Road Trips

Discover Art, Food, and Manatees on This Perfect Florida Road Trip

You might even see a manatee on this epic Florida road trip. (Photo: Courtesy of Brand USA)

The Sunshine State is waiting for you. And this multi-city Florida road trip will help you discover all Florida has to offer, as it takes you from Tampa to St. Augustine, with two wonderful destinations in between.

In total, the drive will take you about five hours — but we recommend spreading it out over several days so you can soak up the culture, history, nature and food at each stop.

Stop 1: Tampa

Riverwalk
Tampa’s Riverwalk (Photo: Rafael Tongol)

Stroll along the 2.4-mile Riverwalk, perhaps stopping by Curtis B. Hixon park for one of its frequent festivals or events, including free yoga each Sunday. Then educate yourself at a fine establishment like the Museum of Art, a modern building with great views of the river, a tasty cafe and a fun selection of rotating exhibits.

Or stop at the Henry B. Plant Museum, located in the original Tampa Bay Hotel and also home to the University of Tampa. Its lavish furnishings and exhibits, which focus on the history of the hotel and the beginning of Florida’s tourism industry, will take you back to the 1880s.

While you’re there, grab dinner at Mise en Place, an upscale favorite for innovative American fare, like molasses pecan-crusted rack of lamb.

Stop 2: St. Petersburg

Distance from Tampa: 25 miles (40 kilometers)

Drive time from Tampa: 35 minutes

St. Pete (as it’s known by locals) is Tampa’s funkier cousin.

Your first stop must be the iconic Dali Museum, which houses the largest collection of Salvador Dali’s works outside Europe. Then stroll past the charming boutiques and massive murals along the bustling Central Avenue before arriving at the Chihuly Collection to see some of the artist’s incredible glasswork. (If you’d like to see live glassblowing demonstrations, stop at the Morean Art Center’s Hot Shop, which is just across the street.)

When it comes time to eat, explore downtown’s many delectable offerings: Bodega for casual Cuban sandwiches and platos, Z Grille for modern American like ribs marinated in Dr. Pepper, or Annata, a hip, Italian-inspired wine bar that pairs vino-by-the-glass with a delicious selection of charcuterie.

Florida road trip
Enjoy a bite to eat a Z Grille. (Photo: Courtesy of Brand USA)

To finish your evening, catch a concert at Jannus Live, a rocking open-air venue surrounded by bars and clubs in the heart of downtown. For a more upscale experience, head to Beach Drive for rooftop drinks at The Canopy, where you can relax in lounge chairs and enjoy views of the harbor. Try the cherry birch bramble, which is made with fresh black cherry puree!

Stop 3: Crystal River

Distance from St. Petersburg: 94 miles (151 kilometers)

Driving time from St. Petersburg: 1.5 hours

Is it on your bucket list to swim with manatees? Because it should be.

At this natural spring, you can swim with the wild manatees that converge during the winter months. To get in the water, you must take a guided tour with a company like River Ventures. If you’d prefer not to get wet, you can go by kayak instead. Either way, being so close to these gentle giants is a magical experience.

When you’re done with the sea cows, grab dinner at Dan’s Clam Stand, a favorite for fried seafood. Or head downtown for a meal at Vintage on 5th, a romantic restaurant housed in an old cottage church; on the menu are American classics like grouper and shrimp and grits.

Stop 4: St. Augustine

Distance from Crystal River: 124 miles (200 kilometers)

Driving time from Crystal River: 2.5 hours

Castillo
Castillo San Marco (Photo: Alamy)

Take a walking tour or horse-carriage ride to absorb some of the oldest city in America’s rich history. Make sure to include a stop at Castillo de San Marcos, an iconic 17th-century Spanish building that’s the oldest masonry fortress in the U.S. Continue your historical stroll at Flagler College, which is located on the former grounds of the 18th-century Ponce de León Hotel and filled with palm trees, fountains and ornate buildings. (Some even call it Florida’s Hogwarts!)

Next, it’s time to enjoy what St. Augustine does best: food and drink. Start with exceptional craft cocktails at the cozy Odd Birds Bar—try the Toco Toucan, made with St. Augustine gin, lime juice, simple syrup, banana liquor and angostura bitters. Continue your journey with a splurge-worthy dinner at Collage or Michael’s Tasting Room; both restaurants feature inventive, delicious food, such as Collage’s prosciutto-wrapped pork tenderloin in a sage cream sauce and the Tasting Room’s bone-in-chicken jazzed up with pearl couscous and poblano pepper relish.

This article was published through a partnership with Visit the USA, inspiring travelers to explore America’s boundless possibilities.