The sunrise on A1A — Photo courtesy of Craig ONeal via Flickr
Florida’s state road A1A is one of the most scenic road trip routes in the nation. It runs along the most eastern border of the state, about as close to the water as you can get. In fact, pay attention to the weather when planning your vacation, because stretches of this route are known to close down due to tropical storms.
But when the weather is grand, the views couldn’t be better. A1A is a beach-lover’s paradise, because it hops from beach to beach. As a bonus, Florida tends to be less expensive than California (except for a few regions near Jupiter Beach), making this beach-hopping car tour both budget-friendly and super laid back.
Hitch a flight into Miami and head north, where you can hug the edge of Florida for long stretches, nearly all the way to the Georgia-Florida state borderline. A1A is by far the slower route than other north-south options, but making good time is rarely the point of a road trip. Right?
Although we could make a top-100 list of our favorite places to stop on A1A, here are 10 must-dos of varying appeal, starting in Miami Beach and heading north to Amelia Island.
Ocean Drive in Miami Beach — Photo courtesy of Danny Fowler via Flickr
Go on a foodie tour of Miami Beach.
There’s tons to do in Miami (you could make a full vacation out of just this city), but a great way to start your road trip is to fill up here with a food tour. Miami Food Tours runs unique guided tours through the area, where you can experience local-fave restaurants, learn about the history, architecture and culinary scene and chat with other foodies. It’s a unique way to tour the region and start your road trip on a high note.
Go on a “turtle walk” in Fort Lauderdale.
may have a reputation as a party beach, but you can get up close to wildlife here, too. The turtle walks, via the Sea Turtle Oversight Protection Headquarters, are another way to spend your Friday and Saturday nights in the fort. See these endangered species nesting March through October and maybe even see some little hatchlings. Learn how to protect these ancient creatures. Proceeds of these walks goes to help rescue groups.
West Palm Beach will catch your eye, but make a stop first at charming Delray Beach. If you can schedule your visit to overlap with the Delray Beach GreenMarket (the farmers’ market) on Saturday mornings, you can sip fresh juice and munch on locally made baked goods, at more than 65 different vendors here.
Relax in West Palm Beach at Delray Beach, where you will be surprised to find hundreds of acres of open space and water to explore. Then rent a bike and explore the nearby trails, and end your day browsing shops downtown.
Live large in Jupiter Island.
Jupiter Island is total luxury. This tiny town has a population of less than 1,000, but the homes you will find here are the wealthiest of the wealthy. Even if you’re not looking for real estate, you can experience the life of luxury for one night by renting a vacation rental home in Jupiter Island. Spend a day in Jupiter at the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary and fantasize that you live in this exclusive beachside community, perhaps next door to Celine Dion?
Get some culture in Vero Beach.
The sand is a given around here, but duck indoors to cool off from the sunshine at the art galleries in Vero Beach. The J.M. Stringer Gallery of Fine Arts features 19th- and 20th-century works of art. Don’t miss the Vero Beach Museum of Art, where you can see ever-evolving exhibits, experience family-friendly activities and perhaps experience a lecture. Even see some glass sculptures by famous artist Dale Chihuly.
Catch some waves in Satellite Beach.
It’s hard to narrow down our favorite Space Coast beaches, but Satellite is renowned for its waves. Surfers head here for the famous north dune crossover, but even if you are just a “kook,” you can still catch great views at the newly renovated Pelican Beach Park. Bonus: Satellite Beach has a popular dog park, for those traveling with four-legged co-pilots.
Gamble on a cruise ship in Port Canaveral.
As you get to the northern border of the Space Coast, you will have to detour inland up Highway 1 around the Canaveral National Seashore until you can get back on A1A. In the meanwhile, make a stop in Port Canaveral, one of the busiest cruise ports in the world.
Grab a fresh-caught seafood meal at Seafood Atlantic and watch the ships sail from port. Or for a wild night, hop on a Casino Cruise ship and gamble on the water.
A classic activity in Daytona is to hit up the speedway to see a race, or the Daytona 500 if you’re lucky. But the Daytona Beach Boardwalk is another family-friendly must-see, a carnival extravaganza right on the beach. Play games, ride the ferris wheel and get your heart rate up on the roller coaster, before retreating to the calming waters, where you can take a refreshing dip. It’s a fair like no other.
St. Augustine, now celebrating its 450th anniversary, is the oldest continuously occupied European city in the continental nation. Expect plenty of celebrations this year, in honor of the big b-day. But a standard city tour is always entertaining. Visit the historic living museum, Castillo de San Marcos, or the Lightner Museum. If you can score a helicopter tour, seeing the region from bird’s eye is worth the splurge.
Witness history in nature at Amelia Island.
The northernmost point of A1A is Amelia Island, which also feels like a living history museum. Especially Fort Clinch State Park, where you can see firsthand remains of a pre-Civil War fortress. Tours will teach you how this region played an important role in both the Spanish-American War and Civil War. Visit the small coastal Fernandina Beach and end your trip with a night at Fort Clinch campgrounds.