Road Trip Adventure!
It makes sense that in a state that hosts one of the world’s most recognizable racing events, road tripping is an excellent way to spend your vacation in Florida. The state’s variety of scenery adds some diversity to your views as you drive, from busy downtown streets to oceanfront roads. These are the kinds of road trip where the journey is just as thrilling as the destination, with exciting little pit stops on your way between attractions. Here are three road trips you really need to try this summer!
Jacksonville to St. Augustine
Trip mileage: 47 miles
Beginning in the bustling city of Jacksonville, you will find many places to stop along your journey to St. Augustine. Though only 50 miles apart, these cities represent completely different places in time; Jacksonville is known for being fast-paced, modern, and a great place for young people to live, whereas St. Augustine is recognized for preserving some of Florida’s most iconic historical landmarks and lets visitors virtually step back in time. Along the way, you will stop in sunny Jacksonville Beach, and visit the unforgettable Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park.
Your first transition in scenery comes when you journey from downtown Jacksonville to Jacksonville Beach via scenic highway 90. Jacksonville is an ever-growing metropolitan area built around the beautiful St. Johns River. In recent years, this city’s bustling atmosphere and increasing health, fitness, and recreational offerings have drawn many young people to settle down. This trend has breathed new life into the city, and encouraged the arts and cultural scene as well as the nightlife. While an entire vacation could be spent here, you have many places to be! Get some fresh air and exercise before your car trip with a stop at the Downtown Riverwalk for a morning walk. Following the scenic St. Johns River that runs through the city, you can experience the tranquility of the water along with the upbeat vibe of the city.
Now that you’ve gotten your fill of fresh air, you can easily hop in the car and head out to Jacksonville Beach. While not an altogether long trip, you will already note the change of scenery as it transitions from urban to beach environment. Jacksonville Beach offers 22 miles of beaches, and is the birth of the “Salt Life” movement, with a cornucopia of beach offerings from watersports and dolphin-watching to beach volleyball and surfing. We recommend you take a pit stop at the Salt Life Food Shack, an upbeat restaurant with an eclectic menu that sits just a short walk from the beachfront. And, if you happen to be staying in the area, the Beachside Buggies service will pick you up and take you where you want to go, including FREE rides to the Shack!
As you drive to your next destination on the oceanside A1A Highway, you can see why the Spanish conquistadors were so interested in exploring this area, thanks to its immense beauty. One of the most famous explorers to visit here was Ponce de Leon in the 1500s, who firmly believed that this is where he would discover the legendary “Fountain of Youth.” And he wan’t entirely wrong; after all, during your drive you will certainly feel the invigorating, youthful feeling of excitement as the sunshine beams down on you and the ocean breezes ruffle your hair. Your next stop, Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, may not be the source of eternal youth, but it will be a source of fantastic memories. The park marks the birthplace of “La Florida,” as Ponce de Leon named it, with 15 acres of exhibits, gardens, and reenactments to enjoy. See Spanish cannons fired off, listen to costumed interpreters tell their story of founding this new world, and learn the fate of the Native Timucua Indians in a re-creation of their village. If you’ve brought your pet pal along, Fido is welcome to explore the park, too! Don’t miss the chance to actually drink from the very spring that Ponce de Leon thought offered youth.
It’s only a short hop from the park to downtown St. Augustine, where you can settle in for the evening. As you enter the city, you feel as if you’ve been transported to another time; as the oldest permanent European Colony in America. Many visitors to Florida don’t realize that it was colonized by Spanish explorers in the 1500s, long before the Pilgrims landed up north. St. Augustine offers sweeping landscapes of tall, stately historic buildings, with costumed interpreters walking many of the pedestrian-friendly streets and completely unique shops, restaurants, and hotels everywhere you turn. We recommend hitting up St. George Street at the heart of the city to experience the authentic St. Augustine vibe. Also, this is another spot where Spot is welcome, thanks to many pet-friendly restaurants and hotels. On Thursday evenings through September you can take a stroll to the Plaza de la Constitución to enjoy their FREE summer concert series (7-9 p.m.) with local musicians performing in the park gazebo.
Where to stay:
The Omni Jacksonville Hotel sits on the banks of the St. Johns River which flows through the downtown, offering stunning views and contemporary luxury. Located close to the popular business district, the Main Street Bridge, and only 20 minutes from the airport, the Omni Jacksonville adds a sense of ease to your travel plans. Relax poolside while enjoying views of the river and skyline, or grab a bite to eat at their onsite restaurant and bar.
In the heart of downtown St. Augustine’s historic district is a very unique hotel: The Collector Luxury Inn & Gardens, which occupies a group of 18th century buildings that surround a lush tropical courtyard. This 30-suite hotel combines modern amenities, upscale services, and the charm of a bed and breakfast to bring you an unparalleled luxury experience. Enjoy a seasonally heated pool, open air bar, and fire pits for cozy evening gatherings. You will also be within a short walk or drive of St. Augustine’s most iconic attractions.
New Smyrna Beach to the Canaveral National Seashore
Trip mileage: 51 miles
Many visitors to Florida’s Atlantic Coast use New Smyrna Beach as a jumping-off point for adventures, thanks to its ideal location between Daytona Beach and the Space Coast. On this trip, you’ll start off in NSB and head north to the Ponce Inlet to see an incredible lighthouse, then head south to the breathtaking Canaveral National Seashore, with most of your trip taking place on the scenic A1A highway.
We recommend an early start to make the most out of your day, and your first assignment is to fuel up on a hearty breakfast. On your way north out of town, stop at Mom’s Home Cooking, which offers delightful homestyle breakfast dishes in a cozy setting with fast service. We recommend one of Mom’s Belgian waffles (with strawberries and whipped cream, of course).
From there, you’ll drive along the oceanfront through Port Orange to reach Ponce Inlet, where you will soon see the beautiful Ponce Inlet Lighthouse standing majestically over the seashore. Maintained and operated by the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Association, the lighthouse sees over 170,000 visitors every year and is one of the best-preserved lighthouses in the nation. The tallest lighthouse in Florida, you will climb 203 steps to reach the top - and we promise, it’s worth it! At the top of this 175 foot tower you’ll get 360-degree views of Daytona Beach, the inlet, and surrounding trees and waterways. The lighthouse keepers’ quarters have been converted to a museum with intriguing exhibits.
Hop back into your car venture south, passing through New Smyrna Beach to head towards the ocean, traveling along one of the most scenic stretches of road in the part of the coast (we hope your car has a sun roof to open or a top you can put down). You will eventually reach Apollo Beach, the northernmost access point to the Canaveral National Seashore. This 57,000 acre national park is nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River and features one of the longest stretches of pristine coastline in the U.S., with endangered species like sea turtles finding refuge here since ancient times. Find the same tranquility here that was enjoyed by the original Natives and early settlers, with miles of uncrowded beach to enjoy and few sounds other than the crashing of the ocean waves. Depending on which part of the Shores you visit, there are hiking trails, campsites, seaside horseback riding, a restored turn-of-the-century home and a museum and information center. If you travel even further south to the southernmost access point at Playalinda Beach, you could even see rocket launches from the nearby Kennedy Space Center!
Where to Stay:
Overlooking the Indian River North is the Black Dolphin Inn, an upscale bed and breakfast in one of New Smyrna Beach’s historic neighborhoods just minutes from the beach. Once the home of a wealthy resident, the inn has been lovingly restored to feature a smart, updated style combined with vintage furniture and fine art. Spacious private balconies offer romantic moments overlooking the water, while the private dock is great for sunbathing or fishing (just borrow a pole from the front desk). The inn will take care of your beach needs, too, providing everything from tote bags and coolers to towels, chairs, and umbrellas. blackdolphininn.com
Fort Myers to Sanibel Island
Trip mileage: 19 miles
The bustling Gulf Coast city of Fort Myers may feature quite a different atmosphere than the quiet island of Sanibel, but the two are only a short drive apart. Along the way you’ll see one of the most iconic historic estates on this coast, and finish off with sunset views at a lighthouse.
Your morning begins with a stroll through downtown Fort Myers’ beautiful River District, packed with unique shops and eateries in perfectly-preserved historic buildings with intriguing architecture. We certainly recommend stopping by Main Street Antiques & Collectibles to pick up a completely unique souvenir, gift, or home decor piece. If you need a bit of a caffeine boost, walk over to the Green Cup Cafe, which offers specialty coffee drinks, bubble tea, and organic bites.
It’s only a five minute drive to the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, located at the southwest corner of town on the Caloosahatchee River. Previously the vacation home of not one, but two famous historic figures, the inventor Thomas Edison and the auto magnate Henry Ford shared adjoining estates that now make up this incredible 21-acre historic attraction. See their majestic homes, curious outbuildings (including a fascinating laboratory!) and the blooming gardens that offer 1,700 plants and 400 species. There is also the museum, which features artifacts including Ford’s early cars. Stop by the garden shop on your way out to take home one of the lovely tropical plants for yourself!
Drive through the rest of the city area, which will slowly transition to more residential scenery, along McGregor Blvd. to the Sanibel Causeway. The bridge toll to Sanibel is cash-only at $6 for cars, $2 for motorcycles, and free for bicycles, with no toll when leaving the island. Enjoy the breathtaking scenery as you leave Fort Myers behind and journey over the causeway to the idyllic Gulf island. You may even be able to catch a glimpse of your next stop, the Sanibel Lighthouse, which sits at the eastern tip of the island. This lighthouse was built in 1884, and was restored by the City of Sanibel in 2013. Enjoy exploring the grounds, taking photos, and venturing over to the beach area to look for colorful shells or dip your toes in the water. sanibellighthouse.com
Where to Stay:
At the very heart of the downtown Fort Myers River District is the Hotel Indigo Fort Myers, an upscale boutique hotel in a historic property across the street from the federal courthouse. The hotel features modern, sophisticated rooms with views of the city and the river, and plenty of space to spread out and relax. The hotel takes inspiration from the artistic vibe of the city, featuring artwork in the rooms and lobby, a mural at their rooftop pool painted by a local artist, as well as monthly Music Walks featuring local musicians.
Just a short stroll from the Sanibel Lighthouse and steps from the shell-strewn sands of the beaches, the Sanibel Island Beach Resort offers sanctuary on the shore. This boutique hotel exudes classic Old Florida charm, with modern coastal decor and rooms with ocean views, hammocks swaying amidst palm trees, an outdoor pool, and bike rentals to explore the island. Enjoy fresh island fare at their Sandollar Kitchen & Bar, or order a frozen margarita poolside from their tiki bar.