Escape Winter with These Florida Road Trips

Florida Road Trips
Photo: Shutterstock

Take a road trip during an unconventional time of year!

Road trips seem like a spring, summer, and autumn vacation plan. But, if you think about it, winter might be the ideal time to hit the road – especially if you live in a cold climate. Escape the ice, snow and frigid temperatures by flying south to Florida and road-tripping in the sunshine. Hey, retirees do it every year, why shouldn’t you?

Scenic drives abound in this tropical landscape. Whether you prefer a coastal drive through history, a Central Florida wildlife-focused drive, or a drive across the ocean to the end of the road in Key West, these three scenic routes provide plenty of entertaining options for Florida road trips.

Related: Solid Footing for What the Road Throws Your Way: Michelin CrossClimate2, the Truly All Season Tire Review

Flagler College In St. Augustine On A Florida Road Trip

Flagler College in St. Augustine Photo: Terri Marshall

Road Trip through History

Along the 72 miles of the A1A Scenic & Historic Coastal Byway, you’ll discover an enchanting mix of nature’s beauty and America’s history. This mostly two-land roadway begins at the northern boundary of St. Johns County in the luxury seaside village of Ponte Vedra Beach. Here golf, tennis and beach recreation set the mood.

Travel 26 miles south and you’ll enter St. Augustine – America’s oldest city. Packed with historical sites, St. Augustine has witnessed history dating from the Spanish conquest in the 1400s to the Civil Rights protests in the 1960s. Devote a few days to this stop on your road trip because there’s much to explore.

Architectural gems line the city’s pristine streets. The focal point of historical St. Augustine, Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort in the continental U.S. and a National Monument. If you’re looking for oddities, the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium housed in the former Castle Warden Hotel delivers. Next, visit the St. Augustine lighthouse and museum. Climb to the top and you’ll get a 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape.

Related: Not Just Swanky: The Mercedes-Benz Museum Showcases Luxury and History

St. Augustine Lighthouse On A Florida Road Trip

St. Augustine Lighthouse Photo: Terri Marshall

Further down the highway in Marineland, visit one of Florida’s first marine mammal parks billed as the world’s first oceanarium. Swim with the dolphins in the Marineland Dolphin Encounter.

For those who enjoy paddling, meet up with a naturalist guide with Ripple Effect Eco-Tours just across the street. Kayak through 76,000+ acres of protected lands that make up the GTM National Estuarine Research Reserve estuary system.

Continuing south, quiet areas with uncluttered beaches beckon. Take a break and leave your footprints in the cinnamon-colored sand before heading on down the road.

Florida Road Trips

Beach on the A1A Scenic & Historic Coastal Byway Photo: Terri Marshall

Where to Stay

Located on A1A, Beacher’s Lodge keeps you on track with your scenic drive plans. This condo/hotel offers oceanfront suites. Each comes with a patio or private balcony overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Add to that beach access and a sizable pool and your winter dream becomes a reality!

What to Drive

For a combination of style and practicality, you can’t beat the Hyundai Santa Cruz. You’ll have plenty of comforts as you cruise along this beachside highway and still have room for a couple of beach chairs in the back. Read more about the Hyundai Santa Cruz here.

Road Trip Through Florida’s Wildlife

Silver Glen Springs On The Black Bear Scenic Byway In Florida Road Trips

Silver Glen Springs on the Black Bear Scenic Byway Photo: Shutterstock

Explore Florida’s inland gems by traveling along the Black Bear Scenic Byway into the Ocala National Forest. A departure from Florida’s typical beach roadways, this route traverses some of the state’s most pristine ecosystems. Highlights along this interior roadway include the Juniper Springs Wilderness Area. Here you’ll find a working water wheel and a boardwalk that leads around the back of the spring for a serene escape into nature.

Another popular stop, Silver Glen Springs includes a day-use recreation area and an important archaeological site. The crystal-clear spring water maintains a constant year-round temperature of 73 degrees. Even in winter, you can jump in for a refreshing swim. Better yet, bring your snorkeling gear and meet the fish beneath the surface. Once a village site, Silver Glen Springs harbors fossilized snail shells and ancient household items all beneath a peaceful canopy of live oaks.

Related: Seeing the Real Florida: Kayaking the Mangrove Marsh

Florida Wildlife For A Florida Road Trip

Iconic Florida wildlife on the Black Bear Scenic Byway Photo: Shutterstock

As you travel this route, keep an eye out for resident black bears. You’ll possibly run into a few Florida alligators along the way too especially near waterways like the St. John’s River. Venture beyond the Byway to Blue Spring State Park in Volusia County to see the park’s many winter visitors – manatees. With the water maintaining a constant 72-degree temperature, these gentle giants make their way from the St. John’s River into the springs during the winter months. Each morning the park rangers count the manatee and record the number visiting for the day. Recently the manatee occupancy rose to a record-breaking 729 thanks in part to a brief cold front.

Manatee Sculpture At Blue Spring State Park In Florida

Manatee sculpture at Blue Spring State Park Photo: Terri Marshall

Where to Stay

Located near DeLand, Florida just 10 miles from Bleu Spring State Park, Hontoon Landing Resort and Marina sits along a bend in the St. Johns River. Located directly across the river from Hontoon Island State Park, the resort provides an ideal home base for exploring.

What to Drive:

As you make your way through the Ocala National Forest, you’ll likely want to wander down some of the dusty dirt trails off the main road. Nothing works better for that than a Subaru Outback Wilderness. Learn more about this ideal off-roading SUV here.

Road Trip to the End of the Road

Destination Key West On Florida Road Trips

The southernmost point in the continental USA Photo: Shutterstock

Take the road trip even further from the snowy north with a trip to the Florida Keys along the Overseas Highway. Often referred to as “The Highway that Goes to Sea,” Florida’s Overseas Highway connects Miami to Key West by a 124-mile roadway that sits atop a vast expanse of clear turquoise water.

Originally part of Henry Flagler’s short-lived East Coast Railroad extension, the highway was built after the railroad was destroyed in a 1935 hurricane. Take your time and discover secluded islands, historic shipwrecks and some of the best fishing holes in the country. And if you time it right, you’ll be treated to one of the most spectacular sunrises or sunsets of your life.
Highlights along the way include underwater wonders at America’s first undersea park—John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. Don’t miss the Turtle Hospital in Marathon where volunteers rescue, rehabilitate, and release injured sea turtles.

The Turtle Hospital On A Florida Road Trip

Turtle Hospital in Marathon Photo: Terri Marshall

In Key West, the land of Jimmy Buffett and Ernest Hemingway emerges. Located at the end of the road, Old Town Key West offers an abundance of interesting attractions including the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum and the Key West Lighthouse. Jump on the Conch Train Tour to learn about the sights and characters of this quirky city.

Take a break from the tourist scene and experience the only frost-free, sub-tropical, natural conservation habitat, native plant botanical garden in the continental US at Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden. And don’t forget to toast the sunset at the Mallory Square sunset celebration amid street performers and irresistible conch fritters.

Florida Road Trips Fun In The Sun

Sunset at Lime Tree Bay Resort Photo: Terri Marshall

Where to Stay

As you make your way through the Florida Keys, spend a night or two at the Lime Tree Bay Resort. Located between Islamorada and Marathon you can’t beat the laid-back vibe in this place. Featuring a private quarter-mile white-sand beach with hammocks and tiki huts, you’ll have a front-row seat to those famous Florida Keys sunsets. Amenities include complimentary use of kayaks, paddleboards, bikes and more.

At the end of the road in Key West, jump into party mode at Margaritaville Beach House Key West. Here chandeliers are made from margarita glasses. And, you’ll be handed a margarita at check-in! A complimentary resort shuttle transports you to and from Old Town Key West attractions.

What to Drive

Cruising across the ocean on the overseas highway calls for a topless vehicle to allow you to soak up all that Florida sunshine. You want something fun too, so maybe a Jeep is the way to go! Read more about why Jeep owners love love love their vehicles here.

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Terri Marshall grew up road-tripping around the country. Her love for the open road remains strong today. A travel... More about Terri Marshall