From the bustling east coast city of Jacksonville to just past quaint Pensacola, Interstate 10 reaches straight across northern Florida for approximately 360 miles. While some stretches on this approximately six-hour drive are packed with convenient places to gas up, sleep and eat, along others you'll see nothing but miles and miles of trees -- so consider your hotel choices long before the hot Florida sun begins to set. A little planning can ensure that a night’s stop is not only pleasant and safe, but allows you a glimpse of northern Florida’s most interesting offerings.
The biggest city in northern Florida, Jacksonville is home to beaches, a zoo, sporting events, the Museum of Science and Technology, a thriving downtown and a nationally renowned art scene. While there are countless places to stay in and around the city, Exit 351 gives you several options directly off the highway, including a Best Western, Fairfield Inn and Holiday Inn Express. This exit's Hampton Inn Jacksonville I-10 West is clean and well-appointed; rooms and suites offer amenities such as in-room refrigerators and microwaves, and the hotel has its own pool and fitness room.
East of Osceola National Forest
This region is one of the least-serviced stretches of I-10, with a distinct dearth of gas stations, restaurants and hotels -- although there is a rest area at Exit 318. Westbound from Jacksonville, Exit 335 is the last exit where you'll find accommodation until the Lake City area east of Osceola National Forest, approximately 40 miles away. The Econo Lodge of MacClenny is a good option for road trippers, with free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, in-room refrigerators and microwaves, an outdoor pool and a fitness center. There are only two other hotels at this exit: American Inn and Travelodge Suites.
West of Osceola National Forest
The Live Oak area is a lovely destination if you want to get back to nature and enjoy the water; divers, anglers, boaters and swimmers can be found enjoying the Suwannee River and an abundance of natural springs. Live Oak also serves a convenient halfway point between Jacksonville and Tallahassee, and the Holiday Inn Express and Suites Live Oak is a comfortable stop just off the highway at exit 283. Marketed somewhat to business travelers, this hotel has a relatively well-appointed business center and a substantial fitness center. Breakfast is complimentary, and off-site lunch and dinner options are impressively varied, including Southern specialties, sushi and hibachi, and Mexican.
As the state capital and home to Florida State University, the city of Tallahassee has an abundance of hotels, restaurants, bars, and -- of course -- football. If time allows, enter the city and explore the celebrated campus; walk the steps of the Capitol, or drive the canopy roads that stretch out from the city. But if staying near the highway is a priority, Exit 203 has several good hotel options on the outer edge of the city, such as Hampton Inn, Courtyard by Marriott and Residence Inn. For a quiet exit near Tallahassee that doesn't even dip into the city, Exit 209B is a convenient stop. Here, the spacious Staybridge Suites features fully equipped kitchens, a fitness center, outdoor pool and free breakfast buffet.
Panama City Beach Area
From I-10, Panama City is another 60- to 90-minute drive down smaller roads that are fairly sparsely serviced, so Exit 120 is a practical stop both for those traversing I-10 and anyone turning south toward the Gulf of Mexico. The Holiday Inn Express and Suites Bonifay is one of the only major hotels in the area and offers reliably clean, well-appointed rooms. Breakfast and Wi-Fi are free, and guests can take advantage of the outdoor pool, business center, fitness center and small on-site convenience shop. Other hotels at this exit include Comfort Inn and Suites, Days Inn, Executive Inn and Super 8.
Pensacola and Pensacola Beach Area
With the Florida/Alabama state line less than 20 miles ahead, the Quality Inn and Suites at Exit 17 is a beautiful stop on I-10. Across from sparkling Escambia Bay, this hotel has a piano bar, pool table, suites and rooms with balconies, along with breakfast, free Wi-Fi and a fitness center. Alternatively, Exit 13 leads to a busy suburban area with a larger selection of hotels, such as Comfort Inn, Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn and Courtyard. Exit 12 onto I-110 leads you to the white sands of Pensacola Beach, approximately 15 miles from I-10, which has numerous waterfront hotels including Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, Marriott's Springhill Suites, Holiday Inn Express and Hilton. With the area's historic downtown area, waterside baseball stadium, National Naval Aviation Museum, Blue Angels training ground and Gulf of Mexico beaches, you might consider spending more than one night here.