I RVed down the Florida coast and didn’t get behind the wheel once.
The pandemic has led to many awakenings and, like many people this year, I found that I had become…RV-curious.
With pandemic travel restrictions making my usual routes of escape increasingly trickier to navigate, the idea of exploring my Florida backyard in a self-contained home on wheels suddenly held the same appeal as jetting off to a Fijian island.
There was just one thing holding me back, however: I had no interest in actually driving an RV.
So, when I recently had the chance to road trip along Florida’s east coast down to the Florida Keys with my family—and to treat the kids to a much-coveted RV stay that didn’t require me to hook up a single RV sewer hose—I jumped on it.
For a week in October, we stayed at three different RV campsites in St. Augustine, Stuart, and the Florida Keys. At each location, the RV was delivered to us by its owner who I’d connected with through Outdoorsy and who guided my family and me through what to expect (and which buttons to push and not to push) during our first (albeit stationary) RV experience.
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According to Outdoorsy, I’m not the only RV-curious traveler out there looking to stay in an RV without actually driving it anywhere.
“Having your RV delivered is perfect if you’re looking for another layer of convenience to your trips,” Outdoorsy co-founder Jen Young told me in an email. “The owners will meet you at the RV site of your choice and help you with the complete setup, including connecting the rig to electric, water, and sewage hookups.”
Outdoorsy reported an increase in first-time renters on the site in September, according to Young, when 90% of the bookings were made by first-timers, with nine percent of that group opting to have their RVs delivered.
RVshare, another RV rental site, has nearly half of its inventory available for delivery, according to Maddi Bourgerie, a spokesperson for the company.
“More and more travelers are opting to travel this way,” she shared. “In fact, one in five RVs rented on RVshare this year were delivered.”
Just because I opted to have my RV delivered, however, didn’t mean I’d be without wheels for exploring the destinations. I drove our family car from Tampa so we could still enjoy the road trip aspect of the trip by driving between RV sites along the coast—all the while maintaining the convenience of not having to maneuver a big vehicle when we just wanted to pop out to a restaurant or pull over by the side of the road for a swim.
The best part is, the owner does all the work of delivering and hooking up the RV to the campsite for you—so all you have to do is make sure you book the site you want and arrange an arrival time for the hand-off.
So, does that mean I’m ruling out ever getting behind the wheel of an RV for a road trip someday? Definitely not. But having one delivered to different sites along our route, it turned out, was a great way to dip our toes into the RVing world before adventuring off on a deeper dive.
In the end, we had all the fun of sleeping in an RV at socially-distanced campsites in some of Florida’s beautiful natural places while saving a ton of money on gas along the way.
Here’s a look at how our trip went:
Stop 1: St. Augustine, Florida
About 40 miles south of Jacksonville is the nation’s oldest city. It is a touristy place with its fair share of wax museums and whatnot in between historically fascinating sites like the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument and the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse. On previous visits to St. Augustine, I’ve always stayed at one of the historic inns along the preserved streets of downtown. But, with an RV as our basecamp this time, it was perfect for enjoying the town’s chilled out surf beaches when we weren’t off on a haunted walk with Ancient City Tours (opt for the pub version when it’s available) or scouting for dolphins in the Matanzas River during a cruise with Florida Water Tours.
The Campsite: North Beach Camp Resort in Vilano Beach (just across the river from downtown St. Augustine) had everything I love about old, coastal Florida, including shaded campsites under towering Spanish Oak trees draped with moss, and both beach and river (the Intracoastal Waterway) access. There are a few campsites on the river end of the campground that have water views, but I much preferred being in the more private sites shaded by the majestic trees. The campground has a dock on the river you can fish from and The Reef restaurant is right across the street at the beach, if you can’t be bothered cooking in the RV or grilling out.
On arrival, we did a walk-through with the owner of the 2020 Forest River Alpha Wolf we’d call home for the next two nights. My kids were instantly enthralled with the bunk beds while I confirmed the shower had hot water and memorized which button to push to roll in the awning should the winds pick up. There wasn’t much more to know after that since we were hooked up to unlimited water and our short stay meant we wouldn’t have to empty the gray water or black water tanks.
Don’t Miss: Once you’ve ticked off all the tourist sites of downtown St. Augustine, make your way ten miles north on A1A to the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, where an undeveloped beach is backed by Florida’s highest dunes and sharks’ teeth litter the sands (they’re hard to spot at first—look for glinting black shards—but once you find one, you’ll find many). For a unique outdoors and socially distanced dining experience on the old shrimping docks in downtown St. Augustine, check Urban Asado’s calendar for their regular (usually monthly) Sunday Asado dinners when they roast a whole pig outside on authentic Argentinian-style grills (and you can BYOB). For the best views of the beach, Intracoastal Waterway, and downtown St. Augustine, it’s worth climbing the 219 steps to the top of the St. Augustine Lighthouse.
Stop 2: The Treasure Coast
Roughly between Orlando and Miami, Florida’s Treasure Coast covers three counties, stretching from Indian River County in the north all the way south through Port St. Lucie and Martin County. Between Sebastian Inlet, Vero Beach Fort Pierce, and Hutchinson Island, you’ll find some of Florida’s most gorgeous east coast beaches. This stretch of Florida is called the Treasure Coast thanks to the 1715 fleet of Spanish galleons that wrecked off Vero Beach in a hurricane, spilling treasure that still washes ashore today. You can rent a metal detector from Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum in Sebastian to try your luck at striking gold along Ambersand Beach in Vero Beach. And downtown Fort Pierce is a nice, walkable zone of restaurants, breweries, and shops. There’s great seafood on the menu at Crabby’s Dockside, where tables overlook the marina.
The Campsite: Phipps Park Campground, right off I-95 in Stuart, came as a real surprise to me when we pulled up in our car to “check-in” to our Thor Motor Coach Four Winds, also outfitted with bunk beds for the kids and a master bedroom almost as comfortable as ours at home. Our site, right near the entrance to the campground, fronted a wild palm-lined stretch of the Okeechobee Waterway, which I could enjoy views of while reading in bed. My husband walked down a grassy slope right in front of our campsite to a pier to fish while keeping the kids close by—while we didn’t see any alligators in the river, they were surely lurking here. That just added to the wild feel of the place.
Don’t Miss: We loved wandering with the kids around the Florida Oceanographic Society’s Coastal Center, located on Hutchinson Island between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River Lagoon, where you can pet stingrays and stroll a boardwalk around a lagoon to see rescued nurse sharks and sea turtles. And for one of the state’s most beautiful gardens, don’t miss a stop at McKee Botanical Garden in Vero Beach, an 18-acres oasis with thousands of native plants and shaded walkways to wander.
Stop 3: Florida Keys
On most trips to the Florida Keys, I usually stay in a hotel on the water in Key Largo or Marathon, or beeline it to the more urban setting of Key West for bar hopping, scuba diving, and sunset cruises. So it was a treat, this time, to stop just south of Islamorada at Fiesta Key, home to an RV park I never even knew was there but that’s within easy striking distance of all sorts of Florida Keys.
Robbie’s is the spot to hand-feed giant tarpon right from the docks, which may or may not freak you out (especially as dive-bombing pelicans try to steal the fish from your fingers at the same time). But I always tell people to go to Bud n’ Mary’s Marina, a few miles north, in the early afternoon when the fishing boats are returning to dock. The captains are usually busy cleaning the day’s catch as nurse sharks and tarpon lurk below, and they’re more than happy to pass you a scrap or two to feed the tarpon for free. If you’re looking to head out fishing in the gulf stream to bring some fresh mahi-mahi back to the RV site, tons of charters—including my personal favorite, Kalex—go out daily from Bud n’ Mary’s. After the fishing day is done, stop in Islamorada for craft beers infused with tropical fruit at the Florida Keys Brewing Company, with a colorful little beer garden surrounded by tropical flowers in its backyard.
The Campsite: Zooming along the Overseas Highway between Islamorada and Marathon, you’d never know Fiesta Key RV Resort & Marina was even there. The 28-acre resort with its own marina, marina store, playground, swimming pool, beach, and tiki bar is hidden off the highway, so there’s no road noise to mar the sounds of the lapping sea, either. We had one of the prime waterfront sites (site 573, to be specific) and another spacious Outdoorsy RV (with more bunk beds and another roomy master bedroom) waiting for us. My husband immediately set off snorkeling just two steps from our campsite and came back 30 minutes later with three fat lobsters for dinner. Do be aware that the sites here are coral rock and brutal on bare feet, and waterfront sites front a break wall instead of an actual beach. Still, facing west for a fab Florida Keys sunset every night here, there was no place else I wanted to be.
Don’t Miss: Sunset catamaran cruises are a bit of a Florida Keys cliche, but I really loved the one with the fun crew of Sundance Watersports out of Robbie’s. We sailed out into the Atlantic Ocean for up-close views of the lighthouse at Alligator Reef, then backtracked to watch the golden orb do its slowly sinking thing over the mangrove islands on the bayside of the archipelago. The captain even let my four-year-old “drive” (if not take part in the free champagne toast when the sun finally went down).