Explore Florida’s Atlantic Coast – Best Western Hotels

  

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Atlantic 1 Alternate Tour

Exploring Florida's Winning Eastern Coast

The “A1A” is a legendary road in Florida, and one of the more unique highways in the country due to its designation, its location stringing together major beach towns, and even immortalized in numerous songs.

The A1A was originally designed in 1946, given two “A’s” to help distinguish it from the U.S. Highway 1 that parallels – and often rides with – the road frequently. “A1A” technically stands for “Atlantic 1 Alternate” and it tends to be the highway going through the heart of beach towns – big and small – up and down Florida’s Atlantic coast.

Yulee

The A1A begins about 20 miles northwest of Jacksonville at the intersection of U.S. 1 and U.S. 301 in the town of Callahan, Florida. Where U.S. 301 ends, the famed A1A begins – with Florida Highway 200 along for the ride. We actually begin heading a little northeasterly, through the Four Creeks State Forest and the Nassau Wildlife Management Area. The first town you reach is Yulee, a fast-growing and relatively new place known for shopping, golf, and access to I-95.

Yulee was named after David Levy Yulee, the first Jewish member of the US Senate, a member of the Confederate Congress during the Civil War, and considered the “Father of Florida railroads.” Here, and the road is known not only as the A1A but the “Buccaneer Trail” (note that Tampa Bay’s football team is quite a ways away the entire time). Past the amazing golf, you cross the Intracoastal Waterway and become what A1A is known for – being the road right along the Atlantic coast, often off the Florida mainland.

The bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway lands you on Amelia Island, a land that has been claimed under more nations than any other in the United States: eight. During its history, Amelia Island has flown the national flags of France, Spain, Great Britain, the Patriots of Amelia Island, the Green Cross of Florida, Mexico, the Confederate States of America, and the United States of America (some more than once). The main town on Amelia Island is Fernandina Beach, the seat of Nassau County, one of the northernmost cities in Florida and certainly the northernmost one along the Atlantic coast in the state. The downtown area of Fernandina Beach features a 50-block Historic District that can be best viewed with a walking tour (try the mobile app!) For more history, the Amelia Island Museum of History is the first spoken history museum in Florida and offers tours and storytelling for all ages and areas of interest. It’s located five blocks off the A1A on Third Street via Cedar or Beech Streets; note the embedded sign revealing its previous use as the Nassau County Jail! The historic Nassau County Courthouse, built in 1891, features cast-iron Corinthian columns, a large bell tower, and with the palm trees makes for a very Florida-looking government building.

Each May, Amelia Island hosts the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival. Over 150,000 people annually attend this Fernandina Beach festival, which has gone on for more than 50 years. An annual jazz festival, chamber music festival, film festival, and blues festival means music and parties are never a long way away here.

The A1A winds through Fernandina Beach as Eight Street and then turns onto Atlantic Avenue to reach the coast. Here, you’ll find Fort Clinch State Park, a fort from the Civil War and Spanish-American War era. Nature trails, a great pier for fishing, and a beach area for sunbathing are all part of the park; tours of both the fort and grounds are available.

From this point, A1A heads in its primary direction and orientation on our tour: south, often hugging the Atlantic coast. Towards the southern tip of the island you’ll find Amelia Island State Park, which preserves over 200 acres of unspoiled wilderness. You’ll not only find peaceful beaches and salt marshes here, this is one of the few places in Florida’s state park system where horseback riding is available – tours on horseback can be arranged at (904) 491-5166.

A1A is an island-hopper; therefore, it’s time to leave Amelia Island and head to Big Talbot Island. State parks abound: the bridge between islands is even called the George Crady Bridge State Park, focused on the fishing pier that was once the A1A bridge. Meanwhile, we cross on a bigger, newer bridge and enter Big Talbot and Little Talbot Island State Parks, which offer white sand beaches and some of the little remaining undeveloped barrier island areas in this part of Florida. Forest, dunes, marshes, and plenty of wildlife viewing is available here; you can also rent a kayak and take a guided paddle tour.

Once again, we leapfrog over a river spilling into the Atlantic: the bridge over Fort George River drops us onto Fort George Island and Fort George Island Cultural State Park, which has hosted human settlement for over 5,000 years. A fort was built here in 1736 to protect the southern end of colonial Georgia. The visitor center was once a tony, exclusive place known as the Ribault Club.

Ecomotion Tours offer a tour of the park via off-road Segway – pretty much the only place you can go “off-road” in a state park on one. If you partake, you’ll not only navigate around but you’ll see everything from birds to bobcats, turtles to rabbits, and possibly even dolphins.

At the southern end of the park, the A1A meets up with the St. John’s River; that’s the big one that flows through downtown Jacksonville, about fifteen miles to the west. The river is about half a mile wide here, and while long bridges span bodies of water all over Florida this crossing is still served by ferry. The St. John’s River Ferry crosses during the day every thirty minutes for a small fee, connecting the A1A between Fort George Island and Mayport.

On the Mayport side, check out the St. Johns River Light, which presides over not only the mouth of its namesake river, but the Mayport Naval Station. One of three major naval stations in the Jacksonville area, Mayport is not open to the public for tours, but the sights of the ships are quite visible from A1A.

Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park and Hanna Landing offer unspoiled parkland along the Atlantic coast south of Mayport with plenty of recreational opportunities including nice beaches, bike and hike trails, a lake with some kayaking, and natural, open beach – an increasing rarity along this coastline.

A trio of beach cities follow, including Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, and Jacksonville Beach. These are collectively known as the Jacksonville Beaches and you’ll see references to “Jax Beaches” on signs all over northeastern Florida.

Jacksonville Beach

Jacksonville Beach is probably the most active beach community for spring breakers, bikers, and other partying types. While A1A runs down 3rd Street, two blocks east – closer to the water – 1st Street runs through the heart of a busy stretch of restaurants, bars, shops, and many other businesses catering to both the out-of-town tourists and many Jacksonville area residents looking to hit the beach for an afternoon or weekend. It’s where you’ll find the Best Western Oceanfront, in the heart of it all.

Enjoy the beach, catch a theatre show at Players by the Sea or a band at nearby Freebird Live, try a local craft beer at Engine 15 Brewing Company, or take a stroll along the Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier. Also, the Beaches Museum & History Park along Beach Boulevard (US 90) one block west of A1A will reveal more about the history, heritage, and culture of the whole Jacksonville Beaches area, from Mayport on south through to Palm Valley.

Continuing on A1A past Jacksonville Beach, we pass Florida Highway 202, a freeway connection back to Jacksonville (and Best Western JTB Southport), 15 minutes away. If you’re ready to continue south along the coast, let’s go!

Next up is Ponte Vedra Beach, home to the famous Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass, the first TPC to be constructed. This is the headquarters of the PGA Tour and host course for The Players Championship each year. If you want to try a walk-on round of golf, well… good luck.

Ponte Vedra Beach is a quite affluent area; it’s in St. Johns County, the third wealthiest county in Florida behind areas in Palm Beach and Naples. That becomes even more apparent as you head down A1A into the areas along the beachfront.

This stretch of A1A runs right along the coast, with a variety of dunes and grasslands flanking your drive on either side. This is part of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (shortened – somewhat – to “GTMNERR”), part of a network of 26 protected U.S. coastal areas. The Guana River Environmental Center offers a peek into estuary system with interpretive exhibits, aquariums, and even an outdoor amphitheater.

Beautiful views of dunes, grasses, palm trees, and the shimmering waters of the Atlantic guide the way for about 30 miles on this stretch of the A1A before two more beach towns, Usinas Beach and Vilano Beach, flank the drive with the colorful beachfront homes so famous in Florida.

St. Augustine

You may know St. Augustine as the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement in the U.S; it uses the nickname “America’s Oldest City.” It was explored by Ponce de Leon back in 1513; several French explorers followed, but none stayed. The city was eventually founded in 1565 and served as the capital of Spanish Florida and East Florida (two countries, temporarily), and then Florida Territory until the capital moved to Tallahassee in 1824. The area fell under British control in 1763, Spanish control in 1783, and the United States in 1822. The city is one terminus of the Old Spanish Trail, a promotional effort of the 1920s linking St. Augustine to San Diego, California, with 3,000 miles (4,800 km) of roadways.

A1A crosses into St. Augustine from Vilano Beach and comes within a block of U.S. 1, which lies just to the west. A detour to U.S. 1 or north via city streets brings you to the Old Florida Museum & Fort Menendez, and a little further north, Fort Mose Historic State Park. Or take a Red Train Tour around St. Augustine if you want a break from driving.

Trivia: St. Augustine was so named because the day this land was sighted (August 28, 1565), it was the feast day of Augustine of Hippo, so San Agustín was chosen for the area. Celebrate by feasting.

Heading south on A1A into St. Augustine brings you to the Old Town St. Augustine, a complex featuring the Historic Old Jail, Gator Bob’s, the Florida Heritage Museum, and more. Hop a trolley with Old Town Trolley Tours and check out over 100 points of interest throughout the town on a flexible set of trolleys that allow you to hop on and off as you go about town; they come by every 15-20 minutes for your convenience.

A few blocks east, you’ll find Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, which sits on part of St. Augustine’s original 1565 town center area. Exhibits, boardwalks, historical tours, and more can be found in this beautiful 15-acre area shrouded under beautiful Spanish Moss trees that form canopies over adjacent streets.

St. Augustine also hosts the World Golf Hall of Fame Museum, which opened here in 1998. The oldest Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! is here in St. Augustine, located in an 1887 castle you’ll find right along A1A.

Driving the A1A into the downtown area delivers you to Castillo Drive, where the uber-historic Castillo de San Marcos beckons. This fort protected St. Augustine for centuries. Its unique walls of stone and mortar, built with a local shell stone called coquina, have absorbed plenty of cannonballs and bullets; now the access points absorb plenty of visitors who marvel at the architecture, exhibits, and views. Check out weapons demonstrations featuring cannons and muskets, displays showcasing the fort’s different time periods, and walk the grounds.

Across from the fort, the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum offers up the world's largest collection of authentic pirate artifacts. Downtown St. Augustine is, to put it simply, gorgeous. With historical buildings everywhere, there are plenty of attractions to see, shops to shop, and places to eat and drink. Flagler College abuts downtown with its beautiful 19-acre campus centered around Ponce de Leon Hall, which was originally built in 1888 to serve as a luxury hotel. Just down King Street, indulge your sweet tooth at the Whetstone Chocolate Factory or, within sight, your inner wine connoisseur at the San Sebastian Winery.

From downtown St. Augustine, A1A crosses back over the Intracoastal Waterway on the beautiful Bridge of Lions, guarded by a pair of marble Medici lions. The original bridge featured the lions in 1927, and when the current replacement opened in 2011, they were brought back.

On the other side, A1A lands you on Anastasia Island. A definite must for a great view (and a little climbing exercise) is the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum. Climb up the 165-foot spiral staircase and admire the surroundings from the top. The museum features shipwreck artifacts (not everyone pays attention to lighthouse warnings, after all), the lighthouse’s original Fresnel lens, a playground for kids, and much more. Along with the tower, the grounds feature, the 1876 Keepers' House, two summer kitchens added in 1886, a 1941 U.S. Coast Guard barracks and a 1936 garage that was home to a jeep repair facility during World War II.

Near the lighthouse, you’ll find one of Florida’s oldest continuously running attractions: the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, which opened in 1893. It offers 23 species of crocodilians and a variety of mammals, reptiles, and birds to see, as well as a newer display area for Komodo dragons, lizards, and snakes. A zipline allows you to zoom over alligators and crocodiles.

Heading out of St. Augustine on the A1A, we follow Anastasia Island south past the Fort Matanzas National Monument. The old Fort Matanzas was a Spanish fort constructed in 1742. The area, which includes 100 acres of salt marsh and barrier islands along the Matanzas River, was designated a National Monument in 1924. The Visitors Center, located right along A1A, offers full information on the area and includes some artifacts.

Leapfrogging over the Matanzas River inlet, the A1A continues along the beachfront into Flagler County. Right around the county line, you’ll find Marineland Dolphin Adventure, where you can literally “swim with the dolphins.” Opened in 1938 by Hollywood studio managers to work on filming underwater, Marineland has evolved into an entertainment and educational center providing visitors with information and interactive experiences not only with dolphins, but other sea life that form part of the complex ecosystem in the oceans. Since you’re starting the ocean a lot on the A1A Tour, it only fits that you should stop at Marineland.

Continuing south, check out Washington Oaks Garden State Park. The park is popular for its extensive and beautiful botanical gardens, including rose gardens surrounded by huge, graceful live oak trees, but it also offers waterfront access, beaches, tidal marshes, a wide variety of wildlife, and plenty of history. Take a stroll through (it’s a great place for a picnic) and check out the natural beauty, historical markers, and areas for fishing, biking, hiking, and just sitting around doing nothing… which is always nice to do once in a while.

For a break along A1A check out the Iron Boot Pub, a popular stop for touring bikers. Kick back with some refreshments and enjoy the Atlantic views – after all, it never gets old!

Next up, you’ll find a nice stretch of sand a popular pier you’ve probably seen in pictures at Flagler Beach, a laid-back seaside community offering six miles of beaches and much of its original Florida fishing village charm. Flagler Beach was established in 1925 and named, like many things in Florida, for oil and railroad tycoon Henry Flagler (his mansion is next to A1A further south in Palm Beach). Right along A1A, stop at the Flagler Beachfront Winery or check out two popular biker stops, the Iron Boot Pub or Finn’s, right across from the iconic municipal pier.

North Peninsula State Park, just south of Flagler Beach, offers over two miles of unspoiled beach and a haven for rare creatures including indigo snakes, Florida scrub-jays, and gopher tortoises. Just west of the park via County 2001 (High Bridge Road), you can connect to Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park, which as you might guess holds the ruins of an antebellum period plantation. The Bulow Plantation was established back in 1821 and grew rice, indigo, cotton, and sugar cane. You can tour the ruins on scenic walkways. It’s also a popular place for canoeing, and don’t be surprised if you spot a bald eagle or a manatee.

Just past Ormond by the Sea you’ll find Ormond Beach, which became a popular winter destination for northerners once the railroad came through in the 1880s. Today, natives and snowbirds enjoy the beaches and ample recreation. Tomoka State Park features the site of a thousand-year-old Native American village, the Fred Dana Marsh Museum, alligators, manatees and over 160 bird species. The natural beauty of the area can be appreciated right from your car, too, if you take the Ormond Beach Scenic Loop & Trail, a double loop covering over 30 miles winding through and around the area. This includes access to Tomoka State Park, Atlantic beachfront, and plenty of inland areas. A1A forms part of this loop, but other roads such as John Anderson Drive (County Road 2803), Old Dixie Highway (County Road 4011), and High Bridge Road (County Road 2002) also form part of the loop.

Through Ormond Beach, the A1A becomes a busy boulevard, lined with stores and high-rise condos. This gets you ready for Daytona, which is right next door.

Trivia: The area from north of Ormond to the southern end of Daytona Beach at the Pier Point Lighthouse is separated from the rest of the Florida mainland by the Halifax River, and the area is collectively known as the “Fun Coast”, the “Surf Coast”, and – less imaginatively – the Halifax area.

Daytona Beach

Daytona Beach. Just its city name evokes so many things: beautiful beaches, spring break, auto racing, golf, motorcycle events, sunshine, and an all-around good time. And there’s a reason for all of them.

First: golf. Daytona Beach is home to plenty of top-tier golf courses, including the LPGA International, headquarters of the Ladies Professional Golf Association and host to two four-star courses. Other major courses in the area include the Club at Pelican Bay, Indigo Lakes Golf Club, and the Daytona Beach Golf Course, which features two courses designed originally in 1922.

Next: riding. For motorcycles, the A1A is a great tour – and Daytona Beach is a terrific host city for events. Daytona Beach Bike Week, which usually runs the first full week in March, rivals Sturgis as the biggest bike event in the country every year. About 500,000 people attend Daytona Bike Week (technically a week and a half, since it’s a 10-day event) each year and everything from racing to concerts to street festivals make for a busy – and fun – time. Main Street, fittingly, is the main drag for bars and other hotspots catering to riders… but great times are found all over town throughout the year.

Second: the beaches. Along A1A, you’ll find the sign that declares Daytona Beach “The World’s Most Famous Beach.” Long admired for its wide, firmly-packed sandy beaches, Daytona drew winter-weary northern visitors starting in the 1880s; by the 1960s, it along with Fort Lauderdale further south had became a hot spring break destination. It’s still very popular for both, with the beaches serving as the main draw and amusement parks, shops, parks, and more adding to the list of things to do while on vacation. A drive, or walk, or bike up and down A1A reveals as much.

“The Birthplace of Racing”

Next: racing. The famous Daytona Beach Road Course, a fundamental piece in the origin of NASCAR (which started in 1948), began on the A1A on the south side of Daytona Beach. It started back in 1902 and existed until 1958 until a new racetrack – the Daytona International Raceway – was completed and held its first race in 1959. The course started on the pavement of highway A1A at 4511 South Atlantic Avenue.

A popular bar and restaurant named Racing's North Turn now stands there. It ran south two miles along the coast on A1A to the end of the road, where the drivers accessed the beach at the south turn at Beach Street and then came back two miles north along the sandy beach. It totaled 3.2 miles in length originally and was extended to 4.2 miles shortly after World War II. You want speed? The first racecar to surpass 100mph in Daytona achieved the feat way back in 1907. Only twenty years later, Major Henry Seagrave and his Sunbeam 1000HP Mystery topped 200mph, speeds that restrictor plates on racecars try and limit today. Here’s a picture of cars racing along the A1A in 1956.

As racing’s popularity grew, a new organization called the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) was founded in Daytona Beach by Bill France, Sr. in 1948. Today, NASCAR is the largest sanctioning body of auto racing in the U.S. with over 1,500 races at 100+ tracks across the U.S. and Canada.

As the 1950s progressed and racing grew in popularity, France and other developers and racing officials decided to move from the beach to a dedicated track where cars had more wiggle room and larger audiences could be more the entire race. Hence, the 1959 opening of Daytona International Speedway on the city’s west side. Now, as then, Daytona International Speedway hosts the most prestigious of all NASCAR races, the Daytona 500. The track hosts a series of other races, including ARCA, AMA Superbike, Grand-AM, SCCA, and Motocross races, as well as NASCAR’s Coke Zero 400 and the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the 24-hour sports car endurance race. A $400 million renovation called Daytona Rising began in 2013 and is expected to be completed in 2016. Several different tours are available that extend to the track, the infield, the garage stalls where crew chiefs work on the cars, and more. The Speedway is located next to Daytona Beach International Airport, along U.S. 92 on the west side of Daytona Beach, very close to the Best Western PLUS International Speedway Hotel.

Along the beach and A1A, the Best Western Aku Tiki Inn provides beachfront access. Try a walk along this beach; or, drive if you’d like. The beach along Daytona is still open for cars to drive along during most days, although the days of super-speed are over: a 10mph limit is quite strictly enforced.

Of course, Daytona has another cultural side, too: the Museum of Arts & Sciences, the Southeast Museum of Photography, and the Halifax Historical Museum offer collections, galleries, and – in the Museum of Arts & Sciences – one of the largest Coca-Cola® collections in the world. The Dow American Gallery and the Bouchelle Center for Decorative Arts inside the museum are often viewed as holding one of the finest collections of furniture and decorative arts in the Southeast.

While auto racing and golf are dominant sports, minor league baseball is also popular in Daytona Beach, with the Daytona Cubs, a class A-Advanced affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, playing their home games at Jackie Robinson Ballpark, which coincidentally was originally constructed in 1914, the same year as the Chicago Cubs’ home, Wrigley Field. The Bethune-Cookman Wildcats also play their home baseball games at the ballpark.

Along A1A, you’ll find the bars and restaurants, condo towers, recreational attractions, and even a drive-in church that used to be a drive-in movie theater. Toward the southern end of the island, the A1A turns west to leapfrog the Halifax River. If you detour south instead, you’ll reach the aforementioned The North Turn, as well as the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse & Museum. The lighthouse, which towers 175 feet above the surrounding area, is the tallest in Florida. It replaced an earlier lighthouse on the property and was completed in 1886 back when the waterway was called Mosquito Inlet. It was renamed Ponce de Leon Inlet in 1927 – probably a wise move from a tourism standpoint.

Back to A1A, once it crosses back over the Halifax River and joins its parent road: U.S. Highway 1. Here, the two roads head south through Port Orange, a smaller community with a popular stretch of biker bars and restaurants including the Whiskey River Saloon, Wide Open, Grumpy’s, First Turn, and the World Famous Last Resort.

While the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse is still in view to the east, A1A and U.S. 1 head into New Smyrna Beach (pop. 22,000). Lying south of the aforementioned lighthouse and the Ponce Inlet, “NSB” lies along over 13 miles of uninterrupted white sandy beaches; this, plus a combination of favorable conditions for great waves, makes the town a magnet for surfers. Accolades include being named a top ten surf town by Surfer magazine in 2009, a top twenty surf town by National Geographic in 2012, a top 10 beach town by USA Today in 2013, and “One of the world’s coolest surf towns” by Travel & Leisure in 2013. Readers of the Orlando Sentinel, who have pretty good access to beaches up and down the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, have selected New Smyrna Beach as “Best Beach” eight years running. Convinced yet?

The beaches aren’t just for surfers; those who want to be on the water but not hang ten on surging waves can hit the calmer areas of the water for some stand-up paddle boarding, another pastime particularly popular here. But whether surfing, strolling, biking, boarding, or beach-bumming, one thing you’ll probably see during your outings are rods and reels – more than many other Florida beaches. Fishing is very popular in New Smyrna Beach, which lays claim to “Redfish Capital of the World.” The area beckons anglers from all over the world when it hosts FishStock each Memorial Day weekend. You can fish the ocean, the Intracoastal Waterway, and the Indian and Halifax Rivers – so your choices of type of fish – and day – are vast.

It’s not all water-oriented; New Smyrna Beach nurtures a burgeoning arts community, even being named one of the “100 Best Small Art Towns” and, in 2012, “America’s Top Cities for the Arts.” The Atlantic Center for the Arts is an interdisciplinary community for artists and arts education. Artists work together on a variety of arts, including visual, literary, composition, and performing, with presentations and exhibitions open to the public. The Pabst Visitor Center & Gallery features art galleries and a public art and nature trail.

Back to the road: as you approach the access point for New Smyrna Beach’s downtown area – back across the Intracoastal Waterway – A1A reappears. A long bridge crosses over the Indian River and the Intracoastal Waterway into New Smyrna Beach’s downtown, one block off its main drag: Flagler Avenue. This street is filled with cafes, shops, bars, art galleries, and people. Expect a slow crawl through the area on a busy weekend or pretty much any time during spring break. In fact, just embrace it, park somewhere, and wander. The pier and beach at the east end of Flagler Avenue – including the boardwalk extending southward – all offer plenty to do and see, from restaurants and bars to equipment rental for plenty of beach fun.

A1A continues south from downtown New Smyrna Beach; you’ll find the Best Western New Smyrna Beach Hotel & Suites near where State Road A1A begins to head back west across the Indian River and County A1A heads south as a dead-end highway towards the Canaveral National Seashore.

Side trip on A1A: Canaveral National Seashore

The Canaveral National Seashore lies south of New Smyrna Beach along a branch of the A1A on the barrier island. Please note: this is a spur with no outlet; to continue south towards Titusville, you have to cross back to U.S. 1 at New Smyrna Beach. Canaveral National Seashore’s park holds more than 1,000 species of plants and over 300 species of birds. The beach here extends 24 miles and is the longest undeveloped beach along Florida’s east coast.

Up for seeing a ghost town? About three miles south of the park entrance, you’ll find Eldora, which was a prominent community of orange groves in the late 19th century. After a freeze destroyed most of its crops, it was nearly completely abandoned and never came back. Its last resident, Doris "Doc" Leeper, a locally famous artist and conservationist, passed away in the 1980s and the town was officially turned over to the federal government. Only two of its original buildings remain. The largest, "The Eldora House", now holds a museum. Although the town's orange groves were nearly completely wiped out over one hundred years ago, some trees still remain.

Canaveral National Seashore closes at 6 p.m., so plan your day accordingly if you want to visit the park, Eldora, or the area beaches. Remember, to leave you must head back north on A1A, go through the southern side of New Smyrna Beach right back by the Best Western New Smyrna Beach Hotel & Suites, and cross back over the Indian River to U.S. 1. Then, head south toward Titusville to continue the A1A Tour.

From New Smyrna Beach, you can head back west across the Indian River via A1A and head south on U.S. 1, the Dixie Highway. This takes you to Edgewood, Titusville and the rest of the “Space Coast.” Edgewater is a residential community with the Best Western Edgewater Inn located right along U.S. 1 and the A1A, with a connection via Florida Highway 442 to I-95. Edgewater was originally settled by abolitionist, physician, author, historian, teacher, newspaper publisher, army officer, and orange grower Dr. John Milton Hawks (he was a busy guy) in 1871. The original “Hawks Park” is now called Edgewater Park and is a center of town activity. A1A and U.S. 1 skirt the western edge of Edgewater – the side not along the water – and continue south through Volusia County into Brevard County.

To the east, the Indian River Lagoon separates the mainland from Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and the Kennedy Space Center, where launch pad sites come into view in the distance. You’re truly entering the “Space Coast” communities, starting with Titusville.

Titusville

Nicknamed “Space City, USA” for its location close to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, Titusville grew so much in the 1950s and 1960s it was also called the “Miracle City.” NASA activities and the aerospace industry still dominate the economy here, and the things to see and do tend to follow that theme. Follow U.S. 1 into downtown Titusville and check out portions of the redeveloped downtown, or hop on Florida Highway 406 and take the Max Brewer Parkway over the Indian River onto Merritt Island, where you’ll find the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, 140,000 acres of coastal dunes, saltwater estuaries, marshes, scrub, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammock that are home to over 1,500 plant and animal species. The Visitor Information Center is located along Highway 406 about four miles east of Titusville.

Or, continue through Titusville on U.S. 1/A1A and explore downtown. The Emma Parrish Theatre, home to the Titusville Playhouse, anchors an area of the historic downtown, with new shops and restaurants opening alongside some longtime standbys. The North Brevard Historical Museum on Washington Street offers a good look into the history of Titusville and the surrounding area, too.

A1A cruises right past Space View Park, along Main Street. This location provides one of the best views of the NASA launch pads in the distance, being located directly west of the pads with only flat land and the Indian River in between. The park is also the first and only walk in the nation that honors America's astronauts as well as the men and women behind the scenes who helped America lead the world in space exploration.

Speaking of, let’s get back to the “Space Coast” aspect of the area. On the south side of Titusville near the airport, you’ll find the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum, loaded with planes from World War II, Korea, and the Vietnam eras, plus interactive exhibits, hangar tours where they work on the planes, and more. That’s located on Tico Drive, just off the A1A near its junction with Florida Highway 405.

A detour onto Highway 405 (NASA Causeway/Columbia Boulevard) eastbound is a must. The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and American Police Hall of Fame are located right next to each other; you can’t pass them without noticing the original Space Shuttle Inspiration located right outside the buildings. The shuttle can be boarded and toured; the Hall of Fames salute U.S. astronauts and law enforcement officers each in their own ways. Each features extensive exhibits.

Further east on 405 over the NASA Causeway and down several miles, you’ll spot the upright Atlantis from far away before you reach the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, a huge site filled with indoor and outdoor exhibits, displays, spacecraft, and memorabilia. The complex includes two IMAX theaters, the Shuttle Launch Experience, even a newer exhibit called the Angry Birds Space Encounter, although that is scheduled to only run through fall 2014. The daily “Cape Canaveral: Then and Now” tour includes the Air Force Space & Missile Museum, located at Launch Complex 26 in Cape Canaveral. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex offers admission packages that include other area attractions, including the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum, and more. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex features so many attractions, for many families it’s worth a lion’s share of a day to visit… so plan accordingly.

Just a little further south on U.S. 1, the Bennett Causeway (Highway 528) also re-starts the A1A into Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach.

Cocoa Beach

Cocoa Beach sits just south of Cape Canaveral but it hugely popular with beachgoing Floridians and visitors alike. Cocoa Beach Pier, completed in 1962 as Canaveral Pier, offers plenty of recreational opportunities and the whole strip along A1A features shops and plenty of places to check out. Alan Shepard Park and its beach is located just south of the Cocoa Beach Pier and offers plenty of park and beach activities. Restaurants, bars, and shops line this area of Cocoa Beach, where plenty of visitors come to enjoy the wide sands and vacation atmosphere.

Away from the beach, but still close to it, the Dinosaur Store Adventure Zone is a unique store revolving around science and dinosaurs in particular, while the Ron Jon Surf Shop right nearby is not only the largest surf shop in the world (52,000 square feet), it includes the Cocoa Beach Surf Museum, which showcases surfing memorabilia, records, and more all along the eastern coast of the U.S.

Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t note that the setting for the famous 1960s TV show I Dream of Jeannie was set in Cocoa Beach. A1A does have an “I Dream of Jeannie” street sign there.

From Cocoa Beach, A1A continues into southern Florida. Destinations like Jupiter, Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Miami Beach, and even the Overseas Highway and Key West await. We’ll cover those in a future tour!