Take an Orlando to Key West road trip along the west coast of Florida and discover exactly why it’s called the “best coast”. Plunge into countless sugar-white beach destinations where the ambience is refreshingly laid back, an untamed Everglades home to bitey locals (be careful) and finally the unique island world of the Florida Keys.
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- Total distance: 587 mi / 943 km
- Total driving time: 13 h
The pristine beaches of Florida’s west coast are calling your name, but be sure to savor the best of Orlando before you take off. There’s, in fact, much more than just theme parks to indulge in.
Enjoy massive Disney and Universal
Orlando’s biggest drawcards are its theme parks. Visit Disney World and Universal — which can keep you busy for week(s) — to take thrilling rides and meet your favorite characters.
Just Disney World, with 43 square miles, is as big as two Manhattan islands. Pick from four different theme parks within the huge complex: Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, EPCOT and Magic Kingdom.
Uncover Downtown Orlando and I-Drive
While Orlando is dedicated to theme park amusement, the city existed long before the theme parks. Enter historic Downtown Orlando to find Church Street Station, built in the late 1800s, lush Lake Eola Park and a wide range of atmospheric shops, eateries and bars.
For a flashing Florida-meets-Las Vegas take on a good time, head to International Drive. This is Orlando’s main entertainment strip lined by an abundance of quirky attractions and all the places to eat and drink you might need.
More info: Where to stay in Orlando
2. Clearwater Beach
- Driving distance: 118 mi / 189 km
- Driving time: 2.5 h
Feel Clearwater’s prized sand between your toes
The sand on Clearwater Beach is not only sugar-white but also remarkably fine. That it is so very fine creates that special, wonderful crunch when you step on it and your feet push the sand together.
Add prime accessibility to the natural beauty. Clearwater Beach is edged by a boardwalk, making it easy to reach your favorite spot on the beach — an especially appreciated feature those hot and humid days.
Soak up the lively vibe at Pier 60
To reach Clearwater Beach’s center of activity, stroll the beach-hugging boardwalk until you get to Pier 60. Backed by sprawling resorts and low-key beach bars, it brilliantly extends 1,080 feet (329 m) into the Mexican Gulf.
The views and ambience peak as the sun dips low on the horizon. Sunset festivities, with street performers and musicians, is a nightly event in Clearwater that attracts visitors of all ages.
More info: Where to stay in Clearwater Beach
3. Sanibel Island
- Driving distance: 166 mi / 267 km
- Driving time: 3 h
Drive 3 hours south of Clearwater Beach and cross the Sanibel Causeway to change into a lower gear. Tranquil Sanibel Island prides itself as a destination where man and nature coexist frictionlessly.
Relax beneath Sanibel Lighthouse
While there’re no high rises on Sanibel Island, one structure on its eastern end shoots up high above the swaying palm trees: 98-foot (30 m) Sanibel Lighthouse. Made of iron, it has survived countless hurricanes since it was raised in 1884, representing Sanibel’s resilience.
Spread out a towel on the beach below the lighthouse and soak up some sun in front of Sanibel’s best backdrop. This is Lighthouse Beach Park, which also has a small pier and shaded picnic areas — perfect if you want to make a day out of it.
Mount an expedition into J.N. “Ding” Darling
Venture into J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge to experience Sanibel Island’s miniature version of the gigantic Everglades. Here, undeveloped mangrove ecosystems teeming with wildlife, such as alligators, birds and manatees, await.
Take in the scenery as you leisurely cruise the 4-mile (6 km) Wildlife Drive, the sanctuary’s main thoroughfare. Stop at viewpoints along the way to zoom in on the best sights, possibly lacing up your hiking boots.
More info: Where to stay on Sanibel Island
Add Fort Myers: Living side by side with nature on Sanibel Island is a fantastic experience. But if you prefer a livelier time, consider stopping at Fort Myers Beach, just across the bridge, instead.
When you arrive in Naples, it’s time to embrace the finer things in life. This Southwest Florida city boasts fine shopping, gourmet dining and, maybe (you decide), the most picture-perfect beach on the entire Orlando to Key West itinerary.
Splurge on Fifth Avenue South
Glam, glam and glam — Naples holds some of the most exclusive addresses in the USA, and Fifth Avenue South is the very focal point of the extravagancy. Browse the latest fashion, hunt for sparkling jewelry or try the sophisticated food scene.
Sounds too expensive? Just strolling along the well-polished Fifth Avenue South, framed by palm trees and blooming flowers, is an experience in its own right.
Watch dolphins play at Naples Beach
Follow Fifth Avenue South all the way west to find Naples Beach. Visitors from all walks of life agree: Its white sand, fringing palm trees and crystal-clear blue water makes a gorgeous setting for lazy days under the Florida sun.
Throughout your visit, keep your camera ready; dolphins seem to like these waters as much as humans. Linger around for the sunset to see the sun set behind the fishing pier, first built in the 1880s but rebuilt several times.
More info: Where to stay in Naples
Recline on another beach: Marco Island, with an overwhelmingly wide beach, is another gem just 20 miles (32 km) south of Old Naples.
- Driving distance: 87 mi / 140 km
- Driving time: 2 h
Crossing the state of Florida, you cut through majestic wetlands. Stop at Everglades National Park, encompassing more than 1.5 million acres, to marvel at Florida’s poster animal, the alligator.
Note: Huge Everglades has several visitor centers. Along this route, you pass in the vicinity of both Gulf Coast (west) and the Ernest Coe and Royal Palm duo (east). Detour 38 miles (61 km) from Ernest Coe (one way) to find remote Flamingo.
Journey on the Everglades’ waters
To really understand Everglades, you need to get out on the water. Choose from two different but as appreciated means of transportation:
Zip through the mangroves aboard an airboat with a captain that efficiently takes you to all the wildlife hotspots. Tours depart both from the Gulf Coast and Ernest Coe areas.
Or peacefully glide around the wetland’s ecosystems on a kayak or canoe. Excellent paddling trails are located both in the Gulf Coast and Flamingo areas of the Everglades.
Hike through the Everglades
Your own two feet can show you a lot of the Everglades.
There’s nothing not to like about the 0.8-mile (1.3 km) Anhinga Trail, starting at Royal Palm. Enjoy a paved trail surrounded by all from alligators to turtles to exotic birds.
While you’re there, explore the 0.4-mile (0.6 km) Gumbo Limbo Trail too. It’s also paved and twists through jungle-like vegetation including — you guessed it — gumbo limbo trees.
More info: Where to stay near Everglades
- Driving distance: 82 mi / 132 km
- Driving time: 2 h
There’re roads, and then there’s the Overseas Highway, hopping from island to island for 113 miles (182 km) from mainland Florida’s southern tip to Key West. Along the way, Islamorada, a five-island community, lures you in with cool road trip stops and dreamy resorts.
Paddle to Indian Key
Paddle over to 11-acre Indian Key, half a mile from Lower Matecumbe Key, to inspect the remains of a thriving 1830s shipwrecking outpost, which used to have homes, warehouses, wharves, a store and a hotel. Today, almost all structures are gone, but interpretive signage and a few remaining ruins remind you of those past glory days.
Half of the fun is the marine wildlife: Scan the water for all from dolphins and sharks to manatees and rays on your way over and snorkel the coral reefs that fringe the island.
Feed hungry tarpons at Robbie’s
A Florida Keys institution, relaxed Robbie’s Marina gladly serves fresh seafood and cool beverages to all who pass by on the Overseas Highway. Before or after sitting down, pay a few dollars to feed the massive tarpons from the dock, an experience that never ceases to amaze.
More info: Where to stay in the Florida Keys
Tick, tick, tick: Discover all the best things to do in Florida Keys (mileposts in north-south order are included).
7. Key West
- Driving distance: 81 mi / 130 km
- Driving time: 2 h
Cruise the final stretch of the Overseas Highway to arrive at not just the end of the road but also the continental USA. Closer to Cuba than Miami, Key West boasts endless summer and a wide array of delightful sights.
Learn about old times at the Ernest Hemingway Home
One of the most celebrated writers of all time, Ernest Hemingway lived in Key West during much of the 1930s. Step into the elegant Ernest Hemingway Home, hiding behind palm trees on Whitehead Street, to hear enchanting stories about him and life in Key West back then.
Cat lovers, unite! Adding a unique touch, descendants of Hemingway’s cats, many of which are six toed, roam the property to this day.
Celebrate on Duval Street
You made it to the end of the Orlando to Key West road trip. The perfect place to celebrate, Duval Street — Key West’s main drag, running from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean — is lined by atmospheric places to eat and drink. Be sure to stop by iconic Sloppy Joe’s Bar, the joint where Hemingway himself used to wet his throat.
Where to stay
Don’t think twice here: Stay in Old Town of Key West to enjoy walking distance to most of the major attractions.
More info: Where to stay in Key WestBooking.com
Road trip from Orlando to Key West FAQ
This ultimate Orlando to Key West road trip is 587 miles (943 km) long, taking 13 hours. Add extra time for the stops along the way.
For a shorter Orlando to Key West road trip, take the more direct Atlantic route, covering 393 miles (632 km) in about 7 hours.
Pause at Clearwater Beach, Sanibel Island, Naples, Everglades and Islamorada. Additionally, Fort Myers and Marco Island make fine stops.
Tick off countless sugar-white beaches between Orlando and Key West impress. Additionally, venture into the wilderness of the Everglades, loaded with opportunities for memorable adventures.
Although this drive can be taken over just a few days, we recommend allowing 10 days or more for maximum enjoyment.
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