There's no denying Florida's appeal. This narrow peninsula packs in an abundance of hedonistic pleasures, from white-sand beaches to fantasy-fueled amusement parks.

And with historical monuments, natural wonders and roadside attractions sprinkled liberally across the state, Florida is particularly well suited for road-tripping. Here's our pick of the best road trips in the Sunshine State. 

1. North Florida's backwaters and byways 

Best road trip for springs, manatees and mermaids
Pensacola–Weeki Wachee; 510 miles; 5–7 days

Kick off your trip in Pensacola and delve into the city's past at Historic Pensacola Village. Then cruise towards the alluring white-sand beaches of the Gulf Coast, meandering back roads and byways to discover northern Florida's hidden treasures along the way.

Experience crystal-clear springs, including the Spanish-moss-lined Wakulla Springs, where you can take a tour in a glass-bottomed boat, and Ichetucknee Springs, which you can enjoy from the relaxed comfort of an inner tube. See manatees (between November and March) from the viewing platforms at Blue Spring State Park, then round off your trip with a classic roadside attraction starring the performing "mermaids" of Weeki Wachee.

  • Planning tip: Florida's springs are significantly colder than its oceans. Consider packing or renting a wetsuit, particularly during visits in the winter months.
Boardwalk trails cross a tidal outlet to Grand Lagoon in Big Lagoon State Park
Stretch your legs with a walk across the wetlands of Perdido Key © Colin D. Young / Shutterstock

2. The Florida Panhandle

Best road trip for a taste of Florida's western edge
Perdido Key–Tallahassee; 254 miles; 3–4 days

The Florida Panhandle on the Gulf Coast is blessed with beach bliss and southern charm. Start your eastward journey near the Alabama border in Perdido Key, a barrier island with turquoise waters and expansive wetlands.

Eastward, make sure to hop on Scenic Highway 30A in South Walton County. Stops include Rosemary Beach, where La Crema Tapas & Chocolate serves up a decadent chocolate fondue; the Alys Beach Nature Trail, which has elevated boardwalks to navigate the 20-acre preserve of coastal forest; and Seaside, which is dotted with pastel-painted houses with picket fences. Fun fact: Seaside is where The Truman Show was filmed. End your trip with a visit to Tallahassee, the capital of Florida and home to the Museum of Florida History.

Panhandle-bound? Check out our first-timer's guide to 30A

Art deco styled hotels and businesses along Ocean Drive in South Beach, a famous art deco neighborhood in Miami Beach, Florida.
Highway 1 takes in some of Florida's highlights en route to Miami Beach © John Coletti / Getty Images

3. Highway 1 

Best road trip for tracing the Atlantic Coast
Amelia Island–Miami Beach; 475 miles; 6 days

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 historic towns, family-friendly attractions, the Latin flavor of Miami and 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 continue on down to see-and-be-seen Miami Beach. Detours worth making include St Augustine, the oldest permanent European settlement in the US; the undeveloped, pristine beaches of Canaveral National Seashore and the Space Coast where, if you time it right, you can see a rocket shoot into space.

Planning tip: November through March is peak "snowbird season" in Florida, making driving along Highway 1 – and other major coastal routes – a bit more of a crawl as US holidaymakers travel south for some winter sunshine.

Want to linger in Miami for a few days? We have the itinerary for you

4. North Florida

Best road trip for exploring the central heart of Florida
Jacksonville–Ocala; 112 miles; 3–4 days

With nearly one million residents, Jacksonville is Florida's largest city (nearly double the population of Miami). After gawking at giraffes at Jacksonville Zoological Gardens and being inspired at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, head southwest to Gainesville, the home of the University of Florida. Very much loaded with students when school is in session, the town is also home to the Florida Museum of Natural History and the stunningly blue Ginnie Springs nearby.

Cap off your trip with a stop in Ocala, with outdoor adventures aplenty, including the woodsy, lake-loaded Ocala National Forest and, for gear heads, the Don Garlist Museum of Drag Racing, which houses nearly 100 race-tested vehicles.

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

5. Walt Disney World and beyond

Best road trip for the whole family
Kennedy Space Center–Sanibel & Captiva Islands; 288 miles; 6–10 days

This trip links up most of Florida's best family-friendly attractions, including sprawling white-sand beaches and all the sights you can squeeze into your vacation and more.

Begin at NASA's Kennedy Space Center to wonder at the science and ambition behind 20th- and 21st-century space exploration (and buy some astronaut ice cream, naturally). From there, hop on I-4 westbound toward Central Florida and its more imaginative delights. Let your inner child loose in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World® but don't stop there; you'll find plenty more to entertain you in dizzying Orlando, including Universal Studios and Harry P Leu Gardens, for when you crave a short respite from the frenetic pace.

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 before winding up on the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva Islands.

Can't get enough of Florida's theme parks? These are the best ones to visit

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

6. The Everglades 

Best road trip for seeing wildlife
Homestead–Everglades City; 170 miles; 2–3 days

The enticing Everglades 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 there are 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.

From the town of Homestead, head for the park's southeastern entrance and get ready to immerse yourself in nature. Be sure to plan pitstops to kayak in Flamingo, take a tram tour in Shark Valley and search for Bigfoot in Ochopee before heading on to Everglades City to uncover the region's history at the volunteer-run Museum of the Everglades.

Detour: Work in a bonus national park by visiting Biscayne National Park, a boater's paradise 20 minutes east of Homestead.

Add these experiences to your Everglades itinerary

Cyclists riding past the colorful shopfronts on Duval Street in Key West
Anything goes in laid-back Key West © Peter Unger / Getty Images

7. Overseas Highway to Key West 

Best road trip for island hopping
John Pennekamp State Park–Key West; 102 miles; 3–5 days

Short of hopping on a plane, there's no better way to enjoy such an utter feeling of escape from the mainland than 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 route include John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the USA's first underwater park; historic Indian Key and forested Lignumvitae Key; and the marvel of engineering that is the overwater Seven Mile Bridge. 

Planning tip: Embark on your Overseas Highway adventure as early in the day as possible, as some stretches tend to be congested after 11am, particularly on weekends.

Keep planning your trip to Florida:

This article was first published Nov 19, 2020 and updated Apr 10, 2024.

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