close

Florida

The Three Most Epic Road Trips In Florida

Beach & clouds

With 1,350 miles (2,170 km) of coastline, Florida is a great destination for coastal road trips, with lots of beach stops along the way of course! But beaches aren’t the only draw of the Sunshine State – there’s more to Florida than that, including fascinating nature that ranges from swamplands and crystal clear springs to the tropical islands of the Florida Keys. Add to that the dozens of pristine beaches, historic lighthouses, quaint rural towns, canopy roads and national parks, and you’ll get to experience a completely different state than the Florida that is famous for the glitz and glamour of South Beach, or its many exciting theme parks.

To showcase the most scenic parts of Florida, I put together the three most epic road trips in the Sunshine State for you – covering beaches, unspoiled nature and wildlife, tropical islands, art and theme parks, and some of the most iconic Florida sights. In addition, you can find more Florida road trip ideas here.

Florida's Sunrise

1 The Real Florida: Wildlife and Nature

As much as Florida is about beaches and waterways, there’s another completely different side of the Sunshine State to uncover – a more untouched, rural, and authentic side. With wetlands and lush green forests, and several springs and stops along the rural coast, this trip is a nature lover’s dream.

It starts in Tallahassee, the state capital, with its canopy tree streets formed by moss-draped pines and live oaks, continuing on to Wakulla Springs, and then following the lonely Highway 98 to Crystal River, with plenty of wildlife stops along the way. The final stop would be in either Tampa or Orlando – depending on if you’d like to conclude the trip with a visit to Florida’s theme parks or if you would prefer exploring the cultural heritage of Tampa Bay.

Altogether, this road trip spans just over 400 miles if you’re ending in Orlando, and around 375 miles if you finish in Tampa.

Life in this part of Florida is much simpler, and you couldn’t get any further away from the party scene of Miami. Many older people see the towns you get to experience on this trip as the ‘Real Florida’.P1040137

Plan a couple of days to explore Tallahassee (check out its most beautiful canopy roads here) before heading to Wakulla Springs, which is part of the longest underwater cave in the United States and has an abundance of wildlife.

If you are a true wildlife and bird lover, you should stop at St Marks National Wildlife Refuge next, which is a 68,000 acre nature reserve just half an hour south of Wakulla Springs. Bird watchers in particular will love this wildlife haven. Manatee Springs Park, where you can swim with manatees in the crystal clear waters of the spring, is a highlight for many, and from there you’ll drive through marshland and wetlands to Cedar Key, a cluster of islands off the mainland, which is an old-fashioned laid-back Florida vacation spot.

From there, head back inland through sleepy rural Florida to Silver Springs, which was one of the first touristy places in Florida. Tourists have been flocking here since 1878, mainly for the crystal clear waters and the exotic nature around the system of springs, which consists of a total of 150 springs! From there, head back towards the coast and stop in Crystal River, the largest wintering grounds for manatees in all of Florida. The kitschiest stop would be Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, where, in addition to wildlife (mainly reptiles & birds), you can watch the popular mermaid show.

Essential stops: Don’t miss the view over Tallahassee from the Florida State Capitol, the glass bottom boat tour and the river boat tour in Wakulla Springs (or enjoy the 9 miles of trails there, if you enjoy hiking) for wildlife (alligators, birds, turtles…) and the seven mile road to an 1829 lighthouse in St Marks Wildlife Refuge.

Definitely visit the Manatee Springs State Park where you can swim with manatees and take a glass bottom boat tour in Silver Springs. If you’re an art lover, don’t miss the Appleton Museum Of Art near Silver Springs. Between January and March you can snorkel with up to 200 manatees in Crystal River. More manatees and other wildlife can be seen in Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park just south of Crystal River.

Detour: Drive about two hours west of Wakulla Springs to St George Island with nine miles of unspoiled sandy beaches. A big part of the island is a designated state park with miles of hiking trails. You can also cycle the entire length of the island. You can also take a detour between St Marks and Manatee Springs Park through the coastal area of Big Bend through small, sleepy coastal villages.
ThreeSistersSprings1010030

2 The Florida Keys: Tropical Paradise

The Florida Keys, an archipelago of over 1,700 islands, is probably the most spectacular road trip in Florida. Highway 1, also known as the ‘Overseas Highway’ down here, runs 113 miles from mainland Florida all the way down to Key West, the southernmost point of the continental U.S., and only 90 miles north of Cuba! The views over the ocean (the Atlantic to the left, the Gulf Of Mexico to the right) are magnificent, with the color of the water constantly changing from one shade of blue to another. Driving the road itself is a memorable experience too, making you feel like you’re floating above the water, and the Seven Mile Bridge in the Lower Keys is an architectural masterpiece.

If you start in Miami, the entire drive is about 164 miles long, taking about 3.5 hours at a leisurely driving pace.

Essential stops: If you want an extravagant adventure along the way, splurge and stay at the underwater hotel in Key Largo, Jules Undersea Lodge, which is only accessible via scuba diving! It’s a little pricey ($800 per night for two people), but an absolutely unique experience.

The Bahia Honda State Park, about three quarters of the way along the Oversea Highway on the way to Key West, is one of the most pristine beaches in the Keys. Pack your bikini and your snorkeling equipment!
Southernmost, Key West, Florida
Don’t miss the Better Than Sex dessert restaurant in Key West – the decadent sweet treats here are out of this world! And of course eat as much key lime pie as you can handle. Use this Miami New Times list of Ten Best Key Lime Pies In The Keys as a guide.

Detour: If you have a time for a detour, add the Everglades National Park to your itinerary. The turnoff to the National Park is just outside of Homestead (35 miles south of Miami / 127 miles north of Key West). The Everglades, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are one of the most magnificent places in Florida to spot wildlife – you are likely to see alligators, herons, cormorants, garfish, bass, turtles, deer, stilts, bitterns, limpkins, purple gallinules, roseate spoonbills, ibis, wood stork, Everglades kites, and if you are truly lucky, a Florida Panther.
airboat and pelican

3 Beach Hopping From Jacksonville To Miami

Going all the way from Jacksonville near the border with Georgia in the north to Miami in the south (or vice versa), Highway A1A is not only one of the most scenic drives in Florida, but in the entire nation. The road follows the Atlantic, always as close to the water as possible. If you start in Jacksonville, your first stop will be St Augustine, the oldest town in the U.S., which is well worth a stop not only for its historic significance but also for its beautiful beach. From here, make sure to follow the A1A Scenic & Historic Coastal Byway all the way down to Flagler Beach and be prepared to pull over frequently to take pictures. Your next stop will be Daytona Beach, where you can buy a beach day pass for only $5, where the boardwalk and arcades make for a fun day on the coast. From there, head to Cape Canaveral to get closer to NASA than you can anywhere else on the planet, or take a detour to Orlando (see ‘Detour’ below). The island of Palm Beach is another gorgeous beach stop on the way south, as is the lesser known (and less crowded) Delray Beach. In Fort Lauderdale, you can choose between art and culture or beach life, and driving down Miami’s Ocean Drive couldn’t be a better way to end your trip. Make sure to add a couple of nights in Miami – this city has so much to see! (See ‘Don’t Miss’).

Don’t miss: The historic sites in St Augustine, the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, and right next to the Kennedy Space Center you find one of the most scenic beaches along the entire Eastern seaboard: shell-strewn Playalinda in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Vero Beach, just a short drive south of Cape Canaveral, has been getting a lot of praise and makes for a lovely additional stop – the Vero Beach Museum of Art alone is worth a look.

Delray Beach is a small town which is experiencing a revival at the moment, with a booming art scene and growing restaurant & bar scene – in addition to miles and miles of beaches.

Art lovers will enjoy Fort Lauderdale’s Las Olas Boulevard which is lined with diverse restaurants, three museums, ten international art galleries, and shopaholics will appreciate the 65 retail options! Nearby Hollywood Beach is fantastic for a lazy beach town, if you want to enjoy the ocean and skip the city.

Don’t leave Miami without visiting Little Havana, the Wynwood Art District, the Art Deco District in South Beach and of course the iconic Miami Beach!
Miami Art Deco District
Detour: If you’re a theme park fan, take a detour to Orlando from Daytona Beach before heading back to the coast to Cape Canaveral. It’s only a short drive inland, and in Orlando you can unleash your inner child at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Legoland, Epcot Center, or the brand new water park, Volcano Bay.

Photo credit: All photos used under Flickr’s Creative Commons license. (1) Florida sunset by Sergio Monsalve; (2) Florida alligator by hex1848; (3) Crystal River by Bill Froberg; (4) Key West by Roman Boed; (5) Everglades by Mike Mahaffle; (6) Miami Art Deco by simplethrill.
read more

Gulf County, Florida: The perfect vacation spot for adventurers and water sports enthusiasts (+giveaway!)

7 july kemptville ontario sunset

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Gulf County Florida for IZEA. All opinions are 100% mine.

Everybody talks about the nightlife in Miami, Disneyworld in Orlando, the natural beauty of the Keys. What about Florida’s gulf coast though? That’s a side of the sunshine state that falls mainly under the radar, despite offering just as many exciting adventures as Florida’s Atlantic coastline has. And Gulf County isn’t just a summer destination: the prime season here is September through March. So if you’re thinking about taking a trip to Florida, why not consider the Gulf Coast?

Here are four things that make Florida’s Gulf County awesome:

244 miles of coastline

I bet you didn’t know that Gulf County has 244 miles of glorious coastline along the Florida panhandle. What’s different from other parts of Florida’s coast? Gulf County has remained its nature – there, you don’t find an aggressive invasion of nature like in Miami for example, where barely any nature is left. Instead of man-made, artificial beaches, you can still experience true nature, tranquility and the unspoiled ocean. The stunningly beautiful Cape San Blas is home to St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, which was named the best beach in America a few years ago.

Water of all kinds

One thing that makes Gulf County special is that it has access to several bodies of water: the Gulf of Mexico of course, the saltwater of St Joseph Bay, the Gulf County Canal, Apalachicola Bay and river basin, Indian Pass Lagoon, and the freshwater of Chipola River and the Dead Lakes. These waters are all connected and give nature lovers access to untouched nature and wildlife – bird watching, fishing, hiking the nature trails and ecotouring is possible in all of those places. If you are more adventurous, then you’ll like:

GCFLShrimpBoatsSunsetStJosephBay_Web

Adventure activities

No matter what water sports you’re into, you can enjoy it in Gulf County: boating, snorkeling, paddle-boarding, diving, kayaking.. you name it! And the best part? In Gulf County, you’re never further away than 15 minutes from any of those activities. How cool is that?! Another big plus: since all of the activities are nature based, they’re never the same. Take stand up paddling for example: one day you might see herons on the shore, the next day you go out on a stand up paddle board, you might see sea turtles!

Amazing wildlife

Not only is Gulf County home to 40% of the sea turtle population of Florida’s Gulf Coast, but it is also a paradise for bird watchers, and if you’re lucky you can spot alligators, Florida panthers, tortoises, bobcats and eagles. You can even see rare Red Wolves (an endangered species) on St. Vincent Island National Wildlife Refuge, which is a 12,300 acre undeveloped barrier island – wildlife lovers have to visit this unspoiled little island.

Which adventures I’d love to try in Gulf County

After looking through the Adventure Guide on the Gulf County website, my interest was piqued the most by these activities:

1) Stand-up paddling

I’ve only tried it on a river, and I am keen on trying it out in the open water. I think the Gulf Of Mexico would be perfect with calmer waters than the Atlantic, for example. Added bonus: the stunning surrounding scenery!

GCFLPaddleBoardOnBay_Print

2) Snorkeling

I love snorkeling and I have gone on snorkeling trips all over the world – never in the U.S., however! This needs to be changed as soon as possible, and the clear waters of Gulf County wouldn’t only allow me to marvel at colorful fish but also at sea turtles! The best!

3) Sailing

I’ve always wanted to go on a sailing trip, maybe even sail around the world – but of course I have to try it out first and see if I like it! Sailing into the sunset off the coast of Florida seems magical to me, and I could sail to the St. Vincent Island with its famous Wildlife Refuge.

GCFLFishingOnSt.JosephBay_Print

Plan a vacation in Gulf County

If you’re looking to visit Gulf County, it is super easy to plan your vacation – check out the Gulf County Adventure Guide to get an idea for all the activities you can do there!  With the personalized Gulf County Concierge Program you can even pick three adventures you have never tried!  

Giveaway: Win a $50 AMEX gift card

All you need to do to enter this giveaway: Tell me what you’d like to do in Gulf County! Kayak? Hike? Bird watch? Simply enjoy the beaches?

GCFLCastnet_Print

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. A PURCHASE OR PAYMENT OF ANY KIND WILL NOT INCREASE YOUR CHANCES OF WINNING. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED. 

One winner, chosen at random from all eligible entries received, will receive a $50 AmEx gift card, and will be announced on or about 10 days after end of entry period. Entrants may enter within 21 days of this post going live. Must be a resident of one of the 48 contiguous United States (excl. PR, HI, AK) the age of majority in his or her jurisdiction at time of entry. Odds of winning depend on number of eligible entries received. Sweepstakes is sponsored by Gulf County. 

GCFLCapeSanBlasStumpHole_Web

Visit Sponsors Site

read more
css.php