In Backroads of Paradise: A Journey to Rediscover Old Florida, Cathy Salustri takes readers on a 5,000-mile road trip from the panhandle to the Keys. Salustri retraces historic routes that used to be main roads back in the 1930s, before Florida’s interstates were built. Intrigued? Read the book and follow the author’s latest travels on her website, the Great Florida Road Trip.
Inspired by Cathy Salustri’s adventures, interns at the University Press of Florida are sharing their own stories about the roads featured in Backroads of Paradise, piecing together their own Great Florida Road Trip. In today’s post, advertising and design intern Kathleen Davis writes about A1A, a road that stretches down the entire east coast of Florida. Cathy Salustri travels this road in a chapter of her book titled “Paradise.”
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The Great Florida Road Trip
Inspired by Backroads of Paradise
Part 2: Jacksonville and St. Augustine Beaches
By Kathleen Davis
I grew up in southern Jacksonville, right in the middle of a 72-mile stretch of scenic A1A. This section of A1A, officially called the Scenic and Historic Coastal Byway, runs from Jacksonville Beach to the Tomoka Marsh Aquatic Preserve just north of Ormond Beach. The entire route of A1A runs from a few miles south of the Florida-Georgia line in the north to the Keys in the south. I have not yet made it all the way down the coast on this road, but I hope to someday.
In her chapter on A1A, Cathy Salustri writes,
Forget spring break and Miami Beach, at least for now: A1A’s northern end gives you a quiet and wonderful surprise, beginning at Fernandina.
North of St. Augustine and Jacksonville, just south of Fernandina Beach, is Amelia Island. 200 acres of the island are protected as a state park. Salustri compares Amelia Island to the South Carolina Lowcountry and describes the scene well:
Grass peeps through the water, creating brown and green mazes through the Tiger Point marina and fronting boatyards. The route then flows into beach forest. A canopy of green closes over the road, trees punctuated only occasionally by a glimpse of the Atlantic.
From my own northern portion of A1A near Jacksonville, I can see the coast and the deep blue water from the road as I pass quaint little beach houses. The road’s two-lane size gives it a “coming home” feeling—until I remember that I unfortunately do not live in any of those houses! Again I think, “someday.”
I am most familiar with this scenic strip of A1A because I used to live near it, but that’s not to say the rest of the road isn’t just as gorgeous. On a Fourth of July vacation last year in Delray Beach, approximately 25 miles north of Fort Lauderdale, I came across A1A at a junction near the shore once again. It felt just as if I were making a beach run back home. The sand-lined, two-lane road with a view of the water through pine and palm trees brought back memories of summer times past.
St. Augustine Beach was always my favorite summer destination even though I lived closer to Jacksonville Beach. To get to Jacksonville Beach we had to take highway I-95 and drive on streets six lanes wide until we hit the beachside strip. Driving south to St. Augustine, on the other hand, was like going on vacation. I could escape the hustle and bustle of the city and replace it with a peaceful drive down the St. Johns River that ended at St. Augustine Beach. As a child I didn’t appreciate the drive to the coast as much as the beach itself. But now that I drive myself wherever I go, I get to fully experience the journey. Cruising with the windows down, sunroof back, and a salty breeze on a warm summer day feels like home to me.
Salustri aptly titles her chapter on A1A “Paradise.” I think nothing could be closer to the truth. Even before Salustri’s Backroads of Paradise was published, I had longed to make the trip all the way down beautiful A1A. It’s still on my bucket list, but now I also want to explore the many other “backroads” like A1A that once were main highways in Florida. It looks like my next few spring breaks and summers are booked.
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