Miami's glitzy beaches and Orlando's theme parks hog the spotlight and draw big crowds in Florida. But the Sunshine State will surprise you with plenty of less-visited draws that also make pandemic-era social distancing easy. This road trip takes you from the Panhandle to the state's crook and then south and inland — with fun excursions on land and in the water all along the way. Oh, and be ready to chow down on fresh, delicious Florida seafood, too.
Day 1: South Walton County — Miramar Beach to Santa Rosa Beach (20 miles)
Start your road trip in the Panhandle in Miramar Beach for easy access to South Walton County's coastal dune lakes. Freshwater oases that exist in only a few places in the world, dune lakes are created when wind redistributes sand and creates shallow pools. You'll find Western Lake, one of Florida's prettiest, at Grayton Beach State Park, 15 miles east of Miramar Beach along scenic Highway 30A. Rent a kayak from the park ranger station to explore the backwaters of this 100-acre lake surrounded by wetlands. Then, switching gears to saltwater, see for yourself why Dr. Beach named the park's stretch of powdery perfection America's No. 1 beach in 2020. Come lunchtime, head to nearby Grayton Beer Brewpub for a shrimp po'boy and one of its 15 local beers (try the 30A IPA, with bright citrus and tropical notes) on its outdoor patio.
After lunch, make a short five-mile trek northeast to Eden Gardens State Park, on Choctawhatchee Bay in Santa Rosa Beach. Here, Spanish moss-draped oak trees frame the Wesley House, a stately 1897 mansion with tall white columns, a wraparound porch and an antiques-filled interior. The park has temporarily paused mansion tours due to the pandemic, but you can walk right up to the porch and peek inside the windows, as well as ramble around the lovely, sprawling grounds. In this serene setting, spend a quiet afternoon fishing for crappie off Tucker Bayou's dock, but bring your own gear and a Florida fishing license (available for purchase online).
Where to stay: Near Grayton Beach State Park, one-bedroom apartments at the Hibiscus Coffee & Guesthouse come with kitchenettes or full kitchens and private balconies overlooking tidy gardens. Or pitch a tent or park your RV at Grayton Beach State Park Campground, a shady spot near Western Lake.
Day 2: Grayton Beach State Park to Apalachicola (97 miles)
Continuing east on 30A toward Apalachicola, stop about 34 miles down the road at St. Andrews State Park, near Panama City, for more beach time. Although it's a popular park, you'll have plenty of room to chill on its 1 1/2-mile stretch of pristine sand. Fish from a pier that extends 500 feet into the Gulf of Mexico or cycle along the park's flat roads (an onsite general store rents bikes).