Wednesday 1 February 2023

Florida Family Roadtrip - 15 Places You Must Visit!

"You're going to Florida and not going to Disney?!" was a comment that popped up a lot when we told people about our planned holiday. Of course, thousands of tourists visit Florida each year and head for WDW, but we wanted to do something a little different. And it was a trip that due to Covid, was a few years in the making.

We actually booked the holiday back in 2019 and our original plans included motorhome hire and extensively researched campsites along the way. That holiday got canceled in 2020 so we decided to ditch the RV and campsites and book hotels instead. Tried again in 2021 but Covid had other ideas so it was third time lucky in 2022.

We used good old Google Maps to plan our route and booked our flights and accomodation via Ocean Florida. We used an excel spreadsheet to keep track of our itinerary and I'll be honest, the planning is almost as exciting as the actual holiday!

We flew in and out of Tampa and this worked really well as our starting place. Read on for 15 places we visited on our roadtrip that we'd highly recommend visiting.

Universal Orlando

We LOVE this place and it was high on our to-do list! Universal comprises of three parks: Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios and the most recently opened waterpark Volcano Bay. It is possible to visit both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in one day but I'd highly recommend allocating a day per park as there is SO MUCH TO SEE AND DO!

Universal Studios biggest draw is undoubtably The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley has to be seen to be believed and the attention to detail is second to none. Top tip - look up at Gringotts Bank! The dragon will breathe fire at certain points throughout the day and it's very cool. You can also jump on the Hogwarts Express over to the other park but bear in mind you will need a multi-park ticket for this.

Diagon Alley, Universal Studios Florida

Islands of Adventure is definitely the place to visit if you're a thrill seeker. Here you will find rollercoasters such as the Velocicoaster and Hulk, and a fantastic Marvel area which my kids loved. Top tip - the big rides get very busy so check the app for wait times and consider making these your first port of call as the lines are shorter first thing in the morning.

Elliot regretting his life choices after agreeing to go on the Velocicoaster ;)

It's not all rides and thrills though - there are plenty of brilliant play areas in both parks. My kids loved the Curious George area which had a brilliant soft ball shooting area inside (noisy but cool!) Top Tip - bring a change of clothes and a towel. There is a fantastic splash pad that is just too hard to resist on a hot Florida day!

Where to Stay: We stayed at one of the onsite hotels, the Loews Royal Pacific Resort and although it was pricy, it included express passes for us all which were SO useful on the busy days we visited. Our stay also included early access to the parks which is a great way of hitting those popular rides first.

Disney Springs

If you want a little taster of Disney without going to the parks then a visit to Disney Springs is a must. Here you can find a ton of shops and restaurants including Gideon's Bakehouse where you can pick up one of their famous half-pound cookies. There is a MASSIVE Disney shop which is fun to look around and even a cinema. Top tip - if you need to cool down, head towards the Earl of Sandwich where you will find a splash pad nearby which my kids loved! The sandwiches at the Earl are really good too.

Mickey treats at Disney Springs

Paradise Beach, Melbourne

From Orlando we headed East for the coast and Paradise Beach was an impromtu lunch stop that ended up being a lovely couple hours spent on the beach! As the name suggests, the beach is gorgeous and it makes for a nice stop if you're doing the Orlando - Miami drive. There's a good shaded playarea near the beach plus lots of places to stop for a bite to eat. (We ate lunch at Jake's Crab Shack)

South Beach, Miami

We stayed at the Newport Beachside Resort which was located in North Miami, but we ditched our car and jumped on a bus to take us to South Beach. There didn't seem to be a great deal of parking so public transport made sense!

We started our day by exploring the famous Ocean Drive. Here you can find over 800 beautiful Art Deco buildings and it's a fun spot to have a wander. There are tons of bars and restaurants situated along the road and it gets very lively at night time I've heard. We did find the food places very expensive but there are plenty of cheaper options if you head away from the main thoroughfare. (We had lunch at Fl Cafe on Collins Street)

South Beach is stunning with soft white sand and brilliant blue water. The lifeguard huts are so colourful and made me think of Baywatch!

South Beach, Miami

Wynward, Miami

If you're looking for a bit of culture, head over to the area of Wynward where you will find a hip, colourful neighbourhood best known for it's street art. We just found a parking spot on the road and had a wander, we spotted so many murals and cool art along the way. This is free however you can pay to go inside Wynward Walls, a very cool gallery featuring over 35 hand sprayed murals. An Instagrammers dream!

Wynward Walls, Miami

Wynward is a real up and coming area with lots of great spots to stop for a drink and a bite to eat. We found Zac the Baker via Trip Advisor and had some amazing authentic bagels and sourdough bread.

Little Havana, Miami

For a taste of Cuba, you can't go wrong with a visit to Little Havana. Here you will find an array of Cuban cafes, boutiques and giant rooster statues. You will also find one of Miami's most popular ice-cream shops Azucar. We stopped at Little Havana specifially for the ice-cream and we were not disappointed! They sell every type of flavour you can imagine, plus more including some more unusual ones like bourban and dark cherry and sweet plantain.

Azucar Ice Cream - Little Havana

Bill Baggs State Park, Miami

If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Miami, I would highly recommend heading to Bill Baggs State Park. Located just a few minutes drive from downtown Miami, it is the perfect place for some family time. There is a stunning lighthouse which offers guided tours, or you could hike/swim/fish/paddle/wildlife watch. We spotted a family of raccoons which made our holiday!

Bill Baggs Lighthouse 

The Everglades

A roadtrip in Florida isn't complete without a visit to the Everglades and there is so much to explore, 1.5million acres in fact! Make your first stop at one of the 5 visitors centres where you can pick up maps, check weather and learn about the history of the park. There are lots of easy walking trails nearby - we liked the Anhinga Trail which is located near the Ernest Coe Visitors Centre.

Alligator spotting in the Everglades

If you prefer a guided tour then I'd highly recommend the Shark Valley Tram Tour . Located right in the heart of the Everglades, the tram takes passengers on a 15 mile loop where you will see an abundance of wildlife. At the halfway point, you will be able to climb the impressive 45 foot high observation tower which gives you a stunning view of the Everglades. We loved this trip and ended up being one of the highlights of our trip. We learnt so much from the tour guide and the amount of wildlife we spotted was very impressive.

Top Tip: If you're heading into the Everglades from Miami, look out for Robert is Here, a family owned fruit stand and farm where you can find all kinds of tropical and exotic delights. We loved the cherry milkshakes! Nearby is Everglades Gator Grill and this is a great place to try the local delicacy, alligator bites.

The Keys

Driving from the top of The Keys right down to the bottom is a roadtrip in itself and you could easily spend a couple of weeks here exploring. But if you're pushed for time it is possible to see some great bits in a few hours.

From the Everglades, our first stop was Key Largo which was around an hours drive. There is lots to see on the way though, my kids loved spotting the different animal shaped mailboxes! We ate lunch at The Fish House and we tried fried conch for the first time.

Islamorada was our next destination and here we stopped at the famous Robbie's Marina to feed the tarpon fish. The tarpon are massive and as you dangle your fish into the water, there is nothing like seeing a massive mouth coming up to grab it! Careful of the greedy pelicans though, we almost lost a few fish to them. This is a fantastic and unique experience, our kids loved it and I'd definitely add this to your itinerary if you are heading to the Keys.

Taking a drive along the iconic 7 mile bridge is a Florida Keys Roadtrip must do! There are actually two bridges, the newer one for vehicles and the older bridge for pedestrians. The views are pretty stunning but it is also a perfect spot to catch a famous Keys sunset. We parked up next to the Sunset Grill in Marathon - firstly as it gave us a perfect view of the sun going down behind the bridge and secondly so we could grab some Key Lime Pie to take away. It would be rude not to have Key Lime Pie in the Keys right?!

Sunset over Seven Mile Bridge, The Keys


We spent 4 nights in Naples and it was amazing to kick back and relax after a pretty hectic roadtrip so far. The beaches are stunning and we spent lots of time on Clam Pass Beach - this can be reached by parking in the carpark next to the Naples Grande Beach Resort and heading for the boardwalk. It's a lovely shady walk through the mangroves but if you don't fancy the 3 quarter mile walk then you can jump on the free golf buggies that whizz up and down daily. The beach is clean with calm, warm waters and one of our favourites of the whole trip. 

Naples Pier is a great place to visit at sunset - we loved watching the local kids fishing from the end, one even caught a shark when we were there!

Naples Pier, FL

The restaurant scene is thriving in Naples with plenty of upscale eateries to pick from, but if you fancy a good ol' burger then head from Brooks Burgers which was voted #2 Burger Joint in America on Trip Advisor. 

We stayed at the Hilton in Naples which was a lovely family friendly hotel. Whilst not right in the centre, it was within walking distance to a few restaurants and shops. We enjoyed lots of time in the pool!

Sanibel Island

Sanibel Island* is a shell collectors paradise and you will spoilt for choice with miles of golden sandy beaches to choose from. We went to Gulfside City Park Beach which had toilets/showers/parking and were lucky to get a spot at 9am so bear in mind that the carparking is limited and can get busy. Go early and try and time it with low tide for the best shells! We stopped for lunch at Blue Giraffe Restaurant which was really nice and very welcoming to families.

The rest of the island is beautiful to explore and I'd highly recommend stopping at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. They have a great free Visitor and Education Centre but for a $10 fee you can drive round the 4 mile Wildlife Drive at your leisure. We spotted lots of wildlife whilst we were there including a snake and it was a very relaxing way to see some stunning scenery and learn more about the area.

Wildlife spotting on Sanibel Island

You can't come to Sanibel and not stay for sunset - you will not be disappointed! We headed for Turner Beach for a spectacular sunset and some more shelling :)

Caspersen Beach, Venice

This rugged beach has been given the nickname of the Shark Tooth Capital on the World and is one of the best places in Florida to find shark teeth. Shark can have up to 35,000 teeth in their lifetime (although not at one time!) so just imagine how many can be found along the shore. We went prepared and picked up specialist sifters from Shark Frenzy in nearby Venice but we also picked up some plastic colanders in the Dollar Store which were easier for the kids to use! Shark Frenzy are super helpful and will identify your finds for free too. You can also rent the sifters for a 24 hour period if you don't want to carry your sifter home! Don't forget to take some small ziplock bags to keep your finds in and wear some decent footwear. Flip flops were useless and didn't stay on!

Top tip - visit at low tide for the best chance and concentrate on the area where the waves are hitting the shore, you'll see the sand being churned up and this is where you want to sift through. We actually visited the beach twice in one day and had much better luck in the evening as the sun was setting and the tide edging out.

Historic Downtown Venice

After a day on the beach looking for shark teeth, Historic Downtown Venice is the perfect place to unwind. Grab a pizza at Trattoria Da Mino and then take a wander where you will find lots of quirky shops to browse. You might also spot a mermaid or seahorse on your travels - these are part of a public art project and my kids loved looking for these, they are so colourful. 

You can find fountains in Centennial Park - a great way to cool down in the hot Florida sun!

(To break up our journey between Venice and Clearwater, we had one night at the Embassy Suites by Hilton in Sarasota. This meant we could have a full day in Anna Maria Island before arriving at our final hotel of the trip)

Anna Maria Island

Quite simply put, stepping onto Anna Maria Island is like stepping into paradise. The beaches are some of the best in the world with powdery white sand and clear turquoise water. The island has a real laidback feel and is a world away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities.

For 5* ice cream, head to Two Scoops Ice Cream Parlour - with over 30 flavours to choose from, one scoop won't be enough!

Clearwater Beach

Clearwater was our last stop on our epic Florida roadtrip and we spent two nights at the Marriot Suites on Sand Key. Not only has Clearwater got some of the loveliest beaches in Florida, but it's also a fantastic place to watch a sunset.

Have you ever done an American Roadtrip?!

*Since our trip last year, parts of Florida were hit by major hurricanes. This included Sanibel Island which suffered massive damage. They are rebuilding but this will take time and I hope one day we will get to return and see the beautiful island back at it's best! 

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