Sometimes, the best way to see a place is by driving—you cover ground faster than you would on foot while still getting to take in the views as you go. This is one of the reasons why road trips are always a fun adventure that leave you with plenty of memories to look back on.
The drive from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale is a little over three hours, but with so much to see in the Sunshine State, why pass up a chance to experience some of the treasures that are off the beaten path? There are a ton of stops that you can make on a road trip down the east coast of Florida. Keep reading to discover a few of our favorites!
Tree-lined streets, locally-owned shops, and a faint air of nostalgia are just some of the things that you’ll find when you make your way to Historic Cocoa Village. A prime area in Brevard County for shopping and entertainment, this lovely portion of Downtown Cocoa can be as eventful or leisurely as you want it to be.
Sample gourmet foods that range from pizza and sushi to tapas and burgers when you stop in own of the many restaurants in the area. If you’re in the mood for something lighter, you can also find plenty of coffee shops and cafes as you make your way down Main Street. Of course, due to the historic nature of the district, there are several sites in this part of the city that have been around for quite some time, like the Cocoa Village Playhouse, the Derby Street Chapel, and the Sur Le Parc Building.
“What a cute little area! Lots of shops and eateries. The vibe is really chill, and it’s kid- and pet-friendly . . . Still very close to a waterway, which I prefer over the beach.” -Domonique S. on Yelp.
Open from 9:30 am to 5 pm daily, the Brevard Zoo is a cherished Melbourne institution that’s home to animals from all over the world, including giraffes, zebras, jaguars, alligators, crocodiles, turtles, flamingos, bears, and Komono dragons. The zoo offers regular “special encounters” with specific animals like watching them do tricks and being fed.
Additionally, the zoo hosts daily adventures for an additional cost, including activities like feeding the giraffes, feeding lorikeets and cockatiels, a train ride tour of the desert habitat (camels, ostriches, impalas, and oryxes), a kayaking tour, and more. Lastly, there are several dining options inside the zoo, and they’re typically open from 11 am to 4 pm.
“Had the best time at this zoo! It was so interactive, and the animals look like they are well taken care of. I would love to go back.” -Jen G. on Yelp.
At St. Sebastian River Preserve, you can take to the trails on foot, bicycle, or even horseback. On the river, canoeing, boating, and fishing are all welcome. But no matter how you see this park, it’s sure to take your breath away with its pine flatwoods, cypress domes, sandhills, and strand swamp.
The diverse terrain at St. Sebastian houses over 50 protected species of plants and wildlife, including coyotes, gopher tortoises, deer, alligators, and even manatees. (Hint: Check out the Manatee Overlook for an ideal vantage point of the C-54 Canal, where manatees can be found November through March.)
“An underrated, completely wild state park . . . There's a lot of wildlife here: sandhill cranes, deer, various birds, alligators toward the water, and manatees at the very end of the road . . . Overall a great park!” -Melody S. on Yelp.
World-renowned underwater treasure hunter Mel Fisher opened a museum in 1992 to showcase some of his findings. For $7, you can tour artifacts of sunken ships that Mel recovered over the course of his very successful diving career.
It might not be the biggest museum that you’ll ever see, but Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum is definitely worth a stop if you’re in the Sebastian area. Not only will you get to see treasures retrieved from the bottom of the ocean, but you’ll also get to learn about Mel’s life and perseverance as a professional diver (his mantra was, “Today’s the day!”).
“Mel Fisher's Treasure Museum tells the story of one man’s passion for diving, history, and treasure hunting . . . The museum is small, but the treasure and artifacts they have from Fisher’s different expeditions is amazing.” -Ariel W. on Yelp.
Blowing Rocks Preserve encompasses the largest Anastasia limestone shoreline on the Atlantic Coast. The preserve got its name from these unique rock formations, which, during extremely high tides and following storms, can cause the ocean tides to shoot up to 50 feet in the air. Most of the time, however, the preserve is quite peaceful, not to mention extraordinarily scenic.
Loggerhead, green, and leatherback sea turtles all call this protected habitat their home. The restored barrier island is also reminiscent of a much older, untouched Florida with rare dunes on which beach sunflowers, bay cedars, sea grapes, and sea oats all grow.
“Blowing Rocks Preserve is managed by the Nature Conservancy and protects native Florida habitat and beach rocks undergoing erosion. The beach rocks are a delight, showing lovely, twists and at high tide, waves splash up and through them.” -Sheri Fresonke H. on Yelp.
Whether you’re an animal lover, passionate about marine biology, or just someone who appreciates a free attraction, Manatee Lagoon makes for an excellent stop on your way to Fort Lauderdale. At this eco-discovery center, you’ll find information about manatees and the surrounding Lake Worth Lagoon, hands-on exhibits, and an observation deck from which you can see wild manatee herds as they move toward warmer waters for the winter.
Manta Lagoon is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 am to 4 pm, and there’s no entry-fee to get in—which, in Florida, is almost as rare as the manatees you’ll be hoping to see. Florida’s manatee season starts mid-November and wraps up toward the end of March, but if you miss the season, you can take a look at the website’s Manatee Cam, which relays a live stream of the Lagoon year-round.
“This place is so cool, and it's FREE! They have a live manatee camera online so you can see if there are manatees in the viewing area before you drive all the way out. Best times to view are typically November through March.” -Andrea K. on Yelp.
Ever since its founding in 1961, the South Florida Science Center has been trying to get kids excited about science through interactive exhibits and educational outreach. Image courtesy of WhereTraveler.
With rotating and permanent exhibits, the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium is always finding new ways to make learning exciting. From the human brain and the Everglades to environmental conservation and Space, every exhibit at the Science Center brings science to life with immersive experiences and state-of-the-art equipment.
Open year-round, the Science Center welcomes visitors from 9 am to 5 pm during the week and from 10 am to 6 pm on the weekends. With a planetarium, an aquarium, an observatory, and more, the Science Center is sure to add a little educational enrichment to your road trip—and a whole lot of fun.
“What an amazing place for children and adults alike! . . . There are multiple rooms throughout the museum and even a room geared towards smaller children with a water play table, books, costumes for dress up, so much for the littles to do.” -Heather H. on Yelp.
Traditional Japanese-inspired architecture adorns this spacious property that has two museums and 16 acres of gardens. Image courtesy of Bucket List 127.
In 1904, a group of Japanese farmers formed a colony in present-day Boca Raton. Yet, the small community dwindled and the settlers eventually dispersed. Named after George Sukeji Morikami, one of the original members of Florida’s Yamato Colony who donated his land to Palm Beach County, the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens commemorates the century-old ties between Japan and Florida.
Learn more about the Yamato Colony and Japan by perusing the original Yamato-kan building and the accompanying museum that was built later on. Then, wander through the gardens that feature period design, a bonsai tree collection, and koi-filled ponds.
“This place is absolutely beautiful, and I'd say it's a must-see. The exhibits are spectacular. The whole place just radiates this peaceful feeling. It is absolutely somewhere you want to check out and visit.” -Heidi S. on Yelp.
Ronald Boender was just a butterfly enthusiast until he moved to Florida after retiring from electrical engineering in 1968. His hobby quickly turned professional with the establishment of MetaScience Co. in 1984, a commercial butterfly farm. After meeting Clive Farrell, who founded and, at that time, owned the London Butterfly House, the two teamed up, and Butterfly World was born.
Butterfly World boasts butterfly and bird aviaries, as well as botanical gardens, and serves as a habitat to more than 20 thousand live butterflies. Stand in wonder as a wide range of butterflies flutter before you, hand-feed the lorikeets at the 6 Free-Flight Aviary, and enjoy the picturesque scenes within the facility when you make Butterfly World your last stop before Fort Lauderdale.
“I ABSOLUTELY ADORE THIS PLACE! Every time we have family or friends in town this is one of the very first stops.” -Misty P. on Yelp.
There’s nothing better than a scenic drive with some exciting stops scheduled in, and as you can see, you’re not short on options when it comes to planning a road trip from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale. Natural beauty, curious creatures, and enchanting exhibits are just a few of the things that you’ll find when you make the drive from one great city to another. It’s time to fill up your gas tank, pack your bags, and do some exploring because no matter what road you take, fun is always on the horizon when you’re in Florida!