9 Must-See Stops Along Florida's State Road 64
By Vanessa Caceres
If you’re looking for a day-trip drive that’ll give you a view of Florida from beach life to farm life, then State Road 64 Florida is your road.
SR64 starts in Southwest Florida’s Manatee County in the popular beach area of Anna Maria Island and continues through downtown Bradenton, rural farming areas, and downtown Avon Park in Central Florida.
The full scenic stretch will take you about 2 hours driving one way, and you’ll cruise through four counties. You’ll also take a drive along history when you reach parts once known as the “Cracker Trail.”
Here are some highlights along your State Road 64 Florida road trip.
Sun, sand, and pancakes are on your agenda at busy Manatee County Public Beach, where you’ll get clear views of Gulf beaches. “It’s a beautiful place to spend a day,” says Allan Garceau of Ellenton. “You can watch dolphins swim by and enjoy all the bird life found on Florida’s beaches.” The beach also has restrooms, a gift shop, a playground and places where you can play volleyball or Frisbee. Of course, relaxing in the sun is just fine, too. When you get hungry, the beach’s café serves up sandwiches, fries, lemonade, and pancakes.
2. Downtown Bradenton.
A few miles beyond Manatee Public Beach, SR64 cruises right through downtown Bradenton, which offers up a mix of charm, history, and water views. Some highlights in the downtown area are South Florida Museum, Central Library, a seasonal farmers market on Saturdays, and Riverwalk, a 1.5-mile park along the Manatee River. “My favorite part of Riverwalk is the public pier with free daytime docking facilities for large and small boats,” says Danny Wood, a longtime boater who also owns a business in downtown Bradenton.
Take a trip back in time at Manatee Village Historical Park, where you’ll discover some of the early beginnings of Bradenton and Manatee County. You can take a self-guided or docent-led tour of its general store, blacksmith shop, courthouse (the oldest courthouse still standing in Florida, built in 1860), church, and other attractions. One new fact you’ll learn: In 1855, Manatee County was a whopping 5,000 square miles and encompassed what’s now Manatee, Hardee, Highlands, Sarasota, DeSoto, Charlotte, and Glades counties. Admission is free, but you can make a donation.
4. Hi-Tec Paintball.
Ready for some action? Then Hi-Tec Paintball, just past the Interstate 75 exit for SR64, is waiting. Young to old flock to Hi-Tec on the weekends to battle against each other on one of several fields. “I liked how there’s a different age range of people there,” says Nathan Maggio, 12, of Jacksonville, who visited Hi-Tec for a friend’s birthday party. “There were some kids our age, and there were some older. It made things more fun.” Some of the fields also had special areas like treehouses to hide or look out for opponents, Maggio adds.
When it comes to produce, you don’t get much fresher than O’Brien. The farm grows its u-pick produce in vertical hydroponic areas. (By growing items hydroponically, you don’t have to bend over and strain your back.) Snowbirds, tourists, and locals flock there in late fall, winter, and early spring to pick strawberries, tomatoes, greens, and other popular items. O’Brien also has some of its produce already picked, packaged, and ready to buy. You can make a lunch event out of your visit to O’Brien Family Farms—the farm also sells smoothies, milkshakes, sandwiches, strawberry shortcakes, and gourmet snacks.
Named for its location on the shores of Lake Manatee, hiking, camping, boating, nature photography, picnicking, fishing, and swimming are part of the mix at Lake Manatee State Park. If you’re enjoying a peaceful walk, you’ll spot birds, insects, flowers, trees, Spanish moss, and scenic views great to share with friends on social media. “My husband and I enjoyed taking a 10-year-old boy from the Big Brothers Big Sisters program on the airboat ride at Lake Manatee,” says Sharon Barhorst of Palmetto. “The park is always on our guest to-do list.” Depending on when you visit, you may also hear the roaring sounds coming from the next destination
7. Desoto Speedway.
On the rural parts of SR64, you’ll drive past citrus groves, strawberry fields, cattle ranches, and maybe even spot the occasional turkey or wild hog. What you don’t expect to see is a large spot for car racing—but that’s exactly what Desoto Speedway is there for. “I was totally surprised when I visited there,” says Judy Vobroucek of Bradenton. “So many of the professional race car drivers train there during the winter months. It’s a great opportunity to meet your favorite driver at a small-town track.”
Nestled on a corner of SR64 and 17 in Zolfo Springs are two family-friendly attractions: the Hardee Wildlife Refuge and Cracker Trail Museum. At Hardee Wildlife Refuge, for just $5, you’ll get an even closer look than you would at the zoo at bobcats, otters, raccoons, cougars, owls, alligators, and other Florida-familiar animals. “People love the otters, cougars, and bobcats, and people always ask about the gators,” says animal keeper Rose Kerth. At the Cracker Trail Museum, there are more than 4,000 items tied back to Florida’s pioneer days. The museum is at a perfect location as parts of SR64 were once known as the Cracker Trail. That was a 120-mile road used by Florida cowboys—also called “crackers”—to transport cattle.
Get a slice of small-town, family-focused life in downtown Avon Park. Stop by historic Hotel Jacaranda for lunch or dinner, and swing on by the The Depot Museum for a deeper dive into the area’s history. Want a taste of life in Central Florida? Maxwell Groves in the downtown area sells locally made orange juice and Florida citrus wines and jellies.