Driving to Florida: Chicago to Miami
By Kevin McGeever
The headline says “Driving to Florida: Chicago to Miami,” which suggests a point-to-point vacation. You know. Hit the road. Stretch the legs. Fill the tank. Repeat. And, if you’re in that kind of a hurry, we understand. At the end of the line is exciting Miami.
But this story is about a road trip, as in knights errant on a Route 66 adventure or a Springsteen anthem about working-class heroes and fated love. There’s a memorable experience waiting at every highway exit. The only pressing question to answer is: Where will the road take you?
So, if space allowed, this headline might read:
Driving to Florida: Chicago to … the Suwannee River to Devil’s Den to Ichetucknee Springs to Gainesville to Ocala National Forest to Citrus Country to Universal Orlando to International Drive to Lake Toho to Hutchinson Island to Hobe Sound to Jupiter Island to Loxahatchee to West Palm Beach to Wilton Manors to the Hollywood Broadwalk to the Everglades to Miami.
Phew. Are we there yet?
Here’s the thing. If you have just crossed the Florida state line, there are so many things to do between you and your final destination of Miami. First, some basics:
Florida’s Scenic Highways. There are 26 in all, and eight of them a short side trip from your primary route. The Green Mountain Scenic Byway features rolling hills, lush countryside, and small-town experiences such as the antiques capital of Mount Dora.
National and state parks and forests. There are dozens. The Ocala National Forest is America’s southernmost forest and the world’s largest sand scrub pine forest. Ocala National’s vastness -- 387,000 acres -- allows room for 600 lakes, rivers, and springs.
Yes, Florida Springs. These natural pools of 72-degree water are clear lenses into the Floridan Aquifer, the state’s beating underwater heart. Ginnie, Alexander, Silver, Wekiwa, and Rock Springs are among the many within your reach. Dive in and announce your Florida arrival properly.
Wildlife. A library of field guides couldn’t prepare you for the diversity of the flora and fauna. Grazing bison on Paynes Prairie. Five-hundred species of birds, from swooping raptors to the ubiquitous mockingbird to the elusive scrub jay. Nesting sea turtles. Hook-to-table delicacies such as grouper, snapper, and mahi. Biceps-busting gamefish like sailfish and tarpon. And too many alligators and iguana to count.
Beaches. The final leg of your drive, on I-95, runs parallel to the Atlantic coastline and a you-pick-’em of brilliant Florida beach points: Blowing Rocks Preserve, Palm Beach, Delray, and Fort Lauderdale to name a few.
You can create your own travel itinerary for driving from Chicago to Miami with the VISIT FLORIDA planning tool -- but here are some more thought starters on what you can appreciate on your road trip through Florida, and what to expect when you reach Miami.
Distance from Chicago to Miami: approximately 1,400 miles (2,250 kilometers)
Driving time: 21 hours
Best route(s): I-75 south to Florida Turnpike to I-95.
Fuel costs: use this calculator.
Charging stations: plot your course on Plugshare.
Rest areas: Interstate 75 in Florida, Florida Turnpike.
Alternative transportation: Greyhound. Two days.
PLACES TO STOP ALONG THE WAY
Here are some Florida things to do from north to south, as well as the distances from Miami and the addresses of each point of interest, so you can program them into your GPS.
There are the primary names: Disney, Universal, SeaWorld. And more names: Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Disney Springs, Hollywood Studios, Galaxy’s Edge, Typhoon Lagoon, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay, and Discovery Cove. If this were word association, all of them are inseparable from vacation and family fun. Wands and light sabers are welcome. You can commune with dolphins. It’s not really a small world after all.
Time allowance: A day. A week. A lifetime.
Distance from Miami: 234 miles (376 kilometers).
Florida is the fishing capital of the world with more records -- saltwater and freshwater -- than any other American state or country. Stuart in Martin County, and more specifically the Atlantic waters off this coast, are a primary banquet table for sailfish. The reefs and ledges are a diver’s dream, with moray eel, sharks, and Goliath grouper among the resident population.
Time allowance: A day.
Distance from Miami: 110 miles (180 kilometers).
The Palm Beaches
Like Miami and Orlando and Tampa-St. Petersburg, the Palm Beaches are a smorgasbord of cultural and outdoors activities capable of filling multiple vacations. Beaches? Check. See Delray, Boynton, Lake Worth, and Boca Raton. Luxury? Check. See Worth Avenue and the Breakers. Wild adventure? Yes. See Loxahatchee and Lion Country Safari and the Everglades. Culture? See the multiple museums and the Ale Trail.
Time allowance: A day. Or a separate vacation.
Distance from Miami: 75 miles (120 kilometers).
Welcome to the Venice of America. Fort Lauderdale has 160 miles of navigable waterways. You can walk or pedal or roll beside them. You can sit on the bow of a boat and enjoy a front-row seat to the yachts and mansions on Millionaires Row. You can dine al fresco along the Intracoastal Waterway.
Spend at least a few days and:
- Recharge and reflect on an Atlantic beach or a museum tour.
- Immerse yourself in wild Florida. Skim the surface of the Everglades.
- Immerse yourself in retail Florida. Check off your wish list at Sawgrass Mills.
- Feel welcome in Florida’s gay capital, with hundreds of LGBTQ+-owned and -operated businesses.
Time allowance: If you stop, there’s a reasonable chance you won’t leave.
Distance from Miami: 32 miles (50 kilometers).
WELCOME TO MIAMI
This is Florida’s multicultural, multiculinary, multiadventure mecca. The world comes here to shop, to eat, to reconnect, to be thrilled.
You wanna lie on a beach? Well, South Beach is one of the most glamorous coastlines on earth. The panorama at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park includes the watery neighborhood of Stiltsville, plus the lighthouse is the southern terminus of the Underground Railroad. You wanna lie on a nude beach? Haulover is Florida’s best-known shore for naturists.
You want culture? There is history at the Deering Estate and Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. There is fine art at the Perez. Performing arts at the Arsht. Street art in Wynwood. Art Deco District architecture. Plus the vivid local color of historic neighborhoods such as Overtown, Little Haiti, and Little Havana.
You wanna eat? Croquetas are the quintessential Miami snack food. Some of the best are at Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop. The seafood is so good at Garcia’s because they own their fishing boats and the catch is always fresh. For dessert, slurp an Abuela Maria ice cream cone at Azucar.
Tired of talking? Need to move? Feed a giraffe or a rhino at Zoo Miami. Swim with dolphins at Miami Seaquarium. Ride a bike and coexist with alligators on Shark Valley Trail in the Everglades. Snorkel in Biscayne National Park. Sail out of Coconut Grove.
The road from Chicago to Miami may be long. The list of things to do is much longer.