Driving to Florida: Atlanta to Orlando
By Kevin McGeever
And the overstimulating first thought may be that you are just a day’s drive from Disney and Universal and SeaWorld and International Drive -- and so many exciting choices that your head might explode: a Star Wars universe, Harry Potter and Hogwarts, dolphin encounters in Discovery Cove, and all manner of roller coasters and thrill rides to make your stomach flip for a week.
Are we there yet?!!
That’s understood. We get it.
But breathe. And read.
There are so many things to do in Florida between where you are and where you are going.
If you can spare a few hours on your road trip -- better, a day or two -- you might:
- bounce on whitewater rapids;
- absorb Civil War history;
- experience a baptism in Florida’s real fountains of youth;
- descend a limestone sinkhole into a miniature rainforest;
- see wild horses and bison on the prairie;
- drink orange juice in the heart of citrus country;
- zip on a cable 10 stories above a blue-green canyon pool;
- dive into Florida’s prehistoric memory at Devil’s Den.
You can create your own travel itinerary for driving from Atlanta to Orlando with the VISIT FLORIDA planning tool -- but here are some thought starters on what you can appreciate on your road trip through Florida, and what to expect when you reach Orlando.
Distance from Atlanta to Orlando: approximately 440 miles (706 kilometers)
Driving time: 7-8 hours
Best route(s): I-75 south to Florida Turnpike.
Fuel costs: use this calculator.
Charging stations: plot your course on Plugshare.
Rest areas: Interstate 75 in Georgia, Interstate 75 in Florida, Florida Turnpike
Alternative transportation: RedCoach and Greyhound. Travel time 10.5-12 hours.
PLACES TO STOP ALONG THE WAY
Here are some Florida things to do from north to south, as well as the distances from Orlando and the addresses of each point of interest, so you can program them into your GPS.
11330 SE Co Rd 135, White Springs
This park has the largest whitewater rapids in Florida, a Class III-level excitement (though it is seasonally dependent on the water level in the Suwannee River). There are 28 miles of trails for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. Limestone bluffs 80 feet high provide panoramic vistas.
Time allowance: 4 hours.
Distance from Orlando: 173 miles (278 kilometers)
A can’t-miss, bucket-list vacation experience. Equal parts physical and spiritual. 72 degrees year-round. A clear-as-glass lens into the Florida Aquifer, the beating underwater heart of the Sunshine State. You can dive and snorkel and explore. Or you can just float and forget where you were going and why you were in such a hurry.
Watch these videos and remember these names:
Time allowance: 4 hours
Distance from Orlando: from 33 to 160 miles (53 to 257 kilometers), depending on where you stop.
Florida Museum of Natural History, 3215 Hull Road, Gainesville
Be a participant in a living exhibit, walking through a tropical canopy with hundreds of birds and butterflies as your escorts. Cameras are encouraged. Wonderment is involuntary.
Time allowance: 3 hours.
Distance from Orlando: 111 miles (178 kilometers).
5390 NE 180th Ave., Williston, and
3852 NE 172nd Court, Williston
Both are divers’ dreams -- crystal-clear underwater journeys into the 33-million-year-old limestone arteries of subterranean Florida.
Time allowance: 4 hours.
Distance from Orlando: 100 miles (160 kilometers).
With its legacy of champion equestrian and thoroughbreds, Ocala is officially the “Horse Capital of the World.” VISIT FLORIDA’s Saundra Amrhein wrote: “For miles, brown and white board fences enclose squares of green pastures. Well-built barns abound. And the sleek, muscular animals themselves graze in fields against a blue horizon backdrop. Marion County is home to more than 600 thoroughbred farms and is one of a handful of thoroughbred centers in the world.”
Time allowance: 4 hours.
Distance from Orlando: 80 miles (130 kilometers).
WELCOME TO ORLANDO
This region, perhaps more than anywhere else, represents how vital Florida is to America’s sustenance -- as a food source and entertainment capital. Orlando, Kissimmee, Lake Buena Vista, Celebration and, farther west, Winter Haven and Tampa are internationally recognized theme park destinations -- powered by Disney, Universal, SeaWorld, LEGOLAND and Busch Gardens, brands that regularly refresh their attractions. I-Drive in Orlando is 11 miles of experiences such as the Wheel at ICON Park, plus shopping, hotels, dining and nightlife. Professional sports teams include the NBA’s Magic and Major League Soccer’s Orlando City SC.
The short question might be: How much vacation time do you have?
Florida is epicenter of the worldf for theme parks. Orlando is the capital. Every day here, no one is too old, or too young, to wear Mickey ears or wave a wand and shriek in delight. Besides the titans -- Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld -- here are a couple other theme park destinations to watch:
- Orlando Watersports Park
- Kissimmee’s Fun Spot
Janet K. Keeler wrote that “Orlando International Premium Outlets may just have the best location of any shopping mall in the U.S.A. The complex has unmatched visibility, tucked as it is into a huge pie-shaped parcel where Interstate 4 and the Florida Turnpike meet.” Audubon Park is a shopping and dining district surrounded by 1920s bungalows and more modern ranch-style homes. Winter Park got its start in the late 1800s as a resort community. The 49-store Winter Park Village isn’t old, but there’s a slowed-down vibe to a stroll here. And, like Winter Park itself, it seems exclusive.
Orlando, like any major American city, is a smorgasbord of exquisite experiences: James Beard chefs, concentrations of cultures such as Vietnamese and Puerto Rican, fan favorites, and local color. Then there are the theme parks and entertainment districts such as Disney Springs, which offer a culinary diversity to match any thrills you had during your stay.
For close to 60 years, Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center have been the world’s launchpad for manned space flight. Mercury. Gemini. Apollo. The space shuttle. At the Visitors Center, you can stroll through a garden of rockets or watch one rise into the blue.
If you’re this far east, remember the beaches just an hour from Orlando. Cocoa is America’s Atlantic surfing capital, birthplace of 11-time world champion Kelly Slater. The surf culture is thick here, quietly represented by its local board shops and loudly proclaimed by Ron Jon, the multi-level shopping experience (you likely saw the signs on I-75).
Driving from Atlanta to Orlando is a road trip full of Florida adventure possibilities. The Orlando theme parks and entertainment centers may be your ultimate destinations, but along the route there are numerous Florida points of interest and memories to make. Enjoy the ride.