The great Florida road trip from Orlando to Key West

  • Post last modified:September 13, 2023
You are currently viewing The great Florida road trip from Orlando to Key West

The road trip from Orlando to Key West takes you along the stunning west coast of Florida. With beautiful sandy beaches and a laid-back ambience, Florida’s west coast is often called the best coast. This ultimate Orlando to Key West itinerary includes countless dreamy beach destinations, an untamed Everglades and finally the Florida Keys.

For beach time, there are no better American road trips than the Orlando to Key West drive. The gorgeous journey encompasses some of the most spectacular beaches in the world.

As you road trip from Orlando to Florida Keys, you find one sugar-white beach after another. Clearwater Beach, Sanibel Island and Naples are highlights among the many top beaches to hang out on along the way.

But not far from the dreamy beaches, the Orlando to Florida Keys itinerary also presents an untamed chapter. The mighty Everglades, home to a huge population of Florida alligators, is as wild as ever.

Literally at the end of the road, the Florida Keys, known for its tranquility, feels like its own slow-paced world. Away from the mainland hustle and bustle, its southernmost island Key West offers quirky encounters.

We can exist thanks to compensation from advertising including affiliate links. Learn more ›

  • Total distance: 587 mi / 943 km
  • Total driving time: 13 h

Key guide: Nail the location with our detailed guide on where to stay in Key West.

If you prefer a more extensive Gulf Coast road trip, the ultimate Gulf Coast drive takes you all the way from Texas to South Florida.

1. Orlando – The road trip to Key West begins with the theme park capital

In Orlando, you start the spectacular Florida road trip to Key West in the best way possible. The Central Florida city offers entertainment for every traveler.

Most of all, Orlando is a magic city dedicated to amusement. Appreciated things to do in Orlando, of course, include the spectacular theme parks. These giants, including Disney World, Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Sea World, could keep you busy for week(s) before you begin the Orlando to Key West road trip.

In comparison, just Walt Disney World with its 43 square miles is as big as two Manhattan islands. The theme parks are so huge that you in Orlando always find a new attraction to try, or a new colorful character to meet.

But the days when Orlando was just about the theme parks are long gone. To the theme parks, you can add great shopping and a fun nightlife. International Drive is Orlando’s main tourist strip, and it’s lined with an abundance of hotels, restaurants, shops, attractions and nightlife establishments.

Where to stay

There are many great places to stay in Orlando as you kick off the Orlando to Key West road trip. Lake Buena Vista puts you closest to Disney, while International Drive caters to Universal fans and nightlife lovers alike.

Start of Orlando to Key West road trip at Disney World
Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

2. Clearwater Beach – The first beach stop on the Orlando to Key West drive

  • Driving distance: 118 mi / 189 km
  • Driving time: 2.5 h

Clearwater Beach consistently wins the title as the best beach in Florida, and even so in the entire US. Visiting Clearwater Beach is without a question a lovely choice on the road trip from Orlando to Key West.

The sand on Clearwater Beach is all white and fine. That it is so fine creates that special and wonderful crunch when you step on it and your feet push the sand together. Clearwater Beach is also very well taken care of and feels as clean and spotless as a beach possibly could.

But the popularity of the beach also originates in its accessibility. Clearwater Beach is lined by a boardwalk, which makes it easy to reach your favorite spot on the beach. Especially the very hot and humid days, the boardwalk is appreciated by beachgoers.

If you want to reach the centre of activity, you can just stroll on the boardwalk until you get to Pier 60, which extends out into the Gulf of Mexico. There you on top of the magnificent view also frequently find street performers, musicians and other liveliness.

More often than not something fun is going on at Pier 60 in Clearwater.

Where to stay

South Clearwater Beach is the most popular area with places to stay in Clearwater Beach. There you have most dining options and attractions within walking distance. For a more peaceful stay away from the buzz, Sand Key Park is located just a short drive from Clearwater Beach.

Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach
Pier 60 on Clearwater Beach, FL.

3. Sanibel Island – Time to get closer to nature in South Florida

  • Driving distance: 166 mi / 267 km
  • Driving time: 3 h

Sanibel Island is just like Clearwater Beach a beach destination on the west coast of Florida. But don’t assume they are alike when you reach Sanibel Island on the Orlando to Key West drive: Life on Sanibel Island is a strong contrast to Clearwater Beach’s lively spirit.

A trip from the hectic mainland to Sanibel Island, on Sanibel Causeway, takes you to a completely different mindset. Sanibel Island is a great place for a relaxing getaway where you fully unwind without any distractions.

The best things to do on Sanibel Island are about exploring nature.

High rises are not allowed on Sanibel and the tallest building is said to not be any taller than the tallest palm tree. At night, no lights should be visible from the beach because that would disturb the sea turtles.

Life on Sanibel Island clearly is with the nature — this is one of the most unique Florida islands.

Sanibel Island possesses 15 miles (24 km) of great beaches and a wide variety of animal species. The conditions for biking are near optimal: There are 25 miles (40 km) of bike path for you to travel on as you explore Sanibel Island.

A highlight is J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which is world famous for its impressive bird population. Without a question, tropical birds seem to enjoy Sanibel as much as the island’s human tourists.

Where to stay

The best places to stay on Sanibel Island offer a peacefulness that it’s hard to find anywhere else. Sanibel Island is all about nature and quiet times on the Florida road trip.

  • Island Inn – Dreamy and central on peaceful Sanibel Island.
  • West Wind Inn – Convenient, beachfront Sanibel Island hotel.
The Sanibel Island Lighthouse
The Sanibel Lighthouse, FL.

Additional stop: Living side by side with nature on Sanibel Island is a fantastic experience. But for a more lively time on the Orlando to Key West road trip, you find things to do in Fort Myers Beach and places to stay in Fort Myers Beach just across the bridge.

4. Naples – A charming beach town on the Orlando to Key West road trip itinerary

  • Driving distance: 53 mi / 85 km
  • Driving time: 1.5 h

You just can’t have enough of the pristine Florida beaches on the Orlando to Key West itinerary. Naples is another dreamy beach destination on the drive from Orlando to Key West.

The shoreline in Naples is alone a good reason to visit on the Orlando to Key West road trip. A South Florida beach vacation in Naples, with crystal-clear water, white sand and swaying palm trees, is stunning.

So far south, the winter never really gets here: Naples is great for lazy days on the beach even in winter.

A fun beach bonus also is that dolphins love to play in the shallow water near Naples Pier. So make sure that you have your camera ready at all times when you visit the beach in Naples on the Orlando to Florida Keys road trip.

Completing the experience, Naples Pier is the best spot in the South Florida town to watch sunsets too. Every time the sun sets in front of you over the Gulf of Mexico is as spectacular.

Where to stay

Old Naples is the city’s historic area with places to stay in Naples that delivers time after time. In Old Naples, you find the picturesque pier, an appreciated entertainment scene and a unique upscale ambience.

The beautiful Naples Pier at sunset
The beautiful Naples Pier at sunset.

Additional stop: Marco Island is another gem with white sand, blue water and stunning sunsets just 20 miles (32 km) south of Old Naples. The South Florida island is an appreciated beach destination that’s quieter and offers less things to do than Naples. At one of these spectacular beachfront Marco Island resorts, your whole stay is a beach.

5. Everglades – Visit the locals on the Florida road trip

  • Driving distance: 87 mi / 140 km
  • Driving time: 2 h

The ultimate Florida road trip must include great beach destinations, such as Clearwater Beach, Sanibel Island and Naples. But an Orlando to Key West road trip should also include the vastness and wilderness of the Everglades.

To really understand Florida, a visit to Everglades is, in fact, a must. It’s a unique subtropical wetland ecosystem that spans around two million acres in central and south Florida.

On this Florida road trip from Orlando, you pass Everglades National Park when crossing the state from west to east. So it’s really a too good of an opportunity to miss on the Orlando to Florida Keys road trip.

Taking an airboat tour is a great way to see alligators in Everglades. The famous Florida alligators, exotic birds and lizards often show themselves as you travel the water.

Just remember to bring your earplugs for the ride, the airboats can be louder than you think.

Where to stay

In Everglades City, you find the places to stay near Everglades National Park with the best park access. Everglades City is located right where Everglades National Park begins and offers a taste of old Florida swamp life. In Everglades City, you find the Gulf Coast Visitor Center and many airboat companies for going deep into the Everglades.

Gator in the Everglades
An alligator in the Everglades, FL.

6. Islamorada – Laid-back island life in Florida Keys

  • Driving distance: 82 mi / 132 km
  • Driving time: 2 h

The road trip from Orlando to Key West has now reached Florida Keys. There, the most unique stretch of the entire drive from Orlando to Key West begins, the Overseas Highway.

From Key Largo in the very upper part of the island chain Florida Keys, you travel from key to key on the Overseas Highway. For every mile along the 113-mile (182 km) long highway, you get closer and closer to the southernmost point of the continental United States in Key West.

The vibe gets more and more relaxed for every mile you travel through the Florida Keys. Islamorada is the halfway point between Miami and Key West and a great place to unwind. Water activities are a big part of life in the Florida Keys and the best things to do in Islamorada are connected to the water.

An in particular memorable thing to do in Islamorada is to paddle over to the nearby Indian Key Historic State Park. The small and once inhabited Indian Key used to be a bubbling island community with a core of successful shipwreckers. Nowadays the key is abandoned, but you can still see and explore traces of old structures on the tiny island.

Indian Key might be abandoned, but the waters surrounding the island certainly aren’t. Exotic fish thrive in the blue and crystal-clear Florida Keys waters. Therefore make sure that you bring your snorkel gear for the Orlando to Florida Keys drive.

Where to stay

In Islamorada, you find a great variety of Florida Keys places to stay. The area offers both luxury Islamorada resorts and more humble yet appreciated Florida Keys lodging.

Blue water, white sand and green palm trees
Laid-back island life in Islamorada, Florida Keys.

Additional stops: Marathon, a little deeper into the Keys than Islamorada, is a great additional or alternative stop on the Orlando to Key West road trip. See the Miami to Key West road trip itinerary for more stops in the Florida Keys.

7. Key West – Finish the Florida road trip in the southernmost paradise

  • Driving distance: 81 mi / 130 km
  • Driving time: 2 h

When you reach the last island on the Orlando to Key West drive, it’s not just the end of the road. You also reach the southernmost point of the continental US.

Key West is the perfect place to round off the amazing road trip. The island is a tropical paradise that lives at its own pace. Life in Key West is laid back and trouble free. And winters don’t dare to intrude on its mighty endless summer.

But lazy days in great weather is far from everything that Key West has to offer. The tropical key is packed with fun things for every traveler to enjoy.

Hit the beach, take a boat tour, visit the Ernest Hemingway House and climb Key West Lighthouse. Enjoying Duval and Whitehead Streets in Old Town is the perfect ending to the Orlando to Key West road trip.

Where to stay

A tropical city, Key West is widely recognized for its charming historic inns. Stay in Old Town for the full Key West experience as well as walking distance to all the major attractions.
Buoy standing at dock in Key West
The end of the continental US.

Final words about the Orlando to Key West drive

This Orlando to Key West itinerary is the definition of vacation. It captures the sandy scenery of Florida’s gulf coast, stay as long as you want, highlights the untamed Everglades, just don’t become lunch, and makes the most of the one-of-a-kind Overseas Highway, which in stunning fashion takes you from island to island.

At the end of the road — yes, literally — Key West tops off the experience. At the southernmost point of the continental US, soak up endless summer, fascinating sights and a vibe you don’t find anywhere else.

Road trip from Orlando to Key West FAQ

Here you find the answers to some frequently asked questions about the Florida road trip from Orlando to Key West.

How long does it take from Orlando to Key West by car?

This ultimate Orlando to Key West road trip is 587 miles (943 km) long. Driving it takes 13 hours, not including any stops along the way.

Can you take a quicker Orlando to Key West road trip?

It’s certainly possible to take a quicker Orlando to Key West road trip. The more direct Atlantic route from Orlando to Key West is just 393 miles (632 km) long and takes roughly 7 hours to drive.

Where should I stop on a road trip from Orlando to Key West?

The main stops included on the Orlando to Key West road trip are Orlando, Clearwater Beach, Sanibel Island, Naples, Everglades, Islamorada and Key West. You also find several appreciated additional Orlando to Key West destinations along the way.

What is there to do on a road trip from Orlando to Key West?

Above all Florida’s western coast is famous for its countless sugar-white beaches. But if you venture away from the dreamy shoreline, the Everglades offers an untamed experience like no other. At the end of the road the unwinding Florida Keys is the perfect place to round off any road trip.

Should you road trip Orlando to Key West or Key West to Orlando?

Road tripping from Key West to Orlando is as good as doing it Orlando to Key West. Ask yourself if you would prefer to end the trip with some relaxed Key West time or with theme park fun in Orlando.

How long time do you need to take the Florida road trip from Orlando to Key West?

The Florida road trip from Orlando to Key West can be done in just a few days. But to fully enjoy the entire Orlando to Key West itinerary it’s recommended to have two weeks or more.

Make the most of every trip with our newsletter delivered to your inbox.