We propose a short road trip to Florida. The fastest route from Hilton Head Island, SC is along Interstate 95. That however is a four-lane highway, nothing but endless traffic usually following an 18-wheeler or jockeying with cars to get past the lines of trucks. Accordingly we’ve decided to get off I95 as quickly as possible and head east towards the Atlantic Ocean so we can connect to the Ocean road through Florida’s historic small coastal towns.
State Road A1A (SR A1A) is a north-south Florida State Road that runs mostly along the Atlantic Ocean, with sections from Key West at the southern tip of Florida, to Fernandina Beach, just south of Georgia on Amelia Island. It is the main road through most oceanfront towns. Part of SR A1A is designated the A1A Scenic and Historic Coastal Byway, a National Scenic Byway. A portion of A1A that passes through Volusia County is designated the Ormond Scenic Loop and Trail, a Florida Scenic Highway. It is also called the Indian River Lagoon Scenic Highway from State Road 510 at Wabasso Beach to U.S. Route 1 in Cocoa.
When I was a young child – perhaps no more than ten years of age – my family travelled to Florida for a vacation. I cannot recall precisely where we stayed but I do remember it was in a small cottage perched on a crest overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It was but a skip from the front door, down a winding cement staircase to the beach where we were always assured to find a stranded Sand Dollar or abandoned conch shell. I recall the cement stairs in particular because I remember having dropped a glass jar. The jar had some marine life in it, presumably something I had collected on the beach or at the shore. I was startled in my ascent of the stairs by a grasshopper and the jar smashed upon the stairs. I also recall my mother burning the fringe of her hair when she poked her head into the gas stove oven with a lit match to see why it hadn’t ignited. The only other recollection I have of Florida is seeing scantily clad people walking along the sidewalks of the small towns through which we passed. This left a lasting impression upon me, epitomizing the Bohemian Floridian lifestyle, tactile and visceral.
Since that initial experience we have of course visited Florida on many different occasions. Mostly we’ve stayed in upscale hotels in larger urban centres like Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale. Only recently have we deigned to trespass within such notoriously vulgar spots as Daytona Beach – though pointedly Daytona Beach Shores which by design is a retirement hamlet just beyond its more popular namesake. We have nonetheless acquired a taste for “old Florida”, its low-rise structures and open coastal vernacular where the azure blue dome towers above the huge unobstructed horizon. In many instances the flavour is tropical and certainly lends itself to vacationing and relaxation, quite unlike for example Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale which is basically 5th Avenue by the Ocean. I have also been favourably impressed by the opinion of Floridians that the beach in Daytona Beach area is superior to that of Fort Lauderdale, a view I happen to share. I am also captivated by the personality of the smaller Florida towns.
Even unaided by this quaint and possibly lachrymose view of traditional Florida we are nonetheless anxious to see a side of Florida which is sometimes ignored. In spite of what now qualifies as sophistication it wasn’t too long ago that many Northeasterners travelled to Florida to submerge themselves in common beach life, wearing white ducks with the bottoms rolled up, strolling barefoot along the shore, perhaps lugging and slugging a bottle of one’s favourite liquor, reddened from the hot sun, lips parched, hair matted by salt sea water, white cotton shirt open and flying in the soft wind.
Our three-day jaunt to Florida is over. It was a very satisfactory visit. What we saw along A1A was a delight! The scenery could not have been more varied. Our introduction to Florida began in St. Augustine – or, more specifically, Anastasia Island. It was exactly the old, traditional Florida I had hoped to see, very much a vacation spot, laid back, catering to young people, a proliferation of bars and inexpensive diners, a distinct cottage feel.
As we had seriously overshot our proposed luncheon destination, when we arrived on Anastasia Island we went across the street from our hotel to a dive for lunch. We ended back there for dinner and breakfast the next morning. Convenience is an inarguable advantage at our age!
The trip along A1A from this point to Daytona Beach Shores was fascinating. The Ocean views were spectacular. The real estate was everything from shanties to palaces. Elegant subdivisions popped up in the middle of nowhere. Crescent Beach was extremely attractive and posh. Along the route we regularly saw men and women fishing on the beach, long poles stuck into the sand, the caretakers most often sitting lazily nearby in a beach chair. There were beach parks and rest stops along the road.
In Daytona Beach Shores we stayed in the same hotel we’ve visited before. The first day we only had time for a dip in the hot tub, then dinner (which was superb – al fresco). We repeated dinner there the next evening, same server and identical meal for me. Such adventure!
The next day we swam in the Ocean. I haven’t submerged myself in salt water for a long time and it felt great! Another surprise was the discovery of a pier. I love piers! This pier houses Crabby Joe’s restaurant which we visited for breakfast, nothing terrific but palatable. The walk on the pier made it all worth while and I never tire of the crashing surf.
On the trip home we struggled to get to the place we had originally intended to go for lunch on our first day. The restaurant was located in Atlantic Beach in a new resort. The food was very good. Atlantic Beach is quite cosmopolitan and certainly didn’t engender any fondness for old Florida.
Before getting to Atlantic Beach we drifted through Flagler Beach which epitomized what I had expected of old-world Florida. Many adjoining areas tended to the rustic but unequivocally authentic.