Donald Trump pumped his fist and waved as he departed the White House on Marine One on Wednesday for the last time as US president.
“It’s been a great honour, the honour of a lifetime. The greatest people in the world, the greatest home in the world,” Mr Trump told reporters before heading to Marine One, rotors whirring, on South Lawn.
“We love the American people, and again, it has been something very special. And I just want to say goodbye but hopefully it’s not a long term goodbye. We’ll see each other again.”
Mr Trump is the first president in modern history to boycott his successor’s inauguration.
He did follow one presidential tradition. The White House said the Republican president left behind a note for his successor, Democrat Joe Biden.
Deputy press secretary Judd Deere declined to reveal what Mr Trump wrote to Mr Biden or to characterise the sentiment in the note, citing privacy for communication between presidents.
Mr Trump has refused to publicly concede to Mr Biden and did not mention the Democrat by name in a pair of farewell addresses.
Marine One was headed to Joint Base Andrews where Air Force One was parked, a dramatic backdrop against the rising sun.
“So just a goodbye. We love you,” Mr Trump told supporters at Joint Base Andrews where he walked across a red carpet and boarded Air Force One to head to Florida.
“We will be back in some form.”
Four US Army cannons were waiting to fire a 21-gun salute to the president.
Hundreds of supporters greeted Mr Trump at Andrews.
Speaking without notes, Mr Trump said his presidency was an “incredible four years”.
He told the crowd that he and first lady Melania Trump loved them and praised his family for its hard work, saying they could have chosen to have an easier life.
“It’s been something very special. We’ve accomplished a lot,” Mr Trump said, citing the installation of conservative judges, creation of the space force, development of coronavirus vaccines and management of a robust pre-pandemic economy.
“I hope they don’t raise your taxes, but if they do, I told you so,” he said of the incoming Biden administration.
He acknowledged that his was not a “regular administration” and told his backers that he would be returning in some form. He said the Trump campaign had worked so hard: “We’ve left it all on the field,” he said.
Without mentioning Mr Biden’s name, Mr Trump wished the new administration great luck and success, which he said would be made easier because he had laid “a foundation”.
“I will always fight for you,” he told the crowd. “I will be watching. I will be listening.”
Mr Trump and first lady Melania Trump landed in Florida more than an hour before Mr Biden was sworn in as the 46th US president.
Air Force One flew low along the Florida coast as Mr Biden’s inauguration ceremony flashed across televisions on board.
A loud cheer went up from the crowd awaiting his arrival when the plane made a low approach to Palm Beach International Airport as the “Star-Spangled Banner” played over loudspeakers.
Several hundred supporters lined his limousine route to Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club.
Aides had urged Mr Trump to spend his final days in office trying to salvage his legacy by highlighting his administration’s achievements — passing tax cuts, scaling back federal regulations, normalising relations in the Middle East.
But Mr Trump largely refused, taking a single trip to the Texas border and releasing a video in which he pledged to his supporters that “the movement we started is only just beginning”.
In his final hours, Mr Trump issued pardons for more than 140 people, including his former strategist, rap performers, ex-members of Congress and other allies of him and his family.
White House cleaning crews worked overnight on Wednesday and were still going as the sun rose to get the building cleaned and ready for its new occupants.
In what will be the office of incoming press secretary Jen Psaki, a computer keyboard and mouse on her desk were encased in plastic.
A moving truck had backed up to the door of the West Wing entrance, where the presence of a lone Marine guard usually signals that the president is in the Oval Office.
Most walls were stripped down to the hooks that once held photographs, and offices were devoid of the clutter and trinkets that gave them life.
During his time in the capital, Mr Trump rarely left the confines of the White House, except to visit his own hotel.
He and his wife never once ate dinner at any other local restaurant; never ventured out to shop in its stores or see the sites.
When he did leave, it was almost always to one of his properties: his golf course in Virginia, his golf course in New Jersey, his private club and nearby golf course in Palm Beach, Florida.
The city overwhelmingly supported Mr Biden, with 93% of the vote. Mr Trump received just 5.4% of the vote.