It seems that whenever we think of Florida and travel, beaches and theme parks come to mind. True, there are a bunch of them in the sunshine state. Also true is that Florida offers one of the best places for a good road trip in the country. Year-round mild weather and a well-kept highway system can take travelers to an interesting variety of places at a leisurely pace.
A first stop when considering a Florida road trip should be America’s Byways, a website that offers good planning resources, suggested day-trip routes and background information on a variety of possible road trips.
In Florida, it’s hard not to run into something interesting to see by just heading out in any given direction. Here we have 10 of probably hundreds of possibilities for Florida road trips that do not include theme parks.
Gulfside Highway 19- Homosassa, Florida
On the west coast, start at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park to see West Indian Manatees, black bears, bobcats and gators. Continue north to the city of Crystal River to swim with Manatees or just have lunch. End the day in Cedar Key, an island known far and wide for seafood. Better yet, do it this month and check out the 43rd Annual Cedar Key Seafood Festival, Saturday Oct 20, and Sunday, Oct 21, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Pensacola In the Panhandle- Pensacola
Up north, the 11-mile Pensacola Scenic Bluffs Highway lets travelers drive atop the unique bluffs, which provide scenic views of Escambia Bay and are the highest point along the entire coastline of Florida. Part of the National Scenic Byways Program, the Gulf Breeze Zoo covers 50 acres and has over 900 animals throughout a botanical garden with more than 100 unique species of botanical plants and flowers.
Tamiami Trail -Tampa
Explore the natural splendor of the Everglades between Tampa with Miami with a drive across the Tamiami Trail, a highway time machine of sorts that passes through a primeval forest with toothy animals as well as canyons of strip-malls and heart-stopping traffic. The 275-mile trail is part of highway US 41, and connects Tampa with Miami.
Florida Natural’s Grove House- Lake Wales
A visit to the Sunshine State wouldn’t be complete without a taste of Florida’s Natural brand orange juice. The company’s Lake Wales grove in central Florida offers a private glimpse of its juice making and provides a history lesson for the kids in the guise of a fun stop.
Black Bear Scenic Byway
The Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway goes through one of Florida’s most distinctive ecosystems, known as the Big Scrub. The 60-mile corridor along SR 40 serves as the backbone for a network of scenic roads and interpretive trails that include the Ocala National Forest, Lake George State Forest, Heart Island Conservation Area and Tiger Bay State Forest. The Florida black bear is at its highest population density here, so look out for them!
Indian River Lagoon Scenic Highway- Merritt Island
Indian River Lagoon National Scenic Highway is an estuary that provides habitat to more species than anywhere in North America. The 166-mile loop along Florida’s Space Coast starts at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and draws history buffs, bird watchers, anglers, surfers, swimmers, boaters and vacationers
Old Florida Heritage Highway- Gainesville
The Old Florida Heritage Highway goes along countryside, lakes, wetlands, prairies and rural homesteads. Scenic U.S. 441 takes travelers back in time as a good example of one of the more well preserved sections of the Florida Highway as it was before the interstates came along.
The Florida Keys- Key West
The 113-mile (181-kilometer) drive on Highway 1 from mainland Florida to Key West has route-tidal flats and teal waters dotted by distant islands as you drive over the ocean. Highway 1′s concrete stretches across with the Atlantic spreading out to the left, the Gulf to the right.
Ormond Scenic Loop and Trail- Ormond Beach
The Ormond Scenic Loop and Trail is a loop of roadways with quick access to the Atlantic Ocean and North Peninsula along with several state and public parks. Museums and historic public buildings and homes can be found in Tomoka State Park. Recreational opportunities include parks and trails offering boating, fishing, hiking, swimming, bicycling or just a walk on the beach.
A1A Scenic & Historic Coastal Byway- St Augustine
A drive up or down A1A takes travelers between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway on a narrow barrier island with breath-taking views. Along the way, see a variety of wildlife including 50 endangered species. Stop in St. Augustine, the oldest continually occupied European settlement in the United States.
Want to know more about Florida Road Trips? Freddy and Kendra Holliday from TV’s “The Amazing Race” have a show of their own, aptly called “Florida Road Trips,” featuring fast-paced excursions to intriguing, historic and natural must-see attractions around the state.
[Flickr image via faungg]