Florida A1A Trail: Six Special Places in Sunshine State




My friend Patty Morrison and I enjoy discovery travel by car and have engaged in a series of trail tours I call our Great American Road Trips Series: Oregon, Washington State, Georgia’s Golden Isles and now Florida’s State Road A1A.  For more information about our road trip series, please access www.arnoldheller.org. 

From March 3 – 11, 2017, we visited six pretty and popular pockets located on both the east and west coasts – Fernandina Beach, New Smyrna Beach, Stuart, Deerfield Beach, Sanibel Island and St. Pete Beach. 

Patty and Arnold stand alongside the famous Pirate statue located at Fernandina Beach waterfront.

Florida A1A Trail Leg#1: Fernandina Beach, Jewel of the First Coast

I first learned of sweet Fernandina Beach when I moved to Atlanta in 1972 from New Jersey – many people vacationed there because it was the first beach resort in Florida’s northeast corner just over the line from Georgia.  The town’s relative accessibility to Metro Atlanta and the popularity of the nearby Amelia Island Resort drew a growing stream of visitors to a cute and comfortable village experience. 

Fernandina Beach, similar to popular St. Augustine, has a rich and long history.

Spain possessed Florida until 1819 and used it as a base to harass colonial America and later the State of Georgia.  The United States and President James Monroe in the Adams – Onis Treaty purchased the territory to settle it.  Florida though languished economically until the east coast railroad that ended in Thomasville, Georgia, was routed to the growing port of Jacksonville.  Henry Flagler, by 1914, extended the line to a tiny south Florida port called Miami.   


Fernandina Beach was a pirate’s haven before becoming a working port and later a tourist magnet.  All visits to the town of approximately 12,000 should begin with the waterfront and marina.


Front Street is bisected by railroad tracks that lead to the port facility.  The free standing building houses next to the marina houses Brett’s Waterway Café and a gift shop. 

The harbor side marina shelters craft of all sizes and a working paper mill can be seen from the deck.  Cross the railroad track and enter Centre Street, the town’s main commercial corridor.

Centre Street, main commercial thoroughfare

Map of central business district grid. 

For hotel accommodations, we recommend either the Hampton Inn or the Florida House Inn for both are located in the heart of downtown.  Both inns reflect the town’s charm and ambience and are surrounded by numerous restaurants and bars – 29 South was our choice and a good one too. 

Patty and I are fond of cities that heavily invest in public art that enhances our urban environments - Fernandina Beach is rich artistically as evidenced by the statue she is sharing the bench with. 

We left Fernandina Beach for our next stop; New Smyrna Beach located about 15 miles south of Daytona Beach.  One particularly attractive area that we discovered during our drive was the River Road stretch of Ormond Beach.  Attractive and comfortable homes line the west side of the median – the Tomoka River on the east side of River Road is a popular fishing spot. 


End of Florida A1A Trail Leg #1; go to Florida A1A Trail Leg #2: New Smyrna Beach – Compact, Cute and Cool.