The Ultimate North Carolina To Florida Road Trip Itinerary

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If you ask me, the best way to explore the best of the South East Coast in the USA is on a Florida to North Carolina road trip, or in our case, North Carolina to Florida!

While we haven’t been everywhere, over several years of exploring the USA we’ve been to quite a few places on the East Coast and it’s one of our favorite regions in the US.

Of course, we now live in Raleigh, North Carolina, so obviously we love it.

aerial view of wrightsville beach
Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

Living in Raleigh, North Carolina gives us easy access to some of the best destination on the East Coast and places down South, which we adored and loved spending time exploring.

On an East Coast road trip, you’ll be met with diversity of culture, history, food and stunning natural scenery.

If you’re not sure what stops to add on your North Carolina to Florida itinerary, then below are some of our favorite places to visit on an East Coast road trip.

people standing next to trees and a water fountain
Savannah, Georgia

Map of This North Carolina to Florida Road Trip

To help you plan your road trip itinerary, here is a helpful map of this road trip which details each attraction along the way. You can click here, make a copy of the map and customize it to see fit for your NC to Florida road trip.

map showing places to visit from nc to florida

Now you have seen the map of this itinerary, let’s dive into each stop in more details…

Places to visit in North Carolina

We of course love North Carolina. After traveling extensively through 35 USA states, we’d put North Carolina in our top 5 for it’s diversity, unique beauty, and vibrant culture. These six USA favorites of ours are in North Carolina

1. Raleigh, NC

family crossing boylan bridge with raleigh skyline in background
We love our home town

Whilst Raleigh is on our list of places we could live around the world, it’s not a destination of big tourist attractions.

However, we think over the years it has grown to be one of the coolest places in the US to visit.

It’s incredible food and local brew scene, live music, unique festivals and laid back vibe make it a worthy stopping point on your road trip on the east Coast USA.

And hey, we live here so it has to be good, right? Out of all the 50+ countries in the world we’ve traveled to, including the 5 countries we’ve lived in, we chose Raleigh. That’s a clue!

We also have another website dedicated to it: ThisIsRaleigh.com, which has lots of guides and information on things to do in Raleigh and more.

2. The Outer Banks, NC

aerial view of Jennette's Pier, Outer Banks, NC
Jennette’s Pier, Outer Banks

The Outer Banks are wild and untouched with only a few small towns here and there.

The rugged North Carolina coastline is dotted with lighthouses and pirate history and barrier islands that are home to wild ponies.

Kitty Hawk is the place where Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the very first airplane. The museum is worth a visit for the fascinating insight into the history behind a traveler’s much-needed transportation. One cool thing to do here is hang gliding over the sand dunes of Jockey Ridge State Park.

Beaufort is a small fishing town, most noted for one of its most infamous dwellers, Captain Blackbeard. My father enjoyed walking the streets to discover one of his childhood pirate heroes buried treasure.

Shackleford Island is home to wild horses and definitely worth the short boat trip from Beaufort to spend a few hours.

There is nothing on Shackleford Island save beautiful white sand beaches and crystal clear turquoise water and wild horses eating among the sand dunes.

Our favorite place in the Outer Banks is the remote Ocracoke Island. You better bring nothing but a chilled vibe to fit in here. It’s magic!

3. Wilmington & Wrightsville Beach

woman walking on a board walk
Wilmington Riverfront

America’s third largest movie and TV production town, Wilmington is a quaint historic town on the banks of the Cape Fear River.

Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach is a favorite weekend destination for us, and we highly suggest them both for your East Coast road trip itinerary!

We recommend eating at Elijah’s which is located near the end of the Riverwalk towards the bridge. Be there for sunset drinks, it’s magical.

You can also take a tour of the Studios while there or visit the Battleship North Carolina across the river.

4. Asheville (and the Smoky Mountains)

Sunset at Morton Overlook in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Sunset at Morton Overlook in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. One of the best places to visit in Tennessee

This may be too much of a detour on your road trip from the coast, but just in case you want to experience some North Carolina mountains adventure, Asheville and the Appalachian mountains is worth the visit.

Asheville has a somewhat eclectic hippy, alternative lifestyle. Don’t miss these things to do in Downtown Asheville and the very cool River Arts District. We enjoyed our stay at the IHG Hotel Indigo, Downtown Asheville.

Near Asheville is the Biltmore Estate, home to America’s once wealthiest Vanderbilt family and the largest estate in the country. It is really impressive and I loved hearing the stories behind the warm and welcoming family who lived there. You can even stay onsite at the Inn on the Biltmore – my parents loved it!

pond in front of the the biltmore house and estate north carolina
The Biltmore House

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of America’s most famous scenic drives along the mountain top and is close by.

And a few hours drive further west will bring you to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of my favorite places to camp, horse ride, hike, explore by bike, and river tube. Don’t miss the Cades Cove Loop bike ride.

girl on the Cades Cove bike ride
Cades River bike loop, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

There is also my favorite lake in the USA, Lake Lure, only a 40 minute drive from Asheville.

girl on paddle board on lake lure
Paddle boarding on Lake Lure

I’ll let you read our post on things to do in Lake Lure, NC to see how special it is including our favorite place to stay, The Lodge on Lake Lure. That’s where the photo above was taken! You can also visit the nearby Chimney Rock State Park.

South Carolina

South Carolina is a state we can’t wait to explore more of on future East Coast vacations. We have plans to travel through more coastal towns on our upcoming road trip down to Florida.

5. Myrtle Beach, SC

island vista resort on myrtle beach front
Island Vista Resort – Myrtle Beach

We recently discovered some fun things to do in Myrtle Beach. It’s one of the most popular East Coast destinations and our highlights were Myrtle Beach State Park and kayaking through a salt marsh at Huntington Beach State Park.

Brookgreen Gardens was also nice, and we also enjoyed exploring Murrells Inlet and watching a show at the Carolina Opry.

6. Charleston, SC

charleston streetscape at dusk
Insider tips on what to do in Charleston. Image by Dreamstime.com

Charleston in South Carolina is the largest city in the state and one of our favorite places to visit in the USA for it’s fascinating American history, in particular the civil war.

We enjoying seeing the city and learning more about it on an informative horse and carriage tour of the city, which we have now done 4 times now.

Each time I learnt something new, mostly thanks to the four different routes this tour takes.

Apart from the carriage tour, walk from the main market area around the waterfront to the Battery and back through the tree-lined streets to explore the gorgeous historic homes with their famous Southern piazzas (porches) along the way. Or do this popular walking tour!

Several of the historic homes are open for viewing for a small fee, so choose which one you want to view wisely. You can tour the gardens for most for free.

row of slave quarters on boon plantation
Preserved plantation slave homes in Charleston, South Carolina, USA.

Whilst in Charleston, you might as well take a tour of a plantation home.

There are several in the area to choose from, but we always took our guests to Boone Hall Plantation. You may recognize this from films such as The Notebook.

It is the most photographed of the Plantation homes and once you see the Avenue of Oaks you’ll understand why.

There is a great display here of the homes the slaves used to live in as well as entertaining Gullah Culture shows daily in the outdoor theater.

Fans of the Netflix show Outer Banks take note, this show was filmed in the Charleston area. So if you love that scenery, this is where you want to come.

Feel duped? Don’t worry, it looks very similar to the real Outer Banks so keep it on your places to visit on the east coast bucket list.

7. Beaufort, SC

family on hunting island beach
Hunting Island State Park

Beaufort was another of our favorite places to go in South Carolina on our east coast road trip we did with my parents. We traveled from North Carolina to Georgia.

We just returned from a 3 day getaway to Beaufort. We loved exploring this beautiful southern town and the surrounding region more in-depth.

Most of the filming for Forest Gump was done in the marshlands and islands of Hunting Island State Park. It’s intra-coastal waterway setting is stunning and the town is cute and charming.

We ate at Luther’s along the waterfront which is a nice spot for a sunset walk. Don’t miss Dockside and Fish Camp for delicious seafood and sunset views.

My Mum just told me Fripp Island near here is top of her list when she returns for more east coast travel.

Georgia

Georgia is another state we want to explore in more detail, in particular the Georgia mountains, which we’ve heard are beautiful. And we are in love with the scenery in the hit TV series Ozarks, which was actually filmed in Georgia!

8. Atlanta, Georgia

atlanta city skyline
Atlanta, Georgia | The skyline of Atlanta, Georgia at Pemberton Place near downtown.

Historical Atlanta is worth visiting to get a greater understanding of eras such as the civil war and the Civil rights movement.

I didn’t really like downtown Atlanta much but there were several things we enjoyed and some of the outer suburbs, such as Buckhead are well known for their restaurants and nightlife.

We camped at Stone Mountain Park which is approximately 25-minute drive from downtown and has a variety of popular attractions such as a light show and a cable car that goes up the mountain.

Camping is available and well worth it to make your stay cheaper and more enjoyable.

We found the park really beautiful with plenty to explore. Don’t miss a hike to the top of Stone Mountain for some great views of the city.

Stone Mountain Park Atlanta
Stone Mountain Park

A highlight of our time in Atlanta was the Martin Luther King walking tour. It was incredible to learn more about this great man’s life and his fight for equality for all people. You can visit his childhood home and neighborhood on the tour.

We also found the behind the scenes tour of CNN fascinating.

While in Atlanta, why not sample some good old Aussie food. We were excited to discover the Australian Bakery Cafe.

We decided to undo all our hard work climbing up Stone Mountain to sit for a couple of hours gorging on meat pies, sausage rolls and pastries.

We were full-on meat eaters back then and it had been a long time since we had eaten some of our Aussie favorites.

There are two stores, one located in Marietta and the other in East Atlanta Village.

Consider detouring to the amazing Amicalola Falls near Atlanta included in our top waterfalls in the USA list.

9. Savannah, Georgia

river st in savannah goergia
River Street in Savannah

We absolutely love this Southern city and it should have been placed on our list of places to live around the world and cool places to visit in the USA.

I mean, our youngest daughter is called Savannah!

I could spend days ambling around the Savannah streets overhanging with Spanish moss, exploring every square, and cycling around the busy, yet strangely slow and quiet streets.

And then there is the cobble stoned River Street, one of the top East Coast places to visit where you can find restaurants, bars, peanut shops, artisan stores, markets, buskers and a buzzing atmosphere.

We love taking all our loved ones visiting from Australia to Savannah on an east coast trip.

girl walking through savannah square under trees
Incredible Oak trees

Eat at Lizzy’s Burger Bar & Grill for lunch or dinner and ask to get the table on the upstairs balcony. It is like your private balcony and if you can hunt down an elderly lady walking up and down the strip outside before you go in, she will hand you some coupons for $1 lime margaritas.

The perfect place to spend your afternoon watching the world go by.

We also highly recommend taking a Historic Savannah Trolley Tour in order to learn the stories behind the city and the famous historic landmarks and homes.

I found it fascinating and informative.

Take time to sit on the bench in Chippewa Square where Forest Gump sat while he told his tale to passersby.

10. Tybee Island, Georgia

pier over the beach in tybee island
Wide angle view of the Tybee Island Pier in Georgia. Colorful sunset with pinks and purple colors in the sky

Take a short drive from Savannah out to Tybee Island.

We really enjoyed the low-key, casual atmosphere of this beach town. It had not been destroyed by high rises and flashy resorts, the water is perfect for swimming, and it has a great big pier.

Florida

hotel pool on lake at sebring
Sebring, Central Florida

We’re excited to visit Florida a little more over the next year and beyond. We have some fun East Coast road trip ideas planned. Craig and I did an in-depth Florida road trip back in 2005.

Since then we have visited a few places in Florida with the girls.

There are Sightseeing Passes available for several Florida destinations mentioned in this east coast road trip post. These passes can save you money on big attractions. Click here for more details and to see how you can save.

11. Jacksonville

cityscape on water Jacksonville Florida

Located close to the state line between Georgia and Florida, Jacksonville is a great place to stop for a day or two.

It’s a vastly populated city, with a few iconic attractions such as Jacksonville Zoo, Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens and the buzzing Riverside Arts Market.

However it’s also a great base for exploring some of Florida’s most beautiful nature sites.

Specifically, it’s the gateway to Amelia Island, home to the beautiful Fernandina Beach. This island is one of the chain of barrier islands on the Atlantic Coast of the USA and is known for its Spanish, French, and British history.

It’s also where you’ll find luxury resorts and golf resorts, as well as more rugged beaches with sand dunes. 

12. St. Augustine

ancient bridge going over water in St Augustine Florida
Beautiful St Augustine. Credit: DepositPhotos

St. Augustine holds the claim to being America’s oldest city and is a completely unique Florida experience.

Its delightful historic district, with its cobblestone streets, quaint cafes, bars, and unique shops is perfect for strolling and exploring the forts and monuments that make this a charming US city.

13. Daytona Beach

people watching nascar at Daytona International Speedway

We loved the long hard expanse of Daytona Beach when we visited way back in 2005.

If you have a 4wd you can drive your car along it, or if you are into NASCAR racing then the Daytona International Speedway race track is probably where you want to be.

14. Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex

rocket launching Kennedy Space Center

The Kennedy Space Center, located on Cape Canaveral, is a definite must see and one of the top East Coast attractions.

We learned so much about the history of space exploration and walked out of their with tremendous respect and admiration for astronauts and just how much they have done to help improve all of our lives–at considerable risk.

A great place to stay near the space center is Cocoa Beach.

15. Orlando

girl standing out front of hogwarts castle
Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Universal Studios

Our kids really love going to Orlando, FL.

Not only does it have the excitement of Walt Disney World Resort and Universal Orlando Resort, it’s a buzzing, clean, and well laid out city with plenty to do.

Everyone in Orlando is happy and having a great time, you can really feel this energy in the air.

Besides all the amusement parks and theme parks, hit the outlet malls for some great shopping discounts. You can also find some excellent beaches just outside Orlando

16. Martin County to Fort Lauderdale

woman kayaking on river past  houseboat
Kayaking to our house boat on the Treasure Coast

We absolutely loved our recent winter vacation to Martin County on the Treasure Coast – it is our ideal destination: spectacular, diverse scenery; fun outdoor adventures; towns with charm and artistic vibes; slow paced tempo suited to vibrant fun; endless opportunities for mouth-watering seafood and sunset cocktails – often paired with live music and laughter, and even great coffee shops!

We highly recommend taking a boat tour around the canals of one of America’s wealthiest enclaves in Fort Lauderdale. Gaze open mouth at multi-million dollar mansions, with even bigger yachts parked out front.

17. Miami Beach

aerial of miami south beach
South Beach, Miami

Miami Beach really surprised us with how crystal clear and spectacular the water was. We were not expecting that for a city beach.

We only spent a day exploring South Beach but really enjoyed the vibe and people watching and get the appeal of it for East Coast summer vacations.

We recommend visiting Everglades National Park too while you are in this region.

Tip: If you want to experience eating out at South Beach with all the rich and beautiful people, go out just before 6pm and you will find many great specials at the restaurants such as two for one dinners or free appetizers.

18. The Florida Keys

palm trees on Sombrero beach florida keys
Sombrero Beach, Florida Keys | Credit: Deposit Photos

We weren’t too fussed on the Florida Keys road trip we did back in 2005. It’s so hard considering we grew up in Australia and have so many awesome island and beach destinations Down Under!

But we did have fun and there were some highlights on our first visit, and I’m sure we’d appreciate it much more the second time around!

A sunset boat tour off Key West is a fantastic way to spend the evening. For the one small price you have all you can drink beer and wine included.

There are plenty of cheap cocktail specials, live music, and pub crawl options along Duval street. This was where I first developed a taste for Mojitos.

We also really enjoyed a snorkeling tour in the keys. Key Largo snorkeling holds claim to the first underwater state park, the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.

There were plenty of fish to be seen out in the reef off the deep waters.

19. Tampa Bay

sunset on Clearwater Beach Florida
Clearwater Beach

We really enjoyed the atmosphere in this city and loved the beaches only a short drive over the bridge.

Named America’s Top Beach by TripAdvisor in 2008, Fort De Soto County Park’s pristine North Beach features soft white sand, clear waters and great shelling.

Clearwater Beach is also worth a visit and we had one of the most beautiful sunsets to experience.

Since it’s located on the Gulf of Florida, rather than the Atlantic Ocean, you get amazing, year-round warm weather here too.

20. St Andrew’s State Park

grass weeds on florida beach

St Andrew’s State Park was the pick of Florida for us. You can camp here and it is a truly wild and natural beach to play at.

You can take snorkeling trips to nearby islands and just swimming in the waters off shore is certain to bring you close encounters with dolphins, sting rays and even the odd shark – I’m sure I saw the shadow of one swimming under my feet.

Best Time To Do A North Carolina to Florida Road Trip

The best time to embark on this adventure is during the shoulder seasons of spring and fall, when the weather is mild and the tourist crowds are thinner.

Avoiding peak summer and winter months will help you avoid heavy traffic and booked up hotels.

When driving, remember to start early in the day and schedule in time for rest stops so you can enjoy the picturesque East Coast route without sitting in traffic.

How Long Do You Need For A North Carolina to Florida Road Trip

The amount of time you spend on this road trip will vastly depend on how much time you have available, but we recommend you spend at least 2-3 weeks on a North Carolina to Florida road trip.

Ideally, you want 2-3 full days in each stop, though you don’t need to visit every destination we’ve mentioned in this guide – just pick and choose the one’s that sound interesting to you.

Tips For Doing A North Carolina to Florida Road Trip

family kayaking wacissa river north florida
The adventurous Slave Canal kayak

Before you go, here are a few tips to help you plan your North Carolina to Florida road trip:

  • Embrace the Coastal Route. It will be a more scenic drive if you can take Highway 17 along the East Coast rather than passing through cities.
  • Pack Essentials. Ensure you have a well-stocked emergency kit, including water, snacks, a first aid kit, and car maintenance tools to stay prepared for any situation.
  • Plan Rest Stops. Strategically work out your driving times and plan rest stops to stretch your legs, enjoy local attractions, and take in the views.
  • Weather Check. Stay informed about weather patterns to avoid potential road closures and make the most of favorable conditions for a smoother drive.
  • Book in Advance. Where possible, book attractions and hotels in advance to avoid disappointment.

Final Thoughts

A road trip from North Carolina to Florida has everything you need for a wonderful vacation.

It passes through the charming coastal towns of North Carolina to the sun-soaked beaches and vibrant culture of Florida.

The route has diverse landscapes, including the tranquil beauty of Myrtle Beach State Park, the majestic Great Smoky Mountains National Park, paired with the vibrant and buzzing atmosphere than can only be found in destination like Orlando or Miami.

We hope this guide helped you plan your East Coast road trip and gave you some inspiration for where to stop.

More Southern North America Travel Tips

Thinking of visiting some other parts of Southern North America? Here are some other helpful guides…

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Have you taken a road trip along the East Coast of the United States? What were some of your highlights? Let us know in the comments.

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