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Road Trip: Florida’s Presidential Campaign Trail Polls Well with All Traveler Types

By: Bridget Clerkin July 18, 2017
In 1946, President Harry S. Truman began visiting the Key West for rest and relaxation and returned for 175 days during his presidency. It now hosts a museum at his 'Little White House.' Photo by Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau

When it comes to vacation planning, people tend to fall into two camps: the Relaxers and the Doers.

While many in the first party swear by the powers of the sun and its restorative and restful rays, members of the second group get itchy at the idea of just lounging around, preferring something more mentally and physically active.

Figuring out how to spend off-time in a divided household can be as toxic as a political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner, but there’s one trip that will let Relaxers and Doers come to a bipartisan agreement: Florida’s presidential path. 

The Sunshine State has long been a bellwether in national elections, only choosing the presidential loser 4 times in the past 100 years. As such, politicians often pay special attention to the area, leaving behind a venerable (campaign) trail of artifacts that interested parties can still check out today.

And aside from the so-called “Winter White House” of Mar-a-Lago, where President Donald Trump can frequently be found, the state has a long history of housing former top executives.

With a tropical climate and rich culture, it’s easy to understand why. And that’s to say nothing of the state’s famous beaches.

As you zigzag down the famous peninsula, there’s no need to elect for either an educational or relaxing time. You can, in fact, have it all—just like so many politicians have promised in the past.

Pensacola

Plaza Ferdinand VII is the site of future U.S. President Andrew Jackson's swearing-in as Florida's first territorial governor.
Plaza Ferdinand VII is the site of future U.S. President Andrew Jackson's swearing-in as Florida's first territorial governor.

Start off with a bit of history.

Located on the Panhandle’s  far end, the northwestern city was not only Florida’s original capital, it was also home to the country’s first multi-year European settlement, making it one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in the nation.

Today, much of that history remains, both in the Spanish architecture dotting the region and within its numerous museums.

Presidential buffs can visit the Plaza Ferdinand VII, where Andrew Jackson was sworn in as the territory’s first governor. There are also plenty of military establishments and landmarks across the area.

And while the Doers are seeing the presidential sights, the Relaxers can find solace in Pensacola Bay, a gorgeous spread of protected beach along the Gulf of Mexico.

Once both parties feel they’ve gotten their fill of fun, it’s time to move on to the next location.

Daytona Beach

DaytonaBeachMap

Heading eastward along Interstate 10 and just a short jaunt south along I-95, the next presidential pit stop along the Florida campaign trail lies about 445 miles away in the unlikely town of Daytona Beach.

While the area is much more famous for its lively beaches and boardwalks—and the city-wide party that blooms around its International Speedway every year for the Daytona 500—there’s also plenty to do for history buffs.

President Warren G. Harding had a home in the city, where he would go to avoid the cold Ohio winters. You can still see it today—and make sure to come hungry. The house has been converted into a restaurant.

The Atlantic-side beach town also boasts a number of museums, parks, and historic homes, as well as amusement parks, golf courses, and even an observatory.

Orlando

Disney World's Hall of Presidents features life-sized replications of every U.S. President.
Disney World's Hall of Presidents features life-sized replications of every U.S. President.

What’s a trip to Florida without Disney World?

The Happiest Place on Earth is just about an hour and a half away from Daytona, using I-4 West.

Although the Hall of Presidents has been lampooned in the past as a boring attraction, it’s naturally a must-see for any lover of executive branch history, with all 44 of the country’s former commanders-in-chief making an appearance.

Of course, the city is a venerable wonderland of theme parks, counting not just the Magic Kingdom but Epcot, Universal Studios, and SeaWorld among its numerous offerings.

Outside of those amusements are plenty of cultural centers, as well, with the area housing plenty of museums and city parks that can provide not just their own beauty but a reprieve from the onslaught of tourists in the internationally-popular destination.

Tampa

Tampa, FL, hosted the 2012 Republican National Convention.
Tampa, FL, hosted the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Cruising through to Tampa—for the most part, an easy continuation along I-4 West for about another hour—will once again bring you Gulf-side and deliver you to Florida’s third-largest city.

There’s plenty to do and see in the metropolis, including an expanse of parks and nature trails, museums, and maritime activities. For those who haven’t had enough amusement yet, Tampa is home to its own number of theme parks, and animal lovers would be remiss to bypass the area’s aquarium and big cat preserve.

With so much to do, it’s no wonder the city was chosen as the location for the 2012 Republican National Convention, held at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Whether you tend to vote “R” or “D” may dictate the way you feel about that convention’s outcome, but the city itself should be a winner, whether you’re a Relaxer or a Doer.

Key West

A cat sits on a writing table once used by Ernest Hemingway in the author's studio at the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West, Fla. (Rob O'Neal/Florida Keys News Bureau/HO)
A cat sits on a writing table once used by Ernest Hemingway in the author's studio at the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West, Fla. (Rob O'Neal/Florida Keys News Bureau/HO)

The final destination on your whistle-stop tour is about a 7-hour drive away, but the destination—and the built-in tour of Central Florida—are beautifully worthwhile.

By riding along I-75 South and eventually cutting over eastward to embark down the famous Route 1, you’ll land at the last stop for any southbound traveler in the nation: Key West.

Its position as the country’s southernmost city is likely why Key West is home to Harry Truman’s Little White House.

Originally the command quarters for naval operations in the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II, the building took on its presidential name after No. 33 frequented the destination to avoid Washington winters. The building also played a large role in the Cold War, and today features a museum detailing its intricate presidential history.

Meanwhile, Key West is loaded with the relaxed atmosphere, gorgeous climate, friendly locals, and beautiful beaches bound to make any Relaxer happy.

Doers can delve into even more history at the island’s Hemingway Home where the famous author once took residence, dive into a number of other museums, or get their physical activity fix by swimming, snorkeling, or surfing.

The idyllic beach town also offers an ideal place for both parties to meet in the middle: Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, where visitors can lounge on sands named for the former President. Reaching across the aisle never felt so nice.

Bonus Stops

Of course, there are plenty of non-presidential places in Florida worth visiting.

If you want to take a more diplomatic route through the state, you can easily stopover in any or all of these cities along your way.

Miami

Florida’s second-largest city is also arguably its cultural hub, filled with internationally-influenced food, music, and art—as well as a number of city museums and parks, both of the natural and amusement variety.

Miami’s nightlife is globally famous and during the day, there’s no better place to be for maritime activities, from sailing to surfing to sunbathing.

You’ll pass by this colorful city right along 75 South, between Tampa and Key West—so don’t pass it up.

Panama City

A quick departure off Interstate 10 along US-331 South will take you to this beachside city about an hour outside Pensacola.

A longtime Spring Break favorite, the town is filled to the hilt with boozy nightspots and mini golf, but also boasts its own beautiful beaches along the Gulf of Mexico and a number of museums and marine parks.

Jacksonville

The state’s largest city sits on its northernmost Atlantic shoreline, serving roughly as a midway point between Pensacola and Orlando. You’ll pass through it as you transfer from I-10 East to 95 South, heading toward Daytona.

But more than its geographic location makes it a great place to stop. The area is home to a famous zoo, a multitude of museums, huge parks, piers, preserves, and a bustling downtown.

Jacksonville also offers access to the Sea Islands—a chain of rarely-visited, pristine, and picturesque barrier islands that run up the coast of Georgia.

 

 

 

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