5 classic Florida road trips
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Florida* is a favourite American destination for Brits, and with constant sunshine, it's ripe for road-tripping.
This narrow peninsula ribboned with sand packs in a heady mix of encounters, from energetic theme parks, sashaying cities and wild spaces to low-lying islands and unsung treasures, with just enough of everything to entice you back again. Here are five classic Florida road trip ideas to get you in the mood.
Island hopping in the Florida Keys
The Florida Keys are a world apart from the mainland, a total escape from everyday life.
Cruising the Overseas Highway (US1) from Key Largo, past peaceful fishing villages and low-slung sandbar islands lapped by clear teal water, is a big-ticket bucket-list thrill. The closer you edge to Key West, the atmosphere shifts, giving way to a laid-back tropical island-chain feel.
The beauty of this otherworldly journey is slowing right down. Take it in at your own pace, soak up the endless sunsets and horizon. Turn off the road when the mood strikes for fresh seafood on the grill and a Bushwacker cocktail at sunset, to discover old-school roadside attractions, and unspoiled parks.
The John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo is a special sight which, together with Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, protects a portion of the only living coral reef in the continental United States. It's fun to explore on a glass-bottomed boat, snorkelling or diving tour.
Elsewhere, The Turtle Hospital in Marathon is fascinating to visit for a behind-the-scenes look at the hospital facilities and rehabilitation area, and the chance to feed the permanent residents.
Wildlife spotting in the Everglades
The enchanting Everglades National Park is a 1.5-million-acre subtropical wilderness that makes South Florida special.
Often said to resemble a grassy, slow-moving river, hence the nickname 'River of Grass', it's made up of mangroves, sawgrass marshes and pine flatwoods abundant with rare and endangered species, including the leatherback turtle, Florida panther, West Indian manatee, and alligators; lots of them.
A route from the south-eastern Everglades to Everglades City takes in all the beauty of this landscape. Activities to enjoy while you go include kayaking in Flamingo, tram tours in Shark Valley and searching for Bigfoot in Ochopee.
Don't miss a walk along the boardwalk through Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, the largest stand of old-growth cypress trees on the planet, and living giants tower over the primaeval landscape. Some of the trees measure more than 135 in height and are nearly 40 feet in circumference.
Family fun in the big cities
Dazzling white-sand beaches, emerald waters, museums, space centres and theme parks mean Florida has it all to keep kids, and adults, entertained. It's a classic family road trip destination and Miami*, Tampa* and Orlando* all make great starting points.
Orlando is all about Walt Disney World. Even though EPCOT, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios are fun, it's a trip to the Magic Kingdom so many families want to do once in a lifetime.
From Orlando, you're close to Florida's 'space coast' for the Kennedy Space Center. If you time your visit right, you might get to watch a real-life rocket taking flight. For extra dollars, the 'lunch with an astronaut' experience is unforgettable. Not for the buffet, but the connection to a real, live astronaut.
Head south from here to Cocoa Beach, an hour's drive from Orlando, so named for its cocoa-coloured sand. It's also the East Coast's surfing capital, where veteran surfers alongside beginners ride the waves.
Alternatively, inland adventure awaits on Highway 4 to Tampa, home to Glazer Children's Museum, more than 170 interactive exhibits spread across 20 themed areas, and the Hillsborough River with a 2.4-miles river walkway in downtown Tampa.
Tracing the Atlantic Coast
Got more time? A 475-mile drive along the A1A is an epic adventure; the chance to experience many of the Sunshine State's big hits in one swoop.
Start on the unsung Amelia Island on the Florida border with Georgia, and finish in swaggering Miami Beach, with detours aplenty on the way.
Before setting off, stay a while at Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, a highlight to start with 13 miles of clear water, wildlife and relaxation.
Don't miss the colonial quarter in St Augustine, the oldest permanent European settlement in the United States, family-friendly attractions such as Daytona Beach and the space coast, dazzling Miami with its Latin flavour of Miami and, of course, miles and miles of beaches.
Off the beaten track in northern Florida
You've ticked off the Florida Keys and Everglades, and Florida's well-known glitzy cities. Now it's time to consider spending a couple of weeks discovering the unsung treasures of northern Florida.
This fascinating area is known for its Gulf coast white-sand beaches, meandering backroads and byways filled with crystal clear springs and chance encounters with the Florida manatee.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, named by the Seminole Indians, is a must-see place. This family destination founded in 1947 is set around the spring so deep the bottom has never been found.
It's quintessential 'old Florida' at its best, known for its historic mermaid show in which real-life mermaids perform their version of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid live in a submerged 400-seat auditorium.
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