One of the most unique trips any Floridian can embark on is a sunrise to sunset Florida road trip. Such a trip consists of waking up to the sunrise on the east coast, driving across the state, and ending the day by watching the sunset on the west coast. This trip is easy to accomplish with a little planning.
My husband and I dreamed of having such a trip together back when we were dating, but we didn’t fulfill that dream until our second wedding anniversary. It was everything we hoped it would be, but it took some planning to make it happen. Read on for our tips and recommended itinerary for planning a sunrise to sunset Florida road trip of your own.
More road trip ideas:
Selecting Your Destination on the East Coast
The key to a successful sunrise to sunset Florida road trip is to make it a two-day venture. We booked an overnight stay in Cocoa Beach. I selected Cocoa Beach for a few reasons: I have fond memories of family trips there, and it is an easy destination to access from where we live in Central Florida.
Other recommended locations: New Smyrna Beach, Vero Beach and Daytona Beach.
Sunrise in Cocoa Beach
In the morning we woke up, put a pot of coffee on, and walked about 100 feet from our room’s front door to the beach. Set your alarm for 45 minutes before the sunrise so you have plenty of time to wake up and watch the full sunrise in all its glory.
We wanted to dip our toes in the water so we continued further to the shore. The peace and quiet of this moment took my breath away. Just me, my husband, and our little boy there on the beach, we stood barefoot as the waves came crashing in and the sky changed from purple to pink to orange.
After spending some time on the beach, we headed back to our hotel's outdoor lounge area. I made myself at home in a hammock while my husband sat beside me in a wooden chair and our son conversed with the tiny bunny rabbit beneath our feet. A pure moment. We explored the rest of the sitting area once the sun had fully risen before heading back to our little cottage for breakfast.
Where to Stay
We opted for oceanfront accommodations so that we could simply wake up and either sit on our balcony to watch the sunrise or walk just a few feet out to the beach. After searching a few hotels and Airbnb / VRBOs I came across Beach Place Guesthouses.
What sealed the deal for me was the beachfront and lounge areas suited for watching the sunrise. Perks include comfortable Adirondack and lounge chairs, tables and chairs, a few hammocks, and even firepits and grills. The $12 resort fee includes these amenities plus complimentary beach equipment including chairs, boogie boards, and toys. Plus there is a “family room” with a book library, movies, and a large format TV.
Our toddler son came along with us so we needed extra space. Beach Place Guesthouses offers accommodations with multiple bedrooms and full-size kitchens. We selected a one bedroom which was perfect for our family and nicely appointed.
Other oceanfront accommodations:
- Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront: 1550 N Atlantic Ave; (321) 799-0003
- Westgate Cocoa Beach Resort: 3550 N Atlantic Ave; (321) 783-2230
Driving Across the State
After a leisurely morning, we packed up our car and hit the road to drive across the entire state of Florida. We had planned out the perfect pit stop along the way: Walt Disney World. It took just over an hour to get from the resort to our next destination. After some deliberating, we decided upon a stop at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. I knew the resort had enough interesting details for us to explore and I wanted to introduce one of my favorite dining spots to my husband.
Geyser Point is an outdoor restaurant that is part lounge and part lake house. There is a plentiful selection of craft beer, Pacific Northwest wine, cocktails, mocktails, and great eats. After a delicious meal we were able to explore the entire resort grounds. Soon we were back on the road. It took just over an hour and a half to get from Walt Disney World to the Tampa area.
Lunch and a stroll around Disney Springs would be a good alternative.
Sunset in Clearwater Beach
We headed out to Clearwater Beach around 4pm with the sunset's last light slated to be at 7:12pm. Here again, the last light does not mean the experience of the sunset is over, as many of the rich colors and hues come about once the sun is no longer visible on the horizon. We parked at one of the major parking garages on Coronado Drive.
I cannot visit the Clearwater area and not eat at Frenchy’s, it just feels wrong. This local eatery is known for grouper sandwiches and has blossomed with multiple locations in the Clearwater and Dunedin area. We dined at the Frenchy’s South Beach Cafe location so that we were close to Pier 60.
After dinner we strolled along the sidewalk right next to the beach. Cars cruised by as families played on the popular beach. We made our way toward Pier 60 where there is a nightly sunset celebration. Vendors, performers, and other activities line the pier for about two hours before sunset and continue to entertain guests until two hours after sunset.
Soon on the horizon we witnessed sail boats, yachts, and a pirate ship voyage out on the ocean. I turned around to see the tall hotels, several with rooftop sunset viewing areas dotted with fellow sun worshippers. Here we were, we ventured across the entire state, chasing the sun. The contrast between the quiet morning with just the three of us on the beach compared to the commotion of Clearwater Beach stood out in my mind. Still, it was a perfect ending to a perfect Florida day.
Other Florida destinations on the West Coast that would be lovely to watch the sunset and easy to get to include St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Anna Maria Island, Madeira Beach, Honeymoon Island, Siesta Key, or Crystal River.
Where to Stay
You can either head home after sunset or extend your getaway with another overnight stay in Clearwater Beach. During my time working in the hotel industry I developed a love for the Westin brand, thanks to its focus on wellness (the shower and beds are marketed as being “heavenly” and I am disinclined to argue).
The Westin Tampa Bay is an ideal location if you wish to stay in the Tampa Bay area. It is surrounded by water so practically every room has a water view. There is also a tiny little beach for sitting in the sand and enjoying the view of the bay. One downfall is this hotel is now valet parking only. This hotel is a nice choice for couples, but it was rough with a toddler in tow.
Other accommodations in Clearwater Beach:
- Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa: 301 S Gulfview Blvd; (727) 373-1234
- Clearwater Beach Marriott Suites on Sand Key: 1201 Gulf Boulevard; (727) 596-1100
- Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa: 400 Mandalay Ave; (727) 461-3222
- Sandpearl Resort: 500 Mandalay Ave; (727) 441-2425
Tips and Information
- Map out your sunrise to sunset Florida road trip well in advance. Make sure your sunrise destination is compatible with your sunset destination. For example, if starting the day in St. Augustine it would not make that much sense to end the day down in Sarasota.
- Fall and winter are better times to do this trip because of the pleasant weather and shorter daylight hours.
- Check the exact location of your accommodations so you know if you’ll be able to roll out of bed and onto the beach for sunrise and easily get back to your accommodations after a long, but fun day traversing the state.
- Plan a prolonged pit stop halfway through your drive from coast to coast. Have a nice lunch, maybe visit a roadside attraction, and take a walk.
- Hydrate and eat well so you have stamina to enjoy the day from beginning to end.
- Take a deep breath and be as present as possible.
All images by Dani Meyering
This post originally appeared on our sister site, Orlando Date Night Guide