Florida is a place of many faces. There’s the party scene and theme parks, sure. But scratch the surface and you’ll find there’s more to the sunny, friendly southern state than we realise: glorious beaches, historic towns, nature reserves, wildlife sanctuaries, museums and galleries and a dynamic restaurant scene are all waiting for you to discover.
The best way to see it all is by car. With lazy breezes skimming your face, the twilight sun melting into the horizon and the whisper of sea salt in the air, it’s utter magic.
Add four wheels to your flight booking with British Airways car hire in partnership with Avis and explore Florida at your own pace, ticking off all the destinations on your bucket list and seeking out new adventure, your way. Choose from a sleek convertible, easy compact car or even a minivan to suit your needs and enjoy great savings when you book your car along with your flight and hotel at ba.com (there’s also a 24 hour holiday helpline.) Put down a deposit for your trip from as little as £150 per booking, with flexible payments to suit you and feel totally secure in the knowledge that your booking is ATOL protected. With four airports, easy car collection and drop off and the chance to take a serious Americana adventure, you’re looking at some pretty dreamy travels.
Ready for your ultimate Florida road trip? Here’s how it’s done.
Begin your trip in Greater Fort Lauderdale. No longer a spring breaker’s party heaven, this region has had a grown-up makeover. Take a stroll down Las Olas Boulevard for some local art and entertainment, dip your toes into the sand at Fort Lauderdale Beach and check out the flora and fauna at the state parks (Hugo Taylor Birch State Park has a lagoon and trails for keen explorers).
You can either hop in the car and drive across I-75 – which will get you from Greater Fort Lauderdale to Naples, Marco Island and Everglades in roughly an hour-and-a-half – or you can opt for the longer, more scenic route, heading south first and then taking the Tamiami Trail, aka US -41, to the region. Here, you’re likely to spot alligators and the awe-inspiring landscapes of the Everglades on your drive. Fun fact: you’ll also pass the tiny Ochopee Post Office, the smallest post office in the United States. Blink and you will definitely miss it.
Taking the Tamiami Trail gives you a great opportunity to see the Everglades: the 1.5-million-acre wetlands preserve running through southern Florida that hosts some of America’s most stunning wilderness, not to mention an abundant collection of (endangered) wildlife.
Pop into the Gulf Coast Visitor Centre (five miles south of the Tamiami Trail on State Road 29, in Everglades City) to rent a canoe, embark on a walking tour or even spend a night or two camping in the Everglades, so you can experience some of the majesty they offer.
After all that trekking, spend a couple of days enjoying white sand and warm waters at Marco Island, a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico about 30 minutes south of Naples, where you can enjoy watersports, hunt for seashells or simply relax in your tropical surroundings.
Continue to drive up Florida’s Gulf coast on the I-75 – less than two and a half hours away is St. Pete/Clearwater, which combines a laidback attitude with great beaches, cool art and a reputation for some of the best wildlife and nature reserves in the state.
Art fiends will be excited to see the Chihuly Collection (amazing glass works by US sculptor Dale Chihuly) and Dalì Museum. Beach buff? Pass-A-Grille beach, Fort De Soto Park, Caladesi Island State Park, St. Pete Beach and Clearwater Beach are all located here, and they’ve got something for everyone. The latter two are consistently named on best beaches of the world lists. You’ll find everything you want here, from palm-fringed boardwalks to sugar soft sand and beach shacks serving up the fresh catch of the day.
Finish making your way up the Gulf of Mexico’s coastline via the I-275 N or Gandy Blvd N, until you end up in the Tampa Bay area, where you can grab a tasty Cuban sandwich (an exciting twist on basic ham and cheese that originated in Tampa Bay), get a taste of the pirate life at the Gasparilla Pirate Festival, stroll down Bayshore Boulevard and see the hundreds of animals and ride the thrilling rollercoasters at Busch Gardens.
Don’t miss the historic Ybor City neighbourhood, known for its restaurants, live music and buzzing nightlife. The city’s Latin Quarter was the former centre of the cigar manufacturing industry and is now the bohemian centre of Tampa Bay.
After all that mileage, say ‘goodbye’ to your car at the nearest drop off point, before catching your plane back home. Essential to seeing the best of Florida, you’d have been hard-pressed to enjoy so much of this stunning state without it, so remember to give it a ‘thanks’ for its hard work.
Add a car to your flight booking with British Airways car hire in partnership with Avis and enjoy the ultimate Florida holiday.