Tag Archives: A1A

Hit the road in Florida this summer

Summer should be special. The summer before I entered third grade, we were new Floridians and my mom found a job before my dad, so he had the task of watching me for the summer. Every day (or so it seems in my memories, but in reality I suspect he threw a job interview or two in there) my dad and I would get in the car and head out for parts unknown. I have fantastic memories of root beer at Dunedin’s Dogs ‘n’ Suds (RIP), Anna Maria Island before all the houses, and the wilderness of Pasco County (yeah, I might be showing my age here).

As grownups, it’s easy to lose the magic of summertime. My dad and I still take road trips on occasion — most recently Sanibel — but we could do it more. And so could you. This summer, let’s bring back the road trip. Earn your road trip badge this summer. You may need to use that stockpile of personal days for some, but like I said: Summer should be special. So grab your swimsuit and a cooler filled with beer, sandwiches and the odd apple, and hit the road.


Swim with a sea lion in the Florida Keys. No, they aren’t native to the region. Theater of the Sea’s resident sea lion, Mimi, is a bit of a flirt (no matter how she begs, don’t kiss her — she has wicked fish breath). You can swim with dolphin anywhere (and really, dolphin are the assholes of the marine mammal kingdom, so don’t) but where else can you swim with an aging sea lion who wants to romance you? Florida, that’s where. theaterofthesea.com.

Eat oysters in Apalachicola. Florida oysters taste like salted orgasms, and nowhere are they more intense than Apalachicola. Head to Boss Oyster (sit on the water) or Up the Creek Raw Bar (order the somewhat-local Pensacola Porter) and suck ‘em down. Crackers? They’re for sissies. When you’re done, head to Apalachicola Chocolate Company for your reward: dark chocolate made with Tupelo honey. saltyflorida.com.

Pour one out for the homies at Islamorada’s 1935 Hurricane Memorial. The strongest hurricane to ever make landfall in the US  decimated the Keys, killing — among others — a trainload of WWI veterans working on the Overseas Railroad. A limestone monument — with cremains of many victims — stands at mile marker 81. While you’re there, stop at the Keys History and Discovery Center (MM88) and realize the Florida Keys offer more than Jimmy Buffett and the Duval Crawl. keysdiscovery.com.

View the state stem to stern on A1A. Forget what you think you know about this road (spring break, for starters): Start in Fernandina and end in South Beach and you’ll see every sort of Florida you might imagine, plus a few you can’t. Palm and pine fringed roads, a town that started as travel trailers, and some of the best surfing in Florida. scenica1a.org

Sun yourself on Grayton Beach State Park. Travel writers describe the sand along 30A as “sugar” but it’s too light and fluffy for that. Is Bisquick sand a thing? It is up here. Late summer sees fewer crowds, and if you plan ahead you can probably grab one of the well-appointed cabins at the park ($110/night, and they sleep six). floridastateparks.org.


Snorkel wrecks and reefs in West Palm Beach. The shallows off the coast tripped up many a pirate and aquatic pioneer, leaving behind a watery wealth of gold and treasure. The wrecks offshore evolved into Florida’s first artificial reefs where you’ll spy a bevy of sponges and corals, and the reef line off the coast shelters some majestic watery wildlife (including Florida’s largest sea turtle population). visitpalmbeach.com.

Fish on at Uncle Joe’s Fish Camp near Lake Okeechobee. Fish camps dish up a special type of Florida, figuratively and literally miles away from Disney and the beaches. Showers are optional; fishing and beer are not. Bring a passion for hawg fishing, because it’s all about the bass by the Big O. 863-528-0775.

Shoot the rapids at Big Shoals State Park. Yes, we have rapids. Here’s the thing: They disappear.  When the Suwannee River is between 59 and 61 feet above mean sea level, we get Class III rapids. Any other time, this White Springs adventure is a smooth paddle or a frustrating portage. To add to the fun, it’s a one-mile hike to put-in. floridastateparks.org.


Paddle the Chassohowitzka. See it through photographer Benjamin Dimmitt’s eyes (read Caitlin Albritton’s review), then head to this spring-fed river that affords breathtaking vistas, although saltwater intrusion threatene life around the river. Paddle it before Swiftmud’s irresponsible permitting practices ruin it for all of us. paddleflorida.net.

Rejoice in one town’s ability to take failure on the chin and reinvent itself in Cedar Key. Henry Plant put his railroad in Tampa, not Cedar Key, rendering theirs obsolete. That killed the shipping, which killed the pencil industry. Tongers and spongers overfished and killed that economy. Cedar Key rose to the challenge by learning to grow clams. Eat ‘em raw, steamed, or grilled. Think of them as the taste of Florida. visitcedarkey.com.

Have a road trip you want to share? Email me. This article appeared in Creative Loafing’s 2016 Summer Guide (May 26, 2016), but I wanted to share it here because we all need a good road trip.

Detours & Diversions: Key West Before Duval

Key West WPA“Key West was to be made the American winter resort of the tropics.”
– From the 1941 Works Progress Administration’s Key West
WHAT: To the uninitiated, Key West is just around the corner from anywhere in Florida. In reality, driving from Pensacola to Key West will take only seven fewer minutes than driving from Pensacola to Chicago. Of course, Key West is the warmer of the two places, and perhaps decidedly more quirky. The island, a seven-and-a-half square mile collection of roughly 25,000 residents, has a reputation for odd. More than one new Gulfport resident likens the town to Key West.
Conch RepublicKey West, if you believe the stories, is filled with people who moved south to drop out. It’s a collection of extremes. In 1982 the federal government mounted a roadblock on US 1 to stop illegal aliens from entering the country. Since the roadblock was north of Key West, this meant Conchs (Key West residents) had to prove their citizenship to leave the island. In protest, they seceded from the United States, then immediately surrendered and demanded reparations.
Key West, this story seems to prove, is nothing like the rest of the United States. It’s even the cheeky cousin of mainland Florida, no slouch itself when it comes to wacky headlines. Arts of all sorts abound; Hemingway had a home here; Winslow Homer painted here. Countless artists across an abundance of mediums live and work in Key West. However, Key Weird (as some call it) attracts the arts community not by chance or the appeal of a remote bohemian community; Key West attracts artists because during the Great Depression, the federal government plugged money into the arts in Key West. Arts, and the tourists their work attracted, would save the key from economic death.
WHY: In the 1830s, Key West was the wealthiest city in the United States, with professional wreckers (also called pirates) earning a good living. By 1934, situations changed and Key West was bankrupt. This wasn’t a “paper” bankruptcy: the city had no money to pay its employees. When the city asked the federal government for help during the Great Depression, 80% of its residents already received federal aid. Its pleas were specific: Please send money so we can tell the world how great we are. The plan was to make the city a tourist destination on par with Bermuda and Nassau.
FERA workerThe Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) imported artists to create works of art that would promote Key West as a tourist destination. Murals, advertising, guidebook illustrations and postcards resulted from this glut of artists. Citizens volunteered over two million man-hours to clean streets, develop beaches, create sanitation systems, and renovate and redecorate houses. Across the nation, city planners lauded this bold community planning experiment. Talent the government could not import, it taught. Residents on the government dole took classes in how to make art, which consisted of everything from drawings to ashtrays.
WHO: Key West is the Monroe County seat. Monroe includes parts of Everglades National Park, Big Cypress Preserve, the Dry Tortugas and the entire chain of limestone islands curving around the tip of mainland Florida.
WHEREMM0, at the end of US 1.

Some people just love to be right.
Some people just love to be right.

BEST part: The cemetery with the sense of humor. Stroll through the headstones (bring plenty of water) and find epitaphs like “Just resting my eyes,” and “I told you I was sick.”

WORST part: In the case of what FERA and 1930s Key West officials hoped to accomplish, Duval Street remains the prime example of getting what you wish for: tourists.
FUN fact: During prohibition, some homes used the negative space in the gingerbread trim to advertise guns or booze for sale. Look for homes with guns or liquor bottles hidden in second-story trim.
MAGIC Question: Key West isn’t cheap. Even the cheapest hotels cost a couple of hundred dollars a night. Parking costs about $14 a day. Just off-island, try the Sugarloaf KOA or the Sugarloaf Lodge.