Florida is a delight for couples who love to take road trips. You can cruise through all sorts of interesting and beautiful sights in this scenic state, and each area offers something different. The northwestern section of Florida, known as the Panhandle due to its shape, curves along the Gulf of Mexico and includes the capital city of Tallahassee as well as popular beach towns like Destin. A fun Florida road trip is the drive from Tallahassee to Destin. (For another, check out our article on a Miami to Key West road trip.)
If you want to do a Tallahassee to Destin road trip, you have two options to choose from. One route stays mostly inland and goes along I-10 until you take the exit to Destin. The other route is mostly coastal, along U.S. 319 South, and U.S. 98 West. In this article, we’ll tell you all about each version and what our picks are for the top stops on each road trip from Tallahassee to Destin.
How far is Tallahassee to Destin? That depends on which route you take. Driving straight through on the I-10 route (213 miles) will take about 3 and a half hours. Driving along the coastal route is fewer miles (190) but can take longer because you’re on slower roads (about 4 ½ hours). There are also more possible stops along the coastal route, so this road trip from Tallahassee to Destin could take all day if you want it to.
Inland Tallahassee to Destin road trip via I-10 West
This route takes you though some of Florida’s lovely inland state parks, where you can explore forests, caverns, and natural springs. Each of these stops can be reached by an exit off of I-10.
Torreya State Park
This park offers something a bit different, with high bluffs overlooking the Appalachicola River, deep ravines, and forests with hardwood trees, including the rare Florida Torreya tree (which only grows here). There’s a huge variety of wildlife, plants, and birds (over 100 species), so this is a fascinating spot for anyone interested in nature.
There’s also a historic home at the park that you can tour to learn about life in the area during the 1800s. Admission to the park is $3 per car and it’s open from 8 a.m. until sunset.
Marianna, Blue Springs, and Florida Caverns State Park
Marianna is one of the state’s oldest towns. Founded in 1827, it was an important agricultural center before the Civil War and is the site of the Battle of Marianna during that war. Today it’s a charming small town with many beautiful and impressive historic buildings, plus shops and restaurants.
There’s also the spring-fed Chipola River, which is a designated paddling trail that runs for 51 miles through swamps and bluffs. Nearby Blue Springs offers swimming, snorkeling, paddling, and cave diving opportunities as well as a recreation area with a little beach and picnic tables.
The entry fee to Florida Caverns State Park is $5 per car, but if you want to tour the caves it’s an additional $11 per person. Designated a National Natural Landmark in 1976, these underground limestone caves have fascinating rock formations that you can tour (available Memorial Day to Labor Day, tours take about an hour). In the rest of the park, you can go hiking along the Bluff Trail to see the Tunnel Cave, which is not underground. You can also visit the Blue Hole Spring and go swimming if you don’t mind the chilly 64-degree water.
Falling Waters State Park
This park offers—you guessed it—a waterfall. At 70 feet, it’s Florida’s highest waterfall, and it flows into a 100-foot-deep sinkhole in the earth. Walkways lead around the falls so you can explore the area, which also features huge trees, a butterfly garden, and a lake. Entry is $5 per vehicle, and the park is open 8 a.m. to sundown.
Ponce de Leon State Park
Named for the Spanish explorer who first reached Florida, this park features crystal clear springs that you can swim and snorkel in (the water temperature averages around 68 degrees, so this is definitely a hot weather activity!). The main spring produces 14 million gallons of water each day. There are also nature trails you can walk through the forest for a self-guided tour, or you can take guided walks with a ranger (offered seasonally).
Ponce de Leon park is very popular in the summer and will close to visitors if it reaches capacity; if you want to visit here, try to come earlier in the day. Admission is $4 per car and it is open 8 a.m. to sunset. There are changing facilities and restrooms onsite.
Another charming historic town, DeFuniak Springs was known as the “Education Resort of the South” in the late 1800s and early 1900s due to the Victorian resort built around the lake here that hosted the Florida Chatauqua Assembly each year. This resort attracted hundreds of people to weeks-long gatherings that featured famous speakers and performers. It was established by the New York Chatauqua Association so they could have a warmer location for winter assemblies. At the peak of its popularity, about 4000 people arrived here each day.
Many of the amazing Victorian structures that were built for the assemblies are still intact and are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Many visitors love to come at Christmas for the stunning light displays. There are museums, art galleries, shops, and more to explore in this interesting town. You can download the Walk DeFuniak Springs App for a guided tour.
Once you’ve finished exploring DeFuniak Springs, head west on I-10 until you see the exit for Destin and the Mid-Bay Bridge. Follow those signs south until you reach Highway 98 and the sparkling sands of the Emerald Coast.
Coastal Tallahassee to Destin road trip via US 319 and 98
Beach lovers will prefer this road trip route, which gets you to the Gulf of Mexico and then meanders along through old Florida towns on the “Forgotten Coast” as well as some newer towns along Scenic Highway 30A until you reach the Emerald Coast and the stunning sugar white sands of Destin.
To take this route, head south on U.S. 319 towards the “Big Bend” area and Apalachicola. This section of the trip is 76 miles. Just before you reach Apalachicola, you’ll find your first stop.
St. George Island and St. George Island State Park
This pristine barrier island offers the chance to see a Florida beach in its natural state. Featuring both a bay side and a Gulf side, St. George Island has scrub areas, pine forests, and marshes filled with wildlife as well as beautiful sugar white sands. If you love to collect seashells, you’ll definitely want to stop here and stroll along the shore. And if you’ve got your dog along for the ride, you’ll be happy to know that these are pet-friendly beaches.
You can also go biking along the miles of bike paths; go kayaking, canoeing, or paddleboarding; go fishing; swim or soak in the sun; and shop in the local art galleries and boutiques. If you’re here at lunch time, you’ll have several options to choose from including casual waterfront restaurants like Paddy’s Raw Bar and The Blue Parrot Oceanfront Café. And be sure to stop at Weber’s Little Donut Shop or Aunt Ebby’s Ice Cream for a sweet treat.
The state park is on the east end of St. George Island. It’s open 365 days a year from 8 a.m. to sundown, and the cost to enter is $6 per vehicle. There’s camping available if you’re interested in that, as well as kayaks for rent. There’s also a historic lighthouse at the visitors’ center.
This historic fishing village offers a fascinating glimpse into the Old Florida way of life. Things to do here include browsing the art galleries and shops in the charming downtown, like the Old Time Soda Fountain which offers unique Florida finds (plus sweet treats) in an authentic 1950s setting. You can also take a walking tour of some of the 900 historic sites in the town, or visit a restored home or museum like the one dedicated to John Gorrie, inventor of the first ice machine (which became the basis for air conditioning).
Apalachicola is famous for the oysters harvested here in Apalachicola Bay, so if you like oysters be sure to sample some at one of the local restaurants, whether in the downtown area or on the waterfront. There are plenty of those to choose from ranging from casual eateries to fine dining, including Half Shell Dockside, Up the Creek Raw Bar, and Owl Café. Be sure to stop by the Parlor Bar in The Gibson Inn, an elegant hotel built in 1907, for a refreshing drink or snack, and enjoy the atmosphere of days gone by from the wraparound porch.
Cape San Blas, St. Joseph Peninsula State Park
You’ll find more pristine, beautiful white sand beaches on Cape San Blas and St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. In fact, this beach was named the best beach in America in 2002 by Dr. Stephen Leatherman (also known as Dr. Beach). This area offers the same outdoor activities as St. George Island, as well as family-owned restaurants serving delicious fresh seafood. You can also go horseback riding on the beach here!
Panama City Beach
If you like more of a party atmosphere with your beach time, you’ll want to stop at this Spring Break capital. There’s plenty to do here, from water-based activities like jet skiing, parasailing, and boating to activities on land like riding the SkyWheel, playing mini-golf, going to a waterpark, shopping, or checking out Pier Park.
St. Andrews State Park
If you prefer an undeveloped atmosphere, this state park has the Gulf of Mexico on one side and a bay on the other, offering serene white sand beaches and plenty of places to explore. It features five different ecosystems including pines and dunes, and is a stop for many migrating birds and butterflies. You can swim, snorkel, or surf here, and you can also take a shuttle to Shell Island just offshore.
After you leave the Panama City Beach area heading west on Highway 98, you will reach the turnoff for Scenic Highway 30A, a 24-mile stretch that runs right along the Gulf of Mexico and features 16 different quaint beach towns plus four state parks. It’s fun to meander along this road and stop at each to get a sense of their different vibes. Some of the most popular ones are highlighted below.
This scenic highway also features a ton of natural beauty. As well as the sparkling multicolored waters of the Gulf and sugar white sand beaches lined with sea-oats-covered sand dunes, you’ll find sand hills, saltwater inlets, freshwater coastal lakes, wetlands and marshes, long-leaf pine flatwoods, scrub, and hardwood hammocks. There’s a 13-mile paved bike path if you want to get out and explore by bike or on foot.
Rosemary Beach has a decidedly European atmosphere. One of several upscale master planned towns along this stretch (the first of which was Seaside, and also including Alys Beach and Watercolor), the buildings here all feature architecture inspired by historic buildings in St. Augustine, Florida, as well as the Caribbean. You can stroll along the cobblestone streets, browse in shops and galleries, and get something to eat or drink in one of the many hip cafés.
The all-white buildings of Alys Beach will make you feel like you’ve gone to Greece next. This community also has a fun and walkable downtown, as well as beautiful public spaces to hang out in.
The first and most famous of these master planned communities along 30A, Seaside has gloriously colored buildings and is one of the prettiest town you’ll ever see. (It was used as the setting for the Jim Carrey movie “The Truman Show.”) Paths lead all over, and you’ll come across hidden pocket parks and other lovely surprises. There’s a town green and amphitheater where events are held, and all sorts of fun shops and restaurants to visit. Walkways lead to the gorgeous beach, and each features a pavilion designed by a different artist.
This coastal community takes advantage of its setting between the Gulf of Mexico and Western Lake, the county’s largest coastal dune lake. You can head here for hiking trails or to rent paddleboards or kayaks for something a little different. You can also walk out to the beach on the public boardwalk, which is located next to WaterColor Beach Club. If you’re hungry, check out the James Beard award-winning restaurant Fish Out of Water at the swanky WaterColor Inn.
Grayton Beach & Grayton Beach State Park
Grayton Beach is one of the original towns along this stretch, and has a much more authentic feel to it than the master planned communities. This is a relaxed beach town, perfect for exploring at a leisurely pace and enjoying the pristine beaches in Grayton Beach State Park, which also includes coastal dune lakes where you can go paddleboarding or kayaking. Stop at the local watering hole The Red Bar for a cool drink and some funky atmosphere.
After you leave Grayton Beach, head back up to Highway 98 West. In about 45 minutes, you’ll arrive at your “Destination”!
Ashley has always loved to explore new places and indulges her passion for travel whenever she can. She has been to 12 countries and 32 states so far.
Ashley has worked as a freelance writer for more than 20 years, specializing in the areas of travel, marketing, personal development, and the pursuit of happiness.
Favorite destinations include Sorrento and Capri, Italy; Haarlem, Netherlands; Paris; Sydney and K’gari, Australia; Rotorua and Waiheke Island, New Zealand; the American West; Palm Beach; the Florida Keys; and her hometown of New Orleans. Ashley has a goal of visiting every state plus many more international destinations.