Florida, the Sunshine State. Just having the audacity to call yourself the sunshine state, means either that you have guts, or that you can lay claim to that very idiom “The Sunshine State”.
Florida has sunshine in spades. It can also boast legendary places like Key West, South Beach, Miami, Everglades, Florida Keys, The Gulf Coast, beaches up and down both coasts and probably the greatest collection of amusement parks in the world around the Orlando area. The powder white beaches of the Gulf Coast and the turquoise waters around the Florida Keys, combined with world class food and drinks in Miami make Florida the ultimate sunworshippers paradise.
High season is between December and May, hurricane season is between June and November and the chance for wet weather and hurricanes is big in that period. It should be noted that we have visited a few times in October and also in April/May, and have had little trouble weatherwise, you can experience some heavy showers and wind, but mostly it is warm and enjoyable weather. The prices are lower for hotels as well in the low season, and prices can get pretty crazy in the high season.
We have spent quite a few lazy hours on a beach bed on South Beach, one of our favourite autumn destinations, to get some sun before the European winter takes hold. South Beach is one of the best destinations for relaxing, shopping and eating in the whole of Florida and perhaps the US. The drive to Key West is one of the more epic road trips in the world. We have done this a few times, just because Key West is cool and different. And during those trips we have amassed great knowledge of what to see along the way down the Florida Keys. The Gulf coast is spectacular, the beaches are whiter and finer than its counterparts on the Atlantic Ocean side, and we have some good advice on where to stop along that coast. The drive between the coasts on the Tamiami Trail that runs through the Everglades is also something to experience, and of course we will give good tips on what to do on the trail. We have only been to Busch Gardens in Tampa of all the parks that exist in Florida, we are hoping to visit more of the parks in the future, especially the Harry Potter and Star Wars parks.
We will give you tips on South Beach of course, Key West and on the way there the John Pennekamp Park for snorkelling, Bahia Honda for swimming and the awesome day trip to the Dry Tortugas. And we almost forgot, where to swim with dolphins on Key Largo.
So, first: Welcome to Miami!
The legendary South Beach, home of Tony Montana, Crockett and Tubbs, Gianni Versace, and CSI. The iconic art deco buildings of Ocean Drive have been used for many tv series, movies and music videos. The Art Deco buildings of South Beach and of Miami in general are just fantastic. The greatest collection of their kind anywhere in the world. The buildings were nearly destroyed in the 70s, but conservation societies and the fact that South Beach was beyond shady in the 70s and 80s saved them.
Some were spruced up for the Miami Vice series, but if you watch Scarface with Al as Tony Montana you can get a glimpse of the rather seedy worn down South Beach in the beginning of the movie when they have a run in with a chainsaw in a condo on Ocean Drive. At night Ocean Drive is a kaleidoscope of colours from the that hangs on all buildings along the way. Ocean Drive itself transforms into the freak show and show off show during the night, bringing out the gangsters in their Bentleys, the preppy stockbrokers in their Ferraris and the tourists in their rented Mustang cabs. Ocean Drive is a zoo and the people watching is epic. Worth noticing is also the Gianni Versace mansion on the middle of the strip, private home before he was murdered on the steps of the house, now it is a museum and a restaurant.
Miami International Airport is located west of downtown Miami. Airports are airports we think, not many airports stick out like somewhere you remember or revere, other than being places you have to transit on the way to your destination. Miami is no exception to this rule, but it gets points for high ceilings and bright public areas. You must pass through immigration and like most airports in the US this takes time but the automated process speeds things up a bit. Collect your luggage and head past the last check point to the arrivals hall. If you have rented a car or you want to use public transport, you need to take the shuttle MIA Mover train that will take you to the central hub for car rental and public transport.
From the airport we have always just headed for the taxi stand and probably the fastest way to get to the beach. You can take the public Miami Beach Bus, but a taxi is faster and also a cooler way to arrive at your hotel. The flat rate for a taxi from MIA to South Beach is currently 35 USD (per 2020). It is about a 20-minute ride depending on traffic. For the full Grand Theft Auto experience, ask the driver to take the MacArthur Causeway into South Beach. You will know what we mean when you zoom past Star Island on the causeway made famous by the game.
Our favourite hotel by far, and one of the hotels we have stayed the most at is the Kimpton Surfcomber on South Beach. Nestled among many of the enormous South Beach hotels, the Surfcomber is a little gem. A smaller hotel that has kept its charm and has a great vibe to it. Only 4 stories high it boasts an intimate atmosphere, a great pool area and genuinely nice rooms. We love it. And they have free wine tasting every evening! It’s on the beach, so grab your swimwear and walk down to the beds and cabanas they have by the oceanside if you prefer that to the pool. They also have free rentals of bicycles, and biking along the beach promenade is just what it’s all about in South Beach. The inhouse restaurant is great for breakfast and the pool bar serves yummy lunch and delish drinks. On the beach you can order the same food and drinks to be consumed by the sea. The hotel is located only a few blocks from the Lincoln RD Mall.
Shopping and food
The main shopping and restaurant street in South Beach is the Lincoln Rd Mall, running along the Lincoln Rd, this outdoors pedestrian mall is where it’s at for the shopaholics and food addicts. Set along very cool art deco centrepieces in the middle of the street and lots of cool art deco buildings. Check out the old car dealer sign on the Guess shop and see the old theatre that is now an H&M store. You might feel sad, but if those shops had not moved in the buildings might have been lost. Lincoln Rd Mall is a bustling hub of people and it is the greatest place to people watch in the evening.
Just sitting with a cold Margarita on one of the many bars along the street, and watch all the locals with their dogs doing their walks, the tourists and the freaks all mixing it up on warm evenings on the mall. You get all the shops you need, from Apple to Forever 21 to Urban Outfitters and John Varvatos, of course a plethora of restaurants and bars and some of the best outside dining in Miami.
Every Sunday there is a cool Farmers Market where we make sure to go whenever we are at South Beach on a Sunday to sample fresh fruit smoothies, empanadas and some great artisan coffee. Every second Sunday from October to May there is an antique market as well and it is a good opportunity to stack up on the more unusual souvenirs from South Beach.
The Lincoln Eatery Food Hall is a new and good option for food. The very cool new food hall Time Out Market used to be an old parking garage, and now boasts a host of different restaurants and lots of communal tables with bars all around. We have been back evening after evening, just because of the vibe and excellent food.
Along Collins avenue, the main drag on South Beach, there is also a wide selection of restaurants and bars. Starting on 18th street and walking south you will be spoilt for choice, and if you want to se all the cool cars with the beautiful people riding with their tops down, this is the place to sit curb side. The spectacle is just too much to take in sometimes. At 15th street you can do a left and walk down Ocean Drive and all that art deco coolness. The place is a heaving melting pot of loud music, posers in cars, gangs of partygoers and colourful and huge drinks all around. We have found that whole scene a bit much, and over touristy, and the southernmost part of Ocean Drive is a bit shady but there are some great places too. The best place for steaks in South Beach is without a doubt The Betsy Hotel. We had one of our best steak meals ever at The Betsy.
If you continue down Collins Avenue you will have lots of great shopping, bars and restaurants there as well. One of our favourite little taco shops lies hidden here, the Taquiza serves delish tacos, try the freshly made nachos and the grasshopper taco!
If you want to try something uniquely Cuban, we recommend the Puerto Sagua on the corner of 7th and Collins. A genuine Cuban place with great menu and prices, and the feel of the whole place is just so cool
Espanola Way between Drexel Avenue and Washington Avenue is a small pedestrian street filled with restaurants and bars spilling into the street, it has a great Cuban/Mexican/Miami vibe.
What to do in South Beach?
If you belong to the 24hrs party people, you will be spoilt for choice. Some of the best pool parties and nightclubs in the US are in South Beach and the Miami area. Since we belong to the 24hrs relax and lounge by the beach people (more or less) we could not give you any sound advice on where to go and how much it would cost (a lot we know). Check out the Miami And Beaches website if you feel the need to party.
For us lazy days on the beach are what we enjoy, and to flip flop that short distance down to the hotels beach area is just enough effort spent on having a great day. As mentioned before a bike ride along the beach north or south is a great way to see the different areas of South and North Beach, just remember to do this during the morning or afternoon, or else you will be sweatier than a Norwegian viking in full fur regalia in the sun.
We have also enjoyed a few jet ski tours around Miami Beach and it’s a great way to see the area and gawk at the mansions at Star Island (if you have ever played Grand Theft Auto you will know this island) and Fisher Island home of Oprah and Tom Cruise. Just zooming across the waters surrounding South Beach is a blast. If you decide to rent or go on a tour, just check that they originate from the South Beach area and not downtown Miami (we have done that mistake). The Miami Beach Ocean Watersports have great facilities, so check them out.
A walk along the beach is a must on any day, walk all the way down to the southernmost point of South Beach at South Pointe Park Pier and take a look at the pelicans and fishermen who fish at the pier.
Walking along the beach and the esplanade is probably one of the more popular options in the morning or evening, you can walk for miles if you feel like it. The many colorful life guard towers along the beach makes for great photo oportunities. And not to forget swimming in the lukewarm waters of South and North Miami beach, it is glorious to bask in the warm water knowing that in Norway the water is frozen on the lakes. Just watch out for the currents, they can be quite fierce, and always listen to the lifeguard if he/she tells you to not go so far out to sea for your swim.
We love South Beach and we come back year after year, because of the general vibe of South Beach, the food and the fantastic shopping. It is the best feeling to lounge on a beach and the only thought in your head is whether you should order a mango or a strawberry daiquiri next.
The Overseas Highway, the Florida Keys and Key West.
A trip to Key West is a must when you visit Miami and Florida! You can easily do it as a long daytrip if you start early in the morning from South Beach. From South Beach it’s about 3 ½ hrs straight drive to Key West. From Miami airport it’s about 3hrs 10minutes. We would recommend staying at least 1 night at Key West and make sure to see some of the sights on the way to Key West and also in and around Key West itself. Like our day trip to the Dry Tortugas. Regarding car rental we have used Sixt on Washington Avenue in South Beach, it has the best and closest location to the Surfcomber hotel were we normally stay. Sixt also has a great selection of cool cars. From Miami Airport we have used both Sixt and Avis for cars. If you feel nervous driving a car in the US, read our section on US drivers and how to handle the multi lane interstate roads here.
From either South Beach or Miami Airport you will drive for quite a while on highways, more than an hour at least on the Ronald Reagan Turnpike south that turns into the old Highway 1 ending on Key West. Until you reach the blue bridge heading into Key Largo, there will be endless rows of cars and walls around the road, and no views whatsoever. In Key Largo you should stop if you have the time. On our last trip to Miami, we got straight into our car and drove down to Key Largo from the airport and spent the night in Marina Del Mar resort, we chose the hotel due to cheap price and location versus good bars and restaurants plus proximity to the John Pennekamp park.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
The morning after we had booked a snorkelling trip at the excellent and beautiful John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, home of the Christ Of the Abyss statue.
Christ Of the Abyss is a submerged bronze statue of Jesus Christ by Italian artist Guido Galletti. The original cast is located in the Mediterranean sea between Portofino and Camogli on the Italian riviera. On August 25, 1965, this statue was placed in approximately 25 feet (7.6 m) of water off the coast of Key Largo. The statue weighs around 260 kg, and the concrete base to which it is attached weighs approximately 9 tons. It makes for a spectacular sight surrounded by fish and corals.
It is essential that you prebook your experience, it gets fully booked quite fast since there are only so many people that can visit the reef per day. We booked the first trip in the morning and had a great time swimming among schools of fish and great forests of coral reef formations that look like antlers sticking up from the rocks. And in the end, we located the statue, after we had a guide that unintentionally pointed us in the wrong direction. He was being ironic, which is unusual in Americans, so we took him seriously when he pointed away from the obvious point where the statue was. The water was warm (so no need for the wet suits we had originally rented) and visibility was great. At the jetty where the tours depart there is ample parking, a shop, facilities for showering and toilets. You can rent paddleboards, SUPs, kayaks to explore the many canals and mangroves in the area. There is also a nice beach area were you can snorkle or just relax and soak in the tepid and calm waters.
If you have dreamed about swimming and interacting with dolphins, we have found the place for you. We had a magical experience at the Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder centre. We opted for the Structured Swim, so we had a blast while interacting with the dolphins in the large natural pool of the centre. First and maybe last time that we kissed dolphins.
The Overseas Highway
After Key Largo the road will get quite spectacular, you will have more and more glimpses of the ocean, more and more road will be bridges across keys and small islands and sometimes the islands are so narrow that you feel like you’re actually driving in the turquoise ocean. The Overseas Highway started life as a railroad in 1912 regarded as the “eighth wonder of the world” and it was built at huge cost and was considered somewhat of a folly by the general public. The industrialist Henry Flagler was the man who built the railway but after the devastating Labour Day hurricane in 1935 it was partially destroyed. The remains were sold to the state of Florida, which used the remaining structures and sections to build the Overseas Highway. In the 1980s many of the bridges were replaced, and that is why you can see so many unused sections running parallel to todays road.
When you get to the more spectacular 7 Mile Bridge (yes it’s a bridge that’s 7 miles long over the ocean) you can see it very clearly on the section of road to your right if you travel south. A section of this old bridge was blown up for the movie “Last Action Hero”.
Just after 7 Mile Bridge is the genuinely nice stop of Bahia Honda State Park. You should stop here for a swim, and to take some cool photos of the old bridge that looms over the beach area.
Entering the town of Key West is a bit daunting, the streets will get narrower and you will feel more like you have driven into some pirates’ nest than a town. Good advice is to look at a map for the hotel location before you book in Key West. Many hotels say that they are on Key West and they do not lie but they are a long way outside the main streets of the town itself. We have stayed at the excellent and newly refurbished Blue Marlin Motel, good choice for a decent price and great location.
We have also stayed at the upmarket and rather expensive The Reach Key West, one of the few hotels in Key West that boasts a private beach. In addition to all the hotels there is a plethora of guest houses in Key West, each with their own charm and atmosphere.
U.S. Route 1 or U.S. Highway 1 (US 1) is the major north–south road in the eastern USA that starts in Key West and ends up in Fort Kent, Maine at the Canadian border. It runs for 2369 miles (3813 kilometres). The highway connects most of the major cities of the East Coast—including Miami, Jacksonville, Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.
Key West should be experienced on foot, it’s fascinating to walk up and down all the narrow streets soaking in the beautiful, lush gardens surrounding vintage cottages and conch style houses with bright pastel colours. Along the way you will find nice bakeries, local bars and restaurants, small art galleries and gift shops. A must of course is Duvall Street, the main street in Key West. The Sodom and Gomorrah of southern Florida. Absolutely packed with bars and restaurants, all kinds of freaks and tourists roaming the street in search of their next Margarita. And there is the Hemingway link. Writer Ernest Hemingway called Key West home between 1931 and 1939, and said it was good to live near a lighthouse, so that he found his way back home easily when he was drunk. You can visit his house and be fascinated by the history of the author and the house.
And you can of course visit his original famous watering hole Sloppy Joe’s or the newer Sloppy Joe’s just around the corner of Duvall Street. On the way you can queue up to have your picture taken at the Southernmost Point in the US. Or just wonder how there are so many free roaming chickens all around town. 90% of those staying at Key West will congregate around sunset at the dock to look at the sun setting into the ocean, or you can get on a cruise boat and see the sunset even closer.
A great way to see Key West from a different angle is to go on a jet ski tour around the Key itself. We have done this once and it was a cool experience and we got to see dolphins in the wild. Key West Jet Ski Tours have what you need.
We have only one recommendation for food on Key West, the Amigos Tortilla Bar on Greene St just around the corner from Duvall St. Fresh simple Mexican food as they say themselves. And sitting perched on the porch looking at all the people trying to get that quarter into the fish’s mouth (you will know what we mean) is entertaining for hours. Not that this is the only and best place to eat, there are hundreds of options, but we seem to have ended up here every time we have been to Key West.
Fantasy Fest is an annual 10-day party in paradise for grown-ups. Started in 1979 by a small group of Key West locals, the party was created to bring visitors to the island in what was a typically quiet, but beautiful season. It worked. Fantasy Fest has grown every year since its inception and is now the wildest extravaganza around! Fun-loving revelers from around the globe bring their creativity and imaginations as they descend upon Key West each year in October for 10 days filled with costuming, parades, libations, and excitement!
Key West has a weird mix of everything. It is part drunken paradise for adults both straight and gay. It has a vibe that we have found nowhere else on the planet. Duvall street is a circus at night, bringing in the weird and the wonderful. We love Key West, that is why we keep coming back to hang and do the drinking and the people watching that Key West is famous for. Enjoy Key West if you dare to venture into the weird and partly unknown.
The Dry Tortugas
One of the coolest things we have done in the last few years was to visit the Dry Tortugas National Park and Fort Jefferson off the tip of Key West. Dry Tortugas National Park is a cluster of islands at the far tip of the Florida Keys where turtles swim in the shadow of Fort Jefferson, a massive 19th century coastal fort held together by more than 16 million bricks. It is the largest brick structure in the Americas.
The Dry Tortugas are located 70 miles west of Key West and it takes about 2 ½ hours by boat depending on the weather and waves from Key West. You 100% must book tickets well in advance if you are going by boat, only 1 boat a day sails the return trip to the Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson. The Yankee Freedom is the boat you need to catch to get there and they will provide you with light breakfast and lunch included so you do not have to think about bringing food. We would though recommend bringing a supply of your own water and some light snacks. Just remember to bring everything back with you on the boat.
There is seating inside the boat with good air conditioning, there are seats outside in the sun and there are seats outside in the shade. If you get early to the check in, you will be able to board early and get the seats you want. Check in time is 7am at Key West pier at 100 Grinnell street and departure is 8am, departure is 3pm from Fort Jefferson so you have about 5 hours at the fort. The boat is open during the stay at the island, so if you need some airconditioned goodness, you can sit and cool down on the boat if you wish. If you have money to burn you can of course do it by seaplane. Or you could rent a private boat if the mood suits you.
Any which way you land on Fort Jefferson, you will be one or two of only a small number of guests that day, and that makes this a big adventure. There are also possibilities of camping on the island, check out the links for Dry Tortugas on how to apply for a permit. On the boat you can sign up for guided tours, or you can just do what we did, wander around and look at the awesomeness of human need to tame the elements. Construction of the fortress started in 1846 and was never really finished, mosquitoes, lack of fresh water, hurricanes and inaccessibility made formidable natural enemies. The fortress itself never fired any of its guns in anger, around 300 guns was supposed to be placed in the casemates and on top of the fortress. Some of those guns remain today and make for a spectacular sight. Fort Jefferson has a remarkable history, read more about its significance and history on the website for Fort Jefferson on Wikipedia.
Bring with you all you would need for a day at the beach of course, towels, sunhat, sunscreen and other paraphernalia you might need. There are few facilities at the fort, just a small gift shop and limited possibilities to purchase water and such on the boat. They will supply you with water, but if you forget a bottle there are only small awkward paper cups, so no way of bringing the water with you if you want some at the beach. Please read up on what is allowed and what is not allowed to bring to the island. And if you are prone to seasickness, take precautions, the voyage is rough, even on a good day.
It was incredible to walk around the fort itself, and to have full access to the inside as well. Entering through the main gate at the front, the inside of the fort held all amenities necessary for the fort to function. There are still houses, barracks, gun powder rooms and big trees in the huge courtyard. If you venture into the building itself, you can see the big casemates for the guns and the slits in the walls for the guns to poke out of. The areas are vast, just think that almost 300 guns could be housed here. The cavernous inside of the fort would make for some great movie set some day, imagine living here in the middle of nowhere, in the heat and with few resources to make your life a little comfortable.
Even though the boat holds 250 people at the max, you feel like you have the whole place to yourself. Walking alone and soaking in the history. We made our way to the top of the structure where you get stunning views of the island and there are some remaining big guns placed here so that you can get a feel for just how humungous they were. Walking around the top was awesome. You get a great look at the colony of about 100 000 Sooty Terns on Bush Key that is on the end of the spit of land that protrudes from Fort Jefferson. Bush Key is closed to humans, but the amount of birds is something to behold even at a distance.
The lunch on the Yankee Freedom is simple but good enough with bread, spread and juices. After lunch we of course had to check out the different beaches that surround the fort. Be aware of currents and there is a shark presence, so be aware of those. There are beaches all around the fort so which one you choose is mainly up to the wind, we tried all of them and had a long walk on the spit of land towards Bush Key. The sea was a bit rough to swim in at some places and those who brought snorkelling gear were a bit disappointed we heard; the visibility was not great during our visit.
The Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson was a unique experience, it is one of the least visited national parks in the US, due to the few numbers that can visit every day. The feeling of exclusivity and once in a lifetime experience was palpable. The structure itself is iconic, maybe a picture you have seen many times but never quite knew what it was or where it was. We highly recommend you take the time and the trip to the Dry Tortugas if you get the chance. Just remember to book early, we booked 6 months in advance. Enjoy!
The Tamiami Trail from Miami to Tampa
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!