Of all of the destinations on the East Coast of the United States, Florida is the #1 road trip destination. Sure, some people take road trips to New York City, New England, and to Washington D.C., but the real driving destination is Florida. What is it that people find so appealing about Florida? Mostly, it’s the warm weather, sunshine, beaches, and resorts, but more specifically, Florida is best known for:
- Walt Disney World and the Orlando area
- Beautiful beaches on the Gulf Coast and Atlantic Ocean
- Subtropical islands like Key West
- Top resort cities like Miami, Tampa, and Ft. Lauderdale
- Unique beaches and historical areas like Daytona Beach and St. Augustine
- The Everglades
Florida is like the anthesis of states like Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, or other midwestern states. It’s tough to run out of things to do in the “Sunshine State.” You don’t really have to look for things to do, either, because they are all right there. There’s no boring part of Florida. From coast to coast, there are endless activities to keep you busy.
Activities in Florida
Here are a few recommended activities in the state of Florida that many base their entire trip around:
- A trip to Walt Disney World
- Other attractions within Orlando (like MGM, Universal Studios, Sea World)
- Airboat tours of the Everglades
- Snorkeling and diving off of the Florida Keys
- A day at the beach at Miami Beach, Naples, Tampa, or any of the other beach destinations in the state
Recommended Florida Travel Guide:
DK Eyewitness Florida Travel Guide – perfect for road trips!
DK Eyewitness provides an excellent guide to the Sunshine State. With its full color photos, easy at-a-glance lookup, and cross section maps, it’s just the right size and right amount of information to take with you on the go. Also included in the guide are recommendations on places to stay, things to do, the best beaches, best restaurants, and other activities. The vibrant, easy to read format means you’ll actually want to pick up this guide and read it while on your trip and before, as opposed to those boring text only guides.
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Popular Places to Stay in Florida:
Heading South in Florida
The main routes of Florida are I-10, I-95, I-75, I-4, and Interstate 1, the Overseas Highway. These routes are fairly straight forward and interlink major cities along each coast. I-10 runs between Jacksonville and cities along the panhandle coast, I-95 connects Miami to Jacksonville and other eastern seaboard cities, I-70 travels along the Gulf Coast to cities like Tampa, Naples, and eventually to Fort Lauderdale. I-4 cuts across the middle of the state diagonally, connecting the Tampa Bay region to Orlando and Daytona Beach. If you were to see the entire state, you would have to go down one coastline, up the other, and zig zag in between using I-4. This would cover the majority of the cities and beaches, but it might leave the Florida panhandle out of your road trip. If you are heading to other states besides Florida, take I-10 or scenic I-98 to see the majority of the panhandle beaches.
Florida has the biggest number of large cities on the eastern coast of the United States. Many of these cities have their own International Airport, making air travel to the city quite simple.
The city of Jacksonville is one of Florida’s biggest. With a population that comes close to a million people, Jacksonville is an often overlooked area of Florida. The city is home to the Jacksonville Maritime Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville Jacksonville Landing and the Jacksonville Riverwalks. The city is also a good stopping point on your road trip through Florida, as it is the first major city to the north.
This is one of the few cities where you can drive your car on the beach. In fact, that’s one of the major reasons to go here. Daytona Beach also has a great boardwalk area and large hotels that overlook the Atlantic, as well as your typical beachside tourist atmosphere with t-shirt shops, restaurants, and souvenirs.
What was once a blossoming spring break go-to city is now a more affluent Floridian city. The city itself is comprised of an intricate canal system, and has a large population and sprawl that extends seemlessly flows into the city of Miami.
Miami is the key ocean destination within the state of Florida. The city is well known for its narcissism at South Beach, and for its stunning backdrop of the downtown area at Miami Beach. If you’re headed to South Florida, you can’t pass by Miami for its nightclubs, restaurants, and distinctly Cuban influence.
The city of Naples is far different from the eastern cities in the state. Naples has a very laid back, sophisticated feel, and also a very large population of retirees. It has one of the best beaches in the entire country, complete with long fishing piers and some of the best sunsets you’ll ever set eyes upon. It is also a relatively close destination to the Everglades region and Everglades National Park.
The Tampa Bay region consists of three cities: Tampa, Clearwater, and St. Petersburg. Together, these cities, along with their metropolitan area, are home to nearly 4 million people. This makes it the 2nd largest area in the state in terms of population, and one of the top ten in the country. Tampa is a growing region and has some of the best beaches in the state.
Other Florida Destinations
- Key West – The southernmost U.S. city, it lies just 90 miles from Cuba and has some of the best bars in the country.
- Panama City – A big spring break destination, Panama City is one of the best beach cities along the Gulf Coast.
- Pensacola – White, sandy beaches and beautiful views of the Gulf of Mexico make this a favorite Florida destination.
- Palm Beach – An affluent city outside of Fort Lauderdale with beautiful beaches as well as art galleries, shops, and boutiques.
- Boca Raton – This is another wealthy community north of Miami along the Atlantic coast with fine dining, shopping, and galleries.
- St. Augustine – Once occupied by the early Spanish settlers, this city has a rustic Spanish look complete with fortresses, Spanish style homes and architecture.
Suggested Florida Road Trip Routes
- If you’re coming from East Coast destinations like Atlanta, Washington D.C., New York, and New England, head directly down I-95 to Jacksonville to Daytona Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and down Interstate 1 to Key West. Heading back, take I-90 to take a scenic drive through the Big Cypress National Preserve. This will take you to Naples, I-75 taking you to Tampa and to the panhandle cities.
- To visit Orlando, fork off of I-75 to I-4, which will take you back to Daytona Beach. Or, to bypass the Atlantic coast of Florida, head south on I-4 at Daytona Beach and visit the Gulf Coast first.
- Interstate 1 is a good alternative to I-95 in some regions along the Atlantic coast. It’s more scenic, and will allow an up-close look at some of Florida’s greatest cities.