Having the entire state of Florida as our backyard and Georgia and South Carolina as neighbors, everything you’re looking for in a perfect vacation is right here. Tampa happens to be the perfect location for a “drivecation.” Sneak away on a Friday, hit the road with your love and make a b-line for any one of these adventures that will make you so glad you took the trip. These trips are ideal if you’re still hesitant to fly but ready to get away to make some new memories together.
Note: this post was written by Marisa Langford and originally appeared in our sister publication, Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.
Crystal River: 62 miles north
Category: Water Adventure, Peaceful, Eco-Florida
July 1 to mid-September is prime Gulf Coast scallop season; hunt for your own succulent treasure when you head out onto Kings Bay from the Plantation on Crystal River with your very own boat and captain. A mask, fins, snorkel and bag are all you need for this activity. Once you’ve found your limit, take the scallops back to the Adventure Center where they will help shuck them and the chef at West 82 will cook them for you! Wind down by watching the sunset over the Bay and relaxing in your spacious villa.
Itching to get away sooner? Now is still a great time to check swimming with manatees off your Florida bucket list!
Pro Tip: Your guides can lend you a mask, fins and snorkel, but consider bringing your own. Bring an underwater camera or GoPro to capture the fun too!
Anna Maria Island: 64 miles south
Category: Beach Adventure, Peaceful, Eco-Florida
Book a 2-bedroom suite plus kitchen at the Waterline Marina Resort & Beach Club, just a block from Holmes Beach, which you’ll have pretty much to yourself as the public beaches are much further away. Take the free trolley to the quieter north end of Anna Maria Island for dinner at the Sandbar, where you can eat on the beach and watch the sunset right from your table. Guess the sunset time right and you win a bottle of champagne! The next morning, have Kayak Jack deliver a paddle board to you for the day and later, walk to The Feast for lunch and to Small Town Creamery for a sweet treat. Check out our itinerary for Three Perfect Days on Anna Maria Island for a complete getaway guide.
Pro Tip: Get up early, pick up doughnuts from the Donut Experiment and drive to Anna Maria Island Pier to catch the sunrise. The pier is closed right now for renovations, but there is plenty of parking in the morning to park and enjoy this view!
Orlando: 95 miles east
Category: Relaxation, Outdoor Adventure, Eco-Florida
While Orlando’s theme parks are open with limited capacity (some require tickets and reservations), there are so many other things to do if you head an hour east. At Wild Florida, you can experience the Everglades via an airboat without the long drive south. Orlando Balloon Rides will take your family on an unforgettable hot air balloon ride over Central Florida. Book an entire home or villa for your family at Reunion Resort that comes with more amenities than a Disney vacation. Spend the day playing golf, foot golf (think golf but with a soccer ball), relaxing by the pools or playing in the water park, all without leaving your resort. If you must leave, Cocoa Beach and Kennedy Space Center are only a little over an hour away for a day trip excursion.
Check out our sister site, Orlando Date Night Guide, for loads of romantic ideas to inspire your trip planning.
Pro Tip: Save a day to explore one or more of the seven state parks in a 50-mile radius of downtown Orlando. We enjoyed the refreshing crystal-clear waters of Blue Springs State Park.
River Ranch: 100 miles east
Category: Outdoor Adventure, Peaceful, Eco-Florida, Old Florida
Escape from city life in this vast Central Florida backcountry. Spend the day adventuring on the 1,700-acre Westgate River Ranch, reminiscent of when ranchers and cattle controlled the rich Florida land. For playful fun, try touring the property on horseback, fishing at the catch and release pond, skeet shooting or mini golfing.
Pro Tip: Make sure you book a stay over a Saturday night so you can attend the Saturday night rodeo!
Cocoa Beach & Cape Canaveral: 145 miles east
Category: Water Adventure, Outdoor Adventure, Eco-Florida
Hop across Florida to Cape Canaveral to see real rocket ships, tour launch pads and learn about space from the experts at NASA. Take a private surfing lesson when you stay at the Westgate Cocoa Beach Resort in Cocoa Beach or hit the waves and boogie board all day. Ride the 335-foot lazy river at Wakulla Falls Water Park or pick up a game of volleyball at the world-famous Cocoa Beach Pier. We loved eating at SeaDogs, but there are many places at the Pier to grab something to eat and drink.
Pro Tip: Bring boogie boards for the beach and plan a day trip to Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. You can even join a bioluminescent kayaking tour in this area during the summer months (we recommend Get Up and Go Kayaking). Pick up a map from the visitor center and drive up Black Point Drive or walk the trails to see all the amazing wildlife on the island.
St. Augustine: 176 miles northeast
Category: Beach Adventure, History
The oldest city in the United States is only hours away, making this an easy trip that everyone will enjoy! Dive into history at 300-year-old Spanish-built forts like the Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas. Climb to the top of St. Augustine Lighthouse, a 165-foot tower with spectacular views of the coast. Walk through historic St. George Street and grab a cool treat at Hyppo Gourmet Ice Pops before checking out the Lightner Museum, formerly the Alcazar Hotel built by Henry Flagler in 1888. Make sure to dine at the Ice Plant Bar for a romantic dinner.
Pro Tip: Stay at the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club, about 40 miles north on AIA from St. Augustine, or at the Peyton House, which is one step from the Atlantic Ocean beach and close to the resorts’ Surf Club.
Captiva Island: 176 miles south
Category: Water Adventure, Beach Adventure
“Florida’s Tahiti” is the jewel in the crown of Gulf coast barrier islands. Enjoy it from the South Seas Island Resort that sits amidst 330-acres of wildlife preserve. Rent a golf cart to take full advantage of the resorts’ 2.5 miles of private beaches, pools, water slides and of course, the majestic Gulf sunsets! For a full day of peace and quiet, pack your beach chair, a good book and cooler and have Captiva Cruises take you to Cayo Costa State Park.
Pro Tip: Pack bikes, helmets and fishing rods to save a few bucks on the trip!
Fort Lauderdale: 275 miles southeast
Category: Outdoor Adventure, Exploration, Water Adventure
Start your vacation before you even arrive by driving across Alligator Alley and taking an Airboat Adventure out of Sawgrass Recreation Park to glimpse the Everglades—a unique habitat of 1.5 million acres of subtropical wetlands. The Lago Mar Beach Resort and Club boasts one of the largest private beaches in Broward County, and the sunrises from this coast are spectacular. Rent a canoe or kayak from Whiskey Creek Hideout at Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park and grab a quick bite from the Waterfront Bar and Eatery.
Pro Tip: Visit Sunny.org for details on special 2-for-1 LauderDeals on activities and download the pass book!
Miami: 294 miles south
Category: Water Adventure, Outdoor Adventure, Exploration, Eco-Florida
While soaking up the rays on Miami Beach, take in a few sights that might make you rethink Miami beyond the party scene. Check into The Palms Hotel & Spa and relax with direct access to the beach or rent a private tiki cabana poolside—very Miami style! Take in the murals of Wynwood Walls or panoramic views of Biscayne National Park from the 65-foot lighthouse at Key Biscayne and stop in Coconut Grove for dinner at Glass and Vine. Grab a brew from Panther Coffee for the ride back to Miami Beach.
Pro Tip: On your way down, take advantage of day trips to see the Everglades or visit Fort Lauderdale.
South Walton: 420 miles northwest
Category: Beach Adventure, Eco-Florida
Take scenic Route 30A west along the emerald coast of Florida’s Panhandle and feel the softest sugar sand beaches beneath your feet. The 16 coastal towns that make up South Walton are each unique in design, each with a different vibe, and some are more budget friendly than others. Rosemary Beach and Seaside are our favorite costal destinations. Bring bikes to explore the farmer’s markets, boardwalks and four state parks in the area. Book a junior suite with a Gulf view at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort and Spa and enjoy sunsets from your private balcony. Extend your stay with our getaway itinerary for beach hopping in South Walton.
Pro Tip: If you can, explore each of the 16 eclectic communities that make up South Walton. Each is unique and you might just find your next idyllic vacation spot. Definitely enjoy lunch at Airstream Row in Seaside, the town where “The Truman Show” was filmed.
Key West: 422 Miles South
Category: Beach Adventure, Water Adventure, History, Eco-Florida
Begin your stay in paradise when you check in at the Casa Marina Key West, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, home to the largest private beach on Key West. Build sand castles and relax in a hammock by the water or enjoy a Barefoot Billy’s dolphin excursion that leaves right from the resort. Take the Old Town Trolley to the Key West Lighthouse and don’t forget to take your picture by the Southernmost Point Buoy. Enjoy dinner on the beach at Salute! On The Beach at Higgs Beach. Break up your drive home with a few nights at the Cheeca Lodge and Spa in Islamorada. Here, you can enjoy a complimentary paddleboard or book a 2-hour snorkeling trip right from the resort to see the second-largest coral reef in the world.
Pro Tip: Build in one full day to check off a day excursion to the Dry Tortugas National Park, accessible by charter sea plane or ferry. Spend the day exploring Fort Jefferson and the surrounding natural habitats.
Drivecation Ideas beyond Florida
Feel like escaping the state on a romantic road trip? The original drivecation article from our sister publication, Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine, has five drivecation itineraries from Tennessee to the Carolinas and Georgia.
Feature image credit: Westgate River Ranch