The main ingredient for a great road trip is a great location, and few states offer as diverse attractions as Florida does. At 160 miles wide and 500 miles long, there’s no shortage of interesting sights and stops to build a trip around in the sunshine state. But perhaps you’re thinking that’s a lot of ground to cover, or maybe the thought of planning and filling up your trip itinerary is a little intimidating. Not to worry! To help you get the engine running, we’ve put together some ideas for road trips of all sorts, as well as some trip plans and organization tips to ensure you’re steadily cruising from the moment you turn the keys.
Plan a theme or pick a region
The great thing about any road trip is the feeling of complete freedom. Unbound to someone else’s schedule, you have the flexibility to wake up in the morning and change course completely, or to pull over spontaneously and discover hidden gems along the way. But excitement and spontaneity don’t have to eclipse any and all planning. In reality, not many of us are prepared to get in a car and go totally rogue. Regardless of how closely you decide to stick to it, having an idea of what you want to see and when will give you the security to go off-script without worry.
Having a themed road trip can be perfect for those who already know their interests and what they want to experience. In a state with as much to offer as Florida, the list of possible road trip themes is endless. A sunny beach tour is perhaps the most obvious option in a state with over 8,077 miles of coastline. Nature lovers could consider a tour of Florida’s 175 state parks and 9 state trails which encompass more than 800,000 acres, and offer hiking, bird watching, fishing and other outdoor opportunities. For those interested in parks of a different kind, a tour of Florida’s ten major theme parks and countless smaller attractions is bound to thrill kids young and old. For the party-goers, there’s no shame in hitting the hottest clubs or bars in each major city. Whatever your interest may be, you’ll find plenty of stops that fit the bill.
Otherwise, plan your trip by region. This works well for travellers who don’t want to be limited by the theme, but want to get a genuine feel of a certain area. The different regions of Florida offer totally distinct experiences and unique environments. The North of Florida is a haven for history and the outdoors, Central Florida offers some more big-city attractions, and Southern Florida is renowned for its sandy white beaches and tropical flair. Picking a region that suits you allows you to really immerse yourself and experience the diverse range of activities and sights each area has to offer.
If you’re still stuck for inspiration (or just want someone else to do the work for you) here are some ideas for themed and regional road trips that are bound to please.
- The beach trip
For a road trip that hits beach towns across the state, the East coast facing the Atlantic waters is your best bet. Start at Jacksonville Beach where you can swim or watch the dolphins swim just outside the surf line. Then drive an hour down the coast to Saint Augustine, where you’ll find 42 miles of beautiful beaches, such as Ponte Vedra Beach which is ideal for a relaxed picnic or tanning session, St. Augustine Beach where there is no bad time to surf, or Crescent Beach where you can rent your gear and spend a day fishing.
An hour further down is the next stop in the Daytona Beach area, which has some of Florida’s most accessible beaches, famous for being wide and open so everyone has room to relax. Then drive 3 hours further down and you’ll reach the glitzy and glamorous Palm Beach, known for its stunning resorts and mansions. While you’re there, take a walk at dusk or dawn down Lake Worth Beach, explore the luxurious Worth Avenue leading to the ocean, or take an excursion to the man-made Peanut Island to fish and snorkel by day and camp under the stars at night. Then to end the trip with a bang, head two hours down to the ultimate party hotspot that is Miami Beach, for music, beach parties, and nightlife that go all night.
- The culture trip
Beyond pretty beaches, Florida is rich with history and culture. For a road trip that prioritizes immersion into the state’s deep history, start in the Panhandle in Pensacola, a naval town that housed the first European settlement in the Americas back in 1559. In the Historic Pensacola Village, take a tour of 29 historical buildings and museums, view the historic homes and experience 450 years of heritage by engaging with period-dressed historical interpreters.
Next, make your way across the Panhandle to the Kingsley plantation, less than an hour’s away from downtown Jacksonville. The National Park site offers a fascinating glimpse into Florida’s plantation period, with tours of historic structures including the remains of slave cabins, and the planter’s house – the oldest standing plantation-era house in Florida. From there take a drive through central Florida to Dade Battlefield Historic State Park, to learn about Florida’s Indian heritage. Just an hour west of Orlando, the park commemorates the site of Dade’s Battle of 1835, which led to the longest and most costly American Indian war in American history. You can catch their iconic battle reenactment every January, as well as plenty of outdoor activities year-round.
From there head to Fort Myers in around three hours, where the Battle of Fort Meyers was fought in the final months of the Civil War. Take a stop at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates to view over 20 acres of historical homes and the beautiful blooming Botanical Gardens. And finally finish off your trip with a drive to Miami, where you’ll be enchanted by the Art Deco Historic District, featuring the largest collection of Art Deco architecture in the world.
- The Southeast shopping trip
With cities like Miami and Fort Lauderdale that host major fashion weeks each year, and are experiencing an influx of the young and trendy into the area, what you wear matters. To help adjust your wardrobe, plan a shorter weekend road trip with stops at high-end stores or popular malls throughout the Southeast. To kick it all off, start at the biggest mall in Florida, the Aventura Mall in North Miami. The upscale indoor venue includes plenty of luxury stores and high-end entertainment facilities, as well as a massive food hall and art installation wing. Then just under an hour away, check out the Dolphin Mall, which has more than 240 retail outlets and name-brand discounters to choose from. From there, drive an hour towards Boca Rotan where you’ll find great boutique stores at Minzer Park,or a mix of elite specialty stores, designer, and outlet stores at the Town Center at Boca Raton. Spread the stops over a weekend and you’ve got yourself a quick and easy regional road trip for a girls weekend away!
Once you have an idea of your itinerary, you’ll want to cover a few logistical aspects of your trip. Something to bear in mind is that many roads on your trip will be toll roads. If you’re not one to carry cash or if you just want to make things easier, consider buying the prepaid toll pass known as the SunPass. You can pick this up conveniently at a pharmacy, grocery store, rental company, or even online
You also won’t make it very far on your journey without gas, so depending on how much ground you plan to cover each day, make sure to plan pit stops to refuel along your trip. Particularly if you’re travelling through less urban areas or along long stretches of highway, gas stations can be few and far between, so be sure to plan ahead to avoid getting stranded. This also leaves you good opportunities for bathroom breaks and restocking on car snacks!
But it’s not just your car that will need to refuel. Make sure to account for your own lunch breaks, and where you’ll stop for the night. While you have more room for spontaneity on where to eat, it’s always best to plan your accommodation in advance. Especially if you’re travelling during popular times in the spring and summer, it may be harder to find a last minute booking. Websites like Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline and many others will offer great deals and price points for places to stay. And the good news is that Florida is sprawling with great hotels, from grand resorts and luxury stays, to quaint boutique hotels, to more affordable motels.
When it comes to grabbing a bite, you won’t have much trouble finding something delicious to eat anywhere in Florida. You can definitely look in advance for popular dining recommendations in your area on TripAdvisor, social media, or state tourist websites like VisitFlorida. However, the great thing about a road trip is that you can also stop spontaneously for a slice of key lime pie at a cute café or grab some fragrant fish tacos at a food truck by the sea that others may not have discovered yet. Either way, make sure to stop and indulge in the range of seafood, spices, and sweet-treats that Florida has to offer.
And lastly, bear in mind that many roads on longer trips will be toll roads. If you’re not one to carry cash or if you just want to make things easier, consider buying the prepaid toll pass known as the SunPass. You can pick this up conveniently at a pharmacy, grocery store, rental company, or even online.