Florida Byways: Riding the Heartland of the Sunshine State

Florida Byways: Riding the Heartland of the Sunshine State
When thinking of Florida, most riders tend to focus on either the Keys in South Florida or Daytona Beach. With the exception of Orlando, we tend to bypass the central portion of the state. After living here for almost 20 years and not seeing all that Florida has to offer, we made plans for mid June (with the help of the Florida Scenic Highways website) to travel off the beaten path and to explore Florida’s inner, hidden treasures.

After arriving in Sarasota we find our first overnight stop, the Hyatt Place, which is located just five minutes away from downtown. As a couple of showers come rolling through, we decide to take the ten-minute ride west on the John Ringling Causeway to St. Armand’s Circle. There are great places to eat here, among them the Columbia Restaurant, a well-known Cuban eatery.

The City of Sarasota lies on the Gulf Coast of Florida, just south of Tampa and St. Petersburg. There is much to see and do in the area: The John and Mable Ringling Museum, The Asolo Theater, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, The Mote Aquarium/Marine Laboratory, as well as lovely parks and beaches.

Cruising along a long stretch in central Florida.

The Land of Natural Springs and Rivers

The next morning we continue heading north on inland Highway 41 and cross over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge (Interstate 275) to St. Petersburg. This four-mile toll bridge, built in 1987, is a familiar landmark that spans the Tampa Bay.

It’s sprinkling when we cruise into Brooksville, a small, historic community in Hernando County that has been the county seat since the 1850s. The statue of a proud Confederate solider standing guard over a charming courthouse proves it.

Motorcycle & Gear

2008 R 1200 with BMW Panniers

Helmets: Schuberth C3
Jackets: BMW Comfort shell and Cortech mesh jacket
Pants: BMW Light ’n Easy and Rallye 2 Pro
Boots: Alpinestars and REV’IT!
Gloves: REV’IT! Schoeller mesh gloves

Lumber and oranges were Brooksville mainstays until a large deposit of phosphate was discovered in the 19th century. Just a few miles west of Highway 41, at Brooksville, is one of Florida’s oldest attractions, Weeki Wachee Springs. The springs became a state park just a few years ago; however, the underwater theatre has hosted mermaid shows to the delight of thousands of tourists since 1947. Although Weeki Wachee means “little spring” in Seminole, more than 170 million gallons of water ripple to the surface each day! Manatees gather here in winter to enjoy the warmer water.

Continuing on to Floral City, we experience the beautiful oak-canopied Orange Avenue (CR 48) before moving on to lunch at the Highland Café in Inverness. The town became popular with the transport of phosphate by steamboat from Tampa to points north via Lake Tsala Apopka. The main street has many historic buildings and some town folks still remember when Elvis came here back in 1961 to film “Follow That Dream” right in front of the courthouse.

Old St. Augustine is a tourist's delight. Some of the exploration can be done by carriage ride.

Just three miles north of Dunnellon, on U.S. 41, is scenic Rainbow Springs State Park. Long before Mickey came to town, visitors have enjoyed swimming, kayaking, and nature trails at this quiet retreat.

Showers continue to pester us all the way to Williston, where the terrain changes from flat to hilly and features a panorama of tranquil horse farms. It is here at the Two Hawk Hammock Home that we spend the night, among corrals of horses and curious emus.

As we travel east on U.S. 27, we observe the rich soil of the Ocala Platform, which makes for lush pastures that result in hundreds of horse farms. Ocala proper was a settlement as far back as 1827 and still competes with nearby Gainesville for attention. Its turn-of-the-century architecture along Broadway or Fort King Street makes for an impressive ride.