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The A1A Alternative: Stepping off the Interstate

By Robert Filla

Jacksonville To Daytona Beach, Fla.—When asked about my normal ride route from Houston to Daytona for Bike Week, my answer is often taken as a smart-ass reply. “Just jump on I-10 heading east, ride for 900 miles and then… take a right for another 100 down I-95.” Unfortunately, as flippant as that response might seem, due to press cycles and deadline restrictions, I often spend little time exploring side roads and end up constrained instead to a thousand miles of Interstate travel. But I learned last year of a great alternative.

Coastal highway A1A provides plenty of opportunities to pull over and take a stroll in the sand or a dip in the ocean

Coastal highway A1A provides plenty of opportunities to pull over and take a stroll in the sand or a dip in the ocean

While I’m greatly appreciative of the U.S. Interstate system, if you own a bike you know there is more to riding than covering expansive concrete dotted with billboards. And Florida’s A1A offers a wonderful respite to jamming south from Jacksonville on I-95 packed with trailers and RVs eager to experience the Bike Week madhouse. Last spring I flew into Jacksonville and then took a cab to the Adamec Harley-Davidson Baymeadows location south of the metroplex. Originally based in New Jersey, this superb dealership was founded in 1931 by 21-year-old George Adamec for a $500 investment. George and his wife Julia were enthusiastic supporters of the Bar & Shield brand (Julia won a trophy for her riding skills at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York) and, after eventually succumbing to the lure of year-round riding, relocated the business to Florida. There are now three full dealerships in the Jacksonville area and a fourth retail outlet in St. Augustine. Opening in 2006, the Baymeadows location is the newest and largest of the dealerships with 65,000-plus sq. ft. They work closely with the community and their customers offering such niceties as the Adamec Advantage Rewards Program and their Military Storage service where bikes owned by deployed military personnel are garaged and maintained for free by Adamec until the owners return. The banner above the Military Storage bikes proudly declares “Protecting Their Dreams While They Protect Ours.” The Baymeadows shop also has a very active H.O.G. chapter and an excellent fleet of rental bikes. And that’s where I was headed.

The original Adamec dealership in New Jersey in 1948

The original Adamec dealership in New Jersey in 1948

Soon I was headed out the doors aboard a nicely-equipped 2015 Street Glide. Adamec is conveniently located along I-95, but instead of heading south towards Daytona, I backtracked a short distance north along the Interstate, taking a right on Hwy 202 (J. Turner Butler Boulevard). This short section has its share of congestion but in short order, I hit A1A, took a right and headed south. This is Ponte Vedra Beach and, although you are not riding along the shoreline, it is usually within sight as you glide through luxury beach home developments. But soon you are sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and the Guana River on a narrow sliver of land, the Coastal Highway with its salty serenity is a world away from the I-95 madness that runs parallel to A1A just a few miles distant. Soon the Guana River ends as it blends into the Tolomato River, part of the Intracoastal Waterway system. As you enter the Vilano Beach area, one restaurant is well worth the stop, Cap’s on the Water. They offer the finest in local seafood prepared with a Southern flair and an outdoor deck with fantastic waterfront views. Voted “Best Outdoor Dining” on numerous occasions, I can attest to the quality of their pan-seared grouper—Florida dining at its best.

Overhead view of the 65,000-plus sq. ft. Baymeadows Adamec location

Overhead view of the 65,000-plus sq. ft. Baymeadows Adamec location

Although this route from Jacksonville to Daytona Beach is only about 100 miles, you’re going to want to make an early start to the day. That’s because halfway through the ride you encounter the oldest city in America, St. Augustine. Along with having the distinction of being the oldest continuously-occupied European-established settlement in the nation (1565), it is also one of the most charming and, as such, it’s quite easy to spend an entire day visiting. St. Augustine was originally established as a Spanish military outpost and the Castillo de San Marcos remains the oldest fort in the United States, taking a quarter of a century to complete. The old fort remains one of the most visited sites in St. Augustine. The city served as the state capital until 1824. Another very popular attraction is the ol’ watering hole, the Ponce De Leon Fountain of Youth. Located in the heart of St. Augustine, the Fountain of Youth is Florida’s oldest attraction and open to the public for tours. And although I thought the $15 admission a bit steep, one swig of that magic water and I felt younger for the rest of Bike Week.

For $2.25 you can even buy a bottle to take home

For $2.25 you can even buy a bottle to take home

The city’s historic district is anchored by St. George Street, which is lined with historic residences from various periods. St. George Street then leads to the Bridge of Lions that crosses the Matanzas Bay. The Bridge of Lions is stunning; a double-leaf bascule bridge guarded by a pair of Medici lions made of marble. Several tall-mast ships were berthed in the bay alongside the bridge the day of my visit making for a stellar photo opportunity. (In 2010 the Bridge of Lions was named fourth in the nation’s top 10 bridges by Roads & Bridges magazine.) And then there is the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, Flagler College and even the very first permanent Ripley’s Believe Or Not attraction housed in a beautiful historic castle.

The Bridge of Lions features Medici marble lions

The Bridge of Lions features Medici marble lions

St. Augustine seems to be a perpetual beehive of activity, with thousands of camera-laden tourists peddling rental rickshaws, plenty of traffic and parking at a premium. But the historic significance of this city outweighs any hassle (plus getting around on a motorcycle eases the congestion problem greatly).

The St. Augustine Lighthouse just south of the city stands guard over the bay

The St. Augustine Lighthouse just south of the city stands guard over the bay

Heading across the Bridge of Lions, A1A continues onto Anastasia Island—and the ride just gets better as I discover the St. Augustine Lighthouse. But soon the bustle gives way once again to the serenity of the coast as you cruise through Butler Beach, Crescent Beach, Beverly and Flagler Beach. All too soon I arrived at my destination. And although the journey south had taken a major part of the day, I was more refreshed than any ride down that damn Interstate—and a lot younger too.

Although this was my destination, the ride down made arriving much sweeter

Although this was my destination, the ride down made arriving much sweeter

Sources

Adamec Harley-Davidson

8909 Baymeadows Road,

Jacksonville, FL

www.adamecharley.com

904.493.1931

Cap’s on the Water

4325 Myrtle Street

St. Augustine, FL

www.capsonthewater.com

904.824.8794

St. Augustine, Florida

www.oldcity.com

Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth

11 Magnolia Ave

St. Augustine, FL

www.fountainofyouth.com

904.829.3168

Ripley’s Believe It Or Not

19 San Marcos Ave

St. Augustine, FL

904.824.1606

www.ripleys.com/staugustine

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