Although by most other standards the Florida weather would still be seen as warm, the beaches of Northern Florida are now mostly deserted. For that reason, the Atlantic coast of Florida is well worth a visit. With only two weeks to go before the Asian Festival, Mr. B. and I decided to take a short tour of the A1A south from St. Augustine Beach down to the Washington Oaks Gardens State Park in Palm Coast. We would attempt to cram as much as possible into one day, overlooking the fact that this is usually an error. We live 80 miles from the Atlantic edge of the state and we are often heard to utter the plaint of the landlocked: Florida has beautiful beaches and we spend approximately 2.7 days annually on the water.
We paid the admission to Anastasia State Park and lumbered southwards down the sand. The wind battered what few beach umbrellas were still struggling along in October. So few people were on the beach that I expected those that were would be wearing sweaters, huddled up against the 84 F chill. A shrimp boat eased off in the distance and the surf pulled back from the shore. We walked maybe a hundred yards and then, realizing that if you’ve seen one beach photo you’ve mostly seen them all, we returned to the car and sought out a hiking trail near the park campground. This was a .7-mile loop over some ancient dunes in an area known for gopher tortoises and indigo snakes. I loped off in the lead, something that Mr. B. was loath to remark upon in case I suddenly stopped and said, What? I’m in the lead? No way. I’m going back to the car at once.
The little trail dumped us out somewhere other than where we had parked, so we backed up into the hammock and felt our way out. We then drove to St. Augustine Beach, which is like a very miniaturized version of Daytona, complete with one of those water fountain features that admonishes you not to use it if you have diarrhea. I am not sure that this matters much, because over the course of the summer I have routinely seen mothers dispose of diapers in and around other water features, like my apartment complex pool. I figure you are going to come into contact with all manner of things anyway, so swim or splash at your own risk. Sharks, stinging nettles, alligators, soggy diapers–what’s the difference? They’re all hazardous to your health.
We also visited the Castillo de San Marcos in downtown St. Augustine. The castle is the oldest masonry fort in the United States. It is in the traditional shape of a star and it is built of coquina, the sedimentary rock common to the Atlantic coast of the state. The fort, built in the late 17th century, used to guard the city from invasion; now it attracts the same in the form of the tourists who crawl all over it. As with many other historic attractions in the Sunshine State, I noticed the true “enter at your own risk” spirit well at play in the Castillo. Once you climbed to the top, there was nothing to stop the curious from leaning too far over a cannon and plummeting to the ground below. There was a small parental advisory that cautioned folks to keep kids nearby, but how many times have you seen exactly the opposite?
I made note of two things: One, the people of the 17th century were smaller than we are. I noticed this as I ducked to get inside a gun turret at the corner of the fort. I am just under five foot ten with my platform flip-flops on. Had I a fancy Spanish military helmet, I’d have whacked my head.
Two, the US Parks Service does a tremendous job of making these properties accessible to the handicapped. I noticed a kid of about 11 or 12, both legs missing below the knees, easily enjoying the fort’s many exhibits. If you ever feel cranky about where your tax dollars go, consider that. Or maybe make a donation to the park closest to you.
After the fort, we drove to St. Augustine Beach. The high tide had cut the beach back to the point that there was very little sand; unlike at Anastasia there was nowhere to walk. I took a few snaps of people who looked as if they were having the time of their lives and then we got back in the car and headed to Crescent Beach.
Where else on a beautiful, warm, and sunny day are you going to get miles of beaches mostly to yourself? Florida, that’s where! It is the state’s best-kept secret.
There is a human tendency to cluster. These two couples were not together, yet ended up sitting five feet apart. Perhaps they shared their Good & Plenty with each other.
Rip currents are an ever-present danger in the Atlantic. Sharks are also present and accounted for, often in shallow water.
Water temperature still warm enough to attract bathers, like this guy whose shorts advertise the OP–Ocean Pacific.
Sometimes any activity more than just standing and letting waves break over you is too much. You can get away with this in the ocean, but in a pool it just makes you look as if you need an inflatable jellyfish.
I used to do this on those low-tech styrofoam boards they had in the sixties. Eventually, they’d crumble and appear as if bitten by a shark, but they were still plenty useable.
Dueling shorebirds. These two faced off repeatedly, before running away from the oncoming surf.
Day of the Locust
Castillo de San Marcos. This was my fourth time in St. Augustine and only the first time I visited the castillo.
When I was a kid, they didn’t have this kind of water attraction. I’m sure they are based on the great childhood need to jump into a fountain, but they don’t look half as fun.