By Kevin McGeever
Let’s start with a confession.
In 1984, on my first drive from New York City to Florida, I crossed the state line on Interstate 95 and rolled down the windows of my 1972 Chevy Malibu. It was March and it was 75 degrees.
I stopped at the Official Florida Welcome Center to stretch my legs, drink some free Florida orange juice, and revel in my 900-mile achievement.
And then it hit me: Miami is nearly 400 miles away. This state is huuuuuuge.
I was in a hurry then, but I know better now. If I’m making a vacation road trip to South Florida, I will leave some time for the countless interesting stops and things to do along the way on I-95.
So I recommend that you set aside a few extra days and consider:
- the colonial history of St. Augustine, the racing legend of Daytona Beach, and the interstellar daring of Cape Canaveral.
- a horseback ride on Amelia Island, a surfing lesson on Cocoa Beach, and a bike ride on the Hollywood Broadwalk.
- or walk 18 holes on the Ocean Course at Hammock Beach and then a couple hundred steps to ascend lighthouses in Ponce Inlet and Jupiter.
Whether you’re driving from NYC or Philadelphia, D.C. or Raleigh-Durham, create your own Florida vacation itinerary with the VISIT FLORIDA planning tool and plot beaches, hotels, events, and experiences. But in the meantime, here are some more thought starters on what you can appreciate on your I-95 road trip through Florida, and what to expect when you reach Miami.
Distance from NYC to Miami: approximately 1,300 miles (2,100 kilometers)
Driving time: Two full days minimum
Best route(s): I-95 south
Fuel costs: use this calculator
Charging stations: plot your course on Plugshare
Rest areas: Interstate 95
Alternative transportation: Wanderu and Greyhound. Travel time: 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.
Florida A1A and S Fletcher Ave., Fernandina Beach
Florida has 26 designated Scenic Highways and six of them cover hundreds of miles of the state’s Atlantic coastline -- ocean and beaches, lagoons and bridges. The views are distracting. Let your co-pilot handle the camera.
Time allowance: Any of the scenic highways might add 30-60 minutes to your road trip.
Distance from Miami: from 45 to 380 miles (70 to 615 kilometers)
2601 Atlantic Ave., Fernandina Beach
No fewer than a dozen of Florida’s 177 state parks are within reach of the drive down I-95 or the coast-hugging A1A. Fort Clinch in the state’s northeastern corner on the St. Mary River is one of the most well-preserved Civil War garrisons. Big Talbot Island in Jacksonville is renowned for “Boneyard Beach,” the final resting place for the salt-bleached skeletons of oak and cedar trees. At Savannas Preserve in Port St. Lucie, trade the car for a canoe or kayak and paddle throughout this basin marsh for an intimate understanding of native Florida.
Time allowance: 3-4 hours minimum.
Distance from Miami: from 30 to 380 miles (50 to 615 kilometers).
This is salt life at its laid-back best. I can personally vouch for the Florida zen that I experienced while eating a cheeseburger on a second-floor open deck with an unobstructed view of the cinnamon sand, Atlantic surf, and Flagler Beach Pier -- all while being blessed by a 75-degree sea breeze. Here’s a little taste.
Time allowance: 2 hours minimum.
Distance from Miami: 284 miles (457 kilometers).
Jackie Robinson Ballpark
105 Orange Ave., Daytona Beach
In 1946, the great civil rights icon Jackie Robinson made not just baseball history but American history in Daytona Beach with his professional debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Triple-A minor-league club. A year later, Robinson would integrate Major League Baseball, and a game and a nation would be changed for the better.
Time allowance: 2 hours minimum (4 if you’re staying for a game).
Distance from Miami: 264 miles (424 kilometers).
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
1987 Scrub Jay Way, Titusville
The refuge, part of the federal lands that include the Kennedy Space Center and Canaveral National Seashore, is an important way station for migratory birds. More than 15,000 plant and animal species thrive here, including manatees, bobcats, alligators, and otters. In the summer heat, or if a hike is just too much, tour the refuge by car on the seven-mile Black Point Drive.
Time allowance: 2 hours minimum
Distance from Miami: 228 miles (366 kilometers).
Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex
Space Commerce Way, Merritt Island
For 60 years, Florida has been the world’s launchpad for manned space flight. Mercury. Gemini. Apollo. The space shuttle. At the Kennedy Visitors Center, you can stroll through a garden of rockets or watch one rise into the blue.
Time allowance: 4 hours minimum
Distance from Miami: 220 miles (354 kilometers).
Nesting Sea Turtles
3315 S Highway A1A, Melbourne Beach
More than 100,000 threatened and endangered sea turtles lay their eggs on Florida beaches from March to October every year. To witness one of nature’s holy rituals requires patience, reverence, and a faithful adherence to the law. But the wait is worthwhile. These creatures are magnificent and large; loggerheads typically weigh 200-250 pounds. Some of the best destinations for guided observation are: Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge and Barrier Island Sanctuary, both in Melbourne Beach; Sea Turtle Preservation Society in Indialantic; Sebastian Inlet State Park Fishing Museum; John D. MacArthur Beach State Park, North Palm Beach; and Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park, Dania Beach.
Time allowance: an overnight stay.
Distance from Miami: 29 to 176 miles (46 to 283 kilometers).
Navy UDT-SEAL Museum
3300 N Highway A1A, Fort Pierce
As Phillip Ward reported for VISIT FLORIDA: Here is “a testament to the history of an elite group, super secret, rarely and only recently in the public eye. Videos, weapons, documents and other artifacts chronicle the storied history of the SEALs, from inception to present. The actual lifeboat from the Maersk Alabama rescue that inspired the Tom Hanks movie Captain Phillips is here. From the deck of a heaving military ship, SEALs marksmen needed but three shots at this orange vessel to kill – simultaneously – three Somali pirates holding an American hostage.”
Time allowance: 2 hours minimum.
Distance from Miami: 135 miles (217 kilometers).
574 S Beach Road, Hobe Sound
The craggy limestone shore looks like it belongs in Maine or Hawaii. Blowing Rocks gets its name from what the waves and rocks do during rough seas at high tide — water spurts out of holes in the Anastasia limestone, at times spouting 50 feet into the air.
Time allowance: 2 hours minimum.
Distance from Miami: 97 miles (156 kilometers).
The ZIP code 33480 is arguably the wealthiest in America. As you walk the whitewashed Mediterranean alleys and courtyards and dare to eyeball the merchandise in the exclusive shops, you may hear such names as Kennedy, Trump, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
Time allowance: 2 hours minimum.
Distance from Miami: 75 miles (120 kilometers).
Where to start? Probably a boat. Fort Lauderdale has more than 160 miles of navigable waterways, which provide a front-row seat to the yachts and mansions on Millionaires Row, al fresco dining along the Intracoastal, and a first-hand appreciation of the Venice of America. No boat? Then "follow the red brick road" of the Fort Lauderdale Riverwalk, the landscaped park, to the Arts and Entertainment District.
There are thrills and inspirations in every direction:
- to the west, an airboat ride in the Everglades.
- to the north, Wilton Manors is the welcoming heart for Fort Lauderdale’s LGBTQ+ community.
- to the east, Fort Lauderdale Beach is a vision in white: A curving wave wall defines the promenade that parallels the sand and the Atlantic Ocean.
- to the south, Hollywood’s Broadwalk (note the spelling) is one of the most satisfying strolls (or two-wheeled rides) in America.
Time allowance: unlimited.
Distance from Miami: 32 miles (51 kilometers).
WELCOME TO MIAMI
The cultural and ecological diversity is so rich here that south Florida could appear on a Cosmo magazine cover as easily as National Geographic. There are names synonymous with glamor and luxury:
- Hotels like Biltmore and Fontainebleau.
- Shopping districts such as Lincoln Road and Aventura, Brickell.
- Cultural destinations like Arsht and Vizcaya, Perez and Frost.
Flip the coin and there is wild beauty.
The Everglades is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, home to alligators and panthers, ghost orchids and old-growth cypress.
At night, in the blackness of the swamp, one can still see the glow of Miami.
The trendy nightlife of South Beach, bejeweled by the eye candy of the Art Deco district. The bustle of Calle Ocho and the highly caffeinated energy of Little Havana. The Venetian Pool and the historic hideaways of Coral Gables. The lures of deep-sea fishing and golf and tennis. Major-league baseball, professional football, basketball, and hockey. Boat shows and auto racing. Art festivals and outdoor food and wine extravaganzas.
And then, to the south, an overnight trip on the Overseas Highway can take you to the Florida Keys and the national marine sanctuary. In Key Largo, the nation’s first underwater park welcomes visitors to the Florida Coral Reef, “a place of clear-water wonders, where fish swim and lobsters crawl and colorful living organisms make up the reef.”
At America’s southernmost point, Key West is the physical end of the road, but the adventures continue in a destination that is rich in natural beauty, cultural diversity, and Florida history.