Though it’s well known as a winter haven, throughout the year, Florida actually draws 60 to 75-plus million travelers. In a recent Forbes survey, the state boasted four out of the 25 most visited attractions in the U.S. The reason for its perennial popularity is Florida offers almost everything visitors could want to be comfortable and enjoy themselves.
This fact is not lost on many of its regions and towns, which strive to offer travelers plenty of attractions – including theme parks, golf courses, restaurants, shops, boating, perfect beaches, other inland water attractions, agricultural areas, historical resources, and natural parks. The place is a veritable playground with something for everyone.
And while tourism has flourished for well over a century, the state has actually attracted people for much longer. Since historians began recording European exploration of North America, Florida’s tropical to sub-tropical climate and rich natural resources have always been a place to die for. At times literally!
The Spanish conquistadors – with firearms and swords in hands – founded outposts, missionaries and colonies over 250 years before the Declaration of Independence was written – that’s a pre-U.S. history longer than the United States has yet existed.
Some of Florida’s towns and regions have relics and lore from 450 to 500-plus years ago. Saint Augustine was the first city in the New World, for example, and Pensacola has flown flags from five different countries – if you count the Confederate States of America as one of them.
It is no exaggeration therefore that people have always tried to get a piece of Florida. Even in current times, it’s been estimated that 1,000 people move there per day. And while it is the 22nd largest state by square miles, as of 2008, it is the fourth largest by population.
But despite dense urban centers, there remain quaint little towns, rustic areas, and vast preserved tracts of natural lands where wildlife – some of it quite wild – far outnumber people, and offer plenty of space to get away from it all. About the only potentially desirable topographical feature you won’t find in Florida are mountains.
And as for things motorcycle riders usually want, while there are some twisties here and there, the majority of roads are straighter or just meandering, but many serve up spectacular views, and connect to some really cool places.
Geographically, the state is long, and relatively narrow. A road trip from Pensacola in the Panhandle to Key West on the southern tip is almost 800 miles.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), statewide summer average temperatures can range from around 82 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, with lows into the 70s or below, and highs well into the 90s and higher. In the summer there is rain, hurricanes are a possibility, and it does get humid, but these conditions can usually be anticipated and worked around.
Getting to Florida is easy as well. There are a dozen international airports, tons of tourist amenities, and many guides just waiting to help you on your way.
Following are some highlights of Florida’s four major regions, but beyond this, there is plenty more worth looking into:
In the northwestern region bordered by Alabama and Georgia you’ll find major military bases. The National Museum of Naval Aviation, and the Navy’s Blue Angels are stationed in Pensacola, if you want to take in an air show.
This year happens to be Pensacola’s 450th anniversary. Because the Spanish once owned one the five national flags which have flown there, none other than Juan Carlos I and Sofía, the king and queen of Spain paid a visit in February.
Nearby Gulf County has dozens of miles of white sand coastline, and amazing views on the way to Panama City.
A ride from Pensacola to Panama City is typically along Scenic Highway 30A, through 15 beach communities that make up the “Beaches of South Walton.” The highway runs through long-leaf pine flatwoods, along the white sand beach and sea oat-covered dunes, over sand hills and coastal uplands, along wetlands and marshes, through hardwood hammocks and coastal scrub.
The communities of Seaside, Sandestin, Alys Beach, to name a few, each offer unique points of interest, like the rare coastal dune lakes. Other than in Florida, these are found only in remote portions of Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Riders looking for accommodations might consider staying in the cabins at Grayton Beach State Park.
In Panama City, you might enjoy Schooners, billed as the “last local beach club.” Some say this area has the “best seafood in the world,” and Schooners is open “7 days of the week from 11 in the morning till the wee wee hours of the night.”
Jacksonville, Saint Augustine, Daytona, Ormond Beach area
You’ve heard of Daytona, right? Well aside from the world famous Bike Week in February, the place is biker friendly pretty much the whole year. In October, for example, is the annual Biketoberfest.
The Northeast region offers plenty, and can be a waypoint on a longer journey, or you could take one of several out and back routes to not-too-far destinations.
For example, one trip could be north through Ormond Beach, up to Saint Augustine, around Jacksonville, Amelia Island, Jacksonville Beach and back.
Or, if you are so inclined, you could head a little above Saint Augustine to Guana River State Park. This 2,400-acre preserve has five miles of beach and borders a 9,600-acre state wildlife management area.
Another ride from the Daytona/Ormond area could be east along Route 40 through Astor to Route 35, to 27/441. You could return via Route 42 to 44, stopping at New Smryna Beach on the way.
Or again, you could ride south on Highway 1 from Daytona through the Cocoa Beach area to the Melbourne area and take Route 3 north to Route 50, take 50 east to Highway 1, go north to Highway 46 and go east to the Sanford area and take the 415 back to Daytona and Ormond Beach.
Orlando and Tampa area
This is the area known for those top U.S. travel destinations – Disney World Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios, SeaWorld Florida, and Busch Gardens.
But while Florida is often thought of for its man-made attractions and many hundreds of miles of beaches all around the state, inland are other natural areas, farmlands, horse farms, and quaint little towns offering their own appeal.
One ride from Orlando could be westward to the hills and curvy roads of Lake County all the way to Sugarloaf Mountain, the state’s highest point, which offers spectacular views of Lake Apopka.
You could take the Green Mountain Scenic Byway along the western and southern shores of Lake Apopka, past the historic town of Oakland, and on past the moss-covered Sadler Oaks around Tildenville. Also nearby are the rural community of Ferndale and the small town of Montverde.
You could head to Eustis and on toward the Ocala National Forest and west toward Silver Springs.
On the western shore is Cedar Key, a quiet island community situated among many tiny keys. There’s great seafood there, a peaceful little village, and historical reminders of “Old Florida.”
If returning to Orlando/Tampa, from Cedar Key you could go south to Tarpon Springs, the home of the historic Sponge Docks. The sponge industry helped build a Greek community featuring authentic Greek restaurants, markets, and bakeries.
Tarpon Springs is north of Saint Petersburg and home to the Anclote River Boat Club, an out-of-the-way watering hole better known to locals than tourists. It is very biker friendly.
South of Tarpon Springs are more beautiful white sands in Clearwater and Saint Petersburg. An excellent hotel there is the Sirata Beach Resort. The hotel is also the home of Harry’s Beach Bar, which is a good local hangout to relax for the evening.
Or, in nearby North Palmetto is another big rider hangout, called Peggy’s Corral, Package Store and Lounge.
And another place not too far away is Spook Hill in Lake Wales. Here early mail carriers discovered their horses were laboring to travel what appeared to be downhill. Now that the road is paved, you can put your motorcycle in neutral and your senses will feel like you are coasting uphill, seemingly defying gravity.
Pompano Ft. Lauderdale and the Florida Keys
A lot of people would say the best of Florida is saved here for last.
The Keys have a genuinely tropical climate, and are likened to the Caribbean. There are spots in this region that are essentially an island paradise without leaving the U.S.
A route from Naples to Miami, on the way to the Keys, is the two-lane, scenic U.S. 41, known as the Tamiami Trail. From Miami, instead of U.S. 1, a preferred route is Card Sound Road, which goes past mangroves and sawgrass. In Key Largo, the road rejoins U.S. 1 and goes all the way to Key West.
As you continue south, there are a series of bridges through Key Largo, Plantation and Islamorada. Things to do include boating, fishing, snorkeling, diving, visiting historical or natural attractions, or you could sit in the sun, and do absolutely nothing at all.
Also in this region are Big Cypress National Preserve, Everglades National Park, and Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. And nearby is Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, which features its Briggs Memorial Nature Center.
As mentioned, this article only scratches the surface of Florida’s many travel opportunities.
You could head there and make up your own trip, or consult a tour company to give you an insider’s perspective and fine-tune your route. Likewise, you could bring your own bike, or rent one. Florida is EagleRider’s number one destination spot and they have locations situated throughout the state.
Florida’s many local tourism bureaus also welcome inquiries, and you can do your own research to verify whether traveling the state by motorcycle makes sense for you.