Florida car attractions reflect the cultural and economical impact of automobiles — Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton
Considered one of the biggest automotive events of the year, the Daytona 500 roars through the Florida coastal town known as the birthplace of car racing. With car-themed restaurants, events and a beach where renowned automaker Ransom Olds and legendary business tycoon John D. Rockefeller once raced, Daytona has the market cornered on car culture in the Sunshine State.
Over the years, however, the influence and obsession with cars has spread widely across Florida and there are a variety of places you can visit that celebrate the car’s lasting impact on the world today.
Check out these destinations, attractions and other places devoted to speed and gleaming classic autos throughout the state.
Who was voted the best?: Best Car Show (10Best Readers’ Choice Awards 2023)
Enroll in racing school at the Sebring International Raceway
Sebring, Florida hosts a world-renowned 12-hour endurance race — Photo courtesy of Sebring International Speedway
Each March, the small Central Florida town of Sebring attracts an avid crowd of racing fans who arrive with RVs, tents and party-time accoutrements to outstay the world-famous 12 Hours of Sebring. As North America’s longest-running sports car endurance race, it runs on Sebring International Raceway, one of the oldest continuously operating race tracks in the United States.
Since its first race in 1950, car events fill the raceway’s yearly calendar. Die-hard auto-heads will want to stay at the luxurious Seven Sebring Raceway Hotel, situated at the track’s famed seventh turn and enroll in the Skip Barber Racing School for one- to three-day classes.
Cruise over to Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala
Drag cars occupy one of two buildings at the Don Garlits museum — Photo courtesy of Lisa Crigar, Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing
Known as “Big Daddy,” Florida-born Don Garlits is considered the father of drag-racing. He lends his name to this monument to the sport, which includes the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, honoring contributions in all facets of drag racing.
Both a driver and an automotive engineer, Garlits’ most famed creation is the “Swamp Rat” car (in its nearly 40 incarnations), many of which are on display at the museum. Altogether, you can see about 90 racing cars in the museum’s Drag Race Building and about another 50 vehicles in the Antique Car Building, plus memorabilia from top names in the sport.
Make a pit stop at Revs Institute in Naples
Exhibits at Revs include fun facts, historic images and in-depth information — Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton
Designated a “working museum,” Revs Institute stands out for its nonprofit mission to observe history and innovation through the windshield of the automobile. A 2023 USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice Award winner for Best Attraction for Car Lovers, it was originally named the Collier Museum, for collector Miles Collier, who was the grandfather of Naples’ Collier County’s namesake. (On a related note, Barron Collier was largely responsible for the building of Tamiami Trail across swampy South Florida, so transportation is in this family’s genes.)
Today, Revs Institute displays about 100 classic cars inside the museum’s garage, as well as for appearances at special events. Car enthusiasts can stop by on Saturdays for self-guided or docent-led tours. Four sections of the museum divide the motor machines into several categories, including Porsche, historical/cultural, sports and racing exhibits.
Stroll around the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers
Vintage Fords are on display at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates — Photo courtesy of Edison and Ford Winter Estates
Automotive lovers are drawn to the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, an iconic Fort Myers attraction. Henry Ford and his wife, Clara, spent their winters in a 1920s-era, craftsman-style home his neighbor, Thomas A. Edison, convinced him to buy next door. Today, the automobile has a subtle but strong presence throughout the 20-acre grounds and gardens.
Ford’s original home still stands with an adjacent garage that holds four vintage Fords, including a 1917 Model TT one-ton truck, and a 1929 Model A. The estates’ museum prominently displays Thomas Edison’s 1916 Model T, a 1914 Model T calliope, additional vintage Fords and other vehicles.
Who was voted the best?: Best NASCAR Track (10Best Readers’ Choice Awards 2023)
Refuel and dine at Ford’s Garage restaurants
Ford’s Garage opened its first restaurant in Fort Myers — Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton
Less than a mile away from Ford’s winter home in Fort Myers is a restaurant chain, Ford’s Garage USA. Opened in 2012, it features a replicated Model A hanging over the bar, with auto details throughout, such as gas-dispensing nozzles as door handles and a vintage gas pump on show.
The restaurant specializes in casual fare, including gourmet burgers, sandwiches and craft beer. Since the first restaurant opened, it became so popular that it has spawned 14 other Florida locations (including Daytona, of course), plus a few outside of the state as well.
Take a lap around the Brumos Collection in Jacksonville
Porsches steal the show at the Brumos Collection — Photo courtesy of The Brumos Collection
Evolved from a Jacksonville-based racing team and Porsche dealership, the Brumos Collection of classic racing cars showcases Porsches from the 1950s through 2017, but it is also broad-based in honoring racing and automotive innovation.
Starting with an 1894 Peugeot, the museum takes a deep dive into its car collection with extensive memorabilia, exhibits and interactive kiosks that tell the stories in words and images behind each car (and pioneers in the field). The stunning building itself is a tribute to automotive history with architectural elements reflecting its heritage.
Who was voted the best?: Best Motorsports Race (10Best Readers’ Choice Awards 2023)
Score an up-close look at your favorites at the Elliott Museum in Stuart
The auto showroom at the Elliott Museum with the glassed garage in the background — Photo courtesy of Martin County Office of Tourism & Marketing
Call it the coolest vending machine ever. At the Elliott Museum in Stuart, you can leaf through a catalog of more than 50 mint-condition cars, from a 1950 Oldsmobile to a 2009 Ford Ranger EV. Tell the docent your selection and it will magically be delivered from the three-level car-racking system to the turntable for close-up ogling inside the glassed garage.
The system is the only one of its kind in the United States. You can view more than 100 vehicles throughout the showroom at the Elliott Museum and its car bays. As part of inventor Sterling Elliott’s collection of Americana, the vehicles relate the impact of transportation on the U.S. and its culture. This museum also offers virtual car shows and special garage tours.
Gaze at rarities on display at the Dauer Museum of Classic Cars in Sunrise
The Dauer Museum showcases a family collection of original and restored cars — Photo courtesy of Dauer Museum of Classic Cars
Just outside of Fort Lauderdale, the Dauer Museum represents one family’s collection of more than 55 classic automobiles, plus paraphernalia from 15 other hobbies in the field of American scientific development. The cars span a time range from the early 1900s to modern day — and a geographic space that reaches Italy and other parts of Europe.
This trip down memory lane makes stops at the Florida Medical Center, a circa-1934 Texaco gas station, Hollywood and beyond. Dr. Edward Dauer, a clinical professor of biomedical engineering, radiology and family medicine, started the collections with his wife, Joanne, more than 50 years ago and opened the South Florida museum in 2001.
Drive on the beach in St. Augustine
The original St. Augustine Beach race course ran 1,000 feet north of the pier — Photo courtesy of FloridasHistoricCoast.com
St. Augustine Beach, which was voted as a top coastal town in the 2023 USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards, is giving Daytona a run for its money. Daytona Beach may be the most famous beach in Florida you can actually drive on, but St. Augustine Beach also has a stretch of sand with auto access.
Same as Daytona, it got its start as a race track. In the 1940s, locals drove “skeeters,” which were modified cars for driving the hard-packed sand course, which spanned the length of the beach back then.
Today, you can relive the past, accessing only a 12-mile drivable section via nine marked ramps between A Street and Fort Matanzas.
Admire antiques at the Sarasota Classic Car Museum
A psychedelic Beatles Bentley is part of the Sarasota Classic Car Museum’s collection — Photo courtesy of Sarasota Classic Car Museum, Sarasota, FL
Recognized as the second oldest continuously operating antique car museum in the United States, Sarasota’s rendition opened in 1953. Its esteemed collection features more than 75 classic automobiles. Some of these are of local importance, such as those cars that once belonged to the Ringling family, who wintered their famed circus in Sarasota back in the day, leaving important landmarks in its wake.
Perhaps a bit more “old school” than other Florida’s state-of-the-art car museums, this car collection nonetheless fabulously spans the history of the automobile in America and the world, representing an array of significant models, from Alfa Romeo to Studebaker.