An Extended Florida Poker Road Trip
Florida has long been one of the primary poker regions in the country. Unsurprisingly, poker in Florida has come back strong, with most rooms reopened and a thriving cash game landscape. Further, unlike some regions where tournament poker has been slow to revive, Florida has many rooms offering daily tournaments. So what a great time to take a Florida poker road trip!
The exact order in which you visit Florida poker rooms will depend on your current location. The two main directions would be to arrive from the West through the panhandle or from the north down the coast. Let’s imagine that you’ve entered from the north. If you have. hopefully, you’ve stopped in Charleston, SC for some non-poker fun and great food. If you are coming from a different direction, revise at will.
Florida Poker Road Trip Days 1 & 2 – bestbet Jacksonville & Atlantic Beach
The Jacksonville area kind of sneaks up on you. Surprisingly, it’s the answer to the question “What is the most populous city in Florida?” (just in case you ever find yourself on Jeopardy!). The Jacksonville beaches are admittedly far from the best in the state. However, the Atlantic Beach area is still very nice. In terms of poker, bestbet Jacksonville has one of the most vibrant poker scenes in Florida. The cash game volume ranks up with the Hard Rock Hollywood and Tampa rooms as the most consistently active in the state. Not only will you find plenty of $2/$2 and $2/$5 tables, but PLO is very active as well. bestbet Jacksonville also runs several tournaments per week and will frequently host larger events. bestbet is an ideal first stop on your Florida poker trip!
Florida Poker Road Trip Days 3 & 4 – Daytona Beach
The trip to Daytona from Jacksonville is a mere 90-minute jaunt down I-95. Daytona is obviously world-famous for its Speedway (a truly impressive structure), beaches, and spring break activity. But there is a lot to recommend it in general. We rented an Airbnb in Ormond Beach (right above Daytona Beach) and enjoyed walking the area. We had a great dinner at La Catrina Cocina Mexicana, which may not look like much from the outside, but has some of the best Mexican food we have had in Florida. Plan for a couple of days in Daytona to allow yourself both poker time and beach, dining, and relaxation time.
Your poker stop here is the Daytona Beach and Racing Card Club which is convenient to both the airport and the Speedway. As we indicated in our review, there are positives and negatives of this room. On the plus side, it’s a very nice space, and Daytona gets regular cash games all week with a spike in volume on the weekends. Daytona also holds three regular tournaments each week, with decent structures, and occasional larger events. On the downside, the regular tournaments get fairly small fields and the quality of the personnel is variable.
The Daytona room also has a sister room in the Orange City area. While we have not visited the Orange City room, it also gets very consistent cash game action and serves as a tournament complement to Daytona. That is, Orange City tends to offer tournaments on the evenings that Daytona does not.
Florida Poker Road Trip Day 5 – Palm Beach Kennel Club
Day 5 will take you south three hours from Daytona to Palm Beach. If you want to break up the trip, you may consider a stop at the fascinating Kennedy Space Center. Make sure you leave at least 3-4 hours for your visit, as the complex is massive with a number of interesting exhibits and a tour of the operating facility. If you get an early start, you can visit the space center, reach the Palm Beach area by mid to late afternoon, and enjoy the Palm Beach Kennel Club (PBKC) in the evening.
We are now into wish-fulfillment rather than advice. We have not yet visited PBKC, one of the few large Florida rooms we’ve missed. Also, for some reason PBKC doesn’t report their cash table activity to either PokerAtlas or Bravo. But they are a large room (reportedly 64 tables), with lots of bad beat and high hand incentives, and one to two tournaments each day. Palm Beach is clearly a very active room, and a definite target next time we are in the area.
Florida Poker Road Trip Days 7-9 – Miami and Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood
Depending on your Miami lodging, it will only take you an hour or two to drive down from Palm Beach. You can spend anywhere from two days to two weeks in the Miami area depending on your feelings about the area. Oddly, we are not big Miami fans despite all the city has to offer. We’d much rather spend our time in Tampa, Atlantic Beach, Daytona, or Seagrove on the Panhandle. That said, some players love the intensity and fast pace of the area. There are certainly some things we have enjoyed in South Florida, including several restaurants in South Beach and the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens.
Poker is definitely a mixed bag in South Florida. We came away from our visit there not overly impressed with most rooms, but Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood is the exception. The Hard Rock is one of the kingpins of Florida poker. Cash games are plentiful, peaking on Saturday night with 10-15 $1/$2 and 9-11 $2/$5 tables running. You’ll also typically find PLO, limit Hold’em, and a variety of higher buy-in games spread
Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood offers one to two tournaments each day with $150 to $200 entries. The current structures, however, look mediocre: decent starting stacks and gradual blind increases, but the first 8 levels are 15 minutes with a move to 20 minutes after that. As with bestBet and Daytona, the Hard Rock Hollywood offers a number of larger series throughout the year.
Our visit to Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood was back in 2019, but we came away very impressed. It was the clear winner for us among the seven rooms that we visited in the South Florida poker scene.
Florida Poker Road Trip Days 10 & 11 – Sarasota
Moving from Miami to Florida’s bustling west coast will be your longest drive of the trip. It’s about 4 hours from Miami to Sarasota. Both Sarasota and the next stop Tampa, are fast-growing areas. House prices have exploded in the past few years, and the area is among the top few growth areas in the country. Sarasota itself offers some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. On our visit to West Florida we used Tampa as our base, and made a specific trip to Sarasota, enjoying the Lido beach area, and eating at the Drydock Grill there. We tried to go to the Siesta Key beach area, which is highly regarded, but could not get parking anywhere close by. Suffice to say, schedule a couple of days in Sarasota, especially if you are a beach lover.
While we were there, we played a tournament at One-Eyed Jacks. We’re not even linking to that review because the room has since moved and experienced a great rebirth. The old room was not impressive and we would never have recommended it as a stop. But the new room has received much better feedback on social media, and the pictures on their website show a more modern, attractive room.
One-eyed Jacks consistently offers $1/$2 games with 3-8 tables on weeknights and 9-10 on Friday and Saturday nights. They’ll often have a single table of $2/$5 available as well. They offer at least two tournaments each day with relatively nice price points of $50 to $150 and varying blind levels depending on cost. Although we’re flying a bit blind on the new room, it seems worth a stop.
Florida Poker Road Trip Days 12 through 16 – Tampa, Seminole Hard Rock Tampa, and Derby Lane
About an hour up Florida’s west coast you’ll arrive in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. Our vacation there, which was just days before the pandemic descended in 2022, was one of our favorites in the state. Take a read through our review if you want more detail, but suffice it to say the dining, museum, and poker scenes were all very good. Our week there left us wanting more, so we plan to return in January/February 2023.
Overall, we found the Tampa poker scene better than the Miami one. Seminole Hard Rock Tampa is a reflection of its Hollywood counterpart: a beautiful space to play with highly skilled and professional dealers. The volume of $1/$2 and $2/$5 games is the highest in the state. You will also find plenty of PLO and limit games along with higher stakes no-limit and occasional variations. Currently, the Hard Rock Tampa holds one or two tournaments per day that range from $80 to $400 entries. They also, of course, regularly hold various poker series and circuit events.
Derby Lane also runs a fine room, albeit not a full casino like Seminole Hard Rock Tampa. Although you will not find the variety of cash games offered by Seminole Hard Rock Tampa, Derby Lane competes pretty well in $1/$2 cash games. On weeknights you’ll find 5-7 tables of $1/$2 with 10-15 tables on weekends. They offer two tournaments most days with price points between $50 and $200. Derby Lane is a great alternative to the Hard Rock as a site that focuses very much on poker.
Florida Poker Road Trip Days 17-18 – Ocala Gainesville and Oxford Downs Poker Rooms
This is the part of the trip when you will venture into the heart of Florida. Getting off the coast, you’ll drive about 90 minutes up to the Ocala area. We stayed three days in Ocala, which was way more than enough. It is a nice enough area, and we had a nice meal downtown, but other than Silver Springs there are not a lot of tourist highlights (Unless you are a horse enthusiast, in which case Ocala has much to offer). We suggest two days in Ocala with visits to Ocala Gainesville Poker and Oxford Downs Poker rooms.
Oxford Downs Poker Room sits in an isolated but attractive setting. Now, this is a quirky room. When we went, they made us “player cards” by scrawling a player number on a small slip of paper. We figured it was due to a temporary computer glitch, but a friend then showed us his slip of paper he received months before. Oxford Downs is a fun albeit small site. It gets 3-4 $1/$2 tables during the week and 8-9 on the weekends. They offer anywhere from one to three tournaments daily at price points from $40 to $230. What drew us there was their Saturday night Crazy Pineapple Tournament which we highly recommend. Crazy Pineapple is just great fun.
The Ocala Gainseville Poker room is a mixed bag in terms of the comfort of the venue and quality of personnel. But if you’re in the area, it’s worth a stop for a little cash or to play one of the relatively cheap tournaments they offer. This is not a destination poker room by any stretch, but if it’s convenient you can stop by.Florida is one of the leading poker states in the country. We walk you through a journey around the state for poker and entertainment.Click To Tweet
Florida Poker Road Trip Days 19-21 – Free Play and Creek Entertainment Gretna
There are several ways you might exit Florida. You could head up the Panhandle and spend a few days in some of the nice beach communities there. We stayed in the Santa Rosa area for a relaxing, peaceful week last winter. Or you could head up to the Tallahassee area, about a three hour trip, and explore that area. Or head back to the East Coast and back out the way you came.
To get you someplace different, we’ll put you in Tallahassee or the panhandle. Options up here are not great to be frank. The Ebro Poker Room was not a favorite, so we’d suggest avoiding it. But, if you’re looking for a last gasp of poker before you exit Florida in this region, check out the cash games at Creek Entertainment Gretna. While the poker room defines “nothing fancy,” it provides a kind of a low-key relaxed atmosphere that will serve as a welcome break from some of the more high-energy venues in Tampa and Miami. Gretna gets a couple of $1/$2 tables on weeknights growing to about five tables on Friday and Saturday nights. This is not the greatest poker competition you’ll ever play, but the players and staff are pleasant enough.
Summary of the Extended Florida Poker Trip
Florida is a big state. particularly if you travel down one coast and up the other. And, of course, poker abounds. The above plan gives you three weeks for poker, beaches, restaurants, and other entertainment options. Your stay certainly could be expanded, especially if you become a fan of either Miami or the Tampa Bay area. Either way, the plan above will have you hitting many of the poker hotspots while offering you a sense of the diverse vacation spots of Florida.
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