Caladesi Island State Park.
By Kevin McGeever
Let me introduce you to Travel Math.
Here’s the formula: For every day spent driving to your Florida vacation destination, spend the same number of weeks staying in the destination.
So, driving from New York City to Tampa-St. Petersburg takes two days? Spend two weeks in Florida. Minimum.
That’s Travel Math (which I just made up). But I speak from experience.
When you drive into northeast Florida on Interstate 95, there are so many things to do and see between where you are and where you are going. Plan some days at the front and/or back end of your Tampa-St. Petersburg vacation and consider:
- Jacksonville. Tour 1,100 miles of navigable waterways by boat. Absorb 6,000 years of human history at Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. Sip a flight of craft beers on the Jax Ale Trail.
- St. Augustine. Interact with 450 years of colonial and civil rights history in America’s oldest city.
- Orlando. Thrill your children and your inner child in the Theme Park Capital of the World.
You can create your own travel itinerary for driving from NYC to Tampa-St. Petersburg 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 Tampa Bay.
Do the Travel Math and add more Florida to your Florida vacation.
Distance from NYC to Tampa: approximately 1,129 miles (1,817 kilometers)
Distance from NYC to St. Petersburg: approximately 1,152 miles (1,854 kilometers)
Driving time: Two full days minimum
Best route(s): I-95 south to I-4 west
Fuel costs: use this calculator
Charging stations: plot your course on Plugshare
Rest areas: Interstate 95
Alternative transportation: Greyhound. Travel time: two days.
PLACES TO STOP ALONG THE WAY
Here are some Florida things to do from I-95 to I-4, as well as the distances from Tampa and the addresses of each point of interest, so you can program them into your GPS.
2601 Atlantic Ave., Fernandina Beach
American history has deep roots in the northeast corner of Florida. Native Americans were the original Floridians millennia before the first Europeans arrived. The evidence of colonization lives on at five historic forts and monuments.
Three fortresses still stand:
- Fort Clinch, the Civil War-era guardian of the Georgia-Florida border on the St. Mary River;
- Castillo de San Marcos, the 340-year-old national park in downtown St. Augustine; and
- Fort Matanzas, the early 18th-century monument to the bloody competition for the New World between France, England, and Spain.
Two forts are gone, but their important stories are preserved as historic sites:
- Fort Caroline, in the Timucuan Preserve; and
- Fort Mose (pronounced Mo-ZAY), site of the first free African settlement in what would become the United States.
Time allowance: 2-3 hours.
Distance from Tampa: approximately 233 miles (374 kilometers)
Daytona International Speedway
1801 W International Speedway Blvd.
Like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, Pebble Beach and Augusta National, Madison Square Garden and the Rose Bowl, and yes, that other racetrack in Indianapolis, Daytona International Speedway is an American sports shrine. Opened in 1959, the speedway is an annual car racing mecca for SpeedWeeks and the Daytona 500. But you can take a tour anytime. Here’s a fun fact: The grandstand is so long that during renovations several years ago, the contractor updating the structure had to take into account the curvature of the earth. Before the speedway, drive your car on the beach as the racers once did.
Time allowance: 2-3 hours.
Distance from Tampa: approximately 135 miles (217 kilometers)
Amy Wimmer Schwarb wrote that “The power of LEGO to pass from generation to generation is only one aspect to understand the appeal of these blocks. They are ubiquitous, outnumbering the world population by a ratio of 62 to 1. They are sources of entertainment, occupying the attention of the world's children for about 5 billion hours a year. And they are eternal, attracting legions of adults ... who continue to build with these pieces as a hobby.” In the tradition of Florida’s greatest theme parks, LEGOLAND unites shopping, dining, rides, water park, and hotel into one vacation experience.
Time allowance: full day.
Distance from Tampa: approximately 54 miles (87 kilometers)
Florida Southern College
111 Lake Hollingsworth Drive, Lakeland
Wrote Florence Beth Snyder: “The College, founded by the United Methodist Church in 1883, is among the nation’s most beautiful campuses on the strength of its stunning collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. More than a mile of copper-trimmed covered walkway known as the Esplanade connects the Wright buildings constructed between 1941 and 1958 on the 110 acres surrounding Lake Hollingsworth.”
Time allowance: 2 hours.
Distance from Tampa: approximately 35 miles (56 kilometers)
The 38 miles of beaches from Clearwater to St. Pete Beach include famous shorelines such as Caladesi Island and Fort DeSoto..
- Visit St. Pete-Clearwater
WELCOME TO TAMPA-ST. PETERSBURG
The Tampa Bay region, which stars Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater, can rightfully claim a menu of world-class vacation experiences. Here’s a short list:
- Busch Gardens in Tampa, a SeaWorld relative, celebrates African wildlife along with stomach-flipping rides. While feeding giraffes on Serengeti Safari, note the foot-long purple tongue.
- ZooTampa at Lowry Park emphasizes endangered and threatened species such as the Florida panther.
- Florida Aquarium features the flora and fauna of Florida’s salt- and fresh-water ecosystems and, if you dare, a swim with sharks.
- The Clearwater Marine Aquarium's mission is to inspire others through the rescue and rehabilitation of marine animals -- a cause that exploded in popularity with Winter, the movie star dolphin with the prosthetic tail. Winter died in November 2021, but the aquarium's mission remains the same.
Pinellas County’s 38-mile Gulf of Mexico coastline includes renowned shorelines to fit any style. Fort DeSoto and Caladesi Island are natural wonders. St. Pete Beach and Clearwater Beach combine family amenities with gentle surf.
Food and drink
Tampa Bay is the unquestioned craft beer capital of Florida. Cigar City in Tampa and Green Bench in St. Petersburg headline a long roster of local breweries. Madeira Beach is the historic capital of grouper fishing, and that area specialty is served blackened, broiled, and fried -- from fish shacks to fine restaurants.
A visitor to downtown St. Pete could walk between a half-dozen extraordinary museums such as the Dali, the Museum of Fine Arts, Chihuly at the Morean Arts Center, and the Florida Holocaust Museum.
There are professional and intercollegiate sports. Among them, baseball’s Rays, the NFL’s Bucs, and the NHL’s Lightning. There are performing arts venues such as the Straz and the Amelie Arena in Tampa and, on a more intimate level, American Stage and Jannus Landing in St. Petersburg.
Testing your limits is inspired by the local geography and encouraged by urban planning. Tampa Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and their associated tributaries are the playground for paddlers, kiteboarders, and anglers. The Pinellas Trail and downtown Tampa’s Riverwalk combine exercise and scenery.
Driving from New York City to Tampa is a road trip full of Florida adventure possibilities. The Gulf beaches may be your ultimate destination, but along the route there are numerous Florida points of interest and memories to make. Enjoy the ride.
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