Florida has many faces. I should know. I've driven through most of them. For seven years, it was my job to drive as a sales rep across the great state of Florida. I saw many sides of Florida, from orange groves to ocean coves, and loved them all.
While I saw a lot of interstate in my travels, once you get off the beaten path, you will be surprised what you can experience from your car. While there are many more amazing drives than I have time to mention, here are a few of my favorite Florida roadways and experiences.
I always love driving through Florida's islands and beaches. Every one had a distinctive flair. Even though I was working in a suit, I enjoyed spying on the sun worshippers from my car window. The lobster-tinted tourists with their big beach balls and other inflatable paraphernalia, flip flops, and sun hats walking to the beach made me feel like I was on vacation with them.
I would put the windows down as I drove by the white sandy beaches of Pensacola and breath in the salty air. I would pull over and admire the beautiful sunsets off of Marco Island. And, I would watch the storms come in off of Anna Maria Island from the pier restaurant, or drive along Bradenton Beach on Tamiami Trail, enjoying the sand sculptures.
But, one of my favorite islands to visit was Sanibel. It was a tiny island just a bit over 33 square miles, but it was truly a natural paradise get away for me. I must admit, while there I didn't do much driving in my car. I packed my bike, parked, and enjoyed the numerous biking trails around the quiet nature sanctuary. I brought my camera and snapped shots of dolphins playing a few feet off beach, sparkling flowers at the botanical gardens, and soaring osprey's catching their dinner.
I love space exploration. The drive across the state from my home in Bradenton is beautiful enough. But the feeling of excitement when crossing the causeway and seeing the shuttle set to launch at the Kennedy Space Center is almost tangible. One of my best memories is watching the shuttle rocket off towards space, leaving a mysterious plume of smoke behind to catch the sunset in the most amazing finale.
This priceless national treasure is one of Florida's best-known preservations. I have made numerous drives through the Everglades along Alligator Alley, the road between Ft. Lauderdale and Naples. It is correctly named, as I have seen the largest alligators from my car simply swimming the canals lining the roadway. This part of the interstate has great nature eye candy, and it is always my favorite part of the drive across southern Florida.
The Sunshine Skyway Bridge
Rated by the Travel Channel as one of the Top 10 Bridges in the World, this drive is a must for those not afraid of heights. Driving up the bridge, I often feel as if I am climbing to the clouds. The view of Tampa Bay from the 431 ft apex is staggering. You just have to watch out for sea birds, who probably wonder why all these cars are driving through the sky.
Siesta Key / Lido Beach
It's hard to not mention Siesta Key and Lido, as I spend a lot of my time there. Siesta Key's sand feels more like baking flour, and the view is spectacular, which is why it is frequently ranked the top beach in the US. Taking your sandals off once you reach the white powder is mandatory to obtain the complete experience. I also loved to drive by the Kissing Statue in Sarasota, cross the bridge taking in the city skyline behind, and drive to St. Armand's Circle for a fun day shopping. Of course, the day wouldn't be complete unless you catch the sunset at Lido Beach with some Kilwin's Ice Cream.
If you love history, than a drive and visit to St. Augustine is in order. St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement and port in the continental US. You will experience the city's rich history through its architecture, museums, and cobblestone streets. Make sure to get out of your car and stroll along the historic district, eat at a cafe, and even stay in a quaint bed and breakfast. This old city has plenty of new ways to enchant you.
Florida has plenty of ocean roadways, but one of the most famous is the A1A. Stretching from Key West to the Georgia border, the A1A takes you along the east coast of Florida, offering ocean-view and scenic driving at its best.
The Florida Keys
This list wouldn't be complete without mentioning the drive along the Florida Keys. From Key Largo to Key West, you will cross 42 bridges, including the Seven Mile Bridge. While being dazzled by the peaceful ocean views, don't forget to explore the natural beaches and quirky shops that give the experience additional character. The sun-kissed encounters will leave you with lasting memories.