Florida’s Best One-Way Car Rental Routes: Tampa to Orlando


This Trip at a Glance

  • Pick up your rental car at Tampa International Airport.
  • Enjoy the food and drink festivals at the Riverwalk in Tampa.
  • Peruse the Saturday Morning Market in St. Petersburg.
  • Visit the Disney Springs entertainment district in Orlando.
  • Stay a night at a Walt Disney World® Resort hotel.
  • Drop off your rental car at Orlando International Airport.

Heading across central Florida from Tampa (home of Busch Gardens) to Orlando (home of Walt Disney World® Resort and others) might lead you to think this stretch of road is focused solely on theme parks. But there is plenty to enjoy for travelers of all ages. To get started, pick up your rental car at Tampa International Airport and follow this one-way ticket to adventure.

Drive about 10 miles southeast of the airport to downtown Tampa and the Riverwalk, which hosts food and drink festivals throughout the year, including the Gasparilla Music Festival in March. Speaking of food and drink, Ulele right on the river serves alligator (and more traditional fare) as well as craft beers, several of which are brewed on-site. At Armature Works, a historic warehouse-like building, dine on ramen at Ichicoro Imoto or steak frites at Cru Cellars.

For stylish neighborhood shopping and still more dining, drive 2 miles farther south to the bricked walkways of Hyde Park Village. Park at one of the complimentary garages or surface lots and explore the area on foot, stopping to admire the minimalist accessory designs at Albisia Jewelry and grab a sweet treat at the Cupcake ATM at Sprinkles.

Loop back west toward the airport and stay the night at Sailport Waterfront Suites on Tampa’s Rocky Point island, where all the rooms have bay views perfect for catching a sunset, and rest up for the next day’s activities.

Before you leave the region, drive about 20 miles south on Interstate 275, crossing the Howard Frankland Bridge over Old Tampa Bay, into neighboring St. Petersburg. If your timing is right, check out the Saturday Morning Market (open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. from October to May) for food, live music and performance artists. From there, drive 9 miles west to the famous white sands of Saint Pete Beach and, 3 miles south, to the cozy Gulf-front hamlet of Pass-a-Grille Beach; get a waterfront table at Sea Critters Cafe and order the “fresh catch” fish sandwich. There is metered parking all around town, and some free spots available.

St. Petersburg, Florida, hosts the Saturday Morning Market in the parking lot of Al Lang Stadium from October to May, when the produce growing season and the weather are optimal. Visitors come for food, live music and performance artists. Photo by CityofStPete, Flickr.

After visiting St. Pete, head back north on I-275 to Interstate 4 east about 100 miles to Orlando. Set your sights on the newly revamped Disney Springs entertainment district, complete with shopping, dining, live entertainment and complimentary parking. You’ll want to plan your drive outside of peak morning and evening traffic times, if possible.

At Disney Springs, schedule a ride on the Aerophile, the world’s largest tethered helium balloon. Then dive into the dining options that include award-winning chef Masaharu Morimoto’s Morimoto Asia (try the Peking duck) and the authentic Italian outpost Maria & Enzo’s (the copious charcuterie and cheese plates are perfect for sharing).

You’re close enough to the Disney theme parks if you wish to extend your trip. Stop for the night at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort; catering to families, this hotel decorates each room in the manner of an animated movie like Finding Nemo or The Little Mermaid. Art of Animation features outdoor movie screenings and the largest resort pool at Walt Disney World®, and offers a free shuttle to the theme parks.

The Aerophile tethered helium balloon takes riders 400 feet into the air for 360-degree views of Walt Disney World® Resort and beyond. Photo by Rain0975, Flickr.
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About the Author

Terry Ward is a Tampa-based freelance writer who loves nothing more than enjoying a strong cafecito and a cheap and tasty Cuban sandwich on a trip around Florida. You can see more of her work on her website, Terry-Ward.com.