Florida is a pick-your-scenery kind of place. Ocean views? Check. History? Same. Trees and natural areas? Absolutely. And you don’t have to go far to find something you like. So let’s find a scenic drive that makes your pulse beat faster and your foot ease up on the accelerator.
Oh, where to start? Well, the drive begins in downtown Miami, but that’s not what we meant. There’s so much going on here that one adventure into the deep heart of Florida could never be enough. You’ve got history – both Floridian and Cuban – gators, swamps and the three kinds of people who live there (Seminoles, Miccocukees and Gladesmen), big casinos, a tiny post office, rare orchids and, according to legend, skunk apes.
Prepare yourself. Tamiami Trail – U.S. 41 – begins at Brickell Avenue and for several miles is known as Calle Ocho – Eighth Street – which runs through the heart of the city’s Cuban community. About 20 miles west, after you pass Krome Avenue, you head into the Everglades, the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. An important habitat for rare and endangered animals, including the elusive Florida panther, it’s also a World Heritage site and a Wetland of International Importance.
Stop at Shark Valley Visitor Center in Miami for an overview of the area and the amenities, including numerous boardwalks and attractions.
Length: 275 miles, from Miami across U.S. 41 to Naples.
Worth a stop: We’ll give you a choice on this one. The Miccosukee Indian Village (Mile Marker 35) gives visitors a glimpse into the tribe’s history and offers live and interactive demonstrations. You can also learn how alligators are part of the tribe’s tradition.
Skunk Ape Research Headquarters in Ochopee is a roadside attraction for those who want to believe in Florida’s hairy, stinky answer to Bigfoot and the Yeti.
Florida Scenic Highway A1A
Nothing says beach like Highway A1A. It’s strongly associated with Florida beach culture, both Spring Break and Jimmy Buffet, and is the main north-south road through most oceanfront towns in the state, including exclusive Palm Beach.
Altogether, A1A clocks nearly 340 miles from Key West to the Amelia Island just south of the Georgia state line. That’s kind of a lot, so we’ll concern ourselves with the 120-mile portion from Vero Beach to Fort Lauderdale.
The draw here is the beach towns and that fantastic view of the Atlantic from the car window. Beach access is (mostly) plentiful, so feel free to hop out for some sand time. The drive will take you over the Sebastian Inlet Bridge, through Jonathan Dickinson Sate Park and the heart of Palm Beach, then on to the almost-tropical sunshine of Fort Lauderdale.
Length: 125 miles from Vero Beach to Fort Lauderdale.
Worth a stop: Vero Beach Museum of Art for its collection of American art and Chihuly glass.
Martin Grade Scenic Highway
If you’ve ever wondered what South Florida looked like when the early settlers were carving homesteads and towns out of the wilderness. here’s your chance to find out.
Martin Grade is only 12 miles long, but it’s shaded by 100-year-old oaks and surrounded by pastures, swamps, woods and groves. Locals call it “The Grade” and know that it’s the shortest route between the Atlantic coast and the fish-rich waters of the largest freshwater lake in Florida. They also know how to keep an eye out for birds – and alligators.
The path ends at the Allapattah Flats Wildlife Management District, where you can extend your adventure with hiking, biking, horseback riding or primitive camping.
Length: 12 miles along County Road 714 from 10 miles west of Palm City, an unincorporated area about halfway between Vero Beach and West Palm Beach, to near the edge of Lake Okeechobee.
Worth a stop: Palm City Farm Produce and Market, where you can load up on local fruits and veggies as well as honey and a range of specialty foods.