The drive from Tampa to Miami is only a little over four hours—but if you’re going to be driving through Florida anyway, why not take full advantage of it? That’s right… It’s time for a road trip! With so many types of attractions to choose from, the Sunshine State is one of the best places to take a long drive and do some exploring. From outdoor recreation and nature to museums and city hotspots, you’ll have plenty of options when it comes to what to see and do as you make your way through Florida.
Our first stop is about an hour-and-a-half west of Tampa in the Lake Wales area. A small town with a well-balanced mix of history, nature, and art, Lake Wales is the perfect place to take a little break from driving, grab a bite to eat, and stretch your legs. Some of its highlights include Bok Tower Gardens, Spook Hill, and the Historic Downtown. However, the attraction we’ll be focusing on in Lake Wales is actually a bit outside of the city, about another half-hour west: Lake Kissimmee State Park.
As its name suggests, Lake Kissimmee State Park is based around a lake—well, several, actually. Lake Rosalie, Tiger Lake, and, of course, Lake Kissimmee, the biggest of the lakes, all border the park, and the rest of the lakes that are part of the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes are in the surrounding area. Boating, kayaking, canoeing, and fishing can all be enjoyed at Lake Kissimmee State Park, as can hiking, biking, birding, camping, horseback riding, and picnicking. One of the park’s most unique features, however, is its Cow Camp, a historic site that pays tribute to Florida’s past roots in the cattle industry. From October through May, this area of the park hosts a reenactment of life in 1876 when “cow hunters” combed the land, looking for the Florida Scrub Cows (also known as Cracker cows) that roamed freely throughout the state.
Vero Beach might be on the other side of the state from Tampa, but in Central Florida, that’s only around a two-and-a-half-hour drive! A waterfront city that’s seated on the Atlantic Coast, Vero Beach is a small but vibrant city where you can hit the beach, explore downtown, immerse yourself in nature, and much, much more. From the Vero Beach Museum of Art and the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge to Riverside Theatre and South Beach Park, you’ll have your fair share of attractions to choose from when you make a stop at this gem along Florida’s Treasure Coast. A place that you definitely don’t want to miss while you’re in the area is McKee Botanical Garden in Vero Beach South.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, McKee Botanical Garden is more than just a colorful place to enjoy some diverse plant life—it’s also a local symbol of cultural enrichment and educational value. With a history that dates back to 1932, the garden has grown (no pun intended!) from a novelty attraction to an enduringly popular celebration of Florida’s natural beauty. In addition to its horticultural collections, the garden also hosts rotating exhibitions and special events that focus on art, the environment, and community-building.
About two hours north of Tampa, Fort Pierce, also known as “The Sunrise City,” is one of the oldest towns on Florida’s East Coast. A small, charming city, Fort Pierce is a fun stop where you can delve into the Sunshine State’s history, indulge in some culture, and, all in all, just soak up the area’s versatile offerings. Popular spots to visit include Fort Pierce Inlet State Park, the A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery, and the Manatee Observation and Education Center. But, if you have any interest in the United State military, then you’ll want to plan a trip to the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum.
One of the only museums of its kind, the Navy SEAL Museum is dedicated to honoring and preserving the history of U.S. Navy SEALs and their predecessors. With exhibits, artifacts, weaponry, military vehicles, a memorial wall, sculptures, and even an obstacle course, the Navy SEAL Museum is compelling, informative, and provides visitors with a number of opportunities to take part in some hands-on learning. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm (the hours are limited to 12 pm to 4 pm on Sundays), and admission is $15 for adults (ages 13 and over); $12 for seniors, veterans, and first responders; and $7 for children (ages 5 and under get free admission).
A little over an hour north of Miami, West Palm Beach always makes for an exciting detour when driving through South Florida. With beautiful beaches, fascinating museums, trendy boutiques, and a breathtaking waterfront location, West Palm Beach is an ideal place to sink your toes in the sand, see some art (try the Norton Museum of Art or the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens), do a little shopping (if you’re into antiques, don’t miss Antique Row!), and enjoy live music—especially if SunFest is in town. Looking to tap into the more natural side of the Sunshine State? Make sure you check out the South Florida Science Center & Aquarium.
Having been founded in 1961, the South Florida Science Center & Aquarium has been an advocate for education in West Palm Beach for over 50 years. With an aquarium; an observatory; an outdoor, conservation-themed miniature golf course; a planetarium; nature trail punctuated with different exhibits; and a wide range of rotating exhibits, the SF Science Center offers visitors a number of ways to appreciate just how exciting and fun science really is! Children and adults alike can enjoy this engaging attraction, and with such a long list of activities, the center really does have something for just about everyone.
As you continue your way down Florida’s East Coast toward Miami, you’ll come across Delray Beach, a delightful, modestly-sized town just about an hour north of the Magic City that feels like one big neighborhood. From shopping on East Atlantic Avenue to playing a quick game of mini-golf at Putt’n Around, you’re sure to have a blast in this intimate, bubbly metropolis. In addition to the boutiques and restaurants that you’ll find in Downtown Delray Beach, you’ll also have an opportunity to browse an array of artwork or even see a live show when you visit Old School Square, a National Historic Site and a centerpiece of the Delray’s Downtown Shopping District.
A multifaceted venue, Old School Square includes the Cornell Art Museum, Crest Theatre, the Fieldhouse (another performance center), Old School Square Park, and the Creative Arts School. The campus’s buildings—many which are restored 20th-century schoolhouses—add to Old School Square’s creative atmosphere and its classic feel. All of the venues frequently host special events that you can find listed on the Old School Square website, so make sure to check out what’s going on while you’re in town!
Situated south of Delray Beach and north of Fort Lauderdale (and Miami), Boca Raton is an eclectic blend of beaches, golf courses, outdoor recreation, and cultural attractions. From the Boca Raton Museum of Art and Mizner Park Amphitheater to the Children’s Science Explorium and Florida Atlantic University, Boca is a place where adventure runs rampant and the sun is (almost) always shining. Boca has a number of parks, but if you’re looking to enjoy the city’s coastal views and see some Florida wildlife up close, then head over to Red Reef Park—which, in addition to having boardwalk trails and access to the ocean, is also home to the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center.
Located at the north end of Red Reef Park, this 20-acre environmental education center has nature trails, research labs, aquariums, a butterfly garden, and a sea turtle rehabilitation unit. In the aquariums, you’ll find coral habitats brimming with all sorts of fish. The best time to visit the butterfly garden is in May and June, and if you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of Florida’s state butterfly, the zebra longwing, while you’re there. The center’s headlining attraction, however, is undoubtedly its sea turtles, who have been rescued and are recuperating at the facility until they are strong enough to go back into the wild.
About 44 minutes north of Miami, Fort Lauderdale is nothing short of a Floridian paradise. Some of its top attractions include Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens, the Riverwalk, and, of course, the beach! Luxurious, beautiful, and full of life, Fort Lauderdale always makes for an entertaining stop on the way to Miami. For visitors looking to experience the city in all of its glory, you can’t go wrong with a trip to Las Olas Boulevard, an iconic thoroughfare that’s lined with restaurants, shops, and other local businesses.
Whether you’re chasing nightlight, on the hunt for a place to grab dinner, or just in the mood to do a little window shopping, Las Olas Boulevard is the place to be in Fort Lauderdale. Depending on where you’re interests lie, it’s usually a pretty good idea to check out some of the street’s venues ahead of time, unless you’re the type of person who doesn’t mind a long walk! From art, books, and home furnishings to apparel, specialty foods, and antiques, you can find just about any kind of store that you might be looking for on Las Olas Boulevard. And the same goes for food! Casual dining, cafes, bakeries, pubs, and take out are just some of the options that you’ll have if you decide to follow your stomach down the Boulevard.
Among the biggest cities in Florida, Miami is a lively place that’s filled with adventure. Some of Miami’s top attractions include Pérez Art Museum Miami, Bayfront Park, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, and Jungle Island. But just because there’s so much waiting for you doesn’t mean that you have to skip over what’s on the way! Trust us, you’re going to love the Magic City—but the memories that you’ll make getting there are equally priceless, and Florida is definitely a state that’s worth exploring. So, make a few stops on the drive from Tampa to Miami. After all, what have you got to lose?