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From the sugary white sands of the Panhandle beaches to the reptile-filled swamps of the Everglades to the quirky culture of Key West—no matter which direction you choose, Florida road trips deliver plenty of family fun. Choose one of these 10 routes — or combine a few depending on how much time you have — and get ready to make some unforgettable family vacation memories.
Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Visit Florida.
Most of my life, road trips have occupied a spot on my family’s summer calendar. The adventures continued with my own kids when they were young. Now, when our schedules align, the grandkids and I uphold this long-standing family tradition. With such a diverse landscape and innumerable family attractions, the Sunshine State makes an ideal place to take to the road with your favorite people.
Pensacola to Apalachicola Florida Road Trip
Florida’s Panhandle makes for a scenic road trip. In Pensacola, start at the National Naval Aviation Museum where my grandson-approved flight simulators and virtual reality experiences add to the exhibits to educate and entertain. Driving east, you’ll pass plenty of Florida beach towns — Panama City Beach and Destin are among our favorites — where you’ll no doubt want to spend a little time in the sun and sand. If your kids are like my grandkids, prepare to be buried in the sand.
For off-the-beach entertainment in Destin, head to The Track. This family recreation center with go-karts, bumper cars and boats, miniature golf, bungee jumping and an arcade will entertain the kids for hours. For dinner, we loved the Back Porch where a long porch and chairs in the sand literally means seafood on the beach. For us, it was a win-win as we lingered over dinner and cocktails and the kids played in the sand.
TravelingMom Tip: Opening hours, rules and regulations (e.g. whether masks are required) are subject to change without warning. Always call ahead or check the website before heading out for the day.
Things to Do Along the Way
Moving further east, Florida’s “forgotten coast” boasts charming small towns like Apalachicola and Carrabelle, stellar fishing and oysters aplenty. Be sure to visit St. George’s Island for a climb to the top of the storied lighthouse. In Carrabelle, you’ll find the world’s smallest police station housed in a phone booth.
The Apalachicola River Paddling Trail Systems offers nearly 100 miles of prime trails for kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. In the nearly 900 square miles of the Apalachicola National Forest, canoeing, kayaking, swimming and hiking keep the kids moving. If you’re up for camping, Wright Lake includes 18 campsites with picnic tables, grills, tent pads and fire rings.
Read More: 11 Shining Florida State Parks
Lake City to the Black Bear Scenic Byway and Beyond
As a Floridian, for years I traveled up and down I-75 without detouring off the highway in Lake City. Don’t do what I did.
Instead, stop to check out this charming town for great eats and intriguing nature. Start the day with breakfast at Shirley’s—a decades-old diner serving up biscuits and gravy, cheese grits and all the diet-busting cuisine a road trip deserves. Then, work off some of those calories at Falling Creek Falls, where a short .6 boardwalk hiking trail leads to a spectacular root beer colored waterfall.
Next, head south to FL-40E to travel along the Black Bear Scenic Byway into the Ocala National Forest. Keep the kids on the lookout for black bears, which can sometimes be seen roadside. Break up the ride with a dip in one of the cool clear springs. With more than 600 springs, rivers and lakes there’s plenty to choose from, but Juniper Springs with its working water wheel is a favorite with our group. While you’re there, stroll along the boardwalk that leads around the back of the spring into more serene nature and a bridge that overlooks Fern Hammock Springs where sand boils bubble up.
Pancakes and Manatees Along the Way
Exiting the forest, continue your spring exploration at DeLeon Springs. We like to arrive in the morning to make our own pancakes at the Old Spanish Mill Grill & Griddle House. Pitchers of batter and a griddle await at each table along with toppings like pecans, chocolate chips and blueberries. It’s messy and delicious!
Continue 15 miles south to Blue Springs State Park. A designated manatee refuge, Blue Springs State Park harbors an estimated 250 to 300 manatees from November through March. Stroll along the boardwalk and watch manatees feed and care for their calves. In warmer months, swimming, canoeing, kayaking and snorkeling take the stage.
Central Florida Backroads
Although widely known for its many theme parks centered in the Orlando area, Central Florida’s backroads make for some of the state’s best road trips. Off U.S. Hwy 192 in Kenansville, Wild Florida Airboats & Gator Park is a thriller. My three grandkids especially loved feeding alligators, speeding through the headwaters of the Everglades and a slow, slow, slow sloth encounter.
For a fun overnight option—and a big winner with my grandson, Benjamin, Westgate River Ranch offers glamping along with a plethora of activities. Try archery, rock-climbing and airboats, or choose a more laid-back experience at the petting zoo.
Things to Do Along the Way
As you travel east on U.S. Hwy 60 to Lake Wales, add Bok Tower Gardens to your list. Although the main attraction at the center of the botanically blessed 250-acre garden remains the 205-foot-tall “singing” tower with its carillon bells, my grandkids adored the Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden. Among the highlights were the riverwalk with fountains, hammocks for giggles and a stage where they displayed their acting skills—a career path we’re not encouraging.
One of the world’s most colorful theme parks, LEGOLAND always draws cheers from my crowd. On hot summer days, the LEGOLAND Water Park makes a big splash with body slides, tube slides, a lazy river and pools. Skip the towels when it’s time to dry off and jump in one of the air dryers to add to the fun.
Lakeland’s Safari Wilderness Ranch surprised us all with its large herds of exotic game roaming free across 260 acres of wilderness. We rode in customized safari vehicles to see ostriches, giraffes, zebras, water buffalo and more to the delight of everyone.
A Barrier Islands & Florida History Road Trip
Travel Florida A1A down the coast from Fernandina Beach to Cocoa Beach for a beachside road trip like no other. From picturesque beachside communities to isolated barrier islands to the Kennedy Space Center and a colorful surf shop, these 210 miles deliver a Florida east coast sampler platter.
Once a pirate’s haven, the Victorian seafood village of Fernandina Beach provides a remarkable blend of chic and beach. Explore a few downtown shops even the kids will love like Villa Villekulla—a Pippi Longstocking-inspired toy store. Stop for lunch at Timoti’s Seafood Shak complete with an enclosed pirate playground. Nearby, Amelia Island State Park offers horseback riding on the beach. Casting a line in the surf or from the mile-long George Crady Fishing Pier keeps the family fisherpeople happy.
Stops Along the Way
Undeveloped and rich in natural beauty, Little Talbot Island boasts more than five miles of pristine beaches. Combing the beach for shark’s teeth always keeps my grandkids entertained. Between Big and Little Talbot Islands, the salt marsh waters make ideal kayaking territory. Hikes through the dunes and driftwood adds adventure.
Scooting on down the road, Florida’s earliest history unfolds in Flagler County at St. Augustine. Explore the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States—you can never go wrong with cannons (or so my grandsons say.) Save a rainy day with a visit to the Pirate & Treasure Museum.
A Sand, Surf and Space Road Trip
While spring breakers flock to Daytona Beach and its infamous boardwalk, our go-to spot is New Smyrna Beach. With no cars on the beach, the kids can build sandcastles, play on their boogie boards and try surfing.
Worth exploring, the 73-acre Smyrna Dunes Park has a two-mile elevated boardwalk that winds through sand dunes. The platform provides primo viewing of marine life, reptiles and unique vegetation. The park also has picnic areas, pavilions and an observation tower.
Florida’s Space Coast
Continuing south, space takes the stage in Cape Canaveral at the Kennedy Space Center. A day surrounded by rockets inspired my youngest grandson. That means I landed in the gift shop buying an astronaut suit.
Located along Florida’s Space Coast an hour’s drive from Orlando, Cocoa Beach’s soft cocoa-colored sand distinguishes it from other beaches. Designated the east coast surfing capital, you’ll find veteran surfers alongside beginners riding the waves. No visit for our family happens without a stop at the massive two-story Ron Jon’s Surf Shop stocked with anything you could possibly need for a beach day including rentals. On the Cocoa Beach Causeway, the kitschy Dinosaur Store’s selection of dinosaur teeth, shrunken heads and arcade games are sure to delight.
Exploring Florida’s Southeast Corner
A1A takes you all the way to Miami with plenty of alluring beaches along the way. For a break from the beach, get out on the water with a River Explorer Boat Tour from Vero Beach. Pontoon boats cruise along the Indian River Lagoon on a guided tour. Be on the lookout for dolphins and manatee.
Further south, the beaches of Palm Beach County offer a multitude of experiences. One of my grandkids’ favorite areas of Florida, we’re always on the lookout for the best kayaking, paddle boarding and snorkeling spots.
Fewer beachgoers and smooth water make Coral Cove Park at the north end of Jupiter a family favorite for a day filled with snorkeling and paddleboarding. When they’re ready to kayak, the Loxahatchee River Center provides the ideal atmosphere.
When you’re ready to refuel, the Dune Dog Café serves up hot dogs and seafood with a fun Caribbean vibe. More sand and sea options as you continue down the Atlantic Coast from Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale and on to Miami’s South Beach, where art deco and Cuban cuisine unite. (Here’s where to get a traditional Cuban breakfast in Miami.)
Naples to Miami via the Tamiami Trail
For an immersion in Florida’s iconic natural wetlands, nothing beats a drive on the Tamiami Trail. Beginning in Naples on Florida’ Gulf Coast, the road travels southeast through the Big Cypress National Preserve, the Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park before reaching Miami.
Live alligators and other intriguing exhibits can be found at the Oasis Visitor Center in Big Cypress National Preserve. In Everglades National Park, Junior Ranger programs keep the kids engaged. Hiking trails, biking trails, canoe trips, airboat rides and tram tours showcase the “river of grass” and its diverse wildlife including the superstar gators. If you’re up for a night in the swamp, front country camping sites Long Pine Key Campground and Flamingo Campground accommodate tents and RV’s.
Fishing and snorkeling await in Biscayne National Park, which is 95% underwater. In Miami, a visit to Little Havana offers a glimpse into Cuban culture and some of the best Cuban food anywhere.
Head Out to Sea: Miami to Key West
Head to the Florida Keys on the 124-mile Overseas Highway. From Miami to Key West, it’s one of Florida’s most scenic drives. Discover underwater wonders as you and the kids snorkel at America’s first undersea park—John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. If you’d rather stay dry, glass-bottom boat tours provide a peek beneath the surface.
Don’t miss the chance to feed the family’s sweet tooth at mile marker 100.5. Here you’ll find the colorful Key Largo Chocolates, which serves incredibly delicious chocolate truffles and ice cream. Try my favorite…key lime pie on a stick!
Things to Do Along the Way
If you have little fishermen in your family like I do, a stop in Islamorada for a family fishing trip guarantees smiles—and maybe even some fish.
Don’t miss the Turtle Hospital in Marathon located at mile marker 48.5. Here volunteers rescue rehabilitate and release sick and injured sea turtles. The daily guided educational tours explain more about these adorable creatures. We even got to meet a few of the loveable patients.
Arriving in Key West, let the kids work off excess energy with a climb to the top of the iconic lighthouse. Key West Aquarium has open tanks to let little hands touch starfish and other mellow sea creatures. End the day at the Mallory Square sunset celebration amid street performers and irresistible conch fritters.
Road Trip in Florida’s Central West Coast
Hugging the Gulf of Mexico, Florida’s West Coast brings more beautiful beaches to the landscape. Beyond the beaches, charming communities offer unique experiences. Explore the sponge docks in Tarpon Springs. Then, watch the kids grow wide-eyed at the realization that sponges don’t only come from Target! Be sure to indulge in a taste of Greece at one of the many Greek restaurants in town.
Clearwater Beach represents the quintessential beach town on Florida’s Gulf Coast. A boardwalk-style promenade lined with shops, restaurants and beachside attractions, the Beach Walk attracts walkers, joggers, roller-bladers, skateboarders and cyclists. Rent bicycles and join the fun.
If you want to venture further, the Pinellas Trail offers an escape into nature. Or, check out the Courtney Campbell Trail—a 9.5-mile bike trail connecting Clearwater to Tampa Bay. Be sure to schedule some time at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium—home of Winter, the star of Dolphin Tale.
Things to Do in Tampa
Venture into Tampa’s downtown district where a 2.4-mile Riverwalk winds alongside the Hillsborough River. Take a break from the sun with a visit to the Glazer Children’s Museum. More than 170 interactive exhibits spread across 20 themed areas will ignite the imagination of your little ones.
My grandkids can never resist a milkshake. If you have the same taste in your family, head to Hyde Park’s iconic Goody Goody. You’ll find tasty burgers, pies, all-day breakfasts, short-order diner plates and milkshakes in a classic American diner atmosphere.
Exploring Florida’s Southwest Corner
Continuing south from Tampa Bay, more sugary white sand beaches unfold in places like St. Pete Beach, Anna Maria Island, Sarasota and Venice. You’re literally spoiled for choice when it comes to the Sunshine State’s Gulf Coast beaches.
But, if you continue to Florida’s Southwest coast toward Fort Myers, you’ll find Sanibel Island. Arguably one of Florida’s prettiest beaches, Sanibel boasts soft white sand, an abundance of seashells and a laid-back vibe. Be sure to check out the J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Preserve. This 6,400-acre pristine mangrove estuary provides sanctuary to dolphins, manatees, countless reptiles, and more than 252 species of birds.
Whatever road you choose, you’re certain to return home with priceless memories of your family’s fun Florida road trip. Drive safe!