Florida does not offer a lot of complexity when it comes to choosing routes. Despite the size of the state, it only has a few major highways, thanks to its shape, being approximately 400 miles north to south and 150 miles east to west on average. While navigation may seem simple, here are a few tips from those who have made those drives.
Our home base is in Clearwater Beach, Florida, and we have driven all of the major roads as well as many of the byways of the state. The north to south roads serve the state well, with one that runs along the east coast, Highway 95, and one that veers to the west, Highway 75. While some people do not like freeways, we recommend them in this case, so long as your purpose is to arrive swiftly. While the other routes that say highway might appear alluring or sufficient, please let us explain.
Perhaps the most notorious road for adding time to a trip through Florida is Highway 19. It runs along the northeast coast of the state, through what some refer to as the Big Bend (sorry Texas), and down through the nature coast. It leads directly to the famous beaches of Clearwater Beach and St Pete Beach, so those coming from the west are lured to take this road that is clearly labeled as a highway. You GPS will calculate the speed limit and distance, and then cheerfully display your travel time. Alas, that is not the time it will take you. Highway 19 has many stoplights and innumerable towns to pass through. While it does have a number of open stretches that are quite nice, to gamble on Hwy 19 taking you to your destination quickly is not such a good bet. Despite the longer route, those in a hurry should continue eastward to Highway 75, a true freeway, before heading south.
Highway 95 is also a true freeway. It is about 400 miles long, and as such, has its good points as well as not so good. The road itself is in good condition and most snags come in the form of rush hour or construction sites. For the most part, you will find your car cruising at full speed down a forest-lined highway that seems as though it could go on forever. If you plan to continue to Key West, that metaphor will seem even more real. Our 400-mile estimate does not include the drive down the Keys, which is a long trip in its own right, and which continues on Highway 1, rather than 95. The road trip along the keys, however, is very scenic, so you will always have something to ease your troubles, if there are any.
Far north of the Keys, passing through the Panhandle of Florida from Pensacola to Jacksonville is Highway 10. This is also a bona fide freeway that is well-made. It may surprise you to know that this freeway is as long as Highway 95. This drive has its scenic moments, takes you near resorts, and is a well-maintained freeway.
Down in our neck of the woods is Highway 4. Alas, Hwy 4. This true freeway makes sense when considering the layout of the cities in the state, although at first sight, its path seems a bit peculiar. Disney is most likely to blame for this freeway, which ushers people from the East Coast down to Orlando with the ease. While Hwy 4 is surely a well-meaning freeway, it tends to collect traffic. A drive through Orlando or Tampa should be done outside of rush hour. You’ll want to trust us on that one.
The good news is that most of Florida’s roads are pleasant to drive. Use the above tips if you want to arrive at your destination quickly. If you have the time, however, then you are in for a treat. The back roads of Florida are amazing. A trip through history is guaranteed. While you will find plenty of developed places in Florida, the back roads have towns, homes, and farmlands that have experienced little of the changes brought on by time. Historic buildings dot the backways frequently, especially in small townships, where you can find old town squares and brick and mortar court houses. If you love drives in the country and viewing relics from the past, you will love Florida’s byways.
Wherever you go in Florida – and we hope you’ll come see us here in Clearwater – we wish you the best on your journey. Our state is well-known for road trips and we know you’ll enjoy the drive.
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