Moon South Florida & the Keys Road Trip
With Miami, Walt Disney World, Tampa & the Everglades
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- Maps and Driving Tools: More than 50 easy-to-use maps keep you oriented on and off the highway, along with site-to-site mileage, driving times, detailed directions for the entire route, and full-color photos throughout
- Eat, Sleep, Stop and Explore: With lists of the best beaches, views, and more, you can explore the lush wetlands of the Everglades, relax on the beautiful beaches of the Keys, let your imagination run wild at Disney World, or soak up the electric vibe of Miami
- Flexible Itineraries: Drive the entire two-week road trip or follow strategic routes designed for outdoor adventurers, history buffs, and more, as well as suggestions for spending time in Miami, the Everglades, the Keys, the Atlantic Coast, Orlando, Daytona, the Space Coast, Walt Disney World, Sarasota, and Naples
- Local Expertise: Florida native Jason Ferguson takes you on a tour of his beloved home state
- Planning Your Trip: Know when and where to get gas and how to avoid traffic, plus tips for driving in different road and weather conditions and suggestions for LGBTQ travelers, seniors, and road-trippers with kids
DISCOVER South Florida and the Keys
Planning Your Trip
Hit the Road
The Weird and the Wonderful
Ask any longtime resident of Florida how they feel about their state, and they’ll get a gleam in their eyes. They’ll lean in a little closer—as if they’re about to share a treasured secret—and tell you about a spot off a nearby river, along a beautiful beach, or amid the buzzing electricity of the city. This spot, they’ll say, could only be found in Florida. And it’s places like that, wonderful spots so numerous that it seems nearly every resident has their own private collection, that continue to make Florida unique among places in all of the United States, if not the world.
On this road trip, you will see what has drawn people to the Sunshine State for centuries. Sitting on the beach watching the sun rise above the Atlantic, with nothing but the squawks of gulls and the crashing of the waves disturbing the peace, you can imagine the Spanish galleons appearing over the horizon. The same hopeful eyes those sailors cast upon the land before them have been set on every part of this great state. The sense of boundless opportunity, the awe-inspiring natural beauty, the numerous opportunities for recreation and relaxation, the sun, the sand, the swamps. . . Florida still inspires even the most hard-hearted souls with its beguiling promise: a promise of a paradise the way it ought to be.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
Where to Go
Informed by the culture of its substantial Latin American population, by the tropical sea breezes that blow in over Biscayne Bay, and by its stature as the state’s largest metropolitan area, Miami manages to be urban and stylish while maintaining the laissez-faire sort of cool that comes with year-round gorgeous weather. With skyscrapers and condominiums crowding the downtown area, art deco architecture and fashion-forward clubbing in South Beach, the lush, wealthy beauty of Coconut Grove and Coral Gables, and suburbs extending until the wilderness of the Everglades stops them, Miami neatly summarizes all the dreams and nightmares that people have about Florida.
Fort Lauderdale has recovered from its role as the preferred destination for collegiate spring-breakers and has evolved into a cultured, mellow place with vibrant nightlife and arts scenes that complement its beautiful public beaches. Farther north, Palm Beach has maintained its status as the richest town in Florida for almost 100 years. Its sister city of West Palm Beach offers a more urban experience and relaxed atmosphere. The beaches and fishing in Fort Pierce contrast with the slightly uptight oceanfront vibe in Vero Beach. These two cities along the Treasure Coast are as unique as they are different from other locales in South Florida. Farther north, the generally laid-back atmosphere that comes with living on the coast is a little more evident. Whether you’re staring in awe at the rockets of the Kennedy Space Center, the race cars of Daytona International Speedway, or historic St. Augustine (the oldest continually inhabited city in the United States), you still can’t help but notice that it’s the area’s natural beauty that is by far its primary attraction.
Walt Disney World and Orlando
A visit to Orlando’s theme parks is a fundamental part of many people’s idea of a Florida vacation. Thankfully, each of the major resorts in Orlando—the Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, and SeaWorld—continue to meet and exceed the expectations that come with that idea. More importantly, each of them offers something different. And although Walt Disney World is interchangeable with the idea of a trip to Orlando in many travelers’ minds, the fact is that even without the land of theme parks south of downtown, the city of Orlando and the Central Florida region are a compelling vacation destination. Orlando offers a diverse array of cultural attractions, outdoor activities, and nightlife. The sights in its immediate area, most notably the historic and upscale city of Winter Park, are also quite compelling.
Tampa Bay Area
This part of the state literally has it all. City explorers will enjoy the nightlife and urban scruffiness of Tampa and the historic and walkable downtown area of St. Petersburg. Families flock to the theme park thrills of Busch Gardens and the gorgeous beaches that stretch for miles south of Clearwater. Outdoor adventures abound, from the backwater rural vibe of Crystal River to the hiking, nature-watching, and other natural activities that are plentiful along this beautiful coastal area.
South Gulf Coast
Traveling along the south Gulf Coast of Florida is something of a mixed bag. Along with the stunning natural beauty of beaches like those on Sanibel Island and the barrier islands along the coast of Sarasota, there are economically struggling cities like Fort Myers and tony locales like Naples. Nonetheless, it’s one of the most beautiful parts of the state. Art lovers will enjoy browsing the galleries of Naples and Sarasota and beach bums will love the white-sand beaches and blue waters.
The Florida Everglades comprise nearly 4,000 square miles of wetlands, swamps, scrub forests, and rivers. The majority of hiking, canoeing, and kayaking trails are easily accessible, and the Oasis Visitor Center, Shark Valley Visitor Center, and Flamingo Visitor Center offer exhibits and knowledgeable staff. In the small town of Everglades City, you’ll find the teeny-tiny Ochopee Post Office and the stunning and unique Big Cypress Gallery.
For much of Florida’s early history, this island archipelago was Florida’s pioneer paradise, the place where rogues and adventurers headed on their boats as a way to escape the demands (and occasionally the laws) of the mainland. Amazingly, decades of tourism have done little to alter the fundamental character of the Florida Keys. Key West is the libertarian heart of the Keys, a city as devoted to bacchanalian pleasures as it is proud of its beautiful scenery and historic buildings. That spirit carries over to the natural on- and offshore wonders of Islamorada and Marathon.
When to Go
The question of when to go to Florida depends on where you’re planning to go and what you’re planning to do. As a general rule, holiday weekends—regardless of the time of year—are busy throughout the state.
Miami, South Atlantic Coast, and the Keys
One of Florida’s most popular winter destinations, this area hosts several big events, such as Art Basel in Miami. It is a prime destination for senior-citizen “snowbirds” who spend the season here, along with weekend warriors seeking a respite from the cold weather. Accordingly, hotel rates approach their peaks in winter, if you can find a vacancy. Those rates plummet during the summer, which also brings stiflingly hot and humid weather and the threat of hurricanes.
South Gulf Coast
Just like Miami and South Florida, this part of the state fills up with snowbirds and frozen Midwesterners during the winter. Unfortunately, although hotel rates go down in the summer (again, watch out for hurricanes), many businesses simply close up shop May-October, as it’s not worth it for them to stay open to cater to the small number of tourists who visit.
Walt Disney World
There used to be a time when you could recommend the slow season to visitors who had flexible schedules. Theoretically, there still is a slower season at the Orlando parks: between Labor Day and Christmas, particularly the first two weeks of November. But even that small window of time has begun to see capacity crowds at many of the area’s attractions. Still, even though you are unlikely to find any mind-blowing deals or be able to experience Disney World without having to stand in long lines, that period and the gap between Easter and Memorial Day are still considered some of the best times to see the parks. The crowds may still be large, but the weather is nearly perfect and the likelihood of a hurricane ruining your vacation is next to nil.
Tampa, Orlando, and the North Atlantic Coast
A visit to beach towns like New Smyrna Beach or Daytona Beach on the north Atlantic coast will find you among large crowds during summer, spring break, or any other time when schools aren’t in session. Cities like Tampa and Orlando have activities year-round. The oppressive humidity can make a visit in July or August a withering experience, while the cool, dry weather in the winter makes these areas much more pleasant.
Before You Go
If you’re visiting Florida during the high season, December through March, it’s imperative that you make hotel reservations as early as possible, especially in snowbird cities like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Naples. Not only will you be able to save money, but you also won’t run the risk of not finding any place to stay. Likewise with car rentals, as rates tend to escalate rapidly during the winter months as availability decreases. The reverse is true in the summer, as deals abound in South Florida (especially for rental cars). If your visit is going to be focused on the theme parks of Orlando, room availability is always tight on the weekends and any other time school is out. Early reservations are imperative. Also, considerable discounts can be had on admission tickets to the theme parks by purchasing them online before you come.
International visitors will need a passport in order to visit Florida. The state has several major airports, with those in Miami and Orlando being the busiest. The smaller regional airports might get you closer to your destination than one of the major airports, but tickets tend to be more expensive. Rental car companies have offices at the major airports and driving is the easiest way to get around the state.
HIT THE ROAD
Florida is big. From the western tip of the Panhandle to the Atlantic coastal city of Jacksonville, it’s about 360 miles. The peninsula extends southward from the Georgia border until the state ends at the tip of Key West, nearly 500 miles away. The best way to approach a road trip in Florida is in manageable sections. While most of these excursions will still require careful planning, lots of driving, and an eye on the clock, they will enable you to get a taste of some of the unique places that Florida has to offer.
The 14-Day South Florida Road Trip
The state covers more than 65,000 square miles, so attempting to see it all at one time is not practical. If your time in South Florida is limited, here’s an itinerary that will allow you to take in some of the best sights.
Start in Miami and spend your daylight hours exploring the Design District, the Cuban American community of Little Havana, and the galleries and historic sites of Coconut Grove and Coral Gables. Grab dinner at one of the many excellent restaurants at South Beach and spend the night partying with the beautiful people along Ocean Drive.
Once you’ve shaken off the night before with a café Cubano, hit Miami Beach, where the sunbathers next to you might be famous. In the afternoon and evening, hit the sidewalks of Collins Avenue and Ocean Drive to shop, eat, and gawk at the art deco buildings.
THE EVERGLADES AND THE KEYS
Slather yourself in sunscreen and bug spray and head south to Everglades National Park. Spend the day exploring the swamps and nature trails that are accessible from the convenient Ernest Coe Visitor Center. When dusk falls, point your car south for a three-hour drive to Key West, where you’ll be able to whoop it up in the clubs and bars of Duval Street.
Spend the early morning strolling the sidewalks of Key West, exploring the historic buildings and soaking up the tropical vibe before the sun makes the heat and humidity unbearable. After lunch, make your way about an hour north to Bahia Honda State Park to take in the rustic oceanfront scenery and beautiful beach area.
From there, it’s about a three-hour drive back to a Miami hotel.
SOUTH GULF COAST
Get up early for the three-hour drive from Miami to Sanibel Island, which will take you through the northern edge of the Everglades via “Alligator Alley.” Sanibel has some of the most beautiful beaches in Florida. You’ll want to allow yourself a relaxing day here to enjoy them completely and to explore the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on the island.
From Sanibel, it’s about a half hour to Fort Myers, where you can spend a leisurely few hours exploring the Edison & Ford Winter Estates. Then hit the road again for the 90-minute drive to Sarasota, where you can catch an opera performance, stroll the downtown art galleries, or gawk at the gaudy architecture of circus magnate John Ringling’s mansion. For fans of serious American architecture, a trip to Sarasota would be incomplete without exploring the scores of gorgeous and innovative buildings in the area, many of which were designed by a confederacy of architects known as the Sarasota School.
TAMPA BAY AREA
You’re about midway through your voyage, so take a day to relax and enjoy some peaceful and natural scenery. Make for the isolated Egmont Key State Park, which you can only access via the town of St. Pete Beach, about an hour north of Sarasota. Excellent snorkeling can be found just offshore of this wildlife refuge. There’s a good chance that you’ll wind up swimming alongside one of the pods of dolphins that frequent the area. Plan on spending the night at the gorgeous, historic, and pink Don CeSar Beach Resort on St. Pete Beach.
From St. Pete Beach, it’s about a half hour to St. Petersburg proper, where you should definitely take in the Salvador Dalí Museum and the walkable waterfront area.
Take the hour drive to Tampa, where you’ll want to explore the historic district of Ybor City. Check into your hotel and then go experience Ybor’s legendary nightlife scene.
Wake up early for a 90-minute drive to Crystal River, a small rural town on the Gulf Coast with a network of warm waterways, including the Three Sisters Springs, that are favored by manatees. Spend the morning canoeing or kayaking, keeping an eye out for the sea cows that lumber along just beneath the surface.
Heading back toward Tampa, the small fishing village of Tarpon Springs is about an hour away. There you can be immersed in the village’s rich Greek history, which includes the legacy industry of sponge diving. Spend the night back in Tampa.
WALT DISNEY WORLD
Depart Tampa as early as possible and head for the Walt Disney World Resort, which is only about an hour to the east. Spend one day exploring the fairy-tale fantasies of the Magic Kingdom or the eco-minded Animal Kingdom and the second day digging into the international food-and-drink possibilities in the World Showcase section of Epcot Center.
Heading back south, Daytona Beach is about 90 minutes away from Walt Disney World. The city’s legendary Daytona 500 race kicks off the stock-car season every year. The city is the site of the racing organization’s birth. Even if there’s no race happening, the NASCAR Racing Experience at the Speedway is an essential stop for fans of the sport, as it provides the opportunity for well-heeled guests to drive a stock car on the hallowed track. Even the beach here is car-centric, allowing visitors to bring their automobiles onto the sand.
About an hour south of Daytona, via a scenic drive along State Road A1A, is Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The natural surroundings here still look pretty much the same today that they did millennia ago. Explore the beautiful beaches, take a hike on the trails, or fish along Mosquito Lagoon.
If nature walks or quiet beaches aren’t your speed, get a sense of the nearly eight million pounds of thrust that propel rockets into orbit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, which offers exhibits and simulators as well as tours of the NASA facilities.
Continue south down State Road A1A and US-1 to spend your final day in Florida relaxing on the secluded and near-perfect beach at Blind Creek Park, just south of Fort Pierce, about two hours’ drive from Merritt Island. From there, you’ll only be about two hours away from Miami International Airport, where you can catch a late flight home, exhausted and exhilarated.
Miami, the Everglades, and the Keys
Start your day exploring the art deco architecture of South Beach by walking along Ocean Drive as the morning sun blasts the pastel buildings and makes for some stunning scenery. Grab breakfast or brunch at one of the several al fresco restaurants along Ocean Drive. The earlier you get here the better, as parking is easier in the morning and the crowds have yet to arise from their post-party slumber. Take an hour or two to soak in some rays at nearby Lummus Park. Be prepared for the throngs-in-thongs to show up on the beach in earnest by around noon. That’s as good a time as any to towel off and start exploring the sights of central Miami. Hit the Design District and Wynwood Art District at the northern end of downtown first, to check out the galleries, boutiques, and restaurants that have sprouted around these creative outposts. From there, keep the arts vibe rolling with a walk through the brand-new Pérez Art Museum Miami, one of the few real “sights” in downtown Miami. After that, head back to South Beach for a stylish night of dinner and drinks. Sleep it off in a tiny room in one of the several boutique hotels that are housed in vintage art deco buildings here.
Shake off the previous night’s festivities with a café Cubano in Little Havana. Take a little while to stroll through this Cuban American enclave and make the tourist-required stop at Maximo Gomez Park, where you can watch Cuban senior citizens play dominoes. Sure, it may sound boring and weird, but it’s sort of a must-see. From there, it’s just a few minutes’ drive into Coral Gables, where you can shop along the Miracle Mile or take a dip in the 1920s-era Venetian Pool. Nearby Coconut Grove offers more shopping. But the beautiful Vizcaya Museum & Gardens is a far better way to spend the rest of your day. Treat yourself to an excellent, upscale Spanish dinner at Coral Gables’s Xixón Spanish Cuisine and then head back to your South Beach hotel for one more night.
Pack some bug spray and sunscreen and head off for a day’s adventure into Everglades National Park. On your way, stop by Coral Castle in Homestead. An exquisitely weird and deeply romantic slice of Old Florida, the castle was constructed out of locally quarried coral-stone in near-complete secrecy by a Latvian immigrant mourning a lost love. From Homestead, it’s just a half-hour drive to the main entrance of Everglades National Park. Make sure to stop into Robert Is Here fruit stand and farm to grab some provisions and a fresh fruit smoothie. There’s only one road in and out of Everglades National Park. Visitors can make the circuit to the southernmost point of the park, Flamingo Visitor Center, and back in four or five hours. Although Flamingo is something of a destination (it’s here that you can take guided boat tours), there are several stops and smaller visitors centers along the route that are well worth exploring.
Make the hour-long drive (from the main entrance of Everglades National Park) to Key Largo and book a room.
There’s no way on earth you can see all that the Florida Keys have to offer in just one day. Plan on heading straight for Key West. Take in some of the major sights along the way, including the Seven Mile Bridge, the gorgeous beach at Bahia Honda State Park, and Key deer on
- On Sale
- Mar 5, 2019
- Page Count
- 448 pages
- Moon Travel