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Florida USA: great 2-3 week round trip – West Coast

by Elisa Flitter Fever
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This article is about the west coast of Florida. This as part of a fantastic round trip through the American the Sunshine State! Twice I have traveled throughout Florida so far. So beautiful, would love to go again soon. Florida has a lot to offer and gives me the ultimate sun holiday feeling! On a round trip through Florida, what more could you wish for?! Swim with manatees, search for shells on Sanibel Island, spot crocodiles in the Everglades… Enjoy!

Key West Florida round trip
Idyllic Key West, Florida’s Southernmost Island

Florida round trip part 2: west coast

This is part 2 of the Florida round trip, in which we visit the west coast of Florida. In part 1 we went along the east coast of Florida, including Miami and Orlando. So we do this round trip from Miami and drive counterclockwise. But this Florida round trip can of course just as well be driven the other way around (clockwise). Or be launched from another place with an international airport, such as Orlando or Tampa.

The west coast of Florida, where places like Crystal River and St. Pete Beach, as well as the islands of Sanibel and Captiva, are located, is called the Gulf Coast. This side of the state (from the Alabama border to Key West) is located on the Gulf of Mexico.

Fort Myers Beach Florida
Fort Myers Beach

Crystal River

After Orlando, the next stop of the round trip is on the west coast of Florida: Crystal River. One of the things you should definitely do here is swim and snorkel with manatees and spot dolphins. Book a tour in advance in the Crystal River Wildlife Refuge.

You can also walk in this nature reserve around the W Fort Island Trail, for example. Or spend an afternoon relaxing on the beach at Fort Island Beach. You can see pelicans in the Crystal River Wildlife Refuge. We found it everywhere nice and quiet, perhaps because we were there twice during preseason (May).

Crystal River Wildlife Refuge Florida round trip
Crystal River Wildlife Refuge
Former plantation hotel in Crystal River
Staying at an old plantation in Crystal River

Crystal River can be visited as a day trip from Orlando (1.5 hours drive one way). Or drive straight to the next stop of this Florida round trip after a day at Crystal River: St. Pete Beach (2 hours).

Between Orlando and Crystal River you would Rainbow Springs can visit for a nice kayak trip, if you haven’t been able to do that before during your Florida round trip.

Manatees in Crystal River Florida
Manatees at Crystal River (photo credits NOAA)

St. Pete Beach

St. Pete Beach is located east of the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg. On the way from Crystal River to St. Pete Beach, you can stop at:

  • Tarpon Springs, known for sponge fishermen (since the late 19th century) and Greek restaurants
  • Honeymoon Island State Park, to reach Caladesi Island from there by boat
  • Clearwater Marine Aquarium, a non-profit organization with a disabled dolphin

In St. Pete Beach near St. Petersburg (in Florida, not Russia) and the nearby Clearwater Beach you will find paradisiacal white beaches. Sand Key Beach is 330 feet wide! At St. Pete Beach you can easily combine lying on the beach with doing activities. For example, cycling, swimming, snorkeling, fishing, surfen of golfen. Bij The Don CeSar you can also go jet skiing. And at John’s Pass Village in Madeira Beach there are nice shops.

St. Pete Beach Florida Marina
The marina of St. Pete, Florida (photo credits Michelle Raponi)
Bush Gardens Florida amusement park round trip
Bush Gardens theme park (photo Stephen Hateley)

Surroundings of St. Pete Beach

In St. Petersburg, visit the beautiful Dali Museum or one of the other museums around the Waterfront Walk. There are also many art objects on the streets here. In the evening, be sure to head to one of the many jazz clubsand bars, such as Ruby’s Elixir, The Mandarin Hide and The Ale & The Witch. Also nice: Ka’tiki Sunset Beach on Treasure Island.

At Fort de Sato State Park (15 min) you will also find beautiful beaches, picnic spots and the boat to the beautiful nature reserve Egmont Key State Park. In Tampa Bay (40 min) is Bush Gardens, an amusement park with roller coasters, where you can also go on safari. Ybor City near Tampa is known for its cigar shops, but we would not recommend that (creepy atmosphere).

Walking through creepy Ybor City near Tampa
Walking through creepy Ybor City near Tampa
Street art in St Petersburg Florida
Street art in St Petersburg

Captiva & Sanibel Island

From St. Pete Beach we drive south to Fort Myers Beach in less than 2.5 hours. In the center of Fort Myers Beach around Times Square you will find shops and restaurants, including a number of German ones. You can also see flamingos here on the beautiful beach. Then we drive on to the islands of Sanibel and Captiva.

The brightly colored wooden houses, palm trees, beautiful white beaches with shells, mangrove forests… Lovely Sanibel and Captiva! On these two small islands there is a very pleasant, relaxed atmosphere, where you can enjoy cycling for instance. Visit the beautiful from Captiva by boat Cayo Costa State Park. Or book a dolphin round trip from Captiva or Sanibel (private tour).

Pink flamingo at Naples Beach
Pink flamingo at Naples Beach (photo credits Ray Hennessy)
On the beach of Captiva Island Florida
On the beach of Captiva Island (photo credits Michelle Raponi)

An hour south of Sanibel is Naples, not to be confused with the Italian city Napels. Naples in Florida has a beautiful sandy beach, a botanical garden and many golf courses. At Marco Island, half an hour south of Naples and 1.5 hours south of Sanibel Island, you can take a dolphin & seashell tour.

Everglades National Park

We drive on to the Everglades, where of course we do an alligator tour. One of the most fun boat trips I’ve ever made! You can see the Everglades from Chokoloskee per kayak explore, but we choose the airboat. Then you sit a little higher and race a lot faster through the swampy area.

Everglades National Park Florida round trip
Everglades National Park
Alligator mom and kid in Everglades National Park FL USA (photo credits Aldric Rivat)
Alligator in Everglades NP, FL, US (photo credits Aldric Rivat)

The 600 hectare Everglades NP is only 20% of the total Everglades area. Spot alligators, otters, red spoonbills, osprey, green tree frogs and more! Highway 41 is the main street of Everglades National Park.

The meeting point of this one is also located on highway 41 Everglades tour, on the route between Sanibel and the Keys. There are also special wildlife photography boot tours in the Everglades. From Shark Valley you can take the tram or bicycle along this 25 km long ring road. The 18m high tower provides a beautiful view. Or hike the Anhinga Trail or the Mahogany Hammock Trail (off 9336 road).

Our airboat in the Everglades Florida round trip
Our airboat in the Everglades
Everglades National Park mangrove vegetation Florida round trip
Everglades NP mangrove vegetation

Florida Keys

From highway 41 in the Everglades you can drive onto highway 1, the road that connects the islands of the Florida Keys. The Florida Keys stretch for about 120 miles (just under 200 km). There are currently 882 islands of the Florida Keys mapped, of which 30 are inhabited.

You can choose to drive straight from the Everglades to Key West. Or to spend one or more nights – after a day in the Everglades – on one of the first keys you cross from the mainland, such as Key Largo, Duck Key or Islamorada.

Islamorada - the beach at The Moorings Village
Islamorada – the beach at The Moorings Village (photo credits Keith Luke)

Islamorada has a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere. And it is beautiful! In addition, there are fun activities to do. For example, experience what it’s like to have a mermaid. Or go on a sunset cruise. Shame to drive through full throttle.

The Keys are the only living coral reef on the North American continent. In the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park you can go diving and snorkelling. On Big Pine Key, with a bit of luck, you can spot the Key white-tailed deer swimming and foraging in the undergrowth. Please don’t drive too fast here. Traffic kills at least one deer every week. And that while it is an endangered species! So please be careful.

We have also done Key West as a half day trip from Miami haha ​​Just to have a cocktail there. Just because it’s possible! haha Bad right?!

Islamorada is one of the most beautiful Keys
Islamorada is one of the most beautiful Keys
Pink souvenir shop in the Keys, Florida
Pink souvenir shop in the Keys, Florida

Key West

As the southernmost city in the US with a historic center, Key West attracts many people. There is a tropical, colonial atmosphere with characteristic wooden houses, for example on Fleming Street. These houses and buildings are often painted white or a light pastel shade. In Bahama Village (neighborhood) you will find many brightly colored houses.

Key West has many nice restaurants anyway, cute shops with souvenirs, art, etc. The taxis are pink here! Unfortunately, electric wires and poles regularly ruin the view of beautiful wooden houses and buildings from the colonial era, but oh well. On the way to Key West you will also see buildings painted with tropical fish, dolphins, etc.

A hot item on Key West is the Key Lime Pie. During this bicycle tour you will discover Key West and taste the famous local delicacy. Visit the southernmost tip of the US. And watch the beautiful sunsets from, for example, Mallory Square.

Beautiful house in Key West Florida round trip
Beautiful house in Key West (photo credits Joshua Case)
Pink taxi in Key West Florida on a rainy day
Tropical rain shower? Take the pink taxi!

Duval Street is Key West’s main street. Nice people watching! There you pay the main price for a drink and/or snack. In any case, don’t be alarmed by the high prices on Key West. Both in terms of hotel accommodation and for the (service charge at the) restaurants you will have to dig deep into your pocket for this piece of paradise on earth. Acceptable for a few nights, but I wouldn’t linger too long.

The Seven Miles Bridge is located between Knight’s Key and Little Duck Key. The modern bridge is open to motorized traffic, the old bridge that runs parallel to it is only accessible to walkers and cyclists.

End of Florida round trip part 2

The Florida round trip is over. Back to Miami Beach! That’s about a 3.5-4 hour drive from Key West. Maybe you stick to it for a few more nights in Miami Beach? Or do you fly home or further the same day?

Tip: on the way back from the Keys to Miami, consider a pit stop at Schnebly Redland’s Winery at Homestead. A hidden gem with tasty wine, not far from Miami.

Map Florida roundtrip

This map includes places and spots mentioned in this article (and more). This one is ‘smartphone friendly’; you can easily use it via the Google Maps app. Click the icon at the top left to open the menu and see the categories. To adapt the map to your own preferences and interests, (de)select a category. Via Google Drive you can copy the map to your own My Google Maps account.

Florida round trip part 1

Have you read the 1st part of this Florida round trip article series yet? Check out the post Florida USA: round trip of 2-3 weeks to remember – East Coast for more information and tips about:

  • Miami Beach and Coral Gables
  • Gold Coast with Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach
  • Space Coast incl. Kennedy Space Center
  • Northeast Florida with Daytona and St. Augustine
  • Juniper Springs
  • Orlando and surroundings

Part 3 of this Florida tour article series will be published on this website soon. That part is about practical matters of a Florida round trip, such as rental car, flights, visa, combining Florida round trip with a visit to New York City, etc.

Hopefully this article will help you to enjoy your Florida round trip to the fullest. Have you ever been to Florida? Or would you like to go there? Feel free to leave a comment below, especially if you have a question, or perhaps an additional tip? We wish you a lot of fun during your Florida round trip! Trust me, you won’t regret it for sure. Beware: Florida is addictive.

Bank building in Key West Florida
Colonial bank building in Key West
Colorful sunset at Clearwater Beach Florida
Sunset at Clearwater Beach (photo credits Deanna Gray)

Not far from Florida and also highly recommended: El Yunque National Forest: hiking in Puerto Rico’s beautiful tropical rainforest.

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Last Updated on 04/30/2023 by Elisa Flitter Fever

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1 comment

David Richardson 01/21/2022 - 18:01

You are a very talented photographer. We are taking Red Coach buses around Florida and your pictures already make me feel relaxed!

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