Scenic Highway A1A Ocean Islands Trail: Preserving History
By: Dalia Colon
Length: 40 miles.
How to get around: Car or bicycle.
Best time to visit: It’s hard to beat northeast Florida in December, with the Amelia Island Holiday Home Tour, Deck the Chairs lighted sculptural exhibit in Jacksonville Beach and pleasantly mild temperatures daily.
Fun fact: A1A Ocean Islands Trail is Florida’s newest scenic byway, designated in July 2016.
From Amelia Island's Victorian B&Bs to the thriving craft beer scene of Jacksonville Beach, this stretch of oceanfront byway has long been a favorite among vacationers.
But beneath all that eye candy is an area steeped in history.
We believe that the crown jewel… is the St. Johns River Ferry," said Chelly Schembera, vice president of the A1A Oceans Trail corridor advisory group. Once on the chopping block, this passenger and car ferry connects the historic village of Mayport to lush Fort George Island—just as it has done since 1949.
Other historic sites include Talbot Island State Parks preserving Florida's Native American and Civil War history, and American Beach—a haven for African American travelers during segregation.
A lot’s changed since those days, but the area’s beauty and wildlife remain. Fish off the pier at Fort Clinch State Park, visit the animals at BEAKS bird sanctuary or hop into a kayak at Huguenot Memorial Park.
The important thing is just to get out there.
“When you hop on the scenic highway… it’s therapy,” said Sarah Pelican, co-chair of the A1A Oceans Trail corridor advisory group. “It’s like the weight of the world is immediately lifted off your shoulder.”
Photos by Darron Dean for VISIT FLORIDA