"Give me 5" is a new series on betterRVing.com that will publish every day of the month that has a "5" in it. Each article will bring you a list of 5 cool things to do, see, visit or enjoy – all catered to the RV lifestyle.
RVers know that getting there really can be half the fun. Particularly when the view out the window is every bit as fantastic as the destination at the end of the road. With that in mind, we present five of our favorite rural Florida drives. Each trip will take about two hours with several stops along the way; add a few detours if you want to make a day of it.
Trip #1 — From Jupiter Lights to Sebastian Surf
A classic shoreline cruise from one out-of-this-world Florida inlet to another along the quintessential Atlantic coast artery, A1A.
Surfer at Sebastian
A climb to the top of the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse (www.jupiterlighthouse.org) reveals both a hands-on historical perspective and a spectacular view of Florida’s southern Atlantic coast. Back on the road, the views down US-1 include pine and oak forests and mangrove-lined wetlands. Take the north detour onto US-1A through the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge (www.fws.gov/hobesound) until US-1 and 1A merge again. In Fort Pierce, the route moves from US-1 to the iconic A1A. Stop at Fort Pierce Inlet State Park (www.floridastateparks.org/fortpierceinlet), stretch your legs and stick your toes in the sand anywhere along a half-mile of beach. Linger a bit to hike, fish, swim or picnic under the palms. Then cruise north along the coast through Indian River, Vero Beach and Wabasso. The trail ends at Sebastian Inlet State Park (www.floridastateparks.org/sebastianinlet). Known as a surfing and pier-fishing hotspot, Sebastian Inlet is also a great place to shoreline fish, swim, snorkel, hike and camp.
Get an inside look at one of the most secretive and celebrated military forces in the world — the Navy SEALs — at the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum (www.navysealmuseum.com). Then stop for a look at the manatees that gather under the footbridge at Round Island Park West.
TRIP #2 — From the Hills of Clermont to Hernando by the Sea
The views along this route take in orange groves near the Lakes Wales Ridge through green cattle county to rainbow sunsets on the sandy beaches of Hernando.
Pearl in the Grove in Dade City
The Citrus Tower (www.citrustower.com), a 226-foot monument to the subtropical cash crop that put this town on the map, offers an unbeatable view of the blue lakes and green groves that stretch for miles in every direction. From the tower, turn west on FL-50 and cruise through the heart of Florida, past rolling pastureland in every conceivable shade of green and small towns with fairytale names: Groveland, Tarrytown and Hill ’n Dale. Pass Weeki Wachee Park (www.weekiwachee.com), turn right on Pine Island Drive and arrive at Alfred McKethan/Pine Island Park (www.hernandocounty.us/parks_rec/parks). This Gulf-front park is a popular local hangout with plenty to do for all ages; it features a gorgeous “Old Florida” approach — a narrow marsh-lined blacktop with pines and cypress domes in the distance.
Where US-301 intersects with FL-50, turn south toward Dade City to enjoy a delicious meal at Pearl in the Grove (www.pearlinthegrove.com). With its focus on local ingredients and an elegant, comfortable atmosphere, this small boutique eatery consistently draws fans willing to drive over an hour simply to dine there. Once you’ve eaten, get back on track by following CR-581, then CR-572, back up to SR-50.
Trip #3 — From Rainbow Springs to Salt Springs
Travel from horse country farms through bear country forests to the second largest lake in the state.
Kayaking on Rainbow River
Begin your trip at Rainbow Springs State Park (www.floridastateparks.org/rainbowsprings). The park campground, located off-site, is a great place to spend the night before beginning your journey. Plus, 180th Avenue offers a horizon-to-horizon panorama of rolling green pastureland dappled with oak trees, where cows and horses hide from the sun. Cruise east along FL-40 East toward Ocala, past roadways lined with wildflowers and dotted with roadside produce stands. The wildflowers give way to stately thoroughbred ranches before cutting through Ocala. Then, just after passing Silver Springs (www.silversprings.com), one of Florida’s first theme parks, turn northeast on CR-314 and drive into the heart of the Ocala National Forest (www.fs.usda.gov/ocala). Drive carefully and look out for bears. At the terminus of CR-314, turn left on FL-19 and come to Salt Springs Recreation Area (www.recreation.gov). Discover an inviting park with a blue-green swimming spring, picnic areas shaded by towering pines and a comfortable campground — the only full-hookup public campground inside the Ocala National Forest.
Appleton Museum of Art (www.appletonmuseum.org) will add a touch of culture to your rural road trip. Check the website for exhibit times, hours of operation and entrance fees. All Florida Outfitters (www.allfloridaoutfitters.com), just south of Salt Springs on FL-19, offers air boat rides on Lake George. Loud, but fun. Call 813.917.4600 for rates and reservations.
Trip #4 — From the Suwannee River to Cedar Key
Ride the stagecoach trail past the river that gave Florida its song, then turn south toward a mouthwatering meal of Cedar Key shellfish in the Gulf-side town that time forgot.
Celebrated naturalist John Muir ended his famous “thousand-mile walk to the Gulf” at Cedar Key in October 1867. His account of the trip not only painted a vivid picture of life in the post-war South, but also conveyed his deep appreciation for Florida’s natural splendor. While this trek is only one-tenth the distance, the beauty that so enchanted Muir is still apparent, from the wooded camping playground beside the Suwannee River, through the wide-open spaces, to the quaint seaside village of Cedar Key. This trip begins just off I-10 near Live Oak at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park (www.musicliveshere.com), a big and boisterous campground known for live music and family fun. Before heading south, cruise down CR-132, aka Stagecoach Road. One of the oldest east-west roads in the state, the rolling blacktop is lined with wildflowers, green pastures and bucolic grandeur. Turn south on 153rd Road, then southeast on US-90 toward Live Oak and south again on US-129. Follow US-129 south to US-19, then take 19 south to CR-345. Highway 345 runs into FL-24, which will take you into Cedar Key , the laid-back, historic archipelago with Key West architecture and down-home charm. End your tour with a sunset meal and a stroll along Dock Street.
Cedar Key from the water
Much of the route along highway 129 runs beside, around and over the Suwannee and Santa Fe rivers. Pause for a sneak peak at Ellie Ray’s River Landing (www.ellieraysriverlanding.com).
Trip #5 — From the ’Bama Border Down to the Seaside
Begin this trip at one of the most venerable beach-side bars in the country and follow the Emerald Coastline to a Hollywood ending.
The Flora-Bama (www.florabama.com) is a blissfully ramshackle collision of lounge, beach bar and seafood restaurant that straddles the border between Florida and Alabama. Rebuilt after a recent hurricane, this consummate beach-side oyster bar is still brimming with nostalgia and overflowing with great live music, ice-cold beer and friendly locals. And mullets. We must not forget the mullets, both the fish — which they have tossed here competitively for over a quarter-century — and the haircuts, which, at least at Flora-Bama, will never go out of style. Leaving the lounge, set your watch on island time and head east on US-98 toward Florida’s Emerald Coast — Pensacola, Fort Walton, Destin and Miramar. This coastal route can get touristy in spots, but it also showcases some of the best beaches in Florida. Expect some stop-and-go traffic, but the view more than makes up for the slower pace. Jump off the main drag in Destin at Matthew Boulevard. Take Matthew to Old 98 and follow the beach road east through Miramar, where it intersects with US-98. Turn southeast at CR-30A and follow that right into Seaside (www.seasidefl.com), the tiny coastal town where the Jim Carrey movie “The Truman Show” was filmed. From the kitschy architecture to the stunning coastline, the entire community is an aesthetic delight.
Pensacola Beach Road is the gateway to Gulf Islands National Seashore (www.nps.gov/guis), one of the most pristine stretches of sand in Florida. It also leads to Via De Luna drive, a route that will keep you on the beach until intersecting with the Navarre Beach Causeway. Interested in a picnic lunch along the way? Henderson State Park (www.floridastateparks.org/hendersonbeach) in Destin is the perfect spot. It boasts gorgeous sand, beautiful water and covered pavilions right by the beach.
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