From Tampa to Jacksonville
Travel 3 hours and 50 minutes -- a total of 226 miles -- to hit the links and shop in Jacksonville. With a lively arts scene, a great downtown district, and some of the country’s best golf courses, Jacksonville is a hidden gem located in northern Florida. The weather is a bit crisper upstate. Winters are too cold to play on the sand, but the conditions make for ideal golf weather. And with a less-crowded beach scene, this once underrated seaside city has become a vibrant spot -- with an NFL team to boot.
Or save a bundle and book a space at the Holiday Inn Express Jacksonville Beach, a value hotel that offers awesome freebies like Wi-Fi, breakfast, and self-parking. Rooms are clean, the pool is relaxed, and the prices are great.
Top Driving Tip: While taking I-75N is faster, we recommend sticking it out an extra 15 minutes or so in the car. Take I-4E to I-95. You’ll pass right through Orlando -- and maybe stop for a few rollercoaster rides.
Tampa to Panama City
Another option for a road trip is to drive approximately 6 hours and 336 miles to Panama City. Known as the “Spring Break Capital of the World,” Panama City Beach is the liveliest beach community on the Florida Panhandle. Over half a million college students pack the beaches in March and April; however, the party continues year round. Free beachside concerts, internationally renowned DJ sets, and glow-in-the-dark parties are just some of the city’s normal happenings.
For a more upscale stay, visit Calypso Resort & Towers. Private beach access will give you a respite from the party. The rooms are stylishly and can sleep up to 6 people. They also come equipped with full kitchens, dishwashers and a washer/dryer.
Cabana Cay by Oaseas Resorts, on the other hand, offers an excellent pool and location if you’re traveling on a budget. Rooms are showing some wear and tear, and the view isn’t much to speak of, but it’s a great jumping off spot for families or couples looking for good value over posh service.
Top Driving Tip: U.S. 98 hugs the Western coastline, which offers some great views -- especially as it passes through Apalachicola National Forest during the second half of your trip.
Tampa to Fort Lauderdale
A 3rd road trip option is to hit the road and travel 4 hours and 11 minutes -- 265 miles -- to Fort Lauderdale. Once a major Spring Break hub, Fort Lauderdale has traded in its wet t-shirt contests for luxury yacht parties within the last few years. Fort Lauderdale, nicknamed the “Venice of America,” is still rife with bars, restaurants and shops. The hard partiers, however, have moved elsewhere (probably to Panama City). And, as the rich have rolled in, so have a few luxury hotels, several sophisticated bars and a handful of fine-dining options. But, if you do want a night of wild partying, Miami is only another half hour south.
For budget travelers, the Ocean Manor Resort is a solid pick. Though the hotel has been unevenly renovated -- some rooms are modern and appealing with rates to match, others have dated decor and few amenities -- it does offer free Wi-Fi, a nice pool and airport shuttle transfers. Located on a beautiful beach, its Tiki Bar also attracts guests and locals alike for good cheap eats.
Top Driving Tip: I-75 is the most direct route -- it’ll shave a few minutes from your trip and take you through Big Cypress National Preserve.