The 14-Day Best of Florida Road Trip

Florida is big: From the western tip of the Panhandle to the Atlantic coastal city of Jacksonville is about 360 miles, while the peninsula extends southward from the Georgia border until the state ends at the tip of Key West, nearly 500 miles away. To that end, I’ve broken the state’s sights down into manageable sections to help you plan you Florida road trip. 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 most unique places that the Sunshine State has to offer.

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 the state is limited, here’s a (pretty intense) itinerary that will allow you to see some of Florida’s best sights in two weeks.

rooster statues in Miami
Calle Ocho in Miami. Photo © Fotoluminate/Dreamstime.

Days 1-2: Miami

Start in Miami and spend your daylight hours exploring the Design District, the Cuban American community of Little Havana, and the galleries and historic sights 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, walk the sidewalks of Collins Avenue and Ocean Drive to shop, eat, and gawk at the art deco buildings.

Days 3-4: 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.

View of the Flagler Railway and Bridge at Bahia Honda State Park.
View of the Flagler Railway and Bridge at Bahia Honda State Park. Photo © Fiona Deaton/123rf.

Days 5-6: 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.” These are 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.

Days 7-8: Tampa Bay Area

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 that 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 and enjoy its vibrant restaurant and nightlife scene.

Day 9: 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, the eco-minded Animal Kingdom, or the international food-and-drink possibilities in the World Showcase section of Epcot Center.

Days 10-11: The Panhandle and North Florida

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, like the Three Sisters Spring, that are a favorite of manatees. Spend the morning canoeing or kayaking, keeping an eye out for the sea cows that lumber along just beneath the surface. Afterward, buckle in for the six-hour drive to Destin along scenic, rural US-98. You’ll arrive fairly late, so enjoy a seafood dinner and sunset.

The next morning, spend a few hours relaxing on Destin’s white-sand beaches (the best in the Panhandle) before preparing for a long drive back to the eastern coast. Arrive in Tallahassee in the mid-afternoon, but before checking into your hotel and scoping out the Florida State Capitol, take a dip in the cool, freshwater springs at Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park. Duly relaxed, you’ll be ready to take on the crowds of Florida State University students and government officials crowding the city’s restaurants and bars.

waves rushing onto the store of Daytona Beach, Florida
Daytona Beach. Photo © Jon Bilous/123rf.

Days 12-14: The Atlantic Coast

Continuing east, Daytona Beach is about 2.5 hours away from Tallahassee. 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 competition happening, visit the beach here, which 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 as 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 the space shuttle into orbit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, which offers exhibits and simulators as well as tours of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) facilities. Spend the night in nearby Titusville and enjoy the excellent food and locally brewed beer at Playalinda Brewing.

Spend your final day in Florida relaxing on the secluded and near-perfect beach at Blind Creek Park, just south of Fort Pierce, about a two-hour 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.

Jason Ferguson

About the Author

Florida native Jason Ferguson has yet to find a corner of his home state that doesn’t hold some sort of surprise. With a background in alternative journalism and arts and culture reporting, Jason enjoys finding surprises and unusual sights in some of Florida’s most well-traveled destinations. As a father, he certainly enjoys the pleasures of the beaches and outdoor opportunities, but also likes to dig deep into the nightlife, arts, and cultural scenes.

Jason has written for publications ranging from Time Out, Travel + Leisure, and Caribbean Travel & Life to Florida newspapers such as the Orlando Weekly and Miami New Times. He enjoys sniffing out the beauty of Florida’s natural history as well as the oddness of its quirky present. He, his wife, and their kids utilize their home in Central Florida as a launching pad for weekend adventures that take them to points of interest throughout the state. Although their favorite spots change from week to week, there’s a general consensus that the white-sand beaches of southwest Florida aren’t just the best in the state, but are possibly some of the best in the world.

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