Updated on: 2 August, 2021
The USA is the perfect country for a round trip by car. I love road trips and I wasn’t thinking of Florida at all. Disneyland, retirees, golf courses and spring break tourists do not spark my enthusiasm.
Nevertheless, I was attracted to Miami , the Florida Keys , the Everglades and the Florida nature . Of course, there are also the cheesy sunsets and beaches on the east coast of the USA. Because these are often different than on the west coast in California .
Here you can find my personal Florida travel report for two weeks with a route to travel to. I’ll show you that a Florida tour has a lot more to offer than Disneyland, Spring Break, German retirees and golf courses.
Maybe I can increase your desire for a Florida car tour and arouse a little wanderlust!
Here you can find my Florida travel report for two weeks with the route to follow up including distances, activities, tours, accommodations, restaurants for the respective places.
Table of Contents
- Why a Florida tour?
- Driving a car in Florida is easy
- Florida Route: 2 weeks for self-drive
- Experience: I have visited these places
- Miami Beach
- From Miami via the Florida Keys to Key West
- Key West – colorful houses, Caribbean flair
- Back to Miami via the Florida Keys
- Everglades National Park – Everglades City
- Sarasota on the west coast of Florida
- St. Petersburg and Clearwater Beach
- Crystal River – Swim with Manatees
- Ocala – crystal clear springs and ghost tours
- St. Augustine – more ghosts, pirates, and the oldest city in the United States
- Rental car for Florida round trip?
- Florida road trip cost
- Road trip checklist and travel diary for the Florida road trip
- FAQ for the Florida round trip
Why a Florida tour?
I’ll be honest: I never had Florida as a travel destination on my screen. Except that I wanted to see the Florida Keys, the world’s 3rd largest reef, and paddle a kayak through the Everglades , I only knew one thing: Orlando and Disneyland don’t interest me. The fact that so many Germans set up their winter quarters here (and pensioners in general) year after year always deterred me.
So why go to Florida of all places?
Despite my own stupid prejudices, I always like to form my own picture. That’s why I didn’t hesitate when Visit Florida suggested I travel to the Sunshine State in 2015. Big city, Caribbean, nature and outdoor activities!
In the end, we found a healthy mix of big-city Caribbean flair and outdoor activities. Miami, Key West and the Florida Keys as well as the Everglades were set.
Then there was the beautiful Crystal River, Ocala, snow-white sandy beaches near Sarasota and with St. Augustine, the oldest city in America.
The 14-day round trip could begin. A road trip by rental car is the ideal way to explore Florida!
Driving a car in Florida is easy
I traveled by rental car from Miami for 14 days . Driving a car in Florida is totally relaxed and easy. Miami is an exception. Here everyone changes lanes like crazy and just can’t drive a car. A detailed report will follow soon.
Florida Route: 2 weeks for self-drive
- Day 1 – 2: Miami Beach ( Travel report Miami with highlights & tips )
- Day 2 – 4: Key West ( Attractions in Key West and travelogue drive from Miami to Key West )
- Day 4 – 6: Miami ( Miami travel report with highlights )
- Day 6 – 8: Everglades City ( Everglades tours with travel report )
- Day 8-10: Sarasota ( Sarasota travelogue )
- Day 10-12: Crystal River and Ocala
- Day 12-14: St. Augustine and return flight from Miami
Extension: Between Sarasota and Crystal River you can make another stop in St. Petersburg and Clearwater Beach. Hannah was back in Florida and spent a week in both places.
Experience: I have visited these places
It is not that easy to decide which places to visit on a rental car tour of Florida. The state is huge, the choice of places and activities numerous. A trip to Florida is not enough to visit all the highlights and places of interest.
Here is a small selection of what I think is worth exploring:
Magic City with Art Deco, glamor and party
When tourists talk about Miami, they usually mean Miami Beach . Miami and Miami Beach are quite different. Miami Beach is very touristy, especially on the southern tip of South Beach. There is a lot more to marvel at than the well-known wide sandy beach with the colorful beach huts of the lifeguards, which everyone is talking about.
I explored South Beach in two days and used it to “arrive” in Florida. Even if there is a lot of touristy to very touristy here, I really liked Miami Beach.
- Tip for accommodation in Miami Beach: Townhouses at Park Heaven *
- Tips for tours: Culinary tours in Miami and Miami Beach *, city tours by bike and speedboat
- Travel time from the airport: Depending on the time and traffic situation, approx. 20 minutes. Tip for an airport transfer from the international airport to Miami Beach
From Miami via the Florida Keys to Key West
Over the Seven Mile Bridge and sightseeing by helicopter
Contrary to other travel reports about Florida, I didn’t find the drive from Miami to Key West boring. But I don’t understand why the trip counts as one of the “most beautiful routes in the USA”. Because with a normal car you often see nothing more than the guard rails. You hardly have any glimpses of the gaudy turquoise water.
Almost 200 small coral islands covered with mangroves are lined up like a pearl necklace. The largest of these is Key West, destination of our stage and therefore kilometer zero of Highway No. 1.
The flight starts and ends in Marathon , a small town between Key Largo and Key West. The safety briefing is done quickly and we take off with pilot Michael. The view of the bright turquoise water is amazing! We can even spot turtles, manta rays, and manatees (sea cows) as tiny dots in the water.
Unfortunately, after 10 minutes, the fun is over. These sightseeing flights are very cheap at around 130 euros compared to New York or other metropolises. You should definitely consider doing this highlight as well.
Distance and travel time Miami Beach – Key West: approx. 270 km and with stops 4 – 6 hours. Approx. 3 hours without stops.
Key West – colorful houses, Caribbean flair
Key West is the westernmost point of the Florida Keys island chain. You can reach this place via the Overseas Highway. You not only pass the 7 mile long Seven Mile Bridge, but also another 42 bridges.
For two nights we stayed in a small Airbnb room in Key West and explored the island on bicycles (beach cruisers). It’s the most convenient way to get around the Keys. So you always get a mild breeze.
Ernest Hemingway lived here for a few years and you can visit his house and offspring of his cats with six paws here!
- Distance and travel time Key West – Miami: approx. 265 km and with stops 4 – 6 hours. Approx. 3 hours without stops (depending on the time and traffic in Miami).
- To Do: Take the catamaran to snorkel to the 3rd largest coral reef in the world including sparkling wine and return to sunset. It doesn’t get any nicer or more kitschy even here! This tour can be booked at Sebago Watersports .
- Hemingway’s House: Admission $13, including a 30-minute tour (Note: Credit cards are not accepted). Address: 907 Whitehead Street, Key West.
Back to Miami via the Florida Keys
Unfortunately the days go by far too quickly and we have to go back to Miami . We enjoy driving along Highway No. 1 and stop to visit beautiful beaches or eat key lime pie. I wrote down these stops along the Miami – Key West route in a separate article. In any case, the journey is anything but boring.
Before we know it we’re back in Miami. The city of the unusually hectic drivers. This time we are in the MiMo (Miami Modern) district and spend the night in the stylish and newly renovated The Vagabond Motel. We spend the next two days where Frank Sinatra once stayed. Tourists are seldom found in the vicinity of the hotel.
One of Miami’s absolute highlights is a culinary art tour of the Design District in Wynwood ( Wynwood Food & Art Tour , $69). Here you will find art, galleries, street art and murals galore. I can’t stop taking photos and testing food! Craziness. A great neighbourhood, even if locals note that the investments in this area were artificially generated and that poverty is still very high.
Distance and travel time Miami – Everglades City: approx. 140 km via the Tamiami Trail. Duration without stop approx. 2.5 hours. With stops approx. 4 – 5 hours. If you drive to Marco Island you have to add about 30 minutes. After Naples it is about 45 minutes more.
- Tip for accommodation: The Vagabond Hotel *
- Tips for tours:
- Culinary tours in Miami and Miami Beach *, city tour by car and speedboat *
- Travel time from the airport: Depending on the time and traffic situation, approx. 20 – 30 minutes. Tip for an airport transfer from the international airport to Miami Beach
Everglades National Park – Everglades City
In a kayak and swamp buggy through the Everglades
I suspect every tourist who thinks of the Everglades thinks of alligators, swamps and airboats. But the Everglades National Park and its nature is so incredibly multifaceted that I am still totally fascinated.
At every place I visited, a completely new picture was presented to me. One of these swamps with mangroves and small waterways. Then wide grassland and suddenly you are in a savannah-like prairie, surrounded by cypress forests, which reminds you of Africa.
These are all the Everglades, the “river of grass” as the area was called by the indigenous people. We choose the route over the Tamiami Trail (Highway 41) to drive to Everglade City . The road leads you straight through the Everglades National Park. Past one or the other alligator carcass, it still doesn’t get boring.
We make stops in Shark Valley and the really worth seeing Big Cypress Gallery by Clyde Butcher with breathtaking photographs.
We also stop at the “Indian village” Miccosukee Indian Village after a recommendation. Since this “open-air museum” which gives us “insights into the culture of the Miccosuke” with alligator shows (eg wrestling) absolutely turns us off, we quickly buy an ice cream and drive on …
We take a kayak tour through the mangroves and a tour with the swamp buggy through the swampy landscape. We found the airboat ride less spectacular . You hardly ever see alligators anyway, because the boats are way too loud.
Tip for accommodation in the Everglades National Park
We lived for two nights in a wooden hut from “Miller’s World” . In the associated kiosk next door you can book all tours and get very good advice. Next to it is the Oyster House, which is great for dining.
Read more: Everglades National Park – Tips & the best tours in the Everglades
Distance and travel time Everglades City – Sarasota: approx. 260 km. About 3 hours if you drive on Highway 75.
We originally wanted to drive over the 41 because we thought the views would be better. All nonsense and way too many traffic lights and time wasted.
Sarasota on the west coast of Florida
Sarasota is located on the west coast of Florida on the Gulf of Mexico. Above all, that means one thing: snow-white beaches with the finest sand. A dream, if it doesn’t rain like a torrent (as it does with us), which admittedly is very seldom the case in the Sunshine State.
Unfortunately, this rare case occurs with us. It rains, flashes and thunders as much as it can when I open my eyes in the morning.
Distance and driving time Sarasota – Crystal River: approx. 205 km and 2.5 hours driving time.
St. Petersburg and Clearwater Beach
On this road trip, there wasn’t enough time to visit St. Petersburg and Clearwater in Tampa Bay. The street art and most beautiful beaches in Florida are especially worth a visit. Why didn’t I even think about stopping here at the time? I have no idea.
- The Sunken Gardens are one of the most visited tourist attractions in Florida.
- Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg: The largest Dali collection outside of Europe.
- Street Art in St. Petersburg
Crystal River – Swim with Manatees
Around the small town of Crystal River on the northwest coast of Florida there is a sensational natural area with crystal clear rivers and bright green oaks. The Crystal River of the same name is also a sanctuary for manatees (manatees). These can be found between November and March in the rivers fed by warm springs. There are constant water temperatures around 22 degrees all year round.
Especially at King’s Bay you can get up close and personal with over 1,200 manatees on a kayak tour or snorkeling (best time for this November – March).
With Crystal River Watersports ($55, duration approx. 3 hours with wetsuits, mask and snorkel) we took a tour by boat at 11.30 a.m. in order to get very close to the animals while snorkeling with the manatees.
Approximately 80 manatees live permanently in the rivers around Crystal River. This gave us the opportunity to swim with at least three manatees in May.
Note: Researchers have found that this is where the happiest and most productive manatees in the world live. Despite the tours and tourists who want to visit the manatees. Of course you should respect the animals, keep your distance and not press them. All of this is explained in detail in a safety video before the tour.
Due to a storm the day before, the water was not that clear and therefore the visibility was not optimal. I also advise you to take the tour at 7:30 in the morning, as the animals are more active then and you will likely encounter several manatees. We had also considered this tour, but I didn’t want to leave Sarasota at 3 a.m. No stress was my motto.
Before you reach the preferred places of the manatees, you can see the beautiful landscape around Crystal River and the houses along the rivers. Every now and then an alligator lies on the shore, rare birds are spotted or turtles sunbathe on branches and stones.
I really like it here. I regret a little not being able to linger here any longer. My tip: stay at least 1 – 2 nights in Crystal River.
- Tip for lunch: Tea House 650 – in addition to many types of tea (hot or cold) and a great lunch menu, there are excellent scones.
- Distance and driving time Crystal River – Ocala: approx. 65 km and 1 hour driving time.
Ocala – crystal clear springs and ghost tours
Ocala, in Marion County, is most famous and known for one thing: paddocks and forests around the Ocala National Forest. The US Department of Agriculture has even named Ocala the “World Horse Capital”. Already when driving towards Ocala we see large paddocks for horses (and cows) everywhere.
Kayak on the Rainbow River
Ocala is also a real highlight of this trip: kayaking over one of the many rivers that harbor springs and are therefore crystal clear. When the weather is nice you have a view to the bottom. I feel like I’m in a huge swimming pool!
We took a 3-hour kayak trip on the Rainbow River ( KP Hole Park on Rainbow River ). At the park entrance you can rent kayaks or tubing tires. With it you can just start paddling or let yourself be carried away by the current with the tubes.
First we paddle against the current to the source, and on the way back we let ourselves be driven back with the current. Here, too, you can find idyllically situated houses and places to jump into the water. Take snorkeling gear with you and explore the underwater world. In addition to turtles, you will come across many a fish.
Another spring that is quite popular is Juniper Springs. Again, you can kayak and do the same things and activities as in the places I mentioned. We had to make a decision as we couldn’t visit all of the springs.
- Distance and driving time Crystal River – Ocala: approx. 65 km and 1 hour driving time.
- See kayak and tour providers
Silver Springs by Glass Bottom Boat
The water of Silver Springs , a very popular place with local tourists, is just as clear . At the beginning of the 19th century pilgrimage tourists to Silver Springs, with the (then existing) park and the famous glass bottom boats (Glass Bottom Boat Tour), which were invented here.
You can also rent kayaks in Silver Springs and just paddle off. Alternatively, we took a glass-bottom boat tour (approx. 30-45 minutes, $11) here . You can really see the bottom of the Silver Springs through the glass floor. A great experience, I would still prefer the kayak.
On site, you can explore the area around the Silver Springs on paths and hiking trails – on foot or by bike. In addition, many films (including James Bond) have been shot here.
Ghost tour in Ocala in the evening
In the evening we visited the center of Ocala. In various travel guides Ocala is described as “not that great” . I found everything exciting here. Because Ocala “is haunted by ghosts”. At Ocala Ghost Walks by Catherine we mainly explored the Historic District. Catherinere is really great and unbelievable ghost stories for the best!
She hears and sees ghosts and can also communicate with them. Sounds unbelievable, doesn’t it? We loved the tour!
In Ocala I suddenly find myself standing in front of a Scientology building. When I asked, the answer came: Well from John Travolta. Sure, he lives outside of Ocala with his planes and runway. Learned something again.
Pure action at zip lines in Ocala
Before we leave the place there is still a little action and fly through the tree tops over 9 zip lines ( Zip Line & Canopy Full Tour, $96 at The Canyons Zip Lines & Canopy Tours ). The tour with our guides Petah and Jack lasted about 3 hours and included the longest, fastest and highest zip lines in Florida.
Then we are awake and ready to drive to the last place on our Florida road trip: St. Augustine.
Our accommodation in Ocala
Outside of Ocala but directly on the highway is the Country Inn & Suites in Ocala . The rooms are spacious and the breakfast motel style (but with a waffle machine). The pool was renovated during our stay. Unfortunately the only boutique hotel closed shortly before our arrival.
- Distance and driving time Ocala – St Augustine: approx. 145 km and 2 hours driving time.
St. Augustine – more ghosts, pirates, and the oldest city in the United States
The oldest city in the USAF founded by Europeans, with a population of 12,975, is a popular destination for American tourists. No wonder, there are beautiful old buildings from the colonial times with an old fortress (Castillo de San Marcos) hardly to be seen anywhere else in North America. You can see horse-drawn carriages and the Conch Train, with which tourists mainly explore the historical part of the city on a tour, on every corner.
Since there are wonderful cafes and restaurants here, we discovered St. Augustine with a culinary food tour ( Cork & Fork Tours, approx. 4 hours, $84 ).
A little more adventurous is the Pirate & Treasure Museum ($13). Even if I hesitated at first, I thought the museum was great. You can find real gold treasures, a treasure hunt and relics from Hollywood pirate films here.
If you don’t feel like strolling through the old town in the scorching heat, do it like us. Take the sightseeing train for a while. It’s kind of funny and you get told a lot about the history of the city.
The Castillo de San Marcos , I found the way, disappointing and not worth $10 admission. There’s not much to see inside other than a few old uniforms and cannons.
First, we Europeans are spoiled when it comes to old fortresses and castles. Second, I remember the fortresses in Havana and Santiago de Cuba much more beautiful and impressive.
Incidentally, St. Augustine is also haunted by ghosts! That’s why we went on the ghost tour “Dark of the Moon” ($25) at the St. Augustine Lighthouse in the evening . The tour was so very different from the tour in Ocala. It would probably have been creepier if there hadn’t been over 25 people in a group. Climbing the lighthouse in the dark and being told ghost stories of allegedly true events in the former house and cellar of the lighthouse keeper is actually creepy.
It was also funny that some – including us – were given an EMF meter. As with the Ghostbusters, this knocks out when a ghost is nearby. Only the evening before we had googled what it was.
If the city gets too much for you, you can visit the 11 km long and very wide St. Augustine Beach on the Atlantic.
Tip for accommodation in St. Augustine
If you book at short notice and are still looking for it on Mother’s Day, you will find that everything is more expensive and most of it is taken. That’s why we stayed at the Howard Johnson Inn . The room was spacious, functional and the breakfast with plastic plates like in any motel in the USA.
Rental car for Florida round trip?
Before our road trip, we checked where we could rent which rental car and under which conditions. We landed on the ADAC comparison portal. At the ADAC we were spat out the cheapest rental car from Hertz, which we then booked with a small upgrade to the SUV.
Why at Hertz? An additional driver was included here. With other providers this was only possible with a surcharge. The SUV was very worth it. We sat higher on the drive to Key West from the Florida Keys. Thus, when crossing the 7 Mile Bridge, we could see more than just the road boundary.
Florida road trip cost
As soon as I arrive in Miami Beach, one thing quickly becomes clear to me: Everything is expensive! The cheapest parking garage costs $1 an hour (on 12th Avenue), a meal for two with one drink each costs at least $70-90, and shopping in the supermarket isn’t cheaper either.
By the way, Key West was the most expensive place on our tour. The accommodation (a really small room) was expensive, cozy and in a great location. The food in the restaurant (fish and a glass of wine about $50 with tip) and breakfast (La Creperie (almost $30 with coffee and freshly squeezed juice) were again more expensive than in Miami Beach. Take-away, for example a sandwich with french fries and Coke is available in the port for around $15, and you can get a slice of pizza for as little as $5.
It is cheaper to go north, for example in Crystal Rivers, Ocala and Sarasota.
The cheapest of all is fuel: refueling is the cheapest of all. We spent approximately $140 on our 1447 mile route. A piece of cake measured German gasoline prices, right?
- Rental car from / to Miami Airport 13 days, category IFAR: $713
Have you ever been to Florida? What were your highlights and experiences on the east coast?
Road trip checklist and travel diary for the Florida road trip
So that you don’t forget anything, I have created a checklist for a road trip .
My further tip: Write a travel diary would be your trip!
The memories in it are the best souvenirs from your trip! That’s why I designed my own travel diaries and had them printed.
In these notebooks you can enter costs, weather, impressions, highlights and travel experiences. There is also space to paste pictures. Ideal as travel memories.
FAQ for the Florida round trip
Travel tips : where to swim with dolphins in Florida
Basically, I advise against these activities. So unfortunately I don’t have an answer with a good tip for you. Except maybe you can take a snorkeling tour in Key West. There you have the chance to see dolphins in their natural habitat.
How expensive is Florida ?
We found Miami Beach and Key West in particular to be very expensive. Accommodation and restaurants were more expensive than other places. Depending on which price category restaurant you go to, you have to calculate between 20 – 50 USD per person.
How much is a flight to Florida?
Sometimes you can even get flights from $500. Always check what the off-season costs when there is no vacation in the US.
How long do you fly to Florida?
A direct flight from Frankfurt to Miami takes around 10 hours.
Tip for the USA trip: The best credit cards to withdraw money without foreign fees:
→ The best credit cards to withdraw money without foreign fees:
My favorite credit card for traveling is the DKB VISA card as an active customer .
This means that you can withdraw money in local currency free of charge. This not only saves going to the bank in Germany but also money.
In addition, you will be reimbursed all foreign fees when withdrawing cash abroad. However, only as an active customer.
Backup credit cards: The credit card from the Hanseatic Bank or the “green bank” Tomorrow Bank (zero tariff, my current favorite).