scenic springs along the Gulf Coast.

Head due south from Tallahassee on FL 61 to Wakulla Springs, officially known as Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park. It’s a straight shot of 17 miles from Tallahassee and takes less than half an hour to get there. There is an admission fee of $6.00 USD per vehicle.

You can spend an entire day here relaxing on the small beach or playing in the crystal clear water. If you’d rather not backtrack to Tallahassee, we encourage you to slow travel and book an overnight stay in the park at the Wakulla Springs Lodge.

Edward Ball purchased the lodge and springs in 1931, and after renovation, reopened in 1937. Today this historic site is recognized as a National Natural Landmark. The beauty of this elegant building is timeless, and offers visitors a glimpse into Old Florida.

If you’re not spending the night, you can still tour the hotel on your own. Start in the gift shop and soda fountain for a bit of refreshment. Sit at the world’s longest marble bar — 70.25 feet — and have some ice cream or a ginger yip!

>>> Where to Stay in Wakulla Springs:

The Lodge at Wakulla Springs - add a touch of history to your Tallahassee to Wakulla Springs road trip with an overnight stay in this National Historic Landmark, consistently rated a top stay!

Check rates and more details.

When it’s time to cool off, there’s a designated swim area at the beach along with a 22-foot high diving and observation platform right on Wakulla Lake. A leap off the platform is considered a local rite of passage. But be forewarned, the clear water of the spring fed lake is a brisk and refreshing 70°F. Wading along the shore might be all you need to cool off.

The biggest tourist attraction in the park is the River Boat Tour along the Wakulla River. This guided tour takes 45-55 minutes to cover the two mile loop, and the boat moves slowly making its way through stands of bald cypress trees. This is a birders and nature lover’s paradise with alligators, fish, turtles, and an incredible number of birds to see including wading birds.

If it’s the right time of year you may see a manatee or two. You can’t miss the ticket office on the dock where the boats are tied up. Seating on board is on a first come first served basis, with a nominal fee ($8 for passengers 13 and older, $5 for kids 3-12, under 3 if free).

If you’re still longing for a true toes-in-the-sand Gulf of Mexico beach experience, the closest beach to Tallahassee would be Alligator Point and Bald Point State Park, or St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge. Keep in mind that geographically, this is the Big Bend of Florida, where beaches are tidal marsh and rustic scrub.

The sugar white beaches and aquamarine water along the Emerald Coast and the powder white beaches of Clearwater and southwest Florida are much farther west and south of the bend, respectively. St. George Island, about an hour to the west of Alligator Point, is where the more pristine sunbathing beaches begin.

The Big Bend Scenic Byway, the stretch of US 98 which runs from St. Marks Wildlife Refuge to Alligator Point and beyond to Apalachicola is worth the drive.

The Lighthouse at St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge, the oldest lighthouse on Florida’s Gulf Coast

The Lighthouse at St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge, the oldest lighthouse on Florida’s Gulf Coast

St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge is open year round and one of the most scenic natural areas in Florida. A nominal entrance fee gets you in for the day where you can hike the Florida National Scenic Trail, and explore the coastal marshes, tidal creeks and estuaries of seven north Florida rivers. Visit St. Mark’s Lighthouse, the second oldest lighthouse in Florida and the oldest on the Gulf coast.

It’s one of the most photographed landmarks on the Gulf coast, and the only lighthouse in Florida with wooden stairs. This part of Florida’s Gulf coast is still wild and undervisited, which is why you should go. Outdoor enthusiasts, birders, and campers will love it here — just don’t forget the bug spray, especially at night!

What’s to Love?

Nature Lovers — Some of the world’s largest and deepest freshwater springs are at Wakulla Springs, home to manatees, alligators and a host of diverse wildlife

Foodies — So many good Tallahassee restaurants from upscale to yummy casual eateries like The Edison

Beach Lovers — St. Mark’s Lighthouse in St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge is the oldest lighthouse on the Gulf Coast

History Buffs — The Tallahassee Museum

Culture Vultures — Swim where the Creature from the Black Lagoon was filmed in 1954 at Wakulla Springs

Road Trip Options:

Extend your Florida road trip along the Gulf Coast from Tallahassee to Crystal River, or drive the entire Nature Coast of Florida from Tallahassee to Tarpon Springs.

See the Central Florida road trips below.


Tallahassee to Pensacola — The Emerald Coast

Distance: 200 miles

If you're heading from Tallahassee to Pensacola (or Pensacola to Tallahassee), you could take I-10 for two hundred miles of uninspiring highway driving or take the scenic route along the coast for one of the best road trips in Florida. Purists will direct you to highway 98, aka the Big Bend Scenic Byway, and who wouldn't enjoy a journey through Tate's Hell State Forest! As lovely as that sounds, wouldn't you rather be at the beach?

A pleasant compromise is taking FL 20. You'll pass through hamlets like Hosford and Bristol that are doing their part to uphold their Floribama heritage. The pine tree lined roads are beautiful in their own rustic charm, but the star of this leg is Panama City Beach. Pull into PCB with plenty of time for the main attraction — Shell Island and St Andrews State Park, the most visited park in Florida.

Before venturing into the park, stop into Finns for island-style grub and a great cup of coffee. While you're there, walk next door to Mr. Surf's to check out visual evidence of big waves on the Gulf. Full and fully caffeinated, it's time to explore.

St. Andrew's Bay has the largest population of bottle-nose dolphins in the world, and the best way to see them is by boat. Pick one that stops by beautiful Shell Island. Stay the night for a Panama City Beach romantic adventure — that has to include dinner at Firefly which serves the state's best she-crab soup.

In the morning, make sure you take the beautiful 30A bypass. You'll see why it's called the Emerald Coast. Stop for lunch at the idyllic little town of Seaside before continuing into Destin. Be sure to stop at Okaloosa Island, a narrow three-mile island between the cities of Fort Walton Beach and Destin. Several pull-offs give you access to snow-white sandy dunes leading to crystal blue water.

By Jennifer of Coleman Concierge

>>> Where to Stay in Destin?

Shoreline Condo 2076 - Not the most romantic name, but the amenities and Gulf front location of this immaculate condo on the beach more than makes up for it!

Check rates and availability.

>>> Where to Stay in Panama City Beach?

Marriott’s Legends Edge at Bay Point - a great hotel for families on a Florida road trip through Panama City Beach, away from the crowds with the most incredible resort-style pool!

Check rates and more details.

When you've had your fill of eye candy, continue on Highway 98 into Pensacola. This 200 mile, 4 1/2 hour road trip will take you by some of the best beaches and best seafood in the Sunshine State.

What’s to Love?

Nature Lovers — Pine savannas, hardwood hammocks, and miles of raw, natural beaches

Foodies — Fresh seafood and Gulf Coast oysters

Beach Lovers — It’s the Emerald Coast, y’all!

History Buffs — Pensacola is the home of the US Navy flight schools and the renowned Blue Angels

Culture Vultures — Peddle around the charming town of Seaside, where The Truman Show was filmed!

Pin this for later!

Pin this for later!


Gainesville Springs — The Natural Springs in North Florida

Distance: 500-550 miles

This Florida road trip through the Gainesville springs is one of our favorites! The secluded state parks and beautiful trails in Gainesville are perfect for divers, snorkelers, swimmers, and hikers.

While you can fly in and out of Gainesville, a Florida springs road trip is also one of the best day trips from Orlando, so flying into Orlando International airport is easier and adds a little more to the trip.

7-10 days would be perfect for this trip so you can have time to swim and hike with a little relaxing in there as well.

Your first stop from Orlando should be Blue Spring State Park. Take I-4 to US 17 N. If you're visiting in the winter, this is a great place to see manatees as they huddle up over the constant 72° warm springs that bubble up from below. While you can't swim with them here, you can kayak near them.

From Blue Spring, head up to Gainesville via FL 40 where you'll base yourself and spend a few days exploring. Spend your days hiking at Paynes Prairie State Park, San Felasco, and Devil's Millhopper State Park.

Your next stop will be a few days in either Alachua or High Springs. While there aren't many hotels in High Springs, Alachua has several places to choose from. It’s the perfect base for visiting Ichetucknee Springs, Ginnie Springs, Gilchrist Blue Springs, Rum Island Springs, and O'Leno State Park.

For some nighttime refreshment, there are lots of fun things to do in Gainesville, just up the road. Several good restaurants, a great brewery, and the famous Hippodrome Theater where you can take in a show.

By Megan of Red Around the World

>>> Where to Stay in Gainesville?

Camellia Rose Inn - a lovely B&B in the heart of historic Gainesville, their breakfast alone is worth booking!

Next up, you can head to the south side of Gainesville for a night or two to snorkel or dive Devil's Den spring, one of the most unique springs in the state.

Finally, if you have time, go swimming with manatees in Crystal River and spend a night before heading back to Orlando. It’s under an hour away and there’s more to discover along Florida’s Nature Coast. The best time of year for a Florida springs road trip would be early spring or fall.

What’s to Love?

Nature Lovers: Crystal blue, natural springs

Foodies: Swamphead Brewery and the food truck rallies at the High Dive

Beach Lovers: It may not be sandy, but Devil’s Den is an awesome Instagrammable swim spot!

History Buffs: Besides the eons of natural history, the twice-yearly Hoggetowne Medieval Fair is always good fun!

Culture Vultures: The Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention


Beaches of Jacksonville to St. Augustine — The First Coast

Distance: 85 miles

One of the best Florida road trip ideas in the Sunshine State is from the Florida border at the Florida Georgia Line, driving down from the beaches of Jacksonville to St. Augustine, stopping at Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island, a barrier island off the Florida coastline. Why stay on the highway when there’s so much more to see on the scenic route?


From I-95, take expressway 200 directly to Amelia island and the first stop is the lovely historic town of Fernandina with it's colorful downtown filled with art galleries, cafes and bars, and tourist shops. It’s the perfect place to just explore and enjoy a fantastic morning and lunch.

There are lots of fantastic restaurants to check the menus and try out. A favorite spot to eat is the Salty Pelican which offers seafood specialties from the region. Stay the night in Fernandina to enjoy sunset, wander the beaches and explore Fort Clinch State Park.

Driving down Amelia island on the A1A is a great way to see the spectacular coastline and beaches in Northern Florida, passing through the Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve and then connecting back to I-295 and Route 10 back to the A1A.

You pass through all the fantastic beaches near Jacksonville including Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, Jacksonville Beach, Ponte Vedra Beach and eventually on into the history Oldest City in America, St. Augustine.

By Noel of This Hawaii Life

>>> Where to Stay in Old St. Augustine:

Hilton Saint Augustine Historic Bayfront - in the heart of Old City, this is the place to stay that is walking distance from most every major attraction!

Check rates and availability.


Staying a few nights here to explore the historic sites and quirky places in historic St. Augustine is a must, enjoying the Old City District (walk down the Oldest Street in the US), the iconic Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine Lighthouse, fantastic museums and so many other wonderful attractions.

History buffs will be in heaven exploring St. Augustine and the surrounding area for a few days or more. But it’s more than just history here. Foodies will enjoy some of the best Spanish cuisine in Florida, and a food culture that has defined this coast of Florida for hundreds of years. Don’t skip a visit to the St. Augustine Distillery!

What’s to Love?

Nature Lovers: Over 75,000 acres of the GTMNERR, Guana Tolomato Matanzas Nat’l Estuarine Research Reserve

Foodies: Spanish cuisine in Old Town St. Augustine

Beach Lovers: The rare maritime forest ecosystem on Amelia Island

History Buffs: Fernandina Beach is the "Isle of 8 Flags” for the 8 nations who’ve governed it since 1562

Culture Vultures: Live music concerts at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre


Central Florida


Vero Beach to Sebring — The Treasure Coast to the Lakes

Distance: 90 miles

If you love road tripping Florida at any time of year, you’ll love the stretch of road heading inland from the Treasure Coast, between Vero Beach to Sebring in central Florida. The drive takes you through impressive scenery and abundant wildlife.

Sebring is just over 90 miles southwest of Vero Beach, and will take you a pleasant 1 hour and 45 minutes and about the same (but different route) from Orlando, Sarasota, and Fort Myers. Jump on FL 713 S to Fort Pierce, follow Orange Avenue West for 17 miles, turn left on US 441 South (4 miles), right on County Rd 68 (10.6 miles), and pick up US 98 N to Sebring (27 miles).

Nestled amidst citrus groves, cows pastures, and charming scenery, Sebring is home to the Sebring International Raceway. It is a NASCAR owned track, but one that hosts premiere high-speed endurance races and is part of the American Le Mans Series.

Two days are perfect for visiting Sebring, but you could add another day to enjoy the chic Inn on the Lakes, which is highly recommended.

Inn on the Lakes, a boutique hotel on Little Lake Jackson, with impressive attention to detail, has a top-notch onsite restaurant, Chicane's, stylish and spacious rooms, and a fabulous pool setting. Chicane's has amazing food, from bacon-wrapped filet mignon to gourmet burgers, bananas foster to pork schnitzel; it is all delicious.

Other tasty dining options are Cowpoke’s Watering Hole, Faded Bistro and Biergarten (charcuterie boards are all the rage), and Jaxson’s (known for the Hookiemelt).

By Melody of Wherever I May Roam

>>> Where to Stay in Sebring?

Inn on the Lakes - located on Little Lake Jackson, this hotel offers guests impressive amenities, and it’s on-site restaurant Chicane’s is top-notch! Check rates and availability.

Golf is a big deal in Sebring (there are 13 courses), and the hotel has several golf packages to enhance your stay. Things to do in Sebring include sipping a retro soda from Sebring Soda & Ice Cream Works, browsing the quaint local shops in the downtown area, shopping for vinyl at Groovy Records, liquor tasting at Sugar Sand Distillery, or sipping wine from the kitschy circus-themed Mon Cirque Wine Bar.

Enjoy a dose of nature and the beautiful outdoors at Highlands Highlands State Park, opened four years before Florida even had a state park system. Nearby are the towns of Avon Park where you will want to have orange soft-serve from Maxwell Groves, and Lake Placid, with an enormous offering of nostalgic murals and world-class fishing options.

What’s to Love?

Nature Lovers: Over 100 freshwater lakes and waterways near Sebring and Lake Placid make this a paradise for anglers and nature lovers

Foodies: The orange cake at Cowpoke’s Watering Hole is sublime!

Beach Lovers: South Beach in Vero Beach is popular with locals!

History Buffs: The Seaboard Air Line Railroad’s Orange Blossom Special helped put Sebring on the map in 1925

Culture Vultures: NASCAR at Sebring International Raceway


Cedar Key to Crystal River and Homosassa Springs — Florida’s Nature Coast

Distance: 56 miles

Cedar Key is one of the most unique towns in Florida, and worth a stop on a Gulf Coast Florida road trip. The easy 56-mile route from Cedar Key to Crystal River can be driven in around an hour using US 98.

Cedar Key is one of those Florida places still a bit rough around the edges — a slice of Old Florida that’s hard to find anymore. It’s the perfect place to take in the incredible sunsets over the Gulf, explore historic sites, and browse the many boutique shops.

A big reason many people come here is for the seafood, especially the fresh Cedar Key clams that are harvested on the tidal flats which surround the island.

One of the best places in town to try them is Steamers, a local place located on the water right next to the boat dock. It’s a fun atmosphere and the seafood and clams are as fresh as fresh can be.

An overnight on Cedar Key is ideal allowing plenty of time to explore, shop, and dine. There is lodging for most budgets all around the island, and Annie’s Cafe is a great place for breakfast or lunch.

>>> Where to Stay in Cedar Key?

Low Key Hideaway - this roadside motel is colorful, quirky, and very low key, with the coolest Tiki Bar out back overlooking the tidal flats. If you’re looking for the perfect vintage stay on your Florida road trip, this is it!

>>> Where to Stay in Crystal River?

The Plantation on Crystal River - this great family spot is a great base to swim with manatees or catch a snorkeling and scalloping tour in Homosassa.

Check rates and details.

For something a bit more unique, we’ve enjoyed our stays at the retro motel Kings Bay Lodge and the waterfront B&B with a fun mermaid theme throughout, the

Crystal Blue Lagoon B&B.

When you’re ready to leave, US 24 E is the only road to and from Cedar Key and will get you back on the mainland to join US 19 S / US 98 S which is the best route to Crystal River. A good visit to Crystal River and Homosassa Springs needs 2-3 overnights so you can explore all that the Nature Coast in Citrus County has to offer.

There’s a lot for families and nature lovers to enjoy throughout the different Florida seasons. The Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park is fun anytime of year and features a collection of native Florida wildlife, and the Crystal River State Archaeological Park is just up the road, where you can explore the park on your own and bring a picnic lunch.

Without question though, for most visitors, winter is the main season to visit and swim with manatees in Crystal River, the gentle giants that make their home at Three Sisters Springs when the colder (for Florida) weather sets in. The springs discharge water at a constant temperature of 72°F easing the manatees’ wintertime stress.

If it’s too chilly for you or just not your cup of tea, there is a boardwalk at Three Sisters Springs maintained by the US Fish & Wildlife Service that surrounds the spring, arguably the best place to see manatees in Florida. The water in the springs is crystal clear making it easy to spot manatees.

If you’re road tripping through Florida in summer and the manatees are back out in the Gulf of Mexico, go scalloping in Homosassa instead! Summertime is Florida scallop season and snorkeling boats will take you a few miles offshore to collect fresh Florida bay scallops by the dozens.

This is a traditional seasonal event and boat operators provide everything you need to have fun in the water — from snorkeling gear to the 2-gallon bucket for the scallops.

The water over the scallop beds is shallow, warm, and usually quite clear. When it comes to schucking your scallops, there are folks all along the waterfront that will shuck and clean your catch for a nominal price.

Afterward, head to a Cook Your Catch restaurant in town and have them cook you a scallop feast. From the ocean to table, summer on Florida’s Gulf Coast doesn’t get any better. A road trip along this path is well worth a few days.

Be sure and spend an afternoon in Homosassa checking out the spider monkeys on Monkey Island. You can see them from a boat on the way back in from your Homosassa scalloping tour, or as you sip a cold drink at The Shed at MacRae’s, a fun waterfront bar overlooking Monkey Island.

The quirky island of primates is teeny tiny, and a holdover from the early days of kitschy Florida tourism — which often involved bringing in wild animals from other parts of the world, as if Florida doesn’t have enough of its own wild animals! The small group of spider monkeys are provisioned and cared for, and are one of the more unusual sites to see in Homosassa!

What’s to Love?

Nature Lovers: Welcome to Florida’s Nature Coast!

Foodies: Cedar Key clams and fresh Florida scallops

Beach Lovers: Miles of rustic palm scrub and wading birds by the thousands at Fort Island Gulf Beach & Pier

History Buffs: Mounds and middens at the Crystal River Archeological Park

Culture Vultures: A former western station of the Florida Railroad at Cedar Key


Crystal River to Tarpon Springs — Nature Meets Kitsch and Culture

Distance: 58 miles

Outdoor lovers looking for more than swimming with manatees and hunting for scallops should look no further than the Chassahowitzka River, or The Chaz as the locals call it. The Chazzahowitzka River is a paddlers paradise.

The 5-mile long, spring-fed river in southwestern Citrus County is a veritable cauldron of warm natural springs in Central Florida, and home to hundreds of bird species including osprey, cormorants, kingfishers, and bald eagles.

Rent a kayak at the Chassahowitzka River Campground, grab a map, and explore the small streams and turquoise blue holes of this lush Florida landscape. The Crack and Baird Creek are what most paddlers ultimately come to explore — a landscape straight out of Jurassic Park with a small underwater blue hole, or crack, that seems to meld into oblivian.

Staying on US 19 S will take you from Crystal River straight to the cultural gem of Tarpon Springs in about an hour. But you can’t make the trip without a brief stopover at one of Florida’s oldest and most beloved attractions, Weeki Wachee Springs, where mermaids come to life with an air assist from a garden hose and swim around in an oversized glass tank. You just have to go!

The best part about a visit to Weeki Wachee (now part of the larger State Park) is watching kids (big and small) somehow forget all that as they watch, mesmerized by the women wearing fish tails and swimming in an aquarium. It’s our will to believe — like the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny. ;-)

Weeki Wachee State Park is also home to another natural spring where you can take a trip on a river boat cruise and learn about Florida wildlife. For outdoor lovers, paddling along the Weeki Wachee River offers one of the most stunning views of natural Florida.

Mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida

Mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida

>>> Where to Stay in Tarpon Springs?

Stay on the Golden Voyage Houseboat on the Gulf of Mexico in Tarpon Springs! Can you think of a better place to stay in the Sponge Diving Capital of the US?

Check rates and details.

If you’re looking for Florida that’s off the tourist track, consider a trip to Tarpon Springs, the Greek city in Florida known for sponge diving. In case you weren’t aware, sponges weren’t always synthetic. Natural sea sponges that grow on the bottom of the ocean floor around the world are live animals, and were once harvested for use in all sorts of things, from household cleaning to languishing in a luxurious bubble bath.

The sponge diving industry was brought to this part of Florida by industrious Greek entrepreneurs who found that conditions were just right in the area for this industry to thrive. Skilled sponge divers came to Tarpon Springs from Greece and business boomed.

Today, this once-burgeoning industry is no longer thriving, but the local culture is still very much alive and well, including local tours to learn about Tarpon Springs sponge diving, and plenty of shops selling the real deal.

Start your visit to town at the Tarpon Springs sponge docks where you can park your car and stroll the Downtown district, shop for sponges, take a boat tour, or eat in one of several amazing Greek restaurants.

The Greek food in Tarpon Springs is reason enough for foodies to visit. Try Hella’s for lunch, dinner, or their famous pastries. If you’re full from your meal, take some with you from their pastry shop next door.

Visit the beautiful St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church or watch a sunset at Fred Howard Beach Park. For families, kids can cool off at the end of the day at the Tarpon Springs Splash Park, and the best part is admission is free!

From Tarpon Springs, Tampa, Clearwater, and St. Petersburg — one of Florida’s biggest tourism destinations — are all a short drive away.

What’s to Love?

Nature Lovers: Paddle the Chaz!

Foodies: Authentic Greek food in Tarpon Springs

Beach Lovers: sunset at Fred Howard Beach Park

History Buffs: Tarpon Springs sponge diving history

Culture Vultures: Tarpon Springs annual Epiphany Celebration


Canaveral National Seashore to Merritt Island and Cocoa Beach — The Space Coast

Distance: 48 miles

For one of the most unique road trips through Florida, consider a road trip to Florida’s Space Coast, Cape Canaveral, and Cocoa Beach with a stop in Merritt Island. There’s a recreational activity for any outdoor enthusiast on Canaveral National Seashore. This pristine stretch of beaches offers swimming, boating, kayaking, fishing, surfing, and horseback riding. Take your pick.

The northern access to the park, Exit 249 off I-95 S to FL 44 will take you to the 6-mile long Apollo Beach with swimming, surfing, and tag-and-release shark fishing. It’s great for families wanting a day at the beach. There’s boardwalk access and the beach is one of the best in Florida for sea turtle watching in June and July.

The southern access, Exit 220 off I-95 S onto FL 402, will get you to the 4-mile long Playalinda Beach, a chill, secluded beach that’s popular for swimming, sunbathing & picnicking. (FYI, entrance #13 is to the nude section of the beach.)

Merritt Island is the hub of the Space Coast so plan a visit to the NASA Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and the US Astronaut Hall of Fame. If you want to hit the water, there is premier fishing and manatee spotting on Indian River. A hike through the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge will give a glimpse into the region’s delicate ecosystem.

For great local eats, Molly’s Seafood Shack on the Merritt Island Causeway — “not fancy, just reel good” — is worth a stop for local shrimp and oysters.

But if it’s the beach calling, take Newfound Harbor Drive to FL-520 E to Cocoa Beach, ranked among Florida’s Top 10 Beaches with more than 70 miles of beautiful sand. It’s only a bit over 9 miles from Merritt Island and should take no more than 20 minutes.

The surf at Cocoa Beach is generally not too rough with water shallow enough to wade past the breakers. This feature makes it a great place to surf. Rent a board or take a lesson and learn to surf. You can also spend time fishing at the Cocoa Beach pier or people watching.

There’s free things for kids to do as well. Lori Wilson Park is on the main drag with a great beach and a nature trail kids can hike. Across the street from the park is a very nice picnic area complete with grills, picnic tables, bathrooms, and showers.

Not in the mood or equipped for picnicking? Longboards Tiki Beach Grille is a favorite eatery as is Coconuts on the Beach. Both offer fresh seafood, burgers, and cold beverages right on the beach.

>>> Where to Stay in Cocoa Beach

Hilton Cocoa Beach - moderately priced and good value for all their family amenities and activities, with a great resort-style pool.

Check rates and more details.

For a more local experience, these are some of the best Airbnbs in Cocoa Beach that we’ve found.

What’s to Love?

Nature Lovers: The wild Atlantic Coast beaches go on forever

Foodies: fresh local seafood

Beach Lovers: Natural and secluded Playalinda Beach

History Buffs: The Space Program and Astronaut Hall of Fame, of course!

Culture Vultures: The Space Coast has a surprisingly chill and relaxed local vibe


South Florida


Punta Gorda to Matlacha and Pine Island

Distance: 34 miles

Located 41 miles south of Sarasota and 24 miles north of Fort Myers, the small city of Punta Gorda on southern Florida’s Gulf Coast is an easy access from both I-75, US-41, and nearby Punta Gorda Airport. Although not a true beach destination (there’s no Punta Gorda Beach), Punta Gorda offers a great number of outdoor activities making it a fun-in-the-sun stop on any Florida road trip.

Its unique location at the the mouth of the Peace River on Gasparilla Sound and Charlotte Harbor means there’s water water everywhere! If you’re boatless, no worries — boat rentals can be had at Fishermen’s Village for a day of fishing or just cruising around. You can also book a sightseeing cruise from one of several operators in Fishermen’s Village to enjoy views from the water. 

For a glimpse into the local ecosystem visit Peace River Wildlife Center or Charlotte Harbor & Environmental Center. Hikers and birders will love the wilderness trails at the Alligator Creek Preserve.

Boat rentals are a popular thing to do in Punta Gorda

Boat rentals are a popular thing to do in Punta Gorda

When your tummy starts to growl there are excellent waterfront restaurants. Harpoon Harry’s is fun with games and live music so the atmosphere can get a little boisterous. The Captain’s Table Restaurant and Hurricane Charlie’s Raw Bar & Grill have great food.

Drive out of town on Taylor Road (Rt. 765A) to pick-up Rt. 765 and Burnt Store Road to Matlacha and Pine Island. It’s a quick drive to Matlacha at only 23 miles and takes about 30 minutes. Turn right at the junction of Rt.78 onto SW Pine Island Road (Rt. 78).

In about 5 miles you’ll see the funky boutiques, galleries and Old Florida cafes in Matlacha. Pull off the road where you can find a spot, then browse the shops and pop in someplace for a cold one. They’re all welcoming, the beer’s cold, and local seafood tops every menu.

Cross over the Matlacha Pass Bridge to the funky island town of Matlacha. Stop in at the Leoma Lovegrove Gallery & Garden to check out her fun and colorful art. Wild Child Gallery next door is also worth a peek and purchase. Walk a short distance to our favorite place in Matlacha for fresh seafood, the Blue Dog Bar & Grill.

>>> Where to Stay on Pine Island?

Tarpon Lodge - Any good Florida road trip begs for a unique place to stay the night (or two) and Tarpon Lodge is a slice of Old Florida at its best. And oh, the food!

Continue on Pine Island Road and in just over 3 miles the road ends at Stringfellow Road which runs the length of Pine Island. Turn left to head to St. James City or right for Bokeelia. St. James City is a small boating community that faces Sanibel Island from across the Sound.

A fun place for lunch is Woody’s Waterside Island Rum & Grill or drive a little farther to the end of the road and The Waterfront Restaurant & Marina.

Bokeelia at the northern end of Pine Island is just over 7 miles and a 10 minute drive away. The Capt’n Con’s Fish House is great for lunch and you should visit the Bokeelia Art Gallery.

Stay the night on the island to really experience life on Pine Island. Our choice for an overnight or two in an Old Florida style lodge with a great restaurant and excellent water views is Tarpon Lodge. Founded in 1926, the lodge is right on the water with amazing sunset views and has been thoughtfully restored.

Across the street from Tarpon Lodge, the Randell Research Center, an archaeological site and education center, features the Calusa Heritage Trail, a 0.9 mile hike with interpretive signs, benches, a boardwalk, and observation platforms. Definitely worth a visit for insight into the native Calusa culture and history.

Back at Tarpon Lodge, order your beverage of choice to take to the water’s edge for a colorful sunset over the Gulf. Be sure and stay for dinner. The restaurant is very popular for both its food and its casual ambience. 

What’s to Love?

Nature Lovers: Alligator Creek Reserve in Punta Gorda is a must see!

Foodies: Fish or shrimp tacos at the Blue Dog Bar & Grill

Beach Lovers: Rent a boat and go to Cayo Costa State Park for a day in the sun

History Buffs: The Randell Research Center on Pine Island

Culture Vultures: Visit the funky art galleries and boutiques of Matlacha


Sanibel Island to Ft. Myers Beach and Lovers Key — The Lee Island Coast

Distance: 24 miles

Off the coast of Ft. Myers in southwest Florida, where the Caloosahatchee River meets the Gulf of Mexico, lies Sanibel and Captiva Island, one of the prettiest of Florida’s barrier islands.

Despite heavy tourism in this part of the state, Sanibel has great shelling, nature galore, and gorgeous beaches — little gifts from the sea wash up like souvenirs and tickle your ankles. It’s a perfect place for nature travelers — there’s peace, quiet, just one way on and off the island, and no fast food chains — zero!

But because of all this paradise, the one road can be clogged with traffic, especially during the winter season (one more reason to spend more than a day).

If you love nature, you’ve come to the right place. There’s premier surf fishing at Blind Pass and birding, hiking, and paddling in the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, a nature lover’s paradise. Spend a few days relaxing on Sanibel before you start a southwest Florida road trip north to Pine Island or south to the Everglades.

The Sanibel causeway is the only way on and off the island, and there’s no toll when returning to the mainland and Fort Myers.

>>> Where to Stay on Sanibel and Captiva?

South Seas Island Resort on Captiva - this place is perfect for families and couples with a wide range of accommodations (hotel-style suites to studios and up to 3 BR apartments).

Check rates and more details

Or rent one of these Sanibel cottages for the week!

When you do have to leave Sanibel, head to downtown Ft. Myers just over the causeway. The historic downtown has a fun retro feel to it, with lots of cool shops and good restaurants like Fancy’s Southern Cafe, famous for their chicken and waffles. Be sure and visit the Edison and Ford Winter Estates on McGregor Blvd.

The winter homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford are right next door to each other and the perfect history lesson on early Ft. Myers and its 20th century growth. Head back down McGregor Blvd. following signs for San Carlos Blvd. toward Fort Myers Beach.

Cold beers at Doc’s Beach House on Bonita Beach

Cold beers at Doc’s Beach House on Bonita Beach

Ft. Myers Beach is a great beach town and attracts tourists from around the world. If you’re hungry for fresh seafood, stop off at Dixie Fish Company — but remember to turn off San Carlos Blvd. just before you cross the bridge over to the beach.

Once you’re on the beach, traffic can be slow but there are pay-to-park lots along the way. If you’ve booked a night or two — and you should —you’ll be able to park at your place of lodging.

The best way to get around the beach is on foot or bike. There are restaurants, coffee shops, walk-ups, and plenty of shopping. Like most any beach town, night life is big on the beach whether its late dining or hitting a party bar for drinks and music.

The beach here is gorgeous with wide swaths of sand, lots of shore birds, parasailing, and casual tiki bars for tropical cocktails — one of our favorites is the Outrigger Beach Bar right on the beach and just a bit south of the Ft. Myers Beach strip.

As you leave Ft. Myers Beach and head south, cross over the small bridge and in a few miles on the right will be the entrance to Lovers Key State Park, a must-stop. Kayaks and canoes can be rented from Lovers Key Kayak Pavilion just after the entrance to the park.

If you need some more beach time, Lovers Key Beach is inside the park and on the ocean. Estero Blvd. will take you to the next barrier island and Bonita Beach.

Beach access here is tight with the large number of rental houses on the beach and only a few public metered parking lots.

But if you need to recharge, be sure and stop at the popular Doc’s Beach House, a casual old Florida style eatery right on the beach. It’s the place in the area for good drinks and bar eats. Order a pizza and a pitcher and sit indoors or out. It’s cash only, with an onsite ATM.

What’s to Love?

Nature Lovers: Nature lovers should kayak or hike the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island

Foodies: Fresh Florida pink shrimp — try the shrimp tacos at Dixie Fish Company!

Beach Lovers: Sanibel Island has some of the best beaches in the world for shelling!

History Buffs: Visit the winter estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford in downtown Ft. Myers

Culture Vultures: Take in a performance at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in Ft. Myers


Naples and Marco Island to the Florida Everglades — The Paradise Coast

Distance: 45 miles

US-41 S or 9th Street is your starting point in the Gulf coast city of Naples, Florida. You should definitely plan a few nights in town to enjoy some of the top beaches in Florida, excellent restaurants, local breweries, high-end shopping, or just a quiet evening going for a stroll and watching a fiery sunset over the Gulf from the historic Naples Pier.

Naples has lots to do and is a great town for late night dining or cocktails on 5th Avenue and 3rd Street South.

A road trip from Naples into the western areas of the Florida Everglades is about 35 miles and is less than a one hour drive. As you drive south on US-41 turn right on Bayshore Drive and a few blocks down arrive at Celebration Park, a fun food truck park with some great casual eats, an open air waterfront bar, and free parking.

Marco Island, the largest island in the Ten Thousand Islands, is closer to the Everglades and combines the pristine surrounding natural landscape with a very nice resort vacation. There are lots of things to do in Marco Island for beach and nature lovers, and the beaches here are nice and wide.


>>> Where to Stay in Naples?

(On the beach) Naples Beach Hotel and Resort - one of Naples’ best family-friendly resorts on the beach. Or perfect for a romantic getaway or anniversary.

Check rates and more details.

(Heart of downtown) The Escalante Hotel - A hidden gem in Olde Naples, this small hotel has Naples charm galore and it’s just steps to great dining and shops on 5th Avenue.

Check rates and availability.

>>> Where to Stay in Marco Island?

Our favorite overall Marco Island beach resort is the J. W. Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort. Located right on the sand, there’s so much to do for kids and families and perfect for a romantic getaway. Their numerous restaurants are also excellent for whatever mood you’re in!

Check rates and availability.

Many people avoid going to the Everglades for fear they’ll be eaten alive by mosquitos or alligators. But it ain’t that bad. A little insect repellent and keeping a safe distance from alligators, should you come across one, are all you need to do. This fragile ecosystem is not only the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, it’s also recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

If you want the quicker route to the Everglades from Naples, take I-75 S to exit 101 and County Road 951 toward Marco Island. Turn left at the intersection of US-41 S and you’ll head into the Glades.

If you enjoy paddling, an afternoon on the water may be the diversion you’re looking for. Stay straight on FL 951 to the Isle of Capri Paddlecraft Park and take a kayak tour with Rising Tide Explorers, one of the best Everglades kayak tours.

There are a great many things to do in the Everglades for nature lovers, birders, and anyone seeking a unique outdoor adventure. You’ll know you’re entering the wilderness when you see the sign at the boundary of Collier-Seminole State Park.

Driving along this section of road requires that you keep a good eye out, especially when driving in the dark. The park area is home to endangered Florida panthers who cross the road as they prowl their territory, and at night alligators are often seen crossing the road.

The road takes you through the scenic swamp and marshlands of Picayune Strand State Forest and the adjacent Fakahatchee Strand Preserve.

Plan a stop at the Fakahatchee Strand — watch for the entrance to the observation area on the north side of US 41 with a boardwalk that takes you into the swamp. It’s a great spot for hiking to see the flora and fauna of this pristine area.

Continue on a few miles and you’ll enter Big Cypress National Preserve. On the right you’ll see the Ochopee Post Office Historical Marker, aka The Smallest Post Office in the US. It’s fun for photos, and don’t be fooled — this is a real working post office complete with a postmistress sitting inside.

A bit further down the road you’ll pass the Florida Skunk Ape Headquarters — look for the oversized Sasquatch and panther out front. If you love the weird and quirky, stop in and strike up a conversation with anyone inside to see when the best time is for spotting the Skunk Ape and other snipe in the Everglades!

Just down the road a few more miles you’ll arrive at the gallery of Florida’s renowned photographer and conservationist Clyde Butcher and his Big Cypress Gallery. This is a must-stop to see his original large-scale black and white photographs and learn more about the beautiful Everglades.

If you have time for an overnight and book far enough in advance, you can stay on the property in one of the Butcher’s original cabins. The Everglades at night is an experience that will stay with you forever.

If you’re keen to drive further in the Glades, the Shark Valley Visitor Center is about 10 miles further down the road. But if you’re getting hungry for food and a water view, turn around and head back toward Naples.

At the Carnestown traffic light (the only traffic light — there’s a gas station with a convenience store on the corner), turn left and cross a small bridge — and you’ve arrived in Everglades City. Begonia Street and Speedy’s Airboat Rides will on your right.

A one hour ride is under $50 and takes you through mangrove tunnels and grassy marsh. We love their small-group boats and the guides who are informative and fun. They’ll point out wildlife usually before anyone else onboard sees it.

After your airboat ride, when you’re feeling kinda tingly, head further out of town toward Chokoloskee. The only road in and out ends in the heart of the 10,000 Islands, on the small island of Chokoloskee, a fishing village with both working and sport boats.

Keep driving and you’ll see a sign for the Smallwood Store. Started as a trading post in 1906 by Ted Smallwood, the building is now on the National Register of Historic Places and worth a look-see (for a nominal $5 fee). Inside is like stepping back in time.

On your way back, you must stop at the Havana Cafe of the Everglades for lunch or their house Sangria — it’s one of our favorite places to eat featuring Cuban style food with a Florida twist. Try the fresh fish and homemade tostones!

House sangria at the Havana Cafe of the Everglades in Chokoloskee

House sangria at the Havana Cafe of the Everglades in Chokoloskee

What’s to Love?

Nature Lovers: Hiking in the Everglades offers a wide array of trails and boardwalks into one of the most unique ecosystems in the country

Foodies: Seafood lovers await Florida Stone Crab season every year in south Florida from mid-October to mid-May

Beach Lovers: Naples pristine Florida beaches — here are the best beaches in Naples.

History Buffs: Visit the historic Palm Cottage near the Naples Pier on 12th Avenue South for a slice of Old Naples history.

Culture Vultures: Art lovers will droll over the large-scale black and white landscapes of Florida photographer Clyde Butcher in Big Cypress Preserve!


Miami to Key West Drive — The Florida Road Trip Rite of Passage

Distance: 166 miles

One of the most iconic road trips from Miami is the infamous Miami to Key West drive, the ultimate Florida road trip adventure. Among Floridians, it’s a Rite of Passage at least once in your life!

The Miami to Key West road trip many times is a fairly easy drive along US-1, the only road that goes down to Key West.

It can take between 3.5 and 4 hours, depending on traffic and if you make any stops along the way. Be warned, though, it is a one lane highway most of the way. This means that if you are stuck behind someone hauling a boat or camper it could take a bit longer.

By Vicky of Buddy the Traveling Monkey


The drive from Miami to Key West is great to do any time of year. Mild winters mean that there are a few more people due to snowbirds traveling down from up North, but the crowds also produce a very fun vibe. Everyone tends to rush down directly to Key West but there is plenty to explore along the Key West drive.

Because of this we suggest taking at least two to three days. As you head south along US 1, stop on Islamorada. Here you can visit the History of Diving Museum and hand-feed giant tarpon at Robbie’s. Morada Bay Beach Café is a great place to have lunch too. They have great views of the water and fried Oreos!

A good island to stop at and spend the night is Marathon, which is about half way down to Key West. Hotel prices on Marathon are also considerably cheaper than on Key West. While on Marathon, you can visit the Dolphin Research Center and The Turtle Hospital, where you can observe and interact with sea turtles and the staff who cares for their rehabilitation and release.

To put your toes in the sand, head to one of the area’s best beaches, Sombrero Beach. Because Marathon is one of the bigger islands, it also has some excellent restaurant options like Keys Fisheries Market and Marina, right on the water! You could easily spend a day just on Marathon before continuing on to Key West.

Islamorada and Marathon

A highlight of any Florida Keys road trip is Islamorada, the Village of Islands, which boundaries are from mile marker 90 down to mile marker 72. These six islands of Islamorada are informally known as the Sport Fishing Capital of the World. Much of the area is preserved in State Parks.

You can rent a boat, charter a boat, participate in a guided tour to fish, snorkel, scuba dive, and swim with marine life. The dining scene in Islamorada is renowned, and here as well, the fresh seafood is the reigning star of the area's cuisine.

Two of my favorite stopovers is the Morada Bay Keys Beach Café and Bar located at Mile Market 81.6, which was also the location where the Netflix series Bloodline was filmed.

By Dynie at Napa Food Gal Travels

>>> Where to Stay in Islamorada?

Cheeca Lodge and Spa - For a more refined and relaxing experience, stay at this award-winning hotel and spa, a romantic and serene resort with lush accommodations, a golf course, snorkeling, scuba diving, and a state of the art spa.

It is also a premier destination for serious anglers. Charter a boat and you’ll find over 500 species of fish just minutes from shore.

Check rates and availability.

Marathon, a middle keys city, is set on 13 islands known for their beautiful and serene beaches and their barrier reef. Known as The Florida Reef, it is the third-largest coral barrier reef system in the world (after the Great Barrier Reef and the Belize Barrier Reef). Marathon is located between mile marker 61 at Tom's Harbor Cut Bridge by Duck Key and the beginning of the 7-Mile Bridge, which was one of the longest bridges in existence when it was built.

For some of the most pristine lodging and dining in Marathon, plan on staying at the Isla Bella Beach Resort, a brand new Florida Keys Luxury Resort, offering stunning ocean views from every room at their 24-acre oceanfront destination.

Fresh Florida stone crabs, a delicious and sustainable food!

Fresh Florida stone crabs, a delicious and sustainable food!

When it comes to food in the Florida Keys, it’s all about fresh seafood and local offerings and "daily catch just off the boat" dishes are off the nautical charts. At Keys Fisheries, gorgeous panoramic views of the Atlantic abound, and they’re known for their colossal fresh Florida Stone Crabs served with their own signature hot sauce. And to top it all off a deliciously spectacular Florida Key Lime pie! Yum!

To end up the perfect day in Marathon, venture over to the Sunset Grille and Raw Bar, which offers the best sunset viewing in all of Marathon at Mile Marker 47 at the crest of the 7-Mile Bridge. The fresh seafood, innovative tropical drinks, and spectacular sunsets create memories of your Florida Keys road trip to last a lifetime.

>>> Where to Stay in Marathon:

Isla Bella Beach Resort and Spa - This brand new luxury resort offers stunning ocean views from every room at their 24-acre oceanfront locale. Check rates and availability.

Bahia Honda Key

Leaving Marathon and just past the Turtle Hospital, you’ll cross the famous 7 Mile Bridge on your way to Bahia Honda Key and Bahia Honda State Park around mile markers 36-38.5. Campers love it here for the rustic surroundings and long stretches of beach. Sandspur, the largest beach on Bahia Honda, runs along the southeast end of the island and has three large pavilions, a restroom and showers.

It’s perfect for catching some rays before you continue on. Bahia Honda and Big Pine Key are also popular stops along the Great Florida Birding Trail. If you love nature and camping, why not spend the night here. It’s the farthest Key from any major metropolitan area, so there’s little to no ambient light — a stargazer’s paradise!!

Key West

Just 90 miles from Cuba, the ending point of any Key West road trip is the southernmost point in the USA, and arguably the most anticipated and fun of all the stops on the Miami to Key West drive. Otherwise known as The Conch Republic or Cayo Hueso, the infamous tropical town is still as colorful as ever. It’s a place for every kind of traveler in search of every kind of adventure — water lovers, divers, rum lovers and romantics, foodies, history hounds, and literary travelers.

There are enough cool things to do in Key West to warrant at least a week, so plan accordingly. Book a parasailing trip for a birds eye view of Key West and a snorkeling trip to the Dry Tortugas. Rent bikes — or a golf cart for six — and see the historic sites in town like Bahama Village, the Key West lighthouse, the Key West Botanical Garden, and the Hemingway House. At night, do the Duval Crawl and hit up some of the best bars in Key West.

Key West may be the “end of the line” on the AIA, but the party is just getting started on your Key West road trip!

Where to Stay in Key West:

Heron House - on Simonton street, this quiet B&B is perfect for couples seeking a romantic getaway.

Check rates and details

Simonton Court - also on Simonton Street, this tropical oasis is one of our favorite places to stay in Key West for its variety of accommodations. The main Victorian house is perfect for couples, and the smaller renovated tobacco shacks off the pool area are perfect for families.

Check rates and availability

What’s to Love?

Nature Lovers: See native sea turtle species at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon — is a must-see for wildlife and nature lovers.

Foodies: Conch fritters, Florida stone crabs, Cuban coffee, and of course the best Key Lime pie in Florida!

Beach Lovers: Pull over and take a dip! The tiny uncrowded spits of sand along the Miami to Key West drive are perfect to pull over and cool off (where allowed).

History Buffs: If you dream of finding your own sunken treasure, a trip the Mel Fisher Museum in Key West is an absolute must, with interesting history on the Spanish Galleon Atocha.

Culture Vultures: Film and TV fans should plan on two diversions on a Key West road trip: Bogie & Bacall lovers should stop in Key Largo to see the original African Queen boat docked at the Holiday Inn. And Netflix fans will love Islamorada, where the series Bloodline was filmed (around mile marker 81.6).

We hope these Florida road trips have given you enough inspo to hit the road soon! Drop us a line below with any questions.