On the road in Florida - your guide to the sunspots

by kozmik

It's living the American dream, constantly on the move searching out the next delight just around the corner. Rent a car and you can cover an amazing amount of Florida in just two or three weeks

It is only when you arrive in the USA and begin driving the apparently easy to reach cities shown on your road map that you realise just how large this country is. My suggestion for getting to grips with the ultimate American dream of being out on the road, heading for that next stop over the horizon in search of a promised land is to start in Florida.

There are some good reasons why it is the most popular tourist destination in the world.

The Gold Coast

Once at Miami Airport you are on the Gold Coast,  the eastern side of the state.

It  begins with Miami's 10 miles of beaches, all created in the 1930s by the US army, the vast expanses of fine white sand can accommodate the visitors with ease. If you are looking for the action, then South Beach is the place to be. It rivals Las Vegas in frantic non-stop partying and celebration.

Art Deco district, South Beach, Miami

The area from 8th to 21st streets is the square mile of the Art Deco district. Fashionable in the 1930s it fell into disrepair before being recognised as a uniquely American style that had to be preserved.

A great example of this Art Deco style is to be found at South Beach Plaza Hotel, built in 1936 it is just off Ocean Drive. The delightfully tasteful hotel features Art Deco curtains, Indian carpets and tropical waterfalls in the gardens.

It all happens on Ocean Drive, South Beach.  The crowds throng the bars and shows, the concerts and the dances, glamorous, provocative, fun loving and achingly hip. It can be a little bit of a shock for Europeans who have never experienced the 'in your face' hedonism of Americans when they let their hair down.

You could find  yourself swept along by the crowds and their enthusiasms very very easily, but isn't that the point, to live like the locals, at least for a while?  If it all gets too much you can eat al fresco at the beachside restaurants that line the drive and offer some really tasty food served with typical American efficiency. Here you can sit and watch the world go by and spot the celebrities.

Hollywood Beach

After the excitements of Miami, head up the Gold Coast and there are any number of further beaches which offer the same fine white sands and fantastic climate for those fleeing the snows and ice further north.

Hollywood Beach is some 17 miles from Miami, and appeals to an older clientele. But they are still all out there promenading night and day taking in the free concerts which are laid on. Beach life is relaxed, less crowded and laid back in true Florida style. Visiting Jamaican bands lay down a reggae track to serenade your evening meal.

The magificent new Hollywood Marriott is right on the beach where you can survey the ever changing scene from the oceanfront restaurant. The hotel offers boutique style rooms, a spa and fitness centre as well as all those spectacular ocean views.

Key West

If you do have the wheels, then another must-do day or two days out is to head the 140 miles south from Miami to Key West, the last of a string of islands off the southern coast of Florida. 

The Overseas Highway which links all the keys - or islands - is a true spectacular of a drive, suitable preparation for somewhere altogether different from the mainland.

You will need to search around for any reasonably priced accommodation hereabouts. Key West  is fantastically popular, and deservedly so.

Try The Inn at Key West, and Days Inn at Key West both on North Roosevelt Boulevard for availability. You are right in the heart of all the action and near the beach here too at prices that are not scary like some of the establishments hereabouts..

This is as far south as you can go in the USA and it has its own peculiar atmosphere of being far from the cares of the world. Here the Americans finally relax, unwind and enjoy life to the full.

Alligator Alley, Naples, Venice and Fort Myers

Once you get back on the road, then there are some more pleasures in store for you in southern Florida. Alligator Alley (Interstate 41) will take you across from Miami to the Gulf of Mexico.

Stop off to view the alligators at the wildlife parks off the road, but do not under any circumstances underestimate the sheer speed which these ancient predators can move at should be tempted to poke your finger through the netting!

On the Gulf side of the state, there are some more upmarket and sedate communities to be found at Naples, Venice and Fort Myers. An overnight stop here at any of these spots will let you take in the calmer sleepier atmosphere on this side of Florida.

Sarasota and Tampa Bay

Then head further north to Sarasota and Tampa Bay. The subtropical temperatures make it a little like Spain in feel, as do the numerous palms and the Spanish style buildings.

The Lido Beach Resort is Sarasota's newest attraction, it has a beachside Tiki Bar, tropical island decor in all the rooms and is situated among five acres of unspoilt gardens right on Lido Beach.

The peak season begins in February and lasts through till May for visiting Americans. Not for them the midsummer period when the Europeans flock in, not realising just how fierce that Florida sun can be.

Keep applying the sun cream and you'll have a brilliant time on your drive around Florida. You can even drop off your hire car at Tampa airport if you decide to fly back from here rather than return it to Miami where you set off on your road trip. Your airline and car hire company will be happy to oblige.

That's American customer service for you. Unbeatable, just like Florida.