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If you’re looking for an unforgettable road trip on the eastern seaboard of the USA, I can’t recommend Florida enough. From the southern tip of this mythical state, head for Orlando via fabulous Miami to discover the unsuspected wonders of the Sunshine State. You’ve rented your car and you’re ready to drive and discover magical places? Here are my recommendations.
1. Key West
Key West is a magnificent town that seems frozen in the past, with mansions built in Victorian style: wooden facades, shutters, verandas shaded by lush vegetation and more. This is the southernmost point of the United States of America. A gigantic concrete bollard flocked with Southermost Point tells you that Cuba is 90 miles from the city. Tourists love to have their photo taken in front of this milestone.
For my part, I recommend that you make the most of Duval Street, the city’s main thoroughfare. Here you’ll find lively bars offering tasty cocktails to be enjoyed in a festive atmosphere. Numerous souvenir stores line this colorful street. Cuban cigars in particular.
Mallory Square is a large square that opens onto the open sea. Colonial-style restaurants welcome you for a gourmet getaway. I invite you to try the Key Lime Pie. This lime pie is a local specialty. A melt-in-the-mouth meringue covers it. Accompanied by an iced tea, this sweet treat will tantalize your taste buds.
Stroll or cycle the many streets of Key West. Elisabeth Street is an eloquent example of the tranquility of residential neighborhoods. The houses are breathtakingly charming, with wood-paneled facades in colors ranging from white to pastel yellow and turquoise blue. The gardens offer an atmosphere of small oases of freshness. And don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Key West lighthouse, with its flamboyant tropical blossoms. The panoramic view is fabulous.
Finally, an activity that attracts many curious visitors is a visit to Ernest Hemingway’s house, now owned by feline descendants, intriguing in its beauty and majesty.
2. On the road to Miami
To get to Miami, you’ll need to take the wonderful Overseas Highway. This road crosses dozens of Keys, islands of greenery teeming with life. It offers sumptuous panoramas over nearly 160 kilometers. It will take you around 4 hours 30 minutes to drive from Key West to Miami on the Overseas Highway, but I suggest you allow a day to discover all the beauty on offer.
Bahia Honda State Park boasts one of the most beautiful beaches in the United States. The marinas are equally charming. On Big Pine Key, you may be lucky enough to come across small deer strolling through the Key Deer Wildlife Reserve. This is an amazing endemic species. It’s imperative to be vigilant, as these exceptional deer are endangered.
The town of Marathon offers a wide range of family activities, including dolphin watching. Islamorada is another village well worth a visit. Many artisans offer beautiful, colorful works of art.
On Key Largo, I think the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a must-see. The town of Tavernier welcomes tourists in a historic atmosphere. There are plenty of activities to do, including canoeing, paddling and, above all, snorkeling.
Once you arrive in Miami, the activities to be enjoyed are many and varied. Here are a few recommendations for a two-day stay.
Lincoln Road is considered the beginning of downtown Miami Beach. Here you’ll find a wealth of stores and eateries. The major ready-to-wear companies are present in force in this district, which has been renamed Lincoln Road Mall. The term “mall” refers to a shopping center. Shopaholics will find H&M, Adidas, Quicksilver, Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret and even L’Occitane.
Ocean Drive is the place to be in Miami. This is the Art Deco district where, facing the Atlantic Ocean, hotels line up with colorful facades reminiscent of the 1920s. As you stroll along, you’ll be immersed in the past as you contemplate this flamboyant architecture, with the gentle melody of the waves licking the shore in the background.
South Beach is Miami’s best-known beach. Covered in white sand, it offers bathers calm, crystal-clear water on a calm day. However, when the wind blows or a storm approaches, the Atlantic Ocean becomes furious again. This Miami neighborhood is just as lively during the day as it is at night. The atmosphere is always festive.
The last must-see stop in Miami is Little Havana. Many Latinos live in this neighborhood, which gives the impression of being projected onto beautiful Cuba. If you’re looking for restaurants to sample Cuban specialties, 8 th Street is the place to go. It really is a picturesque neighborhood with its Latin architecture. Life is tasted differently by the locals: optimism and sweetness of life.
4. Stopover in the Everglades
After visiting Miami, head for the Gulf Coast. As part of your road trip, you’ll have to cross the Everglades. Everglades National Park is a system of marshes where a rich biodiversity flourishes. The must-do activity is to explore the mangroves by airboat. A safe and fabulous way to discover the park’s strange fauna, including the dreaded alligators.
As you leave the Everglades, you enter another natural park: the Big Cypress National Preserve. I’m sure you’ll marvel at the great biological diversity offered by the wet cypress forest, home to a rich mangrove swamp and magnificent orchids. The local wildlife is pretty scary. As well as alligators, you may come across venomous snakes, lynx, black bears, not to mention the beautiful Florida panthers. Be careful not to stray off the beaten track!
Naples is a wealthy seaside resort. The city center is pleasant to walk around, with its pastel-colored buildings. If you park in the residential area of the center, you’ll discover magnificent mansions with Edenic gardens, shaded by trees such as mango and flamboyant. You’ll have easy access to the white-sand beach, bordered by emerald vegetation. The main attraction is certainly the pier: Naples Pier. This wooden structure, where pelicans love to land, juts out into the crystal-clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot dolphins playing around the pier.
Sanibel is a must on your Florida road trip. It lies off the coast of Cape Coral. The town’s charming residential districts are built on islets, surrounded by canals, just like in Venice. For a few dollars, you can drive to Sanibel via the Sanibel Causeway. The island is famous for its atypical lighthouse and its beach covered in shells: Lighthouse Beach. Beware: many of them, even if on the shore, are still alive. Sunset lovers will be delighted by the colors of the Gulf of Mexico at the end of the day.
7. Venice Beach (Florida)
The small town of Venice Beach boasts a magnificent waterfront and a charming stroll through its pier. Venice Avenue features pretty buildings with pastel-pink facades in the Italian Renaissance style, hence the town’s name.
I urge you to head for Caspersen Beach. This beach, with its slightly dark sand, is bordered by lush vegetation, including palm trees. You can walk along the shore on a wooden pontoon. This is a popular spot for shark tooth seekers. It’s easy enough to find small ones by digging in the sand with a small landing net. Budding paleontologists will love this activity. In the parking lot, watch out for shark tooth sellers offering you specimens of rare size. Impressive, but made of resin! If you prefer a swim, Caspersen Beach has lovely clear emerald-colored water that’s deliciously warm from June onwards.
8. Siesta Key
Siesta Key is easy to reach from Sarasota. On this island paradise, you’ll have the opportunity to bask in the sun on one of Florida’s largest and most beautiful white-sand beaches: Siesta Beach. The delightfully warm water oscillates between turquoise and transparent. Other beaches, also facing west, welcome you to watch the blazing sunset. Just think of Turtle Beach, with its flowery coastline, or Crescent Beach.
9. Crystal River
The next stop on your road trip is Tampa. It’s one of Florida’s major cities, with plenty of opportunities for shopping and provisioning. Then head for Crystal River, a little further north in Florida. This small town is set in marshland, reminiscent of the Louisiana bayou. You can canoe to the Lamentins.
10. Arrival in Orlando
We’ve arrived in Orlando, the end of our road trip. Here you’ll find a host of theme parks to delight young and old alike: Disney World Orlando, Universal Studios, and more. I invite you to make a detour to Cape Canaveral, NASA’s space center where SpaceX rockets are launched.