Florida’s scenic highways sometimes get overlooked when people forget that the Sunshine State is more than beaches, amusement parks, and exotic cities. There are many highways that will take you to some of the most diverse areas of the state, where you can enjoy the natural beauty of Florida and its cultural heritage.
Florida’s Scenic Highways
Here are 10 of my favorites:
Traversing along Florida’s east coast, the A1A Scenic and Historic Coastal Byway is a journey through pristine beaches, lush coastal forests, and historical landmarks. Stretching for 72 miles, this highway showcases the Atlantic Ocean’s breathtaking views, offering a tranquil escape from the bustling city life. Notable stops along the way include the historic city of St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city, and the picturesque Washington Oaks Gardens State Park.
The problem with this highway is that many of those Atlantic views it used to provide have been hidden due to builders destroying the views with condos or gated communities. You can still see areas of the ocean in places like Flagler Beach where the road runs right along the beach, which is a problem if there is a big storm, but for the most part, the builders have been kept off the barrier island.
Experience the untouched beauty of Florida’s Gulf Coast with the Big Bend Scenic Byway. This 220-mile adventure weaves through the coastal wilderness, sprawling forests, and charming rural towns. It is a haven for nature enthusiasts, with opportunities for bird-watching, hiking, and fishing. The highway also provides access to the unique Apalachicola National Forest and the stunning Wakulla Springs State Park.
Be sure to visit their website because you can download a map and tour guide of the byway. Take a few minutes to stop and explore the wilderness.
Named after the Florida black bear, this scenic byway stretches for 123 miles through the Ocala National Forest, showcasing the state’s diverse wildlife and lush landscapes. The route offers ample opportunities for outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, and wildlife spotting. It is a journey into the heart of Florida’s wilderness, providing a serene and rejuvenating experience.
You are more likely to see deer rather than black bears, but they are around. I have seen a few of them over the years, but generally at night while driving through the forest. Please slow down and don’t hit them.
The Florida Keys Scenic Highway is a mesmerizing journey through the tropical paradise of the Florida Keys. Spanning 106 miles, this highway connects the mainland to Key West, offering panoramic views of the turquoise waters and lush islands along the way. The Seven Mile Bridge, a highlight of this route, provides a surreal driving experience, making you feel as if you are gliding above the ocean.
Be sure to stop along the way in places like Key Largo or Marathon for a sandwich or just to stretch your legs. The Keys Official tourism site is here. No matter where you end up, you’ll enjoy the Keys if you like laidback lifestyles dashed with a lot of wild colors. It’s a colorful place! Between Hemmingway and Jimmy Buffett, the Keys are familiar to most people. We miss you, Jimmy.
Explore Florida’s diverse ecosystems with the Indian River Lagoon National Scenic Byway, a 150-mile route along the state’s east coast. This byway offers a glimpse into Florida’s rich maritime history, with access to historic sites, museums, and charming coastal towns. The Indian River Lagoon, one of the most biodiverse estuaries in North America, is a highlight, providing unique opportunities for bird-watching, fishing, and kayaking.
This is my backyard, and it suffers from some of the same fate as A1A; corporate builders have destroyed a good portion of the view on both sides of the road. However, there is Sebastian Inlet State Park where you can walk along the shoreline and poke around in the river, or you can come back to the mainland and check out the Sebastian Conservation area or Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge.
After being here almost 40 years, I am sorry to say that most of the small fishing village charm is gone, but you can still find locals at the Riverview Park or the Grant House in Grant, Fl.
5 More of Florida’s Scenic Highways
Travel back in time with the Old Florida Heritage Highway, a 48-mile journey through the heart of Florida’s rural landscapes. This route showcases the state’s agricultural heritage, with sprawling farms, historic sites, and scenic vistas. The charming town of Micanopy, known for its antique shops and historical significance, is a must-visit along this byway.
If you’re jaded by the commercialization of little fishing villages, then this is the place to go to get rid of those thoughts. It’s rural and it’s a place where tourists rarely roam, so you’ll probably have the whole road to yourself. Enjoy the older way of life away from lights, traffic, and big ticket prices.
Discover the historic St. Johns River with the River of Lakes Heritage Corridor, a 150-mile journey through central Florida. This scenic byway provides access to the state’s rich history, with numerous historic sites, museums, and charming towns along the way. The natural beauty of the St. Johns River, with its diverse wildlife and lush landscapes, is a highlight of this route.
While this is a big loopy drive, some of the places along the way are worthy of a stop. DeLand (where I spent a decade) is home to Stetson College and is home to some older architecture. If you get off the path a bit and go to DeLeon Springs or Blue Springs, you may be able to see manatees in their natural habitat. Or, you can jump in and dive into one of the springs openings.
When you head back south on this road, be sure to swing around Lake Monroe by Sanford after dark. If you think you want to see alligators, this lake is full of them. You’ll see their beady little eyes shining back at you as you drive around the lake. It’s a bit of an unsettling site knowing they’re all hoping you’d like to have a swim.
Snuggled along Florida’s Gulf Coast, Scenic Highway 30A is a 28.5-mile journey through pristine beaches, coastal dunes, and charming beach communities. This route is famous for its sugar-white sand beaches and rare coastal dune lakes, providing a unique and breathtaking experience. The vibrant communities along 30A, with their unique architecture and local boutiques, offer a glimpse into Florida’s coastal lifestyle.
This area is looking for more tourist traffic, but it’s quite small, so don’t unsettle the area. Be sure to download the map before you drive, so you don’t miss many of the smaller sites along the way.
Experience the charm of central Florida with the Scenic Sumter Heritage Byway, a 62-mile journey through historic towns, sprawling farmlands, and lush forests. This route showcases the state’s rich agricultural heritage, providing a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. The charming town of Webster, with its famous flea market, is a popular stop along this byway.
Named after the famous naturalist William Bartram, this scenic highway stretches for 17 miles through northeastern Florida. The route offers a journey into the state’s rich history from the 1500s and diverse ecosystems, with access to historic sites, parks, and natural reserves. The Six Mile Creek, a highlight of this byway, provides a serene setting for hiking, bird-watching, and nature photography.
As you drive along the St. John’s River, realize that this is one of only a few rivers that flows north. It also is home to some very yummy bass, so if you luck into an old-fashioned fish fry, then stop and eat with the locals.
Florida’s scenic highways offer a unique opportunity to explore the state’s diverse landscapes, rich history, and cultural heritage. From coastal drives to journeys through untouched wilderness, these routes provide a tranquil escape and a chance to connect with Florida’s natural beauty. So, pack your bags, hit the road, and discover the enchanting beauty of Florida’s scenic highways.
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