US-17 is known as the Coastal Highway because for much of its length it travels a route close to the Atlantic Coast. It begins in Winchester, Virginia, and has its southern end in Punta Gorda, Florida.
For most of its distance in Florida, it does not run along the coast. It travels diagonally across the state from the Georgia Border on the St. Marys River and meanders about 325 miles to Punta Gorda in Southwest Florida.
The highway goes through many historic and interesting towns that you would see very little of if you stayed on I-95 and I-4 or the Turnpike.
For many miles it travels through some of the most urbanized areas of Florida, such as Jacksonville and Orlando. In many places it shares the route with other highways such as US-92. In fact, locals in Orlando call the highway 17-92.
South of Orlando the route goes through more rural land and you will see acres of citrus and many small towns that still depend on citrus for their living.
Just follow the signs, and some of the towns you will pass through on this route include:
Yulee, Jacksonville, Orange Park, Green Cove Springs, Palatka, Crescent City, Seville, Pierson, Barberville, DeLeon Springs, Deland, Sanford, Longwood, Maitland, Orlando, Kissimmee, Davenport, Haines City, Lake Alfred, Winter Haven, Fort Meade, Bowling Green, Wauchula, Zolfo Springs, Arcadia, Fort Ogden, and Punta Gorda.
YULEE was named for Senator David Levy Yulee. Among his accomplishments was building Florida's first coast to coast railroad from Fernandina Beach to Cedar Key. In more recent times, it has become a residential community for people who work in Jacksonville or other industries in South Georgia.
JACKSONVILLE is the largest city in Florida both in population and land area. It is a business and industrial center that sprawls along both sides of the St. Johns River. Click on photo for more.
ORANGE PARK is a small town on the St. Johns River south of Jacksonville. It is a suburb of Jacksonville, and was originally founded in the hopes of establishing a citrus industry. The Great Freeze of 1894-1895 ended that dream. The town is home to Moosehaven, a retirement community for members of The Loyal Order of Moose.
GREEN COVE SPRINGS is a quiet town on the St. Johns River. It has a large marine facility with piers on the river. This used to be the home of a U.S. Navy Mothball Fleet after World War Two. Click on photo for more.
PALATKA is on the St. Johns River and was one of Central Florida's earliest ports. The river is fairly deep from Palatka downstream to Jacksonville and the ocean. Click on photo for more.
CRESCENT CITY is on Lake Crescent, and arm that branches off from the St. Johns River. It is quiet and a pleasant place to visit. Fishermen especially love the lake. Click on photo for more.
SEVILLE is a quiet community along US-17 and the railroad that in modern times is a fern growing center.
PIERSON calls itself the "Fern Capital of the World". This small town and nearby Seville export ferns all over the world to be used in floral arrangments.
BARBERVILLE is a crossroads on US-17 and State Road 40. It is home to the Barberville Pioneer Settlement and to an interesting outside store, the Barberville Yard Art Emporium, loaded with colorful yard ornaments and other things you don't need but will want.
DE LEON SPRINGS is the home of De Leon Springs State Park and the historic Strawn Historic Citrus Packing District. The park is famous for its pancake breakfasts where you pour your batter and cook it at your griddle topped table.
DELAND is a picturesque town of many oaks, a vibrant downtown area, and is home to Stetson University. Click on photo for more.
SANFORD is a historic town on Lake Monroe, part of the St. Johns River. It has nice marinas and a renovated downtown area with plenty of shopping and dining. Click on photo for more.
MAITLAND is a historic town that is a northern suburb of Orlando. A small fort was built during the Seminole Wars on what is now known as Lake Maitland. The town has an interesting historic district in the Lake Lily and Lake Catherine area. It has become a residential community for people working in Orlando, with many upscale homes and apartments.
ORLANDO is a historic town with several major theme parks located several miles west of town. It is a town of historic neighborhoods, tree canopied streets, and a lot more than just an entertainment venue. Click on photo for more.
KISSIMMEE is a historic town that has been surrounded by commercial and residential development related to Walt Disney World. The old historic area downtown still shows what it used to be. It is on the north shore of Lake Tohopekaliga, which was at one time connected via dredged waterway to Lake Okeechobee and beyond to the Gulf. It made Kissimmee an inland seaport city for some time in the late 1800s. An unusual downtown attraction if the Kissimmee All States Monument, made of stones for each of the United States.
DAVENPORT is a small agricultural town that was established on the railroad. Its northern boundaries have been exploding with new growth in recent years, and when people think of Davenport they think of this huge residential and commercial area instead of the little town.
HAINES CITY is an old citrus city of 20,000 people that is south of the populous US-27 intersection with I-4, and is at the northern end of Florida's largest citrus growing area. It was founded in 1885, and is home to the grand old Polk Hotel. Click on photo for more.
LAKE ALFRED is on the railroad and was an early citrus center. The State of Florida established the first off-campus agricultural center here in 1917. The facility is still operating today as the UF/IFAS Citrus Reserach and Education Center.i
WINTER HAVEN is known as the "Chain of Lakes City because it is located among 50 lakes, 24 of them connected by canals you can take a boat through. It is a water skiers haven and was the home of the late Cypress Gardens and current home of Legoland. (click on photo to read more)
BARTOW is a historic town that is the seat of Polk County government. It is named for Francis Bartow, the first brigade commander of the Confederate Army to die in the Civil War. The official name of the city is "City of Oaks and Azaleas." It still has the feel of a charming old Southern town.
FORT MEADE is the oldest city in Polk County and has preserved many of its historic houses and buildings, including the old Christ Episcopal Church. The oak canopied streets give a feeling of Old Florida. Union General George Meade is the town's namesake, and future Confederate General Stonewall Jackson was stationed here during the Seminole Wars. (click on photo to read more)
BOWLING GREEN was originally named Utica. In the 1890s a group of farmers bought large acreage in the area. They were from Bowling Green, Kentucky and named the town after their former home town.
WAUCHULA is the seat of Hardee County and is sometimes called the "Cucumber Capital of the World". These days, the cuke's more spherical cousin, the watermelon, is even more important to the local economy. So are the huge cattle ranches in the area and the cowboys who still ride the ranges. Wauchula has a lot of good old southern charm. (click on photo to read more)
ZOLFO SPRINGS is at the intersection of State Roads 64 and 66. These highways were on the Florida Cracker Trail. This was a historic cattle trail across the state between Fort Pierce and Bradenton.
ARCADIA is a worthy contender for the capital of Florida's cattle country. Cowboys are everywhere to be seen in the area, and the annual rodeo is a big event. The charming old downtown area has a lot of good antique stores, and its historic district is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Click on photo for more.
FORT OGDEN was named for a fort built here in 1841 during the Second Seminole War. Over the years it developed as a headquarters for the cattle industry and other agriculture in the area. It is a small village now, noted for the gravesite of Florida cattle baron Ziba King.
PUNTA GORDA is at the end of US-17 on Charlotte Harbor, a large bay at the mouth of the Peace River. It is located on a "fat point" of land that juts into the bay. Punta Gorda is a boating mecca and enjoys many waterfront residential development in town and across the harbor in Port Charlotte. Much redevelopment has taken place since Hurricane Charley smashed the town in 2004. Click on photo for more.