Biker Road Trips: A1A All the Way
With bike week just around the corner, bikers from all over the country are pulling their motorcycles out of winter storage and cleaning up their leathers in anticipation of a motorcycle rally like no other. While Daytona is definitely the place to be the week of March 5th, Florida offers some great stretches of road through pristine landscapes to some great biker destinations.
About an hour and a half north of Daytona on A1A lies the bustling beach community of Jacksonville Beach, which is where we will meet for the start of our road trip- because, well, that's where I'm from! On any given day you'll find bikes and bikers parked and hanging out at the Jax Beach Pier parking lot. Just across the street is the famed biker bar Mango's, a great place for bikers to meet, have some good home cooking and shoot some pool. Summer weekends will generally find some heavy metal band performing outside on the covered deck. So put on your best leather motorcycle jacket and come on out to Mango's to start our first north Florida road trip.
Our first day trip will start from Jax Beach and head north on A1A to Fernandina Beach, a quaint little island town with its own unique attitude. If you follow A1A north, after bearing left at Mayport Naval Station, you will be cruising through the marshlands at the mouth of the St. Johns River and come to a dead end at the ferry in Mayport Village. A traditional fishing village, this is where most of north Florida gets their seafood. Shrimp boats, party boats, and deep sea charters line the docks, and you can even take a gambling cruise from here. If you're hungry, there's an old wooden shack sitting on the water that serves some of the best seafood available. Singletons is not much to look at, but it's been there forever and people drive for miles to sit on the water enjoying the freshest of Florida seafood, while watching the pelicans scrounge for theirs.
Taking the ferry across the river, you'll once again pick up A1A heading north. To your right you'll soon see a huge barren sandbar that was formed by the northern jetties at the mouth of the St. Johns. On the eastern edge are the jetties, the Atlantic Ocean, and a beach that is packed with babes of all shapes and sizes. The western side has a lagoon and the Fort George River inlet. A very wide beach at low tide, vehicles have been swallowed up and swept away by the Atlantic because of people parking just a little too close to the water, and taking a walk in the dunes. A great place for jet skiing, swimming, fishing and surfing, Huguenot Park also has a campground with primitive and RV camp sites and showers.
For the next several miles, you will be cruising through some of the most pristine and unspoiled wetlands in Florida. Island hopping through little and big Talbot Islands and the Timacuan Preserve, this coastal area is one of the few in Florida untouched by development, and will theoretically remain that way. Flora and Fauna abound, and nature lovers flock to the area in kayaks and flatboats to navigate the waterways in search of trout and redfish.
Heading across the Nassau Sound Bridge to Florida's northern most barrier island, the developments once again start to pop up. World renowned resort Amelia Island Plantation has vast acreages of condos, single family houses, an Inn rivaled by none, and a huge convention center that draws business from all over the world. A community within itself, the Plantation strives, and has done a good job, of preserving the natural habitat.
Not to be outdone, the Ritz Carlton is just a few miles north and is also a magnet for the well to do, with a golf course and all the pampering the Ritz is known for!
Almost there, we take A1A into downtown Fernandina Beach. An old fishing village like Mayport, Fernandina is much larger and has many unique and historical buildings. The waterfront is speckled with shrimp boats and deep sea charters, and Brent's is the restaurant on the docks. Fernandina Beach also hosts an annual shrimp festival on the first weekend in May.
Ending our motorcycle excursion from Jacksonville Beach (about an hour non stop), our last stop is a very popular watering hole for bikers and locals alike. The Palace Saloon has been there since 1878, and although it burned in 1999, it has been restored to its original 18th century wooden décor. More of a bar than a restaurant, this is where you get to know the locals, many of which are in the hospitality industry and definitely know how to party hardy! With live bands, dancing, flirting and drinking, the Palace Saloon is the place to party in Fernandina Beach!
In my next road trip article we'll head south on A1A to our nations oldest city. Founded by Ponce de Leon in 1513 and home of the fountain of youth, this place is just a tiny little drinking town with a fishing problem!