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Exit the interstate highways and explore these fabulous Florida scenic drives and fun Sunshine State attractions. Florida offers much more than theme parks and massive buildings to check in for Caribbean cruises. Allow me to introduce you to some amazing road trip locations and scenic drives in Florida.Hint: stay off the major roads to experience the best things in Florida.
See also these fun Florida travel articles:
- Scenic Drives in South Florida
- Great Spots to Visit in the Florida Keys
- Great Key West Tips
- Places to See Miami Like a Native
7 Fun Scenic Drives in Florida
Florida Keys Highway
The Overseas Highway is one of the world’s great scenic drives and the only road from mainland Florida to Key West. The 113 mile (182 km) drive between Key Largo and Key West crosses 42 bridges, including Seven Mile Bridge—any guesses how long that bridge is.
Although the entire Overseas Highway drive would take 2.5 hours without stops, allow ample time to explore the quirky shops and restaurants, natural areas, beaches, and other attractions in the Florida Keys. To assure your Florida Keys road trip will be spectacular, it is tradition to make a pit stop at Alabama Jacks and/or Mrs. Macs Kitchen in Key Largo.
Even after getting my Key Lime Shake from Mrs Macs, I do not feel like I have reached the Conch Republic until I see the decorated manatee mailbox. Send me a photo of it from your next trip.
McCool Travel Tip: Florida Keys beaches are generally not great but Sombrero Beach in Marathon is wonderful.
For more Florida Keys and Key West information, please see:McCool Travel Tip: I prefer to drive on Card Sound Road in one direction.
On Google Maps, I requested driving directions between Manatee Bay, FL and Key West, FL. Enter Alabama Jacks instead of Manatee Bay, when going to Card Sound Road.
Lake Wales Ridge
Beginning just south of Babson Park turn left (east) onto Murray Road and witness magnificent views of rolling hills. Between Lake Lenore and Lake Moody, I drove for several miles on red clay dirt roads among hundreds of acres of citrus tree groves.
Back on Murray Road, I drove east to Pfundstein Road and stumbled upon the Tiger Creek Preserve, where I learned that I was in the Lake Wales Ridge and could hike along the 1,300 mile Florida Trail. I also learned—visitor centers love to educate—that the Lakes Wales Ridge is an ancient island on top of Florida. When most of Florida was under water, this area was a sandy, scrubby habitat. That explains why many unpaved roads in this area are white sand. Fascinating that just a few miles away are red clay dirt roads.
Driving southwest on CR64 towards 17, I found James Brown’s Famous Flames BBQ in Avon Park. I had a huge pulled pork sandwich, which must have weighed a full pound. It may have been the best pulled pork sandwich I have ever had; the pork was so tender and delicious. Oh, and the peach cobbler was outstanding.
For more information about the Lake Wales Ridge area, please see: Florida Hills – Yes, Hills!McCool Travel Tip: Pretty much any car will do OK on the red clay dirt roads. The white sand roads can be a little more treacherous and may require a 4 wheel drive in places.
Highway A1A – Florida’s coastal route
Growing up in South Florida, the radio jingle for one local station I constantly heard was Jimmy Buffett’s “Strolling along the avenue that’s known as A1A.”
A1A is usually the closest street to the Atlantic Ocean along the entire 329 mile east coast of Florida, from Key West to the Georgia border. Driving north on A1A the ocean is on your right, except when blocked by buildings or when the road has to go inland. A 72 mile stretch of A1A is a National Scenic Byway.
At many spots, the ocean is steps from A1A and you can just park and get your feet wet and sandy.
But there are also stretches of highway A1A where the trees are otherworldly. You can even create your own Game of Thrones scene on this street on Jupiter Island.
For more Florida east coast information, please see:
Ocala National Forest
The Ocala National Forest is the oldest National Forest east of the Mississippi River and it is the southernmost forest in the United States. Black bears are prevalent so be smart about the food you carry.
I have shown the primary north-south route (SR 19) through Ocala National Forest but the east-west route (SR 40) is also magnificent. The Yearling Trail, north of the 19/40 intersection, traverses area settled by the Long family before 1900.
There are many other hiking trails and several off-road driving trails in the park. Silver Glen Springs is a highlight for many visitors.McCool Travel Tip: Ocala has some beautiful areas to drive around. It is surrounded by horse farms and gorgeous scenery. One popular drive is Highway 475 from downtown Ocala.
Naples to Clewiston
The easy way to get from Naples to Ft. Lauderdale is I-75. I have driven it many times and one trip decided, of course, to skip the easy way and find a much more scenic and FUN route.
Driving a series of surface streets and small roads with names like Oil Well Road and County Line Road, I was able to skirt along the northern edge of the southwestern Everglades.
Traversing those small roads from Naples is a lot of fun and highly recommended. I ended up in Clewiston, where I hopped on highway 27 south to Alligator Alley (highway 84).
Near Clewiston are parks with opportunities to view Lake Okeechobee—second largest freshwater lake in the continental US.
Yes, it looks like a canal. If you click on the image to view a large version, you should see more water on the horizon. The “canal” is actually part of the lake. I spoke with an on-site engineer who told me the Lake Okeechobee water level is so low that islands have appeared. The islands are submerged when the water level is normal.
Florida Galactic Trail
Did you know that you can drive through Venus and Jupiter while not ever leaving the Sunshine State? Florida also has a Saturn Elementary School in Cocoa (space city). There is a city named Neptune Beach, near Jacksonville. And of course Pluto is prominent at Disney.
Although I recommend A1A when driving up Florida’s east coast, I-95 is marked in the interest of speed. Consider stopping at Cape Canaveral to watch where rockets are launched and in Cocoa Beach where you can find other solar system related references like I Dream of Jeannie Lane.
OK, there is more to South Florida than the ocean. Tamiami Trail, a road between Tampa and Miami, begins in downtown Miami on Brickell Key and soon turns into SW 8th Street (aka Calle Ocho); it is the heart of Little Havana and a definite must-see in Florida.
Driving west on Tamiami Trail, after about 18 miles, you will pass Krome Avenue and enter the Big Cypress National Preserve (part of the Florida Everglades). Many attractions are operated by the Miccosukee Indian tribe. Shark Valley Loop Road (and the Shark Valley Visitor Center) is part of the Everglades National Park and a great place to see gators in the later winter and spring. Loop Road is a primitive road from the 1920s located a little further west. Road conditions may be treacherous but I always see amazing wildlife (including giant gators) along it. Ochopee, a few more miles west, is known for having the world’s smallest post office. Side note, my grandparents lived near here (in the Big Cypress) for 20 years. Yes, many stories…
Bonus Scenic Drives in Florida
William Bartram Scenic and Historic highway is a gorgeous Florida road trip, just south of Jacksonville and along the St. John’s River. I have seen bald eagles and snapping turtles while driving through thick areas of live oak with moss (great area for tree pictures).
Cross Creek. Cross Creek is the historic homesite of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, winner of the Nobel prize for literature for The Yearling. From Micanopy, drive 346 east and then 325 south. Along 346 you will see a River Styx sign which is worth a photograph. There are many lakes and preserves in the area.
Cracker Trail follows the historic trail used to herd cattle across the state. Cracker refers to the crack of the whip made by the cowboys. From the east, the Cracker Trail mostly follows highway 98 to state road 66 to state road 64. When you get to Bradenton, make sure you visit Anna Maria Island beach, with the softest and whitest sand I have seen anywhere. Let me know if you agree.
Please also see:
Other sources for Florida scenic drives:
Take These 12 Country Roads In Florida For An Unforgettable Scenic Drive from Only in Your State
14 Day Florida Road Trip from Moon Guidebooks
Forgotten Florida Road Trip from National Geographic Travel
Spectacular Florida Road Trips Every Traveler Should Take from Budget Travel
Florida Road Trips from Visit Florida
Ultimate Florida Beach Road Trip from Travel + Leisure
Do you have any favorite Florida road trips or Florida scenic drives?