Orlando to Fort Myers Road Trip: A Tour of the Sunshine State!

Take in the sights on this central Florida to the gulf coast road trip

Florida is one of the best states to take a road trip in-- it’s almost always sunny (hence the nickname of the Sunshine State), the weather is warm, and you’re never too far from a beach! For this road trip, we’re going to be traveling from the central part of Florida-- in the bustling city of Orlando-- all the way to southwest gulf coast, to the city of Fort Myers. This is quite a scenic trip, and there’s a lot to see along the way, including some of Florida’s most popular cities.

No matter whether you’re into the lounging at the beach, learning something new at a museum, or exploring all the natural wonders Florida has to offer, this is the road trip for you! So pack your backs and prepare to take the scenic route from Orlando to Fort Myers.

Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Park

Prepare for some wild fun with animals at this popular zoo

3755 W Seminole Blvd. | Sanford, FL | centralfloridazoo.org/

Who says all there is to see in Orlando are theme parks? There’s so much more going on in this city, although the theme parks are definitely worth checking out if you’re never experienced them. Instead of waiting in long lines, why not take a short drive over to Sanford, which is only about 20 minutes away from Orlando and check out the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Park? This zoo is 23 acres big and home to over 500 animals! Not only are there mammals and reptiles galore here, but there is also an insect zoo and a petting zoo where kids can feed the animals. Visitors also love that there is an area to feed the giraffes as well, which is a big hit with the kids. You can also arrange to get your photo taken with a rhino to take as a souvenir!

If you can’t get enough of animals, consider also checking out Giraffe Ranch in Dade City where you can get up close and personal with how giraffes live and socialize on a working ranch. There’s also the very popular Gatorland where you can learn about alligators and crocodiles-- from a very safe distance! 

Fantasy of Flight

So many amazing aircraft to view from the early 20th century to the 1950s!

1400 Broadway Blvd. SE | Polk City, FL | fantasyofflight.com

If you’re curious about airplanes, or just like to see what used to fly the friendly skies, than this museum is definitely worth checking out. As you make your way out of Orlando, Polk City is just a small stop along the way, but there will be signs for this attraction.The museum was founded by aviation enthusiast Kermit Weeks, who competed as aerobatic flying competitions with the United States Aerobatics Team. 

His collection has grown over the years, and he features airplanes such as the 1911 Valkyrie, the 1931 Bee Gee R-2, and a 1944 North American P 51-C Mustang. The collection rotates, but there are some planes on permanent exhibit, and the cost of tickets goes to maintaining them and others in the collection. Visitors to the museum love that you can see these parts of history up close, and it is especially well-loved by those fascinated by aircraft.

Dinosaur World

Go back to the prehistoric time of the dinosaurs!

5145 Harvey Tew Rd. | Plant City, FL | dinosaurworld.com

Who isn’t fascinated with dinosaurs, especially in central Florida! Here you can wander around the beautiful park and see life-size sculptures of dinosaurs in a natural setting! The park really works to try and display these animals as scientists believe they would have appeared in the wild. You can leisurely walk through the grounds to view exhibits, but there are also many interactive activities to explore as well! There are fossils and gems for kids to excavate, and even a cave tour lead by a paleontologist. 

The park is dog friendly, so if you travel with you pup, this would make a great place to stop and stretch out their legs. One of the best-loved parts of the park is the Prehistoric Museum, complete with animatronics and real Florida fossils. Previous visitors love Dinosaur World because there are so many amazing photo ops, and the gift shop has just about anything you could ask for!

The Florida Aquarium in Tampa

Learn all about life under the sea 

701 Channelside Dr. | Tampa, FL | flaquarium.org/

As you make you way further west, the next stop on your road trip is the exciting city of Tampa! There is a lot to do in this cosmopolitan city, and depending on how much time you have, you’ll want to make the most of it. You could check out Busch Gardens for some amazing roller coasters, or just chill for a few hours at the Davis Island Beach. 

While in the city, stop by the Florida Aquarium for a couple of hours. Here you’ll learn all about the inhabitants of the ocean that aren’t too far away! The aquarium features many ecosystems and animals that are native to Florida, but you can also expect to find exotic species from around the world. According to visitors, the staff is amazingly helpful and friendly, and the exhibits are very hands on-- you will definitely see some birds flying overhead and can touch the jellyfish exhibit as well.

Salvador Dali Museum

Explore this interesting museum housed in a one-of-a-kind building!

1 Dali Blvd. | St. Petersburg, FL | thedali.org/

Most people are familiar with the famous Dali painting of the melting watches, “The Persistence of Memory,” but did you know that this museum houses 2,400 pieces of his other work? This amazing collection includes oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, prints, and sculptures, all created by the artist himself. Whether you know a lot of the artist’s work, or just a small sampling, this museum is still a great place to visit while you’re in St. Petersburg. The building itself is a tribute to Dali, and includes the beautiful geodisc glass bubble that makes it such an architectural wonder.

There are docent-led tours, or you can choose to take the museum at your own pace. According to recent visitors, the gift shop is a must-see for all kinds of interesting Dali-inspired items. Don’t forget to grab a coffee or a dessert in the museum’s aptly named Avant-garden!

Gamble Plantation and Historic State Park

Tour the only surviving sugar plantation house in Florida

3708 Patten Ave. | Palmetto, FL | floridastateparks.org/

Just outside of Bradenton is a wonderfully preserved antebellum plantation house, the last one of its kind in Florida. After the Confederacy lost the Civil War, the Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin is said to have stayed here until he could flee the country for England. Eventually the house and grounds were donated to the state of Florida, and today is a restored example of what the main house of a sugar plantation looked like in the 1840s. Tours are offered daily, and visitors appreciate that the tour guides are very knowledgeable, the house and the grounds are well kept, and that there are many historical artifacts. Since this is also a state park, there are plenty of areas to picnic, take a walk, or explore one of the nature trails. 

Siesta Key Beach

Take some time to relax at the beach!

948 Beach Rd. | Sarasota, FL | visitsarasota.com/siesta-key

The western coast of Florida has some of the most scenic views, and once you reach this part of your road trip, it’s definitely time to hit up the beach! Siesta Key is not far from Sarasota, which at one time was the winter home of the Ringling Brothers Circus. Sarasota is also well known for the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and the Ringling Museum of Art, but if you’re looking to just relax for a while, stop over at Siesta Key Beach! 

Unlike most beaches which are made of coral, this beach is made of pulverized quartz, which is why it is still cool to the touch even on the sunniest Florida day. This is also why it’s such a popular beach, with soft sand and amazing sunsets! Here you can set up shop and have some fun in the shallow waters that surround the beach. Stop off at the Siesta Key Village to do some shopping or grab a bite to eat right on the shore.

Myakka River State Park

Explore one of Florida’s largest state parks

13208 State Road 72 | Sarasota, FL | floridastateparks.org

Sometimes you just want to get out of the car and see something new. Make time for a stop at Myakka River State Park and truly see all the natural wonders that Florida has to offer. There are palm trees and oaks that line the Myakka River banks, where you might catch a glimpse of a turtle or an alligator. The river navigates through wetlands, prairies, and forests which contain all kinds of native flora and fauna, so keep your eyes peeled. 

If you have the chance, consider doing some hiking or biking in the area, or rent a canoe or kayak to explore the river up close. You can even sign up to take a tour of the Myakka River either by boat or by tram, which is a very popular option for visitors! 

Peace River Botanical and Sculpture Garden

Tour beautiful gardens and see art up close and personal

5827 Riverside Rd. | Punta Gorda, FL | peacerivergardens.org/

There is something very calming about touring a wonderfully landscaped garden that is full of sculptures. This botanical and sculpture garden started out as wetlands, but was developed to include a wonderful array of native plants as well as world-class art. You can tour the 30 acre grounds and observe birds and other animals that call this ecosystem home. 

The flowering trees and plants create their own beauty, but this garden goes beyond that and also includes sculptures from artists around the world. Some are modeled and inspired by the native plants in the garden, but others are designed to inspire creativity in all who see them. There is extensive information about each sculpture and artist, making this garden a peaceful way to spend some time.

Captiva and Sanibel Islands

These two islands are amazing places to explore and enjoy

Captiva and Sanibel Islands, FL | sanibel-captiva.org/

Just off the coast of Fort Myers are two very popular islands-- Captiva and Sanibel. Both are known for their amazing beaches, but there is much more to do here! Both islands are great places to book a tour out on the water. What better way is there to get the whole gulf coast of Florida experience than out on the gulf itself? Sign up for a fishing adventure or a dolphin cruise, where you’re sure to get some amazing pictures. These cruises also offer some of the best bird watching in the area, so make sure to bring your binoculars.

After exploring the water by boat, consider trying your hand at snorkeling or SCUBA diving, where you’ll catch some unforgettable glimpses of native fish, plants, and crustaceans. Both Sanibel and Captiva are well known as shelling beaches, so if you’re ready to hunt, you could come home with some amazing finds! Shopping and dining are plentiful on the islands as well, so dine seaside if you can. 

Fort Myers Beach 

Relax on the beach and enjoy your stay

2523 Estero Blvd. | Fort Myers, FL | fortmyersbeachfl.gov/

The last stop on this road trip is Fort Myers Beach, one of the most beautiful on the gulf! There’s lots to do here, including swimming, fishing off the pier, shopping, dining, or shelling. If you’re up for it, head over to the Estero Bay Preserve State Park for a more peaceful look at the Fort Myers area. Here you can rent a boat and explore the bay and get a close up look at some of the mangrove trees, seagrass beds, and nesting birds.

Fort Myers also has some great cultural attractions as well, such as the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, the Railroad Museum of South Florida, and the IMAG History and Science Center. So take your time and enjoy the time you have in Fort Myers.

Road trips are always a fun idea, especially in the sunny state of Florida! There’s a lot to see while you’re taking the journey from Orlando to Fort Myers, did we miss any of your favorite stops? Let us know in the comments!

Albion Skeldon

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