When opened in 1928 the Tamiami Trail was the only route between Miami on the Atlantic coast and Naples on the Gulf Coast of Florida. It was at the time considered a major achievement of engineering, it took 13 years and 2,6 million sticks of dynamite to construct the road that crosses the Everglades. It is a two-lane road that runs through some stunning landscape and scenery, en route there are several attractions and small byways that make interesting visits and walks. Designated US41 it runs from Miami across the Everglades to Naples and continues all the way to Tampa (hence Tamiami, an amalgam of Tampa and Miami). Its younger brother the I75 is a four lane highway constructed in the mid 80s running parallel north of US41. US41 is the scenic way to cross the Everglades, the I75 is pure Interstate transport even though it runs through what is called “Alligator Alley”. The I75 will take about 2hrs from Miami to Naples, the US41 will be around 2 ½ hours.
Stops and byways on the Tamiami Trail
If you have a dream of going on one of those huge flat boats with an airplane engine on its back zooming across the Everglades, there are plenty of choices along the Tamiami Trail in the Everglades. We have done this once but were rather disappointed when we realized that we would only be zooming on a premade course in between the mangroves, no alligators were spotted, only a few racoons. So quite an underwhelming experience. Choose where you get your swamp boat kicks carefully so that you get the most for your money. If you feel the need for fan assisted speed across the mangroves, you should try Buffalo Tiger Airboat tours, they come highly recommended.
The Kirby Storter Roadside Park is a picnic area with facilities right next to the Tamiami trail, and it has a very nice and cool boardwalk into the Big Cypress National Preserve. If you would like to get the feel of what this area is all about a few feet from the asphalt, you should take this short and remarkably interesting walk. We saw alligators, birds, and all sorts of small and large critters along the boardwalk that ends at a big pond with benches where you can sit down and observe the wildlife. We highly recommend this stop.
If you are after a spectacular place to eat lunch or just have a snack take the detour via Everglades City and continue all the way to Chokoloskee at the very end of the road. This is as far as you get by road in this part of the Everglades. Here you can find the small gem of a restaurant that is Havana Café. Open between 15th April and 15th October it serves fresh fish and delish sandwiches in their cool and very Everglades garden.
Nearing the Gulf coast you could be tempted to go via Marco Island, we have done that for you, and we can say that this is just a waste of time. Lots of gated communities for the wealthy give no access to the sea, and there is nothing to see at all here.
Continue to the charm of Naples instead. The very quaint downtown area is known for high end shopping and dining. Do not let that scare the more budget aware traveller, Naples is a very cool city to explore with colonial buildings and nice architecture. Head to historic Naples Pier and beach to relax and have a swim if the heat gets too much during the day.
If you are looking for a pristine beach without any development, drive north of Naples to the hidden gem of Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, a great stretch of conserved beach and wooded hinterland. We enjoyed a few blissful hours here on the sand on one of our trips here.
One important thing to observe as you make your way up north along the Gulf coast is that much of the coastline is developed. For long stretches there is no water access, all is taken by houses and buildings. You need to keep your wits about you to take the right road. The main Interstate is I75 that runs inland, it will be the fastest way to move long distances in a short time of course. Between I75 and the coast is the Tamiami Trail (US41) that runs through the cities and main commercial areas and this road is slow and full of traffic lights. What you need to find is the coast road, the thing about this road is that it will be glorious for a few miles, then it will head inland and join US41 for miles, then it will suddenly veer off to the coast again, only to dead end at an island. A good example of this is just north of Naples. If you visit Naples, and then have a swim at Delnor-Wiggins you need to find US41, then do a left to Bonita Beach and take this road north along the coast, a very nice road with some beach access. After San Carlos Island, you would think that taking a left again to continue up the coast would be a great idea, but this is a dead end at Sanibel Island. Although this is a great dead end, Sanibel Island is beautiful and famed for its shells on the beach and the sunsets, you still must backtrack to US41 to continue north.
Our favourite is St. Armands and Lido Key Beach on the coast of Sarasota. There is a very cool vibe around the circle at St. Armands. The whole area was purchased by circus kingpin John Ringling in 1917 to be used for luxury development and upscale shopping on a roundabout. And basically, that’s what it is, very fascinating to walk around and take in the blue haired army shopping at Banana Joes. The whole area has a plethora of restaurants, bars, and shopping just one block from the stunning Lido Key Beach. We can only recommend The Holiday Inn since this is the only hotel, we have stayed at but it’s a good one and they had warm cookies on arrival.
The coast road continues along the beaches via Longboat Key, Bradenton and dead ends at Anna Maria Island and the nice Anna Maria City Pier.
From Anna Maria it is a meandering drive through Bradenton and north to I275 and across the imposing Sunshine Skyway Bridge that spans Tampa Bay. After the bridge we would recommend to head for the beaches again. St Petes Beach, Treasure Island, Redington Beach and all the way up to Clearwater. All spectacular beaches with plenty of accommodation choices. We have only stayed at one hotel here, but we still talk about it with fondness, the location, Tiki bar and hot cookies of the Doubletree Hilton Beach North Redington were all awesome.
Our final stop is Busch Gardens in Tampa. It is the only amusement park we have visited in Florida so far, and we did it to ride the epic rollercoasters of Busch Gardens. They boast 3 of the worlds top 50 steel rollercoasters. It’s also ranked among the top 10 amusement parks in the US. Needless to say, there are plenty of ways to be green in the face in this park. In addition, there are more than 200 species of animals in the park. We had a blast on our visit, it was low season, so with VIP passes we could ride the rollercoasters until we had carrots coming out of our noses. In 2021 they will open the Iron Gwazi, the fastest and steepest hybrid coaster in the world. We loved the Sheikra’s heart stopping drop and the inverted Montu coaster. The whole park demands at least a full day, or even more to get the full experience.
From Tampa International Airport you can fly almost anywhere, so for a one-way loop from Miami to Tampa it’s a great way to get home or to your next destination. We have done this trip combined with New York, flying to Tampa after a few days in New York, then a one-way car rental from Tampa to Miami.
Enjoy the Sunshine State!