Oaks Gardens State Park on Highway A1A stretches
from the Intracoastal Waterway to the Atlantic and
is nearly 400 acres of formal gardens and oak
BEACH, Fla. — From my car window along Highway A1A in
Flagler County, somewhere between the towns of Marineland
and Flagler Beach, the Atlantic Ocean and its sugar-soft
dunes glide by in a dizzying landscape of colors and
is the beach, its sand polished to copper and ginger by
billions of fragments of coquina shells, and beyond that
the Atlantic, luscious in pastels of green and blue, and
beyond that only the curvature of the earth.
the best is yet to come. It is nearing sunset, and the sky
explodes into unreal shades and contrasts reminiscent of
slowly spill over into deeper tangerines before melting
into hues of pomegranate and berries. Everything is
cloaked in a golden glow and the sky is simply
mesmerizing. It is as fine of a sunset as I’ve ever
seen, and I cannot look away until the last of the light
fades into twilight and finally darkness.
is the fast-paced Florida of Disneyworld, Panama City and
South Beach. Then there is the old Florida, that of
Highway A1A, where the sunrises and sunsets are
spectacular and there is no such thing as "in a
hurry." It is best enjoyed slowly.
A1A is mostly a two-lane, sometimes four-lane, road that
stretches along the east coast of Florida from Miami Beach
all the way to the Georgia-Florida border. Meandering
through storied towns like Palm Beach, Jupiter, Boca
Raton, Cape Canaveral and Fernandina Beach, A1A was the
original U.S. 1 in Florida — they are separate highways
now — and is still sometimes referred to as the Dixie
Highway, although U.S. 1 often gets that distinction, too.
Just a few miles away, Interstate 95 parallels A1A for
almost its entire length.
in Flagler County, where I’ve come to visit for a couple
of nights, I’m captured by the nostalgic romance of the
old highway. I’ve always enjoyed driving back
roads, but because of the faster nonstop I-95, I had
completely forgotten about Highway A1A. Its ubiquitous old
hotels and neon restaurants are relics — maybe survivors
is a better word — from the 1950s when the road trip was
I would discover it again. From the town of Marineland on
the northern fringes of Flagler County to Flagler Beach on
its southern end, driving A1A provides a rare snapshot
into the Florida that much today’s I-Want-It-Now
generation has forgotten.
know that Marineland is an actual town that was
incorporated in 1942. Its current population ebbs and
flows, peaking with a high of about 16 to its current five
the attraction, first opened as Marine Studios in 1937 as
an underwater movie studio, churning out corny ’50s
fright-fest movies like "Creature from the Black
Lagoon" and "Revenge of the Creature from the
Studios, once the world’s first oceanarium and largest
aquarium, eventually metamorphosed into today’s
Marineland Dolphin Adventure. It is just the coolest place
around as Atlantic bottlenose dolphins dance and twirl
through the air before splashing with great fanfare back
into their tanks. The thing about dolphins is that they
always look happy and playful, and if you want to get in
the water and personally interact with them, there are
oceans of programs available.
farther south on A1A, the highway curves more inland to
Palm Coast. Palm Coast is sort of the modern side of
Flagler County, with chain hotels and restaurants mixed in
with quieter, laid-back resorts of nearby Hammock Beach
and plenty of championship golf courses.
with nearly 80 miles of salt- and freshwater canals, Palm
Coast is rife with hiking and biking trails. A favorite
stop for my husband and me was the picturesque Washington
Oaks Gardens State Park with easy access directly on A1A.
The rose gardens were in full bloom when we visited, and
the sweet perfume of the flowers complimented perfectly
with our afternoon walk.
our way to Flagler Beach, we passed through Beverly Beach.
Just a mile long and a mile wide, it is surrounded by sand
dunes. Near Beverly Beach, just off A1A, we stayed
overnight at the Hammock Beach Resort directly on the
Atlantic and were treated to the most vivid sunrises
would be remiss if I didn’t mention Captain’s BBQ on
A1A, where I had my first-ever pulled pork tacos with all
the Southern trimmings of baked beans, Cole slaw, sweet
cornbread and macaroni salad.
it is Cheesecake Mike’s award-winning New York-style
cheesecakes that stole the show for me. Baked onsite, the
red velvet and devil’s food cheesecakes were divinely
rich, but be forewarned. Captain’s BBQ, immensely
popular with the locals, makes only a certain amount of
barbecue, ribs and desserts each day, and when it’s
gone, it’s gone.
Beach was our last stop on this slice of A1A Americana. No
high-rise condominiums spoil the view here and the
restaurants, beach boutiques and roadside motels are
one-of-a-kind. Roy and I walked the pier near the Funky
Pelican Restaurant after a meal of shrimp, shrimp and more
shrimp and were absolutely thrilled to see a mama North
Atlantic right whale and her calf close to shore as they
ever-so-slowly swam southward.
who weren’t pointing and gawking at the whales were
either fishing, walking along the beach, or parasailing
over the pristine blue-green water. When the surf’s up
and the waves are just right, the six miles of Flagler
Beach have been luring surfers for decades. It is a beach
village for certain, Caribbean-bright with colors and
sounds but definitely old Florida.
A1A crawls out of Flagler County north to St. Augustine
and Fernandina Beach and then southward it winds to the
much more crowded Daytona Beach. In between, though, in
this quieter side of Florida, the beer is cold, the food
is good, and the atmosphere is just right for a fall or
winter getaway down nostalgia lane.
driving access, Flagler County is bisected by Interstate
95. Several international airports are nearby, including
Daytona Beach, about an hour’s drive, and Jacksonville
and Orlando, both about a 90-minute drive.
Ocean Crest Blvd.
AAA-Four Diamond full-service beachfront resort offering
spa, golf, romance, and family packages.
Cottage Oceanfront Inn and Spa
S. Oceanshore Blvd.
and romantic seven-room beachfront boutique inn and spa.
From $249 per night.
Como No Inn
old Florida-style inn situated high on the dunes. From
$125 per night.
TO EAT AND DRINK:
at the Topaz
S. Oceanshore Blvd. (A1A)
seafood, steak, pastas, lamb and duck with an ocean view.
Entrees from $17.
N. Oceanshore Blvd. (A1A)
Southern barbecue, sides, and dessert. A local favorite.
Entrees from $8.
lunch, and dinner with fresh fish and seafood specialties.
Entrees from $8.
the distinction of Favorite Beach Bar many times. Entrees
County Chamber of Commerce and Affiliates
Airport Rd., Suite C