Florida A1A
October 2005

Sunset over the Amelia River - Fernandina Beach

The Hampton Inn - Fernandina Beach

Old Main Street - Fernandina Beach

Ft. Clinch State Park entrance road.

Ft. Clinch big gun.

Mayport Ferry

Flagler Beach Pier

Daytona Beach beach access closed.

St. Augustine street.

St. Augustine Fountain of Youth

Ft. San Marcos - St. Augustine

Ron Jon Surf Shop - Cocoa Beach

South Beach Inlet - Ft. Pierce

Some damage south of Ft. Pierce

Florida A1A from Fernandina Beach to Stuart
Post Hurricane Wilma

Nancy and I were looking for an after-season get-away and had planned to visit the Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle to Port Arthur Texas . Hurricane Katrina blew that idea out of the water. So our new plans included the complete Florida A1A/US 1 coastal tour. One week before departure Hurricane Wilma came along laying waste not only to Florida , but to our plans as well.

We were itching to ride so we decided to go ahead with the northern half of the A1A/US1 trip and come back later to complete the southern half to Key West

Riding two-up on the Aprilia Capo Norde we flew through the backroads of south Georgia at speeds that would have merited a ticket or even a trip to the slammer, but the trusty Escort Passport 8500 with Screamer Alert kept us safe. As we neared the Georgia/Florida border on US1 we thought we had been caught when we pulled up to a roadblock that looked like the feds were expecting Bin Laden. There must have been 50 Leos and a copper carnival in the median. Expecting the worst we were surprised to be waved right on through the super security point.

Travelling south on US 1 we arrived at Callahan, the northern terminus of Florida’s unique coastal highway A1A. Turning eastward we made good time and passed through the little known crossroads of Italia and Hero.

Crossing I-95 A1A is designated as the Buccaneer Trail. As we neared the Florida coast the traffic was suddenly everywhere …. And most of it was from Georgia with Bulldog Flags flying proudly. We had forgot that this was the weekend of the annual Florida/Georgia game in Jacksonville . Hopefully there would still be a room at the inn.

Pulling into Fernandina on Amelia Island we headed down to the old town section and immediately spotted a modern Hampton Inn. As tired as we were we made an instant decision to camp there for the night if they had a room. We lucked-out and got one of the last rooms available. The accommodations were excellent and spoiled us for the rest of the trip.

After moving into the room we headed down to the docks for a cold beer to watch the sun set. The waitress was quite surprised that I didn’t even flinch when she said that would be $12 for the Heineken and Corona . I even gave her a hefty tip. Nancy and I moved out to the dockside tables and watched the sun dip into the Amelia River . Looking northward you might glimpse the Kings Bay Naval Station, one of the major submarine bases in the United States .

We walked the old main street and found a great little shop that had a good collection of dragon items. We purchased a number of trinkets that we couldn’t resist.

We had been told that the best place to eat was the Crab Trap on 2nd Street . You could here the Bulldog crowd from a block away as they congregated at the front door. We thought we’d never get a table before midnight , but Nancy plowed through the throng and found that they were all waiting for “8 tops” or bigger tables. We were led upstairs and seated right away at a table overlooking the sidewalk filled with drunken sports fans. There was even an old hearse parked out front decorated with University of Georgia stickers and flags …. guess they’d need that after Florida beats them to a pulp on Saturday.

The dinner was excellent in spite of the frenetic diners and sidewalk clamor. We had fried grouper and it was done to perfection. When we returned to Robbinsville a close friend told us that his old college pal owned the Crab Trap - small world.

Back at the room we planned the next day’s activities. I fell right asleep as Nancy surfed the web, watched a little TV and caught-up on her email.

Up bright and early we headed to the complimentary breakfast - and it was a fine one at that. Scrambled eggs, ham, toast, and I even managed to sneak a bagel with cream cheese and jelly while Nancy wasn’t looking. She had her normal healthy fruit bowl and cereal.

We took a leisurely morning walk along the historic streets of Fernandina and quickly learned why it is listed as one of the top twelve vacation destinations according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Many of the homes and businesses date back to the late 1800s and have been perfectly preserved. One of the oldest is the Lesesne House dating back to the 1860s.

Packing-up we took a final cruise down old Main Street and then headed north to visit Fort Clinch State Park ($3.25 per vehicle admission). This is the northern most coastal point in Florida . Looking north across Cumberland Sound you’ll see Cumberland Island and to the east is the Atlantic Ocean . Fort Clinch itself was constructed in the 1850s and is an interesting place to visit ($1.00 per person). There are two excellent campgrounds in the Park. One is on the Amelia River and the other on the Atlantic beach ($17.00 per night).

Exiting the Park we were back on Florida Highway A1A. As we headed south we couldn’t help but notice all of the Bulldog flags, banners, and blow-ups that decorated the many beachfront rentals in Fernandina. Looks like the Georgia fans take over the place for the big game. We continued to see this all the way to St. Augustine 60 miles to the south.

The route was scenic as we crossed the mouth of the Nassau River with a great view of the inlet and Atlantic Ocean . The Fort George River crossing offered a similar view with fishermen dotting the large sandbar spit of land.

We lined-up for the ferry crossing of the St. Johns River at Mayport and in a few minutes were directed onto the boat. The ferry, which is actually considered part of A1A, runs every 30 minutes and the cost is a couple of bucks for motorcycles. There are several restaurants that offer great waterfront views on both sides of the St. Johns . The large Mayport Naval Station is located here and ship tours are available on Saturdays 10 am to 4 pm .

When we hit Atlantic Avenue at Neptune Beach the traffic became unbearable. This lasted for the next 5 miles through Jacksonville Beach . It finally cleared as we entered Ponte Vedra where large, hidden developments have taken over. A1A soon turned to the east and paralleled the Atlantic with views of the ocean to the east and the Guana River to the west. There was some 20 miles here with no gas stations, so plan ahead for fuel.

At St. Augustine A1A crosses back to the mainland over the Vilano Beach Bridge . We had planned to take a quick sightseeing stop in the Old City of St. Augustine, but the traffic was so horrendous that we couldn’t even find a parking place for the Capo Norde!

We snapped a few pictures on the fly, stopped quickly at the Fountain of Youth and Fort San Marcos, toured the back streets, grabbed a Subway, and headed across the Bridge of Lions to escape the tourist madness which is not our bag. We'd have to return to St. Augustine when the crowds were elsewhere.

We crossed the Bridge of Lions returning to the beach road A1A. The traffic soon thinned and we cruised past Cresent Beach and caught sight of the Atlantic once again. Here the Matanzas River salt marsh paralleled A1A on the right. We passed Fort Matanzas which has stood guard of the Matanzas Inlet since 1740. Access to the Fort is by a free ferry service running on the half hour. A few miles further south Marineland brought back memories of my childhood vacations along the coast.

After losing the ocean for seven miles we regained sight of the Atlantic as we neared Flagler Beach . From Flagler all the way into Daytona was my old college era stomping grounds. Many weekends several of us at the University of Florida would throw our surfboards on the car and head for the coast. I spent many a night sleeping in or under the car on these beaches. I wonder today how I was ever able to endure such hardships. Plus today sleeping on the beach is not allowed.

We were disappointed to find the beach at Daytona closed to traffic. I had planned to give Nancy the grand tour down the grand strand, but the waves were high and it looked like most of the expansive beach that I remember from the 1960s had been washed away. Just as well as I recalled getting a ticket for doing 25 in a 10 mph zone on the beach back in 1980.

Just south of Daytona A1A crosses back to the mainland and joins US1. We could have taken A1A farther southward to the dead-end at Lighthouse Point State Park at Ponce Inlet, but we were running late and had to make Cocoa Beach before dark. We also passed-up exploring another out and back along the beachfront at New Smyrna Beach on Canaveral National Seashore/Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

We zipped south on US1 and jumped back over to A1A on the Bennett Causeway crossing first the Indian River and then the Banana River . Launch pads at Cape Canaveral were visible in the distance as we approached the beaches and turned south on A1A.

I spent many a sunny Florida afternoon between here and Ft. Pierce in my younger surfing days and looked forward to seeing the changes since that time. We got a room at the Hampton Inn after enjoying the one in Fernandina Beach so much. This one was a big disappointment. We ate at the nearby Anacapri Pizzeria and were once again not impressed. Nancy makes a much better pizza. Perhaps we were just too tired from the days ride through traffic to be impressed with anything.

After a restless night’s sleep we were up bright and early to shop at the famous Ron Jon Surf Shop. Back when I bummed around this area looking for waves Ron Jon’s was a one room shack with sand floors where you could rent a dinged-up board and buy some wax. Today Ron Jon’s is a huge two-story surf bum paradise of souvenirs, beach toys, signature surf boards and hip clothes. I always stock-up on a new batch of T-shirts and a few knickknacks to keep my youthful memories alive.

Leaving Ron Jon’s we headed south along the familiar shoreline fronting A1A. Amazingly I found that it hadn’t changed all that much in the past 40 years. There is of course more new construction, especially larger homes and beach front condominiums, but I could still recall many of the places that we used to see along the way such as Patrick Air Force Base, the older homes of Satellite Beach and Indiatlantic, and the rustic shores of Floridana Beach which in later years was a family destination to watch the sea turtles lay their eggs. I couldn’t identify Shark Pit, just a sandy pull-off into the palmettos, which used to be one of our favorite places to surf.

A1A becomes more desolate as you approach Sebastian Inlet with its high bridge offering littoral views of the Atlantic Ocean and Indian River . The Sebastian campground located right on the Inlet was closed, probably as a result of the recent hurricane.

From Sebastian southward we began to see damage from Hurricane Wilma. At first it was just trees and shrubs in the Vero Beach area, but by the time we got to Ft. Pierce we noticed quite a bit of structural damage to buildings. The sides of the road were littered with debris consisting of everything from roofing materials to hot tub liners.

We passed the Navy Seal’s Museum on North Beach at Ft. Pierce , another old surfing spot I frequented. We then turned west crossing back to the mainland on North Beach Causeway offering another great view of the Indian River . After a quick jog south on US 1 we returned to A1A by crossing the South Beach Causeway.

It was time for a quick leg stretch, so we parked at the South Beach Jetty and watched the athletic wind surfers. A number of these talented wave riders were executing jumps and high-speed turns in the gentle waves. Getting back on the road we passed the Hurricane Grill and I was wishing for a cold one and a juicy hamburger, but it was getting late and we needed to get some miles behind us.

The storm damage became even more evident as we passed the nuclear power plant and neared Jensen Beach . One section of sidewalk and power poles along the waterway was pretty much destroyed. There was also a sewer smell that made me forget that juicy hamburger.

We crossed back to US1 at Jensen Beach wishing that we could continue our A1A ride to the south. That trip would have to wait as the next 250 miles of Florida East Coast was just now recovering from the storm. Electricity was still out in several areas and many of the stops we had planned on would likely be closed.

But we’ll be back to finish this trip one day in the next year or so.

for larger map

Windsurfing at Ft. Pierce South Beach