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One of the most memorable things you can do in life is to undertake an epic road trip. You rent a car or kit out a campervan, fill up your tank, convince a good friend to join, put on some great tunes, and you just drive the great open road. With the sheer number of national parks in the country, there’s no shortage of beautiful places in the U.S.—it’s why people travel from all over the world to ply the country’s roads in search of scenic vistas, quirky roadside Americana, and sometimes just wide open spaces.
If you’re looking for a gorgeous part of the U.S. to explore, Florida is arguably one of the best road trip destinations in the country. The Sunshine State is filled with scenic locations, fun activities, countless tourist-friendly spots, and a whole lot more. Planning a road trip may seem as easy as packing up and driving, however, to fully enjoy the experience, you need to prepare for the whole trip and leave armed with the right information. You may say, “hey, being spontaneous is fun!”—it is, to an extent. It never hurts to start a trip completely prepared for the unique things you’ll face on a Florida road trip that you might not elsewhere.
What should you bring? What route should you take? What do you need to know about your destination? Let’s dive right into the planning specifics
How to Rent a Car & Drive in Florida
Every great road trip starts with a set wheels—if going to be renting, then you have a couple of things to figure out first!
Research Beforehand and Find the Best Deal
There are a lot of options when it comes to car rentals in Florida. Doing your research while you’re already traveling may end up time-consuming, so do this before your trip—it will be much more convenient and if you book ahead you can find better deals.
Always Have Your SunPass on Hand
If you’re going to take a Florida road trip, never forget getting a SunPass! Locals should all have these, but if you’re coming from out of state, you’ll want to add this to your rental contract—it’s worth it. A SunPass is much like the E-ZPass in the northeast. It’s an electronic transponder that attaches to your windshield and allows you to cruise through designated E-Pass, O-Pass, and SunPass lanes.
Having a SunPass will save you a lot of time when you find yourself on one of Florida’s many toll booth roads. When connected to your windshield, the transponder transmits a radio signal to sensors mounted on SunPass toll paths. The transponder then transfers your account information and subtracts the toll from your account. You can purchase a SunPass online or at physical stores such as Walgreen’s and CVS—it’s not only easier, but many toll roads also charge SunPass users less per toll—double win.
Familiarize Yourself with Florida’s Road Rules
If you’re not a native of the Sunshine State, then you should be aware of Florida’s traffic rules—you might not be used to some of the way they do things down there. Reading up on differences (both actually different laws as well as which ones are enforced differently in Florida) is essential to ensuring that you have a smooth road trip without the police getting involved.
For example, although some states are lax on rolling stops at stop signs, that doesn’t fly in Florida, where you’ll often notice patrol cars lurking in the vicinity. And although cities like Los Angeles overlook things like making left turns on a hard yellow light, that’s not going to fly either. State troopers also regularly patrol some of the major interstate corridors, and they’re not likely to let you off with a sunny grin and a warning.
Additionally, store any alcoholic containers in the trunk of your car and out of plain sight. It’s illegal to have open alcohol containers inside a moving vehicle in Florida, so even if you’re just bringing home a bottle of wine, make sure the restaurant seals the container and place it in your trunk.
Plan Your Gas Stops
You don’t want to be on an epic road trip just to be stuck in the middle of nowhere because you ran out of gas, do you? Before you leave your starting point, make sure that your rental car’s gas tank is full. Every now and then, fuel up so you don’t hit a snag. Being stranded because of an empty gas tank will surely take the fun out of your road trip. Think it’s not a big deal? There are some stretches of road in Florida where you won’t see a gas station for hours (think the Tamiami Trail through the Everglades).
Ensure that you’ve meticulously planned your gas stops before you start your trip. Don’t wait for your gas to run out, and download the GasBuddy app to find not only nearest gas stations are in the area, but the best prices too.
Ten Best Road Trip Spots in Florida
Whew, that’s the technicalities of a road trip sorted out—now it’s time to plan the trip itself! Florida is filled with many of the country’s most notable of tourist spots, amusement parks, national parks, and world-class beaches. In fact, there’s so much to see that no matter how long you plan to road-trip the state, it’s not long enough—you’re going to have to pack in a lot of sights to even get a representative sampling of the Sunshine State. Choosing and prioritizing the best spots may be difficult, but it isn’t impossible, either. To help you with that, here are our ten favorite Florida road trip spots to consider—listed moving clockwise around the state starting from the northeast coast!
Daytona Beach & Kennedy Space Center
See for yourself the real-life location of the world-famous NASCAR race, the Daytona 500. Daytona Beach is one of the most famous beaches in the U.S., with over 23 miles of white sand beaches that you can drive on, it’s a no-brainer for most travelers. Although there are more low-key beaches, you’re going to at least want to pass through Daytona Beach—perhaps on the Kennedy Space Center. This is unskippable—the Space Center has done an incredible job sharing everything it took to put a man on the moon, and it’s a worthy stop.
Kids and kids at heart will surely enjoy visiting Orlando’s famous amusement parks—Universal Studios and Walt Disney World are but two. Spend at least a day immersed in rollercoasters and fun, marvel at Disney’s nightly fireworks display, visit Harry Potter World (you know you want to), and mow down on cuisine from around the world at Epcot. What you might not realize is that you can also use Orlando as your base to kayak and swim in the state’s best freshwater rivers. Head to Weeki Wachee for the live mermaid shows, or plan a kayaking trip of Crystal River, where you’re nearly guaranteed a manatee sighting!
Las Olas Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale
Teeming with spring breakers in the spring, Fort Lauderdale caters to more than just out-of-town college kids. The place is also known as the “The Venice of America” because of its city-wide canal systems. Make sure to stop by Las Olas Boulevard, where you can spend the day visiting art galleries and boutiques. If you get hungry, numerous cafes are along the street await.
South Beach Art Deco District, Miami Beach
You can’t leave out some time in Miami, one of Florida’s most beautiful cities. The South Beach Art Deco District of Miami, in particular, is a great place to unwind and chill with your family and friends. If you’d rather see nature than the vibey arts and glitz in Miami, head a bit further south to Biscayne National Park, which is the northernmost of the Florida Keys and you can just spend a few extra days dedicated to this part of your Florida road trip!
Key West & the Florida Keys
The Florida Keys offers some of the most spectacular views in the whole state, with its beautiful 120-mile-long chain of tropical islands connected to the mainland by historic bridges and the 113-mile Overseas Highway. Your best memories will happen if you slowly make your way south through the keys, eventually making your way to Key West, which has served as the location of some famous Hollywood movies (such as License to Kill, 2 Fast 2 Furious, and True Lies). From Key West, park the car and plan to snorkel to your heart’s content, eat your weight in key lime pie, and then day trip over to the Dry Tortugas, one of the country’s more remote and least visited (but gorgeous) national parks.
Everglades National Park
It goes to without saying that any Florida road trip wouldn’t be complete if you don’t stop at the Everglades National Park. A 1.5-million-acre, world-famous wetland preserve and one of the best national parks in the state, visiting the Everglades will make you feel as if you’re being swallowed by Mother Nature herself, with all its beautiful marshes and pine flatwoods—and the local wildlife that inhabits it, too. The alligators calling the Everglades home are as fascinating a sight as the area’s marshy beauty.
Fifth Avenue South, Naples
If you’re craving the charm of Old Florida with a side of luxury shopping, then park your car and head over to 5th Avenue South in Naples. The place is a shopper’s paradise from fashion, real estate, beauty, and food! Once you’ve slacked your need for shopping and old-Florida history, then head back into nature before driving up the West Coast. Stop over at Big Cypress National Preserve, where the wet cypress forest and mangroves are particularly noteworthy.
Anna Maria Island
If you’re feeling the vibes of these places that are less crowded but still scenic, then set your GPS straight to Anna Maria Island. Its white-sand beaches are hailed as the most beautiful and serene in the state, yet not as many frequent the beautiful island. If you’re craving fresh seafood, this is also the place to go. The island is dotted with lots of seafood restaurants.
One of the best parts of Anna Maria Island is that it’s close to Sarasota. If you’re ready to hit the brakes for a while and lay low in a sleepy beachside town, spend a few days in Sarasota? This place is a perfect blend of sophistication and simplicity—a city without the usual hustle of noisy crowds, polluted streets, and honking horns. Littered with some low-key attractions and a friendly local community, you and your friends or family will definitely have a blast.
Conveniently just a quick pop over from your rest stop in Sarasota, it’s time to get foodie. If you’re on a food crawl of the state then you’ve likely already indulged in Cuba food down in Miami, but know that you can find amazing eats in this area as well. If you’re looking for somewhere new, why not try Tampa’s thriving food scene? It’s fast becoming as one of the best foodie cities in the country (or at least the south!), with its food culture consisting of a mix of Latin, Spanish, and Caribbean cuisine. After feasting, you might also want to visit the world-class Florida Aquarium, Pier 60, and the Raymond James Stadium (home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers). Just over the seven-mile bridge, visit the massive collection at St. Petersburg’s Dali Museum.
Once you’re done in this area, it’s time to head back north—it’s just an hour from Tampa back to Orlando, and from there you can make your way further north to the beaches in the panhandle, and perhaps onward to New Orleans, or even further afield.
No matter where you end, you’ll leave the state understanding why Florida is dubbed as the Sunshine State. It’s an excellent place for an epic road trip adventure. If you haven’t tried it yet, make sure to put “Florida road trip” in your to-do list!