Perfect Spring Road Trips for When You Need to Escape Miami
Beat the spring break crowds at idyllic beaches and top-notch museums.
Spring is a wonderful time in South Florida, when temperatures are beach perfect, rain is rare, and we’ve got everything from worldwide music festivals to major tennis tournaments going on. Of course, the rest of the planet is also in on this little secret, which means Miami can also get uncomfortably crowded and busy. If you feel the need to get away, we’ve got all kinds of great destinations only a few hours away, with beaches just as beautiful as ours with a fraction of the people. Check out some short road trips you can take from Miami, from Northeast Florida to the Keys.
Distance from Miami: 45 miles north; 53 minutes
Once synonymous with suburban sprawl and spoiled children, Boca has unbelievably infused itself with a heavy dose of cool over the past few years. Much of it centers around Mizner Park. There, the Boca Raton Museum of Art has become a cultural mecca, hosting national touring exhibits like the treasures of Machu Picchu and a collection of old Hollywood backdrops before big cities get them. Near Mizner, you can dine at a number of restaurants that hold their own with anything in Miami, including seafood gem Corvina, an outpost of Elisabetta’s, Rebel House and Alley Cat. Once you’re up there, you’d be well served to head west to Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, where you’ll learn the area’s Japanese history among meticulously manicured Japanese gardens and bonsai trees. Morikami also hosts regular classes in everything from calligraphy to gift wrapping, and screens award-winning Japanese films.
Where to stay: The Boca Raton is a destination unto itself, a pink, gilded age masterpiece that was Addison Mizner’s answer to Henry Flagler’s The Breakers. It recently underwent a massive renovation and reopened with restaurants from the people behind Carbone and Contessa.
Distance from Miami: 73 miles north; 1.25-hour drive
West Palm Beach took a long time to emerge from the ritzy shadow of regular ol’ Palm Beach across the Intracoastal, but over the past decade or so, it’s become one of the most dynamic cities in all of Florida. The cultural scene is anchored by the venerable Norton Museum, home to the best damn public art collection in the state. Nearby, wander through junglescapes and curious sculptures at the Ann Norton Sculpture Garden, or gear up for a relaxing day of patio drinking at E.R. Bradley’s. Palm Beach Island is a short bike ride away, where you can stroll the shops of Worth Avenue or saddle up for a meal at South Florida’s best pound-for-pound restaurant, Buccan. If you’re not looking to bust your budget, The Square has plenty of fantastic dining options, from True Food Kitchen and Planta to Salty Donut. Or head down Federal Highway for Detroit-style pizza at Grato, or some of South Florida’s best BBQ at Tropical Smokehouse. During spring, you can also catch the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals in spring training action at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
Where to stay:The Ben brings West Palm its first swanky rooftop pool scene alongside fantastic views over the ocean and Palm Beach beyond, while onsite restaurant Proper Grit is a destination unto itself.
Distance from Miami: 88 miles north; 1.5-hour drive
Former hard-partying Miamians whose white powder of choice is now baby formula seem to overwhelmingly end up in Jupiter. And while no one’s confusing Jupiter with South Beach North, visiting those settled-down party friends is far from a trip to suburban hell. This coastal city in northern PBC is home to one of the coolest beaches in the state at Blowing Rocks, where a windblown limestone shore looks more like Hawaii than South Florida. You’re also only minutes from some of the best kayaking and hiking in the region at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, after which you can reward yourself with a beer at Tequesta Brewing. Jupiter boasts low key one of the best restaurants in South Florida at Little Moir’s Food Shack, a Caribbean gem that puts many places in Miami to shame. And is also home to the Square Grouper, a waterside bar and live music venue that’s been the setting for several music videos. In the spring, you can also catch the Marlins in spring training action at Roger Dean Stadium, and their A-ball affiliate Jupiter Hammerheads the rest of the season.
Where to stay: Jupiter Beach Club sets you up on a stretch of private beach, with recently- renovated rooms with a modern, beach-chic motif. The spa is also one of the best in southern Florida, and the on-beach Sandbar is the only oceanside dining in the city.
Distance from Miami: 85 miles south; 1.75-hour drive
Head here when you’re craving a Keys excursion, but you really would rather not drive all the way down to Key West. Islamorada (whose name is famously mispronounced: it’s “eye-luh-murr-ah-da” not “ees-la-more-ah-da”) is just as relaxing and fun as Key West—minus the half-naked ladies at Sloppy Joe’s and tourist thirst traps. Post up at Lorelei Restaurant & Cabana Bar, Hog Heaven, or Marker 88 for fried calamari, grouper sandwiches, and Painkiller cocktails, and spend the rest of your day on the water. Stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, snorkeling, and boating are all huge here, as are the sunsets. Get a real Florida experience when you combine all of the above: Hop on your SUP board, paddle past the mangroves and crocodiles in Indian Key Historic State Park, and come back to shore for another Painkiller while you watch the sun melt into the shoreline.
Where to stay:Amara Cay Resort is the go-to lodging option, both because of its prime oceanfront location and the swinging chairs in the lobby.
Distance from Miami: 196 miles; 3-hour drive
Another cool thing about living in Florida is that if you wake up Friday morning and think, “I’d like to watch a rocket blast off into outer space this weekend,” all you have to do is jump in your car. Cocoa Beach sits just south of Cape Canaveral, and allows you to make this dream come true while combining it with a first rate beach vacation. The top destination along the Space Coast has evolved into far more than a strip of motels for space geeks, and while a trip to NASA and the Kennedy Space Center is always in order, there’s a lot more to explore. Cocoa is the surf capital of Florida, so after taking a morning lesson with School of Surf stock up on gear at the Original Ron Jon Surf Shop. Grab drinks over the water at the Rikki Tiki Tavern, whose food menu is equally as impressive as its views, or kick back with craft beers at Florida Brewing Company. And if you have only one meal in Cocoa, make sure it’s at Flavour Kitchen, where stuff like maple chili glazed bacon hush puppies are paired with a list of rare wines.
Where to stay: The Beachside Hotel and Suites is but one of several large oceanside resorts in Cocoa Beach. But it’s the only one with its own lazy river, making it the obvious choice.
Distance from Miami: 330 miles northwest; 3.5-hour drive
Ignore, for just a moment, that this stunning beach town was made TV-infamous by a reality show filled with spoiled teenagers. The reality of Siesta Key is that the old money that keeps it running is highly understated, and the vibe filling the streets is more laid-back Florida than anywhere outside of the Keys. The perfect powdery sands are worth the drive alone, and once earned Siesta Key the top spot on Dr. Beach’s list of Best Beaches in America. Beyond the perfect sunsets and calm waters, offshore fishing is also fantastic, and if you rent one of the island’s bevy of beach houses, you can cook your catch right away. Don’t feel like cooking? There’s no shortage of restaurants either, whether you’re grabbing fresh seafood at Siesta Key Oyster Bar, going more upscale at Summer House, or taking your pooch with you to the Old Salty Dog.
Where to stay: Siesta Key hasn’t been stampeded by highrise hotels, and likely won’t be any time soon. The move here is to find a vacation rental somewhere along the sand. Though, if you want a full-service resort, Longboat Key Club and the Lido Beach Resort aren’t far, and are both first rate.
Distance from Miami: 168 miles; 3.75-hour drive
The quintessential weekend getaway from Miami is a jaunt down to Key West, a trip as much about the journey as the destination as you roll through one of the most scenic drives in America. And while drinking your way down Duval Street is a time-honored tradition, there’s a lot more to this island paradise than vacationland debauchery. It’s the jumping off point to Dry Tortugas National Park, a Civil War era prison that’s now a remote snorkeler’s paradise. You can also learn a lot about the Key’s maritime history at the Mel Fisher Maritime and Key West Shipwreck Museums, and visit the six-toed cats at the Hemingway Home. If you’re into being completely terrified, pay a respectful visit to Robert the Doll at the Fort East Martello Museum, and make sure to ask permission before taking a picture. Then decompress with a sunset at Mallory Square before getting on with your requisite liver destruction.
Where to stay: The Kimpton just opened a slew of new hotels all over the island, taking over five historic buildings in the heart of Old Town. For secluded, romantic escapes, book a cottage at Winslow’s Bungalows or Ella’s Cottages. Or for something a little more social, hit the Lighthouse Hotel, where the pool is a scene in and of itself.
Distance from Miami: 261 miles northwest; 4-hour drive
Located 30 miles north of Orlando, this quaint, walkable town looks like one of those miniature Christmas villages you bust out during the holidays, complete with wreaths and fake snowmen. Go here for antiquing, art galleries, boutique shopping, or one of the city’s many festivals, and don’t sleep on the dining scene, which is pretty global for small-town Florida. Get English pub grub at The Frog & Monkey, modern cuisine inspired by Florida’s diverse heritage at 1921 by Norman Van Aken, high tea at The Windsor Rose Tea Room, Key West-meets-Cuba fusion at Pisces Rising, and everything from classic breakfast sandwiches to wine and spreads at One Flight Up.
Where to stay: The 134-year-old Lakeside Inn is an architectural icon (listed on the National Register of Historic Places, no less) as well as a popular spot to spend the night. It’s located right in the heart of Mount Dora, a mere stone’s throw away from all the shops and restaurants.
Distance from Miami: 267 miles northwest; 4-hour drive
Once a quiet retirement town, today, this coastal city has everything. There’s a strong restaurant and bar scene, weekly farmers markets packed with beach-loving millennials and their dogs, and the St. Pete/Clearwater Craft Beer Trail, a boozy course winding through Green Bench, Cycle Brewing, and 3 Daughters, among other standout suds purveyors. Don’t leave without tasting the regional specialty, Florida Weisse, a traditional Berliner Weisse-style wheat beer fermented with tropical fruit. The art scene is as popular as the beaches here, where boutique art galleries spill out onto the streets during the monthly Second Saturday ArtWalk and the Dalí and Chihuly museums never disappoint. If you want to hit the gulf, head to St. Pete Beach and take advantage of top-notch beach bars like Undertow, The Drunken Clam, and Rum Runners while there. And don’t even get us started on the food. From smaller joints like Lolita’s Wine Market and Karma Juice Bar & Eatery to bustling food halls like Mazzaro's Italian Market and the hot new 22 South, packed with local favorties.
Where to stay: Sirata Beach Resort has you covered, with Rum Runners bar onsite, white sand beaches, and solid sunset views, all less than a 20-minute drive to downtown St. Petersburg.
Distance from Miami: 312 miles northwest; 4.75-hour drive
It doesn’t get more low key than Crystal River. This fishing community is mostly known for its manatees, because it’s the only place in Florida where you can legally swim with the marine mammals. The river’s constant 72-degree temperature attracts more than 800 of the threatened water beasts during the winter months, while from April to September, King’s Bay is open for summer boating. On the water, go snorkeling, fishing, and scalloping, or if you want to stay dry, hit the links at Plantation on Crystal River or biking along Withlacoochee Bay Trail. And in a town like this, it should come as no surprise that eating seafood is a given. You can get some of the best of the best at Charlie’s Fish House, Margarita Breeze, or Cracker’s Bar, Grill & Tiki.
Where to stay: The 232-acre Plantation on Crystal River has rooms starting at $123 per night, which gives you access to its spa, the surrounding natural springs of Kings Bay, and a quiet, Old Florida experience.
Distance from Miami: 313 miles north; 4.75-hour drive
You go to this city for two reasons: history, and because it makes you feel like you’re actually in Spain. Founded by the Spanish in 1565, it’s the oldest permanent European settlement in North America, which might be a dead giveaway when you come across Castillo de San Marcos Fort and its weekend cannon firings, horse-drawn carriages driven by locals in old-timey costumes, and the cobblestone roads of historic downtown including the pedestrian-only, shop-lined St. George Street. The culinary scene, beaches, and proximity to world-class golfing are also viable reasons to make the trip. Your weekend will be incomplete without stops at Pizza Time, Michael’s Tasting Room, or Columbia Restaurant, and if you cross the Bridge of Lions (regal, eh?) and head south on A1A, you’ll find a totally different world, one with serene, white-sand beaches lined with stylish 21st-century villas.
Where to stay: Casa Monica Resort & Spa puts you right in the middle of the historic district, and its luxe accommodations make you feel like you’re the king or queen of Spain.
Distance from Miami: 345 miles north; 5.5-hour drive
It seems like kind of a stretch to call Jacksonville—the largest city by landmass in the lower 48—a “hidden gem.” But head to Florida’s fourth city and you’ll discover a place with fantastic beaches, great food, and the most laid-back culture of anywhere outside the Keys. Jacksonville’s beaches boast some of the state’s best surfing in Neptune Beach and the Jetties, as well as the surreal landscape at Boneyard Beach and golden dunes at Guana River. Cool neighborhoods like Five Points allow you to wander through vintage and antique stores, then grab a rooftop beer at Hoptinger’s or dinner with a view at Black Sheep. You can also stroll one of the best food blocks in Florida in Riverside with breakfast at Bold Bean, lunch at Food Dog Curry Traders, and dinner at 13 Gypsies. Catch the Marlins of the future watching the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, the Fish’s AA affiliate who plays at one of the coolest parks in the minors. After, kick back with a drink at Intuition Ale Works before heading downtown for margaritas at Dos Gatos.
Where to stay: Immersing yourself in one of Jax’s many neighborhoods is the best way to experience the city, so reserving an Airbnb in Riverside, Avondale, or Jax Beach is never not fun. If you’re hellbent on hotels, the Hyatt Regency downtown is centrally located and the One Ocean Resort is the move on the beach.