A1A Scenic and Historic Coastal Byway
Connecting Dazzling Barrier Islands
|Mileage||81 miles (131 km)|
|DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.||2 hours|
|SeasonsThe seasons listed are the best seasons for this scenic drive. If Winter is not mentioned, the road may be closed during the winter.||All Seasons|
|Roadways||Florida Highway A1A|
|ServicesThe cities or towns listed have either Food or Services such as gas, hotels, pharmacies, etc.||Atlantic Beach, FL▼, Neptune Beach, FL▼, Ponte Vedra, FL▼, St. Augustine, FL▼, Palm Coast, FL▼, Flagler Beach, FL▼, Daytona Beach, FL▼, and Marineland, FL▼|
3.8 average from 27 votes
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Sporting a distinct Spanish flair, the A1A Scenic and Historic Coastal Byway is officially made up of three separate state scenic highways — the Scenic and Historic A1A, A1A River and Sea Trail, and A1A Ocean Shore which link a string of dazzling barrier islands. This spectacular coastal drive begins near Jacksonville, in Ponte Vedra Beach, which is approximately 10 miles from I-95, exit 289 (Palm Coast Parkway). With year-round sunshine and the magical draw of the beach, almost every stop can be a day long activity, so if possible, plan on more than one day to take full advantage of this drive.
Ponte Vedra Beach has the distinction of being renowned for two sports, golf and tennis. The PGA Tour and the Player’s Championship are played here on the iconic TPC Sawgrass (A1) designed by legendary Pete Dye. Channel your inner Nicklaus, as the two golf courses are open to the public. As well, scattered throughout this drive are golf courses designed by the greats — Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Rees Jones, and Gary Player. If tennis is your game, the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club is known as the “Official Tennis Club of the ATP World Tour” and here you can play on pro courts or improve your backhand with lessons. Don’t worry — if lounging on the beach — or shopping is more your style, all that and more is covered in Ponte Vedra Beach.
Unplug and rejuvenate in unspoiled natural beauty. Traveling alongside FL-A1A, is the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (A2). Protecting over 73,000-acres, the reserve is home to vast and impressive array of plants and wildlife including armadillos, tortoises, deer and alligators. Located along the Atlantic Flyway, a migratory path for land and water fowl, spot bald eagles and the rare roseate spoonbill. Pack an ample supply of water, insect repellant, sunhat, sunscreen, sunglasses and snacks to enjoy ten miles of nature trails for hiking, biking and on weekdays, (except holidays), horseback riding. Or, get in a kayak or canoe to explore salt marsh, mangrove tidal wetlands, oyster bars, and estuarine lagoons. There are three parking lots off FL-A1A with access points. The South Ponte Vedra Beach parking lot offers accessible walkways over the dunes leading to coquina sand beaches.
Learn more about the GTMNERR at the Environmental Education Center which features video presentations, a live aquarium, hands on activities and well-designed exhibits especially geared to children. Examine Indian artifacts, fossils and learn about the ecosystem and its inhabitants or participate in interpretive walks. There is a small admission fee for the Center which supports conservation and outreach efforts.
Founded in 1565, St. Augustine is the nation’s oldest continuously-occupied city and offers much to explore. Stroll cobblestones streets while visiting unique shops, cafes and art galleries. Or step back in time to discover a rich history by visiting these engaging sites.
Overlooking Matanzas Bay is Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (A3). The fascinating bastion system fort was built between 1672-1695 out of coquina stone hauled from Anastasia Island after nine earlier wooden forts burned to ground. Explore the fort on your own with a self-guiding brochure or take part in one of the ranger-led tours. Don’t miss the exciting re-enactments by costumed interpreters depicting the daily life of the colonists and the ever popular cannon firings. There is an entrance fee valid for 7 days covered by the America the Beautiful Pass.
The Ximenez-Fatio House Museum (M2) is a stellar example of the early days in St. Augustine. The stone house built in 1798 by Spaniard Andres Ximenez is one of the best preserved colonial buildings in St. Augustine and features period furnishings and decorative arts. Once a boarding house, it was one of the few businesses acceptable for women at the time. Archaeological digs have unearthed ceramic artifacts and an intricately carved bronze cross from the 1650’s. There is an entrance fee and guided tour.
Continue on FL-A1A, crossing the Francis and Mary Usina Bridge and turn left to continue on FL-A1A before crossing back over the Bridge of Lions.
Standing proud and striped like a black-and white barber pole is the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum (M1). Climb 219 steps to magnificent views and learn about the history of World War II in the nation’s oldest port city, the origins of the modern commercial shrimping industry, boat building, and hear the dramatic stories of shipwrecks and more. There is an entrance fee.
Boasting expansive beaches and sweeping views, Anastasia State Park (H1) is a beautiful spot for day use and popular with campers. Swim life-guarded areas, windsurf, fish or just relax and play in the sand. Hike along the Ancient Dunes Trail which travels through semitropical hardwood forest and crosses towering dunes, or take a leisurely cruise along 4.5 miles of beach. There is great kayaking on Salt Run, a coastal estuary between Anastasia and Conch Islands. Embark on a guided tour available through concessions in the park. There is an entrance fee.
The St. Johns County Pier Park (H2) in St. Augustine Beach is perfect for a sunset stroll, wildlife watching and of course fishing (license required). Enjoy the Farmers Market on Wednesday mornings until 12:30 and concerts and other special events throughout the year.
The tagline Life’s a Beach was never more fitting, as fabulous beaches dot the entire route. Butler Beach (W1), or further along FL-A1A, Crescent Beach (A4) are both beautiful areas. Pop in for a quick dip or stay for the day. Access the beach via the wooden dune walkovers or drive your car right onto the beach. Having a beach umbrella comes in handy to provide much needed shade.
If you’re craving a more tree-canopied environment, you may want to consider a detour to the Matanzas State Forest (H3) or Faver-Dykes State Park (H4). Take FL-206 to discover these two important conservation areas. The Matanzas State Forest protects the last remaining undisturbed salt marsh in the Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. Combined with Moses Creek to the north, these two areas encompass 16,000 acres — 3/4 of which are upland forest of slash and longleaf pine. The remaining area is wetland, bay and cypress swamps. These diverse habitats are a haven for wildlife and part of The Great Florida Birding Trail. A day use permit is required for entrance and can be acquired at no charge by contacting Matanzas State Forest. There are primitive campsites off Eagle’s Nest Road which require a State Forest Use Permit. Along with similar wildlife watching opportunities, at Faver-Dykes State Park you’ll find swimming beaches, fishing, hiking trails and camping. Pellicer Creek is a designated Florida canoe trail and on-site rentals provide what you need to explore the pristine watery habitat. There is a small entrance fee.
Continue south on FL-A1A. Gaze upon Fort Matanzas National Monument (A5) amidst all this natural beauty, it’s hard to imagine this was the site of conflict for land and power in the new world. Learn more about the intriguing history of the Spanish as they battled the French, British, and the United States which took possession of the fort in 1821. There is no fee to enter the park and the ferry ride, first-come, first-served, is free as well. Donations are accepted. The interpretive ferry trip to the fort will pique your curiosity. At the fort, stop at the Visitor Center, walk the nature trails and enjoy the re-enactments.
At Marineland Dolphin Adventure (A6), you’ll find a chance to get close up — really close up — with dolphin encounters. Take one off the bucket list with a variety of experiences such as Touch and Feed, The Immersion, a 30-minute swim or Trainer For A Day. Advance reservations are recommended.
Discover amazing habitats of coastal scrub and coastal hammock at Washington Oaks Gardens State Park (H5), which create shelter for a wide range of animals such as owls, snakes, and butterflies. Though called formal gardens, the plantings are extremely natural. Revel in the deep earth tones of huge maritime hammock, live oak and citrus trees punctuated with the dazzling colors of azaleas, camellia and roses. The park is great for bird watching, walking the nature trails, and visiting the lagoon teeming with fish (and fisherman). Stretching for two miles along the beach, don’t miss the unusual water-carved coquina rock formations created by a combination of shell, coral and sand cemented by limestone.
This drive is fortunate to include so many outstanding state parks. The Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area (H6) at Flagler Beach is a full-facility recreation area, featuring the gamut of water activities that make an extraordinary day at the beach. There are shaded pavilions for picnic lunches, bike paths and launches for canoes and kayaks (boat and bike rentals available on-site). Short interpretive trails through coastal hammock offer stunning views and the chance to spot wildlife such as otters, bobcats, gopher tortoise and alligators. In warmer months, look out for manatees and dolphins in the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal and winter months delight watching passing right whales. The park is also a great spot for tent or RV Camping. Note there is a per vehicle fee that requires exact change.
Flagler Beach is another nice spot for some swimming, surfing, beachcombing and strolling. Just off FL-A1A, it’s hard to not be drawn in by the inviting water and picturesque Flagler Pier. There is a small charge for fishing or walking on the pier. The beach is free.
A stop at North Peninsula State Park (H7) rewards with 2.5 miles of reddish-brown sandy beach due to the crushed and worn coquina shells. Located on The Great Florida Birding Trail and along the Atlantic Flyway, you’ll find many species of birds including osprey, great blue heron, cardinals, woodpeckers and the rare Florida scrub jay. It is also Loggerhead sea turtle territory, and in fall, many people gather to watch, marvel at and track the nesting habits of the turtles — from a safe distance of course. Take part in the wide variety of nature programs and activities. The park is free to enter.
The drive continues passing small beach communities such as Ormond-By-The-Sea, Ormond Beach, and Holly Hill before officially ending in Daytona Beach.
Daytona Beach (A7) is the quintessential beach town. From the historic Daytona Beach Boardwalk and Pier, souvenir shops, vendors for everything you need for a day on the beach, to food aplenty, museums, attractions and lodging, you’ll find something for everyone and more.
Hankering to explore more of the alluring Florida coast? Explore the Indian River Lagoon.