FLAGLER BEACH — 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 textures.
There 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.
There is the fast-paced Florida of Disney World, 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.
THE ORIGINAL U.S. 1
Highway A1A mostly is a two-lane, sometimes four-lane, road that stretches along the east coast of Florida from Miami Beach to the Georgia-Florida border. Meandering through towns like Palm Beach, Jupiter, Boca Raton, Cape Canaveral and Fernandina Beach, A1A was the original U.S. 1 — they are separate highways now — and still is 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.
Here 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 forgotten about Highway A1A. Its old hotels and neon restaurants are relics — maybe survivors is a better word — from the 1950s when the road trip was born.
B-MOVIE BIRTH PLACE
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.
Few 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 permanent residents.
Marineland, 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 Black Lagoon.”
Marine Studios, once the world’s first oceanarium and largest aquarium, eventually metamorphosed into today’s Marineland Dolphin Adventure. Atlantic bottlenose dolphins dance and twirl through the air before splashing with great fanfare back into their tanks.
A surfer walks along Flagler Beach at sunrise. The sunrises and sunsets are spectacularly colorful lightshows.
OLD FLORIDA VIEWS
Flagler 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.
Wewalked 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.
Those who weren’t pointing and gawking at the whales were 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.
Highway A1A crawls out of Flagler County to St. Augustine and Fernandina Beach and then southward it winds to the much more crowded Daytona Beach. In between, 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.
For 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.
WHERE TO STAY
Hammock Beach Resort: 200 Ocean Crest Blvd., Palm Coast; 866-841-0287; www.hammockbeach.com; full-service beachfront resort offering spa, golf, romance, and family packages.
Island Cottage Oceanfront Inn and Spa: 2316 S. Oceanshore Blvd., Flagler Beach; 877-662-6232; www.islandcottagevillas.com; elegant and romantic seven-room beachfront boutique inn and spa; from $249 per night.
Si Como No Inn: 2480 Oceanshore Blvd., Flagler Beach; 386-864-1430; www.sicomonoinn.com; fun old Florida-style inn situated high on the dunes; from $125 per night.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Blue at the Topaz: 224 S. Oceanshore Blvd. (A1A), Flagler Beach; 386-439-4322; www.blueatthetopaz.com; fresh seafood, steak, pastas, lamb and duck with an ocean view; entrees from $17.
Captain’s BBQ: 5862 N. Oceanshore Blvd. (A1A), Palm Coast; 386-597-2888; www.captainsbbqbaittackle.com; award-winning Southern barbecue, sides, and dessert; entrees from $8.
Funky Pelican: Flagler Beach Pier, 215 Highway A1A, Flagler Beach; 386-439-0011; www.funkypelican.com; breakfast, lunch, and dinner with fresh fish and seafood specialties; entrees from $8.
Golden Lion Café: 500 Florida A1A, Flagler Beach; 386-439-3004; www.goldenlioncafe.us; won the distinction of Favorite Beach Bar many times; entrees from $9.
Flagler County Chamber of Commerce and Affiliates: 20 Airport Road, Suite C, Palm Coast; 386-437-0106 or 866-736-9291; www.palmcoastandtheflaglerbeaches.com.Copyright © 2015, CT Now