Stretching between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, Florida, a southeastern state in the US, is primarily famed for its Disney attractions and dazzling urban centers. Yet, delving beyond the well-known highlights unveils a realm of natural wonders — from wetland-rich parks interlaced with boardwalk paths to bays aglow with nocturnal bioluminescence, inviting exploration by kayak. Uncover the finest of these attractions on this comprehensive four-stage circular expedition.
Stage 1: Miami to New Smyrna
No exploration of Florida would be whole without experiencing Miami. While the city is renowned for its urban allure, such as the South Beach art deco buildings, the mural-adorned Wynwood Walls, and the vibrant streets of Little Havana, it also serves as a starting point for the Everglades. These subtropical wetlands spread across much of southern Florida, with their mangrove-bordered waterways best explored through airboat tours.
Continuing northward, the journey reaches Cocoa Beach, lining Florida’s ‘Space Coast’ due to its proximity to the Kennedy Space Center. Aside from being a prime surfing destination, Cocoa Beach boasts a distinctive nocturnal marvel. From June to October, bioluminescent creatures like comb jellies transform nearby Banana River and Indian River Lagoon into an electric blue spectacle. To observe this natural phenomenon up close, embark on a kayak tour before resuming your road trip.
An hour’s drive along the coast leads to New Smyrna Beach, celebrated for its artistic coastal community. Engage your creative side by participating in a session at the Hub on Canal art center, or venture to Canaveral National Seashore nearby to possibly catch sight of right whales and sea turtles.
Stage 2: Central Florida to Clearwater
Bid adieu to Florida’s Atlantic shores as you head west into central Florida. Beyond the lights of Orlando, lush woodlands, wildlife reserves, and shimmering bodies of water like Lakes Harris and Denham await. As you venture into the western stretches of the state, you’ll encounter Crystal River, a small town acclaimed as the world’s manatee hub. Bordered by Kings Bay, a spring-fed expanse spanning 600 acres, the town serves as vital habitat for manatees, often visible in protected spots like Three Sisters Springs.
Following Route 19 southward, Clearwater emerges, where the beaches truly come to life. Pause at Honeymoon Island State Park, where sands blend into rare pine forests, harboring creatures like gopher tortoises and armadillos.
Stage 3: Sarasota to Naples
Continuing two hours southward, you arrive at the vibrant city of Sarasota, where Florida’s mainland connects to a chain of serene keys. The most renowned among these is Siesta Key, a barrier island fringed with white sands that extend into the glassy Gulf of Mexico waters, featuring vividly colored lifeguard stations. Take a brief detour to Myakka River State Park, safeguarding Florida’s inaugural designated Wild and Scenic River, a habitat for alligators and birds. Observe these creatures best from the water through boat rides or guided canoe trips.
Proceeding southward, you’ll reach Naples on the Gulf Coast, famous for its historic fishing pier and vibrant botanical gardens. Make sure not to overlook the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, crucial for the endangered big cats, offering hiking trails leading into the wilderness.
Stage 4: Key Largo to Key West
The final segment of this journey takes you eastward across Florida’s mainland before veering south to the Florida Keys, a picturesque island chain curling at the southernmost tip of the US mainland. Head to Key Largo, where the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park safeguards mangrove-bordered waterways and the sole living barrier reef in the continental US.
A remarkable drive along the Overseas Highway, encompassing the famed Seven Mile Bridge, guides you to Key West. While the bars and charming gift shops along colorful Duval Street are tempting, consider embarking on a catamaran cruise. Here, you can snorkel amid vivid marine life, from coral formations to stingrays. From Key West, it’s a four-hour drive back to Miami.
Plan Your Journey
Regular non-stop flights are available from London to major Florida hubs like Miami, Orlando, and Tampa. Trailfinders provides a selection of personalized itineraries across the state, including nature-centered fly-drive trips and urban/theme park getaways. With over five decades of expertise, Trailfinders’ travel professionals can tailor your perfect expedition. For additional information, visit trailfinders.com. To subscribe to National Geographic Traveller (UK) magazine, click here (available in specific countries).
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Florida road trip
What are the main attractions of a Florida road trip?
From the vibrant urban scenes of Miami to serene coastal towns, lush forests, and the captivating Florida Keys, this road trip offers a diverse range of attractions.
What natural wonders can be explored in Florida?
Florida’s attractions extend beyond its cities. Explore wetland-filled parks, mangrove-lined waterways in the Everglades, and experience the stunning bioluminescence of bays by kayaking.
How can I experience bioluminescence on the road trip?
You can witness the magical bioluminescence phenomenon in the bays near Cocoa Beach from June to October. Take a guided kayak tour to get up close to this unique natural display.
What wildlife can I expect to see?
Throughout the journey, you’ll have opportunities to spot diverse wildlife, including manatees in Crystal River, alligators and birdlife in Myakka River State Park, and even the endangered Florida Panthers.
What’s the route of this road trip?
The road trip encompasses a circular route through various stages: Miami to New Smyrna, Central Florida to Clearwater, Sarasota to Naples, and Key Largo to Key West.
How long does the road trip take?
The duration can vary based on your pace, but completing the entire circular route would likely take a few weeks to fully savor the attractions and experiences in each stage.
What’s the best time to embark on this road trip?
The road trip can be enjoyed year-round, but consider visiting during the milder months to avoid extreme heat or high tourist seasons for a more peaceful experience.
Are there any guided tours available for this road trip?
While the article provides detailed suggestions, you can also explore guided tours and tailored itineraries through travel agencies like Trailfinders, offering nature-focused fly-drive trips and city/theme park breaks.
Can I fly directly to the starting points of the road trip?
Yes, there are regular non-stop flights available from London to major Florida hubs like Miami, Orlando, and Tampa, making it convenient to start the road trip.
What are the must-see attractions in the Florida Keys?
The Florida Keys offer white-sand beaches, laid-back communities, and the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, safeguarding unique mangrove-bordered waterways and a living barrier reef.