As one of the most important national pastimes, road tripping in the United States is a must-do for any patriotic bucket lister. A lengthy journey on four wheels — where going is more important than arriving — could be the perfect antidote to the stresses of everyday life. The question remains: Where to go? If the image of your sun-drenched car whizzing by beaches and palm trees tickles your fancy, consider Florida. We’ve mapped out a route that is genuinely considered one of the best in America. Starting out in Jacksonville, take the coastal highway all the way down to Miami and Key West, and loop back up to end your journey in Tampa. With literally thousands of attractions along the way, this is a trip that could take as little or as much time as you’d like. Pack your sunscreen, bathing suit, and a good pair of shoes — the Sunshine State is calling.
Section 1: Jacksonville to Daytona Beach
Starting out in Florida’s northeast corner, begin your trip by exploring the city of Jacksonville for a day or two. Jacksonville lays claim to the largest urban park system in the country, stunning beaches and waterways, delicious food, sports, and street art. Some gems of the city include the Jacksonville Zoo, the weekly Riverside Arts Market, and a multi-stop brewery tour throughout some of the city’s best locally-owned brewing facilities.
When it’s time to get a move on, head to Jacksonville Beach and hop on the US 1 south to St. Augustine. St. Augustine is known as the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the Continental United States. With historic town centers, old-timey interpreters tending to restored shops, ghost tours, sightseeing trains and horse-drawn carriages, St. Augustine has a fun antique feel to suit the whole family. Just 60 miles south of St. Augustine is the famous bustling town of Daytona Beach. Known for the historic speedway and spring break crowds, Dayton caters to the rowdier bunch. Feel free to ditch the highway and drive along the 17-mile stretch of sand where cars are permitted. If you’ve ever wanted rip around some sand dunes in a buggy, this is your chance.
Section 2: Daytona to Orlando
A road trip in Florida wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Orlando. Take a detour off the coast and head southwest on the US 4 to one of the United States’ best bucket list destinations. Orlando is an absolute haven for theme park enthusiasts — Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, Magic Kingdom, SeaWorld Orlando, Legoland Florida — the list goes on. Orlando is also a great spot for culture junkies with plenty of options by way of museums, art, nightlife, and culinary scenes. For nature folks, the ecotourism available in Orlando is some of the best in the state. Hop on an airboat tour, kayak through majestic mangrove forests, and even scuba dive in natural springs just 15 minutes outside the city.
Section 3: Orlando to Miami
This strip of coastline along Florida’s Atlantic side is one of the most beautiful routes for road tripping in the entire country. This right here is the reason people buy convertibles. Start out east and head towards Cocoa Beach, a friendly spot known for its waves, chill waterfront bars, and historic fishing pier. Continue about an hour south along the US 1 or A1A and pull over at Vero Beach, the place that justifies this region’s name — “Treasure Coast” — complete with old Spanish shipwrecks and the opportunity to tour them yourself.
A short hour and a half south of Vero and you’ll end up at West Palm Beach, one of the most vibrant cities in the Sunshine State for fine dining, Broadway-quality shows, and state-of-the-art museums. If you’re looking to beat the heat, Rapids Water Park is one of the best in the state that offers everything from thrill rides to family rides and splash zones for kids.
Just a short drive south of West Palm is Miami — Florida’s cultural capital and stomping ground for all things entertainment. Some of the best parts in Miami include Little Havana, a neighborhood with a thriving Cuban scene, the nostalgic 1930s-era Art Deco District, and, for those on wheels, the slow cruise down Ocean Drive.
Section 4: Miami to the Keys
If you’re limited by time or money and are only able to select a section or two from this list, the stretch of highway from Miami down to Key West is simply unmissable. The US 1 tiptoes across a narrow string of limestone and mangrove forests en route to the southernmost tip of the United States. Feel free to rush down to your destination in three and a half hours or take a week to savor it slowly. Along the way you’ll find collections of keys communities with humble Caribbean charm and idyllic white-sand, turquoise-water backdrops. Some highlights worth stopping for are the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the Marine Sanctuary on Key Largo, and countless spots for scuba diving.
Section 5: Key West to Tampa
Looping around the southern tip of Florida, start the back half of your road trip by heading north through Everglades National Park. Perhaps Florida’s most iconic ecological gem, Everglades is a massive collection of wet oases that offer something for every type of road tripper. Pull over at the desolate beachscape of Cape Sable, take in the Shark Valley Panorama, and hike through the Big Cypress National Preserve.
About halfway to Tampa, pull over at Fort Myers and bask in the sunshine anywhere along the seven miles of pristine coastline. Visit the National Shell Museum (seashells, not the oil conglomerate), eat some local seafood, or rent a pedal-powered party boat for an afternoon in the sun. Once you arrive in Tampa for your trip’s finale, make sure you have some energy left in the tank! Visit downtown St. Pete, which has recently been transformed into a hip neighborhood filled with live music and rooftop bars, tube down the Manatee River, go to a Lightning (hockey) game, or hop down the “gulp coast” craft beer trail.