US-301 is a spur of US-1 that branches off in Callahan west of Jacksonville and runs 250 miles down the center of Florida to the Bradenton-Sarasota area.
The highway travels through many historic and interesting small towns that you would miss if you stayed on the interstate highways.
It runs through a few urbanized areas, but for most of its distance it will show you a lot of small towns, farmlands, and forests.
Some of the towns you will pass through on US-301 include:
Hilliard, Callahan, Baldwin, Lawtey, Starke, Waldo, Hawthorne, Citra, Ocala, Belleview, The Villages, Wildwood, Coleman, Sumterville, Bushnell, Ridge Manor, Dade City, Zephyrhills, Tampa, Riverview, Sun City Center, Parrish, Ellenton, Bradenton, and Sarasota.
HILLIARD is the first town you come to after crossing the St. Marys River coming in from Georgia. The population is 2,700, and the town is the center of the timber industry in western Nassau County.
CALLAHAN is a small town of bit more than 1,000 people. US-301 branches off from US-1 here and begins its trip down the Florida peninsula.
BALDWIN has about 1,500 people and is where US-301 intersects with US-90. The town started as a stop on the stagecoach line that eventually became a railroad that ran from Lake City to Jacksonville.
LAWTEY has about 700 people and formerly had a bad reputation as a speed trap. AAA put them on their bad list, but removed the stigma in 2018.
STARKE is the county seat of Bradford county, and has a population of about 5,500. Some notable people from Starke include former Florida Governor Charley Johns, singer and comedian Judy Canova, and Doyle Conner, former long term Florida Secretary of Agriculture.
WALDO has slightly more than 1,000 people and is on what was the route of the first major federal highway in Florida Territory, the Bellamy Road. The road was built in the 1820s and 1830s. The town was a notorious speed trap until 2018, when AAA lifted the designation.
HAWTHORNE has a population of about 1,400 and was incorporated in 1881. The area is noted for its rural lifestyle. The famous rock and roll legend Bo Diddley lived on his farm near Hawthorne for years.
ISLAND GROVE is a good place to jump off on County Road 325 to drive west and visit Cross Creek, noted as the home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and The Yearling Restaurant. Rawlings home is now a state historic park you can visit. Her grave is in Antioch Cemetery just east of US-301. Click on photo to learn more about Cross Creek.
CITRA was founded in 1881 and was in the middle of what was back then citrus country. It was the home of the pineapple orange that had a fragrance reminiscent of the pineapple.
OCALA is one of the most urban centers along US-301, and it is slow going through town, but tolerable. The town's population is about 60,000, but it is in the center of busy Marion County with more than 350,000 people. The entire area is noted for its horse farms that breed, train, and board thoroughbreds. Click on photo to learn more about Ocala.
BELLEVIEW has a population of about 4,500 on US-301 between Ocala and The Villages. It was founded in 1884 around what was then Nine Mile Pond, so named because it was 9 miles south of Ocala. The lake today is named Lake Lillian.
THE VILLAGES almost touches US-301 on its western boundary. It is a large retirement community that began to grow very quickly starting in the 1980s. It is a totally planned community with many golf courses, schools, restaurants, shopping centers, medical facilities, and other features of any self sufficient town. Its population in 2019 is estimated to be 122,460, making it one of the largest urban areas in Central Florida. Click on photo to read more about The Villages.
WILDWOOD was once the railroad center of Florida. It was the place where many railroads transferred to be routed around the state. Today it has a population of about 7,000 and is in danger of being swallowed up by the adjacent The Villages.
COLEMAN has a population of about 650, not counting the inmates in the nearby large federal prison that dominates the area. The little town has a nice church and some interesting old homes.
SUMTERVILLE is an unincorporated community in Sumter County, named after Revolutionary War General Thomas Sumter. It is a very rural community, and has a campus of Lake-Sumter State College.
BUSHNELL has a population of about 2,000 and is the county seat of Sumter County. In 1885, the town was named for John W. Bushnell. He was chief engineer for the Florida Railway and Navigation Company and laid out the route through what is now Bushnell. The Florida National Cemetery is located just west of Bushnell.
RIDGE MANOR is a sprawling rural residential area at the intersection of US-301 and State Road 50. About 4,100 people live in the area. There is a very good restaurant at this intersection, Southern Harmony Cafe, known for its Southern cooking.
DADE CITY is the county seat of Pasco County, and is noted for its beautiful domed courthouse in the center of the downtown area. The population is about 7,100 and the town has many interesting shops and good restaurants. Click on photo to read more about Dade City.
ZEPHYRHILLS has a population of about 13,000 and is located in southern Pasco County. The town is well known for its bottled water company of the same name. It has a pretty downtown area, and its motto is "City of Pure Water."
TAMPA is a major city, and by far the largest one along US-301. Its population is almost 400,000, but it is in the center of a metropolitan area of more than 3 million. The city has every imaginable shopping and dining venue, and beautiful subdivisions and condominiums. The centerpiece of downtown is the former Tampa Bay Hotel, now the campus of the University of Tampa. Click on the photo to learn more about Tampa.
RIVERVIEW is a community on the Alafia River that has been around since 1885. In the years since then it has grown into a bedroom community for Tampa. The population of this area was estimated in 2010 to be 71,050.
SUN CITY CENTER was one of Florida's earliest major retirement communities. It was founded in 1961, and had a population in 2010 of 19,258. It is age restricted to 55 and older, and has its own hospital and nursing home. People drive their golf carts on the streets.
PARRISH is located on US-301 at its intersection with State Road 62. It is a small village that is the home of the Florida Railroad Museum. The museum offers weekend rides in a round trip from Parrish to Willow, about 6 miles away.
ELLENTON is a community of about 3,100 people noted for being the location of the historic Gamble Plantation that was built between 1845 and 1850. It was originally a sugar plantation worked by slaves. It is now a Florida State Park and is open to the public. It is famous as being where Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin hid out for awhile after the end of the Civil War.
PALMETTO is a good sized town of more than 13,000 people. It has been on the map for a long time, with its post office being established in 1868. The Palmetto Historic District has 208 historic buildings, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.
BRADENTON is the county seat of Manatee County and has a population of about 57,000. It was founded in 1842 and incorporated in 1903. There are many historic buildings in the downtown area, and the city has a popular waterfront neighborhood and an arts district. Click on photo to learn more about Bradenton.
SARASOTA is a thriving city on the southwest coast of Florida at the end of US-301. It is noted for its culture, being the home of renowned performing arts centers and museums. One of the most popular places to visit is the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, located in the former Ringling mansion known as Ca' d' Zan. Click on photo to learn more about Sarasota.