Looking for Florida road trip ideas? From buzzing cities and high-octane theme parks, to idyllic islands and sprawling nature reserves, here’s a list of must-see destinations to add to your itinerary.
A road trip around Florida is one of the best ways to see the Sunshine State. It’s super easy too, as Florida has great roads, is mostly flat and is a cheap place to hire a car and fill up the tank. It takes around 13 hours to drive from top to bottom, but it’s a lot more fun to plan a list of things to do and turn it into a one-, two- or even a three-week trip.
We’ve put together a circular route, traveling clockwise from Jacksonville, Florida. You can do the whole tour staying a few nights in each destination, or just visit a few stops and stay for a week or more at each. Fly to Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) and collect your hire car at the airport. From there you drive south along the Atlantic Coast down to Miami then back up along the Gulf Coast. Drive across the top of the state back to the same airport, drop your car off and fly home – it couldn’t be easier.
Places to stop on a Florida road trip
Located on the northeast coast, St. Augustine lays claim to being the oldest city in the USA. It’s jam-packed with famous landmarks and is an amazing way to start your road trip. You can drive from Jacksonville International Airport to St. Augustine via the I-295 and US-1 S in under an hour.
Swatting up on the region’s history is a must so book yourself a trolley tour and see St. Augustine in all its glory. It’s a great way to get around town and learn all about the area, plus you won’t have to worry about finding a parking space. You’ll stop off at historic attractions like the Castillo de San Marcos fortress that used to guard the city against foreign invaders. You’ll also get free admission to the fascinating St. Augustine History Museum.
Another must-visit while you’re in town is the popular St. Augustine Alligator Farm. It’s the only place in the world where you can see every living species of crocodilian; it’s also home to birds, snakes and an array of amazing fossils. There are daily shows including alligator feeding and training. If you’re feeling particularly brave you can zip line through the treetops with live crocodiles and alligators right beneath you.
From St. Augustine it’s around 100 miles to Orlando heading south along the Atlantic Coast then inland via the I-4 W. Home to Disney World, Universal Studios and a heap of other amazing attractions, you could easily spend a week or more exploring everything it has to offer.
You can spend long days at the theme parks and water parks, or shop ’til you drop at some of the biggest and best shopping malls in Florida. There are literally thousands of restaurants, bars and nightspots to choose from, plus there are a slew of outstanding public, semi-private and resort-based golf courses.
The buzzing city center is well worth a day or two of exploring. You can get your culture fix at the many museums and art galleries, or go boating at iconic Lake Eola Park. Every Sunday, a colorful farmers’ market takes place at the park where you can buy locally made jewelry and art, as well as fresh fruit and veg.
If you’re staying in Orlando you’ll find reasonably priced accommodation in the pretty area of Kissimmee, just south of the city. Kissimmee is just a few miles from Disney World and is home to some fantastic family friendly resorts. Its Highway 192 area is lined with restaurants, shops and tourist attractions like mini golf courses and go-kart tracks, while its lakefront park is home to walking paths, picnic pavilions, playgrounds and a fishing pier.
Top tip: You can save money on all the best attractions including Disney World, Universal Studios, Legoland and more if you shop around for competitively priced tickets.
Head out of Orlando along the FL-528 E and you’ll reach Florida’s Space Coast in around 45 minutes. Cape Canaveral is the home of the Kennedy Space Center so you can learn all about the nation’s human space program while you’re in town; time your trip just right and you might even see a live rocket launch.
The area also offers scenic beaches, some great restaurants and an increasingly popular cruise ship port. The nearby Brevard Zoo is a great place to spend a day. Also nearby is the Canaveral National Seashore, an idyllic 24-mile wildlife preserve.
Follow the coastal road south of Cape Canaveral and you’ll reach the popular spot of Fort Lauderdale. Known as the ‘Venice of America’ this pretty city is home to endless boating canals and more than 4,000 waterside restaurants. Situated just north of Miami, it also boasts beautiful beaches, upscale shopping and a fantastic nightlife scene.
Las Olas Boulevard is the place for shopping at chic boutiques and dining in swanky restaurants. You can also wander along the historic waterfront or enjoy a gondola ride Venetian-style. Other attractions include the International Swimming Hall of Fame which has pools and a water sports museum.
Smack in the middle of the city is the 180-acre Hugh Taylor Birch State Park which offers a break from the hubbub with walking trails, picnic areas, camping and a lake for swimming and canoeing.
No Florida road trip would be complete without at least a few days in the hip city of Miami. A favorite with couples, friends and families alike, this south Florida vacation spot offers beautiful beaches, exciting attractions and a cool cosmopolitan vibe.
When in Miami there are endless things to experience. The year-round sun is a major highlight, as is the art deco architecture, the unique street art and the glamorous spas, shops, golf clubs and restaurants. The most famous area is Miami Beach where you’ll find the amazing Art Deco District with its wonderfully restored 1930s art deco buildings.
An easy day trip from Miami is the Everglades National Park, the perfect place to reconnect with nature. Island Queen Cruises offers guided tours through the reserve with an airboat ride and alligator show included. You can also take a full day excursion to Key West, the southernmost city in the USA. You’ll head along the scenic Highway 1 bridge all the way there, then enjoy a guided walking tour and some free time on your own to check out the numerous beaches, restaurants and bars.
Top tip: Get a Miami Go Card to save up to 55% off attractions such as Miami Zoo, Miami Seaquarium, sightseeing cruises, airboat tours and more.
From Miami follow the US-41 W and you’ll pass through the Big Cypress National Preserve. Yes, there are alligators – lots of them. But most tourists stop at the roadside pull offs and leave the rest of the area to the more expereienced locals.
Next stop is Marco Island, located at the southern tip of Florida’s Paradise Coast. Once a quiet fishing spot known only to local anglers, Marco has since developed into a top vacation destination. Within its 24 square miles it packs in 6 miles of beaches, 100 miles of waterways and innumerable hotels, shops, restaurants, marinas and parks.
Marco Island is relatively small in size, so wherever you stay you won’t be far from the local attractions. We recommend staying in one of the beautiful vacation homes along the canals. Most homes have private swimming pools, large balconies and gorgeous waterside views.
If you like high-end shopping and golf courses, then Naples is a must-visit on your Florida road trip. Just a 30-minute drive from Marco Island via US-41 N, Naples boasts palm tree-lined avenues and a glitzy reputation.
The downtown area is a focal point for shopping with its chic malls and upscale boutiques. You’ll also find art galleries, historic sites and myriad dining options from casual eateries and diners to swanky restaurants all around town.
The 280+ average days of sunshine provide the perfect conditions for a round of golf on one of the many world-class courses in the area. Naples also has great beaches and endless water sports activities including some of the best fishing in Florida.
You can take a guided nature tour around the surrounding mangroves and barrier islands with Rising Tide Explorers. It runs family friendly kayak tours that are guided by real-life biologists. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, manatee and wading birds as you paddle through the backwaters of Rookery Bay Reserve.
From Naples take the I-75 N and you’ll reach Cape Coral in around 45 minutes. Located near Fort Myers along the gorgeous Gulf of Mexico, this vibrant destination offers something for all the family.
Cape Coral has around 400 miles of canals and waterways making it a top spot for boating, fishing and water sports. It’s also within easy reach of Florida’s west coast beaches and other top spots like Sanibel and Captiva islands.
You can tee off at the Coral Oaks Golf Course, an Arthur Hills-designed championship course built within a century-old oak hammock. If you’re looking to entertain little ones then Sunsplash Water Park is a great place to head, with 14 acres of water slides and a boardwalk for nature spotting.
No trip to Cape Coral would be complete without a little retail therapy at the city’s many shopping malls and plazas. The region is also home to all manner of restaurants and bars.
You’ll find a good selection of vacation homes located within easy reach of the local facilities. Homes are available in a range of sizes and prices and have excellent amenities such as private pools, hot tubs, boat docks and waterfront views.
The next major stop along the West Coast is the buzzing city of Tampa. It has a sprawling business district as well as miles of beautiful waterways, a handful of shopping malls and some great museums and art galleries.
One of the most popular spots to visit is the Ybor City neighborhood just north of Downtown Tampa. Once the cigar capital of the world, the region is now a thriving community packed with restaurants, nightspots and cultural offerings.
Another popular attraction in Tampa is Busch Gardens, an African-themed amusement park with thrill rides and animal viewing areas. You may think you’ve ridden some high roller coasters but nothing will prepare you for the park’s 335 foot-tall Falcon’s Fury drop ride.
If you’re staying in the area for a few days be sure to go on a day trip to the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. One of Florida’s most legendary and unique family destinations, this picturesque spot features a vast clearwater spring where you can see the world-famous Mermaids of Weeki Wachee performing live in a submerged 400-seat auditorium. You’ll also find a water park, boating lakes and equipment rentals.
Home to the Santa Fe Community College and the University of Florida (the largest and oldest university in the state), Gainsville is a hub of education and culture. Set on the sprawling university campus is the Florida Museum of Natural History where you can see exhibits such as the Butterfly Rainforest featuring hundreds of free-flying butterflies and birds. The nearby Harn Museum has a huge collection of Asian and African artworks, while the Matheson History Museum tells the story of Alachua County from the time of the Timucuan tribes through the Spanish occupation.
Out and about you’ll find state parks with hiking and biking trails where you can spot a variety of local wildlife including birds, bison, wild horses and alligators. You can canoe or paddleboard along scenic rivers or take a dive in one of the crystal clear freshwater springs. Afterwards, refuel at one of Gainsville’s many farm-to-fork restaurants and wash it down with a beverage from one of the four local breweries.
Gainsville has plenty of shopping options including the Oaks Mall which boasts more than 100 fashion and homeware stores. There region is also home to a handful of great golf clubs including the Ironwood Golf Course which boasts an outstanding layout sculpted around century-old pines and shimmering lakes.
From Gainsville it’s an easy drive back to Jacksonville following the US-301 N and I-10 E. You can plan to arrive in time to catch your flight home or spend a few days exploring the area. Although much of Jacksonville is urban, this huge northeastern city has nature and wildlife reserves, historic neighborhoods and lots of golf courses.
Some of the top tourist attractions in Jax (as the locals call it) include the Jacksonville Landing entertainment complex in Downtown Jacksonville, and the Bronson Speedway which hosts several local racing series as well as a numner of touring series throughout the year. Known as the home track of the best drivers in the south, Bronson generally runs events on every other weekend through the race season which runs from January through August.
Head away from the city and you’ll find some great beaches offering soft sand and warm water perfect for swimming, surfing and kayaking.
Tips for your Florida road trip
You may be covering a lot of miles but it will be worth it to see all these amazing places and to get a true feel for what Florida is all about. Here’s some parting advice:
- Check out Passport America if you’re planning on camping in Florida – you’ll save a bundle.
- Many toll roads in Florida are converting to all-electronic, no cash tolling so get a Sun Pass before you go. It works on all Florida toll roads and you’ll always pay the lowest toll amount.
- Keep it simple and pack light for your Florida road trip. The climate is warm and it gets very humid through the summer months so you don’t need a lot of stuff.
- Do your research before you go. You can find out more about the best time to Florida and the cheapest time to visit Orlando on our blog. You can make great savings on attractions tickets, too.
Other useful resources
- 31 fun things to do in Marco Island
- Things for teens to do in Orlando
- The best movies set in Florida
If you’re thinking of going on a Florida road trip and you need advice on the best places to stay then contact us today. Additionally, our dedicated concierge team can arrange any added extras you need such as great-value car hire. You can see all of our Florida villas here.