I love a road trip and decided it was time to explore Florida, somewhere I think is a bit underrated. The beauty of a car is that it allows you to see so much more and gives you a great sense of freedom. Here’s some tips on hiring and driving a car in America.
There is so much more to Florida than just Disney. Of course I found time to squeeze that in at the end but I also enjoyed two weeks exploring the alternative side to the state.
Miami (4 days)
After landing in Orlando a 7pm we made the crazy decision to drive straight down to Miami, which is about a 4 hour drive. After huge jetlag and long delays, I don’t recommend it. I’d stay one night in Orlando and make the drive fresh and alert.
We explored Miami on foot or used uber and so left the car parked the whole time. Miami is a pretty big place with five awesome neighbourhoods to explore outlined below. That’s why we wanted to spend a good chunk of time here.
1. Bay side is a lively harbour with lots of shops, live music and bars. The walk through Downtown to get to the Bay side isn’t how I pictured Miami at all. It’s very contemporary with sky high, shiny buildings.
3. The Design District was a surprise highlight for us. Very up market, clean and classy with a free Modern Art Museum. Grab an instagrammable milkshake from Mad Lab and brunch at the prettiest spot, OLT.
4. South Beach has the longest beach I’ve ever seen. The buildings are totally art deco, very Miami, and the streets are lined with palm trees. There’s also the south pier and parks to explore.
5. Little Havana was our favourite place. It’s an authentic cuban area with friendly locals and funky music. Ball and Chain is the place to dance and you can even make friends with those playing dominoes in the park.
(AD) We stayed in the cool and colourful James Hotel that was cheap, had parking included and was a short walk to the beach.
Marathon (2 days)
On the way to Marathon we stopped off at Robert is Here, a fruit and veg store off the beaten track! Don’t miss this if you’re in the area. Marathon is one of many small islands in The Florida Keys and acted as a rest stop. What’s the main reason we choose here? Because you can visit The Turtle Hospital! We also strolled along Sombrero beach to watch the sunset. I was blown away by the gorgeous soft sand and calm sea.
(AD) We stayed in Sea Dell Motel, which had free parking. It was comfortable, clean and close to the supermarkets/restaurants.
Key West (1 day)
Key West is one of those places that’s on a lot of people’s wish lists. It’s the southernmost point of Florida and a proper tropical destination with a world famous scenic drive. We visited for a day and here’s my guide to the top things to do in Key West.
Everglades (Half day)
On our way back from Key West we stopped back off in Marathon for the night before rising early for a drive to The Everglades. No visit to Florida is complete without visiting the famous National Park. I highly recommend The Shark Valley Tram Tour, which you can read about here.
After spending a few hours in the Everglades we started our drive to Naples but stopped off at The Ochopee Post Office, which is the smallest post office building in the United States. It is a tiny shed on U.S. Route 41, zip code 34141. We had a lovely chat with the postman who sits in the shack all day. For a couple of dollars you can buy a postcard and send it anywhere in the world!
Naples/Sanibel (1 day)
Funny story… we were meant to have 2 days in Naples but totally messed up. We stayed one night and checked out the next day to drive to Clearwater. It worked out well as we had more time in Clearwater to do some cool things but was a little stressful. So we didn’t see Naples at all! Sorry!
We stopped off at Clam Pass beach, recommended by a local. After an hour exploring we drove to Sanibel Island – the most beautiful place in Florida. We rested on the beach, paddled in the water, walked to the lighouthouse, ate in Over Easy Cafe and shopped at Suncatchers – a kitsch gift shop. We met the most wonderful owners and eneded up nattering for ages.
(AD) We stayed at Naples Garden Inn, which had breakfast included and a hotel pool. Again, lots of free parking, which was a must.
Clearwater / Crystal River (3 days)
After trying to check in to our hotel only to be told we were a day early, doh, we frantically booked the cheapest place in the city instead. There was a huge fireworks party that evening so Clearwater Beach was fully booked. Clearwater was the most relaxing part of our holiday as we mainly chilled out on the beach, ate lots of yummy food and took some awesome trips. Here’s the best 6 places to eat and top things to do in Clearwater.
On one of our days we decided to take a 2 hour drive up to Crystal River. Why? So we could kayak with a manatees that’s why! Make sure you read about the experience and book a trip for yourself. You can even snorkel with them too!
We were very happy with our stay in Sta’n Pla. The rooms felt very upmarket and the hotel had services like free beach chairs and parasols.
Disney (2 and a half days)
After a relaxing time in Clearwater, we were ready to for two intense days at Disney, my childhood dream come true. We enjoyed a day at Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, simply driving up each time. Here’s the ultimate guide to Disney for first timers.
(AD) We stayed in Seralago Hotel & Suites Main Gate East, which was the cheapest we could find and only a short drive to the parks. It was touristy and very disney-fied but did the job for two nights.
From Disney we drove straight to Orlando airport, which was about a half hour drive. Phew! And that takes us to the end of our two week road trip around Florida.
Florida is a state rich in wildlife with stunning natural features, awesome attractions and award winning beaches. It was our most relaxing road trips to date and definitely showed us an alternative side to Florida that isn’t shouted about enough.
Florida Road Trip Timetable
|5||Marathon||Key West||50||1hr 5|
|9||Clearwater||Crystal River||76||2hr 15|
We hope you enjoy your time in the sunshine state. Let us know in the comments if you’ve been before or found this guide useful.