Vacationers have flocked to Florida since the late 1800s, when Henry Flagler built his famous railroad down the coast. The state's status as vacation paradise was cemented when Walt Disney snapped up a sizable chunk of it in the 1960s to build his new theme park.

There's no denying Florida’s appeal. Its incessant sunshine and natural beauty make it particularly well suited for road-tripping. The narrow peninsula packs in the hedonistic pleasures, from white-sand beaches to fantasy-fueled amusement parks – with historical monuments, natural wonders and roadside attractions sprinkled liberally along the way. Here are the Sunshine State’s five best road trips for 2022. 

Introducing Orlando

North Florida Backwaters & Byways 

Best road trip for springs, manatees and mermaids

Start: Pensacola; End: Weeki Wachee; Distance: 510 miles

Kick-off your trip with spectacular white-sand beaches along the Gulf Coast, then meander back roads and byways to discover northern Florida's hidden treasures. Along the way, you'll find crystal-clear springs that you can enjoy from an inner tube or glass-bottomed boat, come face-to-face with a Florida manatee, and end your trip with a classic roadside attraction starring the mermaids of Weeki Wachee. Other stops to include along the way include the Spanish moss-lined Wakulla Springs and the beautiful Ichetucknee Springs

Road sign of Highway 1 in Florida
Drive the length of Florida on Highway 1 © Tom-ster / Getty Images / iStockphoto

Highway 1 

Best road trip for tracing the Atlantic Coast

Start: Amelia Island; End: Miami Beach; Distance: 475 miles

Drive the length of Florida all the way down the coast and you'll get a sampling of all the highlights of the Sunshine State. You'll find the oldest permanent European settlement in the United States, family-friendly attractions, the Latin flavor of Miami and – oh, yeah – miles and miles of beaches right beside you, inviting you to stop as often as you want.

Start your trip on Amelia Island, a glorious barrier island with the moss-draped charm of the Deep South, and wrap in Miami Beach. Detours worth making include St Augustine, the oldest permanent European settlement in the US; Canaveral National Seashore and the Space Coast, where if you time it right you can see a rocket shoot into space.

Aerial view of Florida Keys interstate
The Florida Keys were built for road-trippers © Pisaphotography / Shutterstock

Overseas Highway to Key West 

Best road trip for island hopping

Start: John Pennekamp State Park; End: Key West; Distance: 102 miles

There's no better way – short of hopping on a plane – to enjoy such an utter feeling of escape from the mainland as driving through the Florida Keys. The motto here seems to be “do whatever the hell you want.” 

Pull off the highway for biker bars, seafood grills and blissful beaches – wherever and whenever the crazy spirit of these islands moves you. Highlights on this 102-mile trek include John Pennekamp State Park, the USA’s first underwater park, the Indian & Lignumvitae Keys and the Seven Mile Bridge. 

The outline of an alligator in the marshy waters in the Everglades in Florida
The Everglades is the country's largest subtropical wilderness © Eduard Moldoveanu / 500px

The Everglades 

Best road trip for seeing wildlife

Start: Southeastern Everglades; End: Everglades City; Distance: 170 miles

The enticing Everglades are what make South Florida truly unique. This ecological wonderland is the USA's largest subtropical wilderness, flush with endangered and rare species, including its star attraction, the alligator (and lots of them). 

It's not just a wetland, swamp, prairie or grassland – it's all of the above, twisted into a series of soft horizons, long vistas and sunsets that stretch across your entire field of vision. Pitstops include kayaking in Flamingo, tram tours in Shark Valley and searching for Bigfoot in Ochopee. 

Space Shuttle Atlantis at the visitor complex of Kennedy Space Center, United States
Road trip to the stars with a visit to the Kennedy Space Center © Zhukova Valentyna / Shutterstock

Walt Disney World and beyond

Best road trip for the whole family

Start: Kennedy Space Center; End: Sanibel & Captiva Islands; Distance: 288 miles

This trip links up most of the Sunshine State's brightest attractions, including spectacular white-sand beaches with tons of sights that are family-friendly without being too kid-centric.

Begin at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, a major attraction based on real-world wonder (time your visit right to witness an actual rocket taking flight). From there hop on I-4 westbound toward Central Florida and its more imaginative delights. Let your inner child loose at the Magic Kingdom, but don't stop there; you'll find plenty more to entertain you in dizzying Orlando.

Next, cross the state toward Tampa,turning south when you arrive near the coast. Be sure to check out the historic buildings and wrought-iron balconies of Ybor City and the lovely beaches in Sarasota. End in Sanibel and Captiva Islands.

8 Things to Do in Sarasota, Florida

You might also like:
Top 10 places to go in Florida 
Florida's 12 best beaches for escaping the crowds
9 reasons Florida's west coast is the ideal winter retreat 

This article was first published November 2020 and updated February 2022

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