Tail of the Dragon recently completed the Florida A1A trip that we started back in October of 2005. Hurricane Wilma had just laid waste to south Florida and we only got as far south as Jensen Beach before seeing extensive damages. We have been trying to reschedule this trip for two years and finally made it to Key West in November 2007. This leg will run from south to north and meet-up where we left off in 2005 at Jensen Beach.
A1A is a very unique Florida State Roadway with its northernmost terminus at 9th Street and Atlantic Avenue in Fernandina Beach (just 2.7 miles south of the Georgia line). It hops and skips 333 miles (by my calculations) mostly along coastal islands passing by the Southern Most Point in the US just a few blocks before ending at Whitehead Street and Truman Avenue in Key West. First designated as SR 1 in 1945 it was changed to its current status in 1946 to avoid confusion with US 1. Some believe the designation stands for “Atlantic 1 Alternate”, but there is a St. Petersburg road A19A which is located on the Gulf.
A1A has undergone some changes over the years including the addition of the Key West section and relocation of the Fort Lauderdale access southward from Las Olas (FL 842) to SE 17th Street. Oddly it does not include the 10 miles of beach road (SR 707) from Jupiter to Hobe Sound.
There are four sections of A1A designated as “County Roads” for a total length of 32.7 miles. These are as follows: Palm Beach County (6.2 miles); Martin County (15.9 miles); Volusia County (7.2 miles); and St. Johns County (3.4 miles).
RUSH TO KEY WEST – Day One
We like to make our trips in the off seasons to avoid the crowds, so we thought the weekend after Thanksgiving might be a good time. We trailered to Port St. Lucie and then made a mad dash down I-95 early Sunday morning riding two-up on the old CapoNorde. We dodged a typical morning coastal shower which is common in south Florida and saw nothing but clear skies from West Palm Beach south.
The traffic was light and we were glad for that as we had to negotiate construction in West Palm at 70 mph. Traffic became heavier as we neared Ft. Lauderdale, but it was not so bad that Nancy had to close her eyes. She is not too keen on this highspeed Interstate travel. I ride extremely defensive constantly watching my mirrors, lining up to see ahead of the vehicle in front of me, darting around trucks and suspiciously incompetent drivers. My head is in constant motion and the old beaner is processing as fast as it can.
We jumped off the Interstate in Miami at Calle Ocho ( SW 8th Street ) for an early lunch at one of our favorite restaurants. It is unclear why this Cuban restaurant is called Versailles , a French city near Paris , but the food is definitely from the islands. We were disappointed that we were too early for black beans and rice, so we had to settle for a tasty Cuban sandwich and coffee. This treat has slices of ham and roasted pork, cheese and pickle on Cuban bread. It is grilled on a sandwich press just enough to steam the pickle and melt the cheese. Cuban coffee is perfect to get your motorcycle rolling through the Interstate traffic. Nancy and I both were going about 100 mph after sipping on a couple of these sweet, thick expressos.
Back on the road we took the Turnpike all the way to the end at Homestead rather than fight the stop and go traffic on US 1. Florida has become almost as bad as New York with toll booths wanting your money. Take a handful of bills that you can easily get to when you stop. Stall too long and you have horns blaring behind you. On a bike you’ll likely pay $15 in tolls along the entire Turnpike from Wildwood to Homestead .
From Homestead we took US 1 south. The first 15 or so miles was about as exciting as watching trees grow. Straight, no scenery, and bumper to bumper traffic are not our cup of tea. At least everyone was moving at 55 mph and there are no traffic lights. One wonders why there are so many ubiquitous “Drive Safely” markers, Florida ’s way of denoting deaths along the highway. Florida ’s Turnpike holds the record for these perverse warnings with one nearly every mile or so it seems.
As we neared the northern most island of Key Largo the scenery improved. There is some new road construction going on here so traffic might be heavy at times. We also noted several Florida Troopers with radar in this area ….. wonder if THP told them to watch for us?
A few miles down the road a Florida Highway Patrol car came up behind us with sirens blaring. For a moment I thought they had recognized me and were in pursuit. Another couple of miles we came to the accident. It was a fatality because there was body covered with a sheet in the middle of the roadway. Traffic was backing-up as it was rerouted along a side road. Luckily we passed-by soon enough to get through without much of a delay. We met stopped traffic coming at us for the next ten miles. One of the negative points for the Overseas Highway is there are no other routes to bypass such traffic jams.
We passed over a bridge onto Islamorada and saw several people kitesurfing in the brisk wind. A large crowd of bikers and tourists were perched on the open deck of the Whale Harbor Restaurant and Mirina watching the action. We wanted to stop for a brew, but still had more than 80 miles to our destination.
We zipped through the rest of the Keys, some 100 miles planning to begin our tour on the way back home. We had to slow a bit crossing Big Pine Key which is a protected area for the endangered Key Deer which grow to only 30 inches tall.
We had reservations at the Southernmost Point Guest House just half a block from the famed Southernmost Point in the Continental United States. The second floor efficiency at the Southernmost Point Guest House was perfect for us offering a somewhat private balcony overlooking the butterfly exposition next door. The stove and refrigerator came in handy for our coffee/tea and beer.
We unloaded and took a short ride to the grocery for some snacks and beer. This was the first time we had ever ridden without our helmets. It looked fairly safe as traffic moved at a bustling 25 mph around town and most of the vehicles were scooters. It did feel refreshing, but we vowed not to go helmetless on the open road no matter how good it might feel.
After a couple of brews we headed down Duval Street to find a place for some fresh seafood. Now we don’t eat seafood unless we are near the beach. Something is just not right eating seafood in the mountains. And we are spoiled from living in south Florida many years ago. We took our chances on Crabby Dicks mainly because it was on the second floor with tables overlooking the action on Duval Street . And there is just about always action here. Directly across the street a bartender at a streetside open bar was belting out a tune and he was “out of tune”. We couldn’t quite determine if it was a male or female, but all of the clientele were guys.
As a sidelight, Duval Street is touted as the longest street in America . It is only 13 blocks long, but stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean . Key West itself is closer to Cuba than Miami (98 miles).
Nancy had lobster while I chose the fried snapper. Both were excellent. The whole snapper filet was done to perfection, crispy outside, moist and tender inside. And it was really fresh. Nancy ’s salad and boiled potatoes were good, but my coleslaw was only so-so. We enjoyed our meal as scooters darted the street and bicyclists dodged the scooters, all to the music of the he/she across the way.
We were too late to see the sunset show at Mallory Square , but we were here for three days so we could catch it on another night. As we strolled back to the room we were entertained by the artwork in various windows and the obscene T-shirts in nearly every store. A couple of women of the night sitting on their front porch tried to lure me into their den in iniquity but Nancy had a firm grip on my arm.
TOTAL DISTANCE: 285 miles
TOTAL TIME: 8 hours, including a couple of stops
HIGHLIGHTS: Riding along Calle Ocho (8th Street) in Miami and seeing/hearing the Latin influences and smelling the Cuban cooking.
Lunch and Cuban coffee at Versailles
Scenic views along the Overseas Highway, US 1 in the Keys
Arriving in Key West and taking a sceic tour as the sun set
Dinner at Crabby Joes with a couple of brews
Watching the nightlife on Duval Street as we chilled
On Monday we were awakened by roosters crowing. I had forgotten that Key West is renowned for the feral chickens that inhabit the island. And there are not just a few. Nancy went for a morning run and I took a morning walk. There were chickens in every block, chickens on the roofs, chickens in the open air restaurants, chickens on the courthouse lawn, chickens scratching in dumpsters and even one rooster crowing at his reflection at the front door of a bank. Oddly the roosters outnumber the hens by about ten to one. There are more chickens in Key West than there are in western North Carolina !! Supposedly they were introduced by sailors, then used are revered rather than hated. This brought back memories of the chickens we had when we first moved to North Carolina . We’d still have them if the dogs didn’t want to eat them.
That morning we played tourist and visited the Hemingway House. This was quite the mansion for Key West in the 1920s even without the $20,000 swimming pool which adjusted for inflation would be $250,000 today. Hemingway supposedly placed a penny in the wet concrete saying “here, you might as well take the last penny.” The grounds arelushly tropical and cats abound, many with six toes. These are descendants of a cat left by a Hemingway guest. The felines are well cared for, given popular names like Frank Sinatra, and buried in the cat cemetery on the property.
We then toured the Key West Lighthouse & Keeper’s Quarters Museum across the street. We climbed the 90 foot spiral staircase to get a bird’s eye view of Key West . Adjacent to the lighthouse is the Keeper’s Quarters with relics dating from the 1800s.
Back on the streets we encountered more roosters and a unique business, Kavanaugh’s Pub. On the gate was a sign that read CLOTHING OPTIONAL. Too bad the GONE FISHING sign was hangingon the gate. We’d be too embarrassed to take part in such exhibitions anyway.
Just down the street was an abandoned house that appeared ready to fall in. There is a rate of growth ordinance which makes new construction difficult in the Keys. We didn’t see much new construction anywhere. One would think that all existing buildings would be of great value under those circumstances.
Across the street is the lighthouse and Lighthouse Keeper’s Museum. We climbed the winding stairs for a great view of the island, harbor, and Hemingway’s property. The house itself has many relics from the past 200 years of keepers.
The trees of Key West are a tourist attraction in themselves. This subtropical climate is perfect for all kinds of palms which abound naturally. There are huge banyan trees with sinews hanging from the limbs and reaching the earth to form more trunks. The kapok tree on Whitehall is interesting, but much smaller than one on the Lake Trail in Palm Beach. Thin palm trees twisted by the winds of many storms reach at strange angles for the sky. Our bed and breakfast yard was nearly overgrown with blooming vines, coconut trees, and banana trees teeming with fruit. And in addition to the roosters the accommodations hosted wild rabbits, large lizards, butterflies, several cats, and a couple of caged cockatiels.
We decided to eat lunch at the El Meson de Pepe Cuban Restaurant at Mallory Square . We ordered a sampler with rice, black beans, yucca and plantain. It was pricey, but good. An appetizer of bread with two spicy dips was excellent. A couple of strong Cuban coffees had us raring to go.
We had planned to take one of the snorkeling trips, but the weather was getting pretty bad with gusty winds. We heard that one boat had cancelled its trips for the days and another said that the morning trip had been rough and the afternoon one would be worse. We decided it might be better to take a motorcycle tour.
Back on two wheels we found the airport where we were scheduled to take a seaplane to Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas in the morning. We also found the mechanical rooster honoring the many fowl on the island. We also found another six pack of beer for the evening.
Having had such a good dinner at Crabby Dicks the night before we returned for fried snapper on Monday night. Must have been a different chef because the fish was over done. It was still good and we enjoyed the street show once again.
Back at the B and B we took a plunge in the large hot pool and then turned in. We had an early flight to the Dry Tortugas at 7:30 am in the morning.
SUMMARY: Less than 10 miles of riding today
TOTAL DISTANCE: 10 miles riding, 10 miles walking
TOTAL TIME: Dawn to night.
HIGHLIGHTS: Not having to ride for another 250 plus miles
Playing the tourist and walking the back roads
Good seafood for dinner
A hot dip in the pool to soothe the aches
We had a quick breakfast of fruit and coffee in the morning before heading to the airport in a slight drizzle. We hoped the rain wouldn’t spoil the morning trip, but once you book you have to go or lose you money. The six seater seaplane looked fairly new and safe. I’m not keen on flying, but small planes are no big problem. There was the pilot, Nancy and I, and another couple. We chose the early flight so we could have most of the time at the fort to ourselves.
After take-off the weather cleared and we headed west over beautiful green and blue waters passing over both inhabited and uninhabited islands at 500 feet. We were surprised that there wasn’t more boat traffic. The pilot took us over two ship wrecks, banking the plane steeply to give us a better view. After about 45 minutes we had a smooth landing on the water and taxied over to the sandy beach at Fort Jefferson.
The pilot said to meet back at the plane in two hours for the flight back to Key West . We spent about an hour on a self guided tour of the fort and then the next hour snorkeling on the shallow reef just to the south of the fort. We spotted lots of sea fans, sea urchins, sea grasses, and coral. There were lots of small fish and a couple of larger barracudas, snappers and grouper. Back on shore we walked the seawall and spotted several good size tarpon.
After climbing back into the plane the pilot powered off the sand, taxied out to the channel and then took off. This was our first flight in a seaplane and it was fun. We got more views of the ship wrecks on the way back and a great birds eye view of the Dry Tortugas Islands and Key West . Cost for this trip is $229 per adult , a $5 fee for the Fort, and a tip for the pilot (we gave him $20).
The weather had cleared so we walked down the street to a small Cuban restaurant at the corner of South Street and Simonton Street . I got a deluxe Cuban sandwich while Nancy opted for black beans, rice, and plantain. The sandwich was okay, but Nancy ’s food was first class and half the price of the lunch at El Meson de Pepe. The Cuban coffee was also better than expected.
We got back in tourist mode and visited Fort Taylor which dates to the Civil War. It is located on the southwestern tip of the island and used to be ¼ mile offshore. Channel dredging filled-in all the surrounding land as it is today. There is a beautiful beach and picnic area here also thanks to the dredging. This is a great place to watch the sunset away from the crowd at Mallory Square .
But this was our last chance to see the sunset show at Mallory Square . We arrived about 30 minutes before sunset and the docks were already alive with vendors, acrobats, and trained animals. Artists gather here selling everything from palm leaf hats to balloon animals. Nancy bought a unique wire dragon and was quite interested in a remarkable gymnast who belted-out 30 push-ups balanced in a handstand. There was also the mechanical man who appeared to be a statue standing next to his bicycle. When you put some money in his tin cup he would suddenly move in robot like motions and work on his bike.
Walking the nearby streets we happened on one of the parrot bars. There are several and I can’t recall the name of this one, but they had a talking macau out in front. Nancy keep trying to get him to say something, but he wasn’t in the mood after having to put-up with tourists all day.
On Duval Street we stopped and watched the local palm reader, Mahadeo. I have always wanted to see how accurate these psychics are so I had a reading. Surprisingly he was about 80% right in what he said about me and my past.
On the way to find dinner we made the obligatory stop for a beer at Sloppy Joes to honor Hemingway. We were in the mood for something different and the Old Town Mexican Café caught our eye. We had a great dolphin dish Mexican style in the quaint court yard.
Heading back to the B and B I was accosted by one of the female impersonators hawking passersby for their 9:00 drag show. Nancy wanted to hang around, but I was tired and we had a big day of riding coming so I declined. It looked interesting though with mental images of Birdcage and a gay Robin Williams flashing in my mind.
Key West has more activity per square inch than any place we have ever been. There is something for everyone packed into this 2 by 4 mile island. We really enjoyed the laid back atmosphere and absence of political correctness. This is an active community with a wide range of cultures and interests. This is a city that is alive. We are already planning a return to see what we missed. We forgot to visit the Key West Old Cemetery with stones reading I TOLD YOU I WAS SICK, GOOD CITIZEN FOR 65 OF HIS 108 YEARS, DEVOTTED FAN OF JULIO IGLESIUS and my favorite, AT LEAST I KNOW WHERE HE’S SLEEPING TONIGHT.
SUMMARY: Just a ride to the airport and back
TOTAL DISTANCE: 3 miles riding, another 10 miles of walking
TOTAL TIME: Dawn to night.
HIGHLIGHTS: The flight to Fort Jefferson and snorkeling there
Touring Fort Taylor
Seeing the show and sunset at Mallory Square
Good seafood for dinner again !!!
A hot dip in the pool to soothe the aches
Wednesday morning we were on the road heading north. A1A actually begins (or ends) in Key West at Whitehead Street and Truman Avenue which is US 1. From there it angles southeastward to the Southernmost Point at Whitehead Street and South Street . It then turns northeastward and skirts the Atlantic shoreline before turning to the north and intersecting US 1. After this 5 mile section of A1A the next section is not for another 164 miles to the north at the intersection of US 41 and Collins Avenue on Miami Beach .
Riding up the Keys one almost gets tired of the nearly constant views of straight roadway/bridges, greenish/blue waters and tropical islands. Nancy and I were hoping for a curve … just one good sweeper. A group of fighters swooped up from the Naval Base as we passed seemingly giving us a military send-off as we headed up the Overseas Highway ( US 1).
We made a stop at the Seven Mile Bridge (actually 6.76 miles long) which was constructed in 1982 replacing the older railroad bridge built in 1912 and converted to car traffic after the 1935 hurricane. The old bridge is still there used as a fishing pier. It was partially blown-up in the movie True Lies. The Seven Mile Bridge marks the transition form the Lower Keys to the Middle Keys.
Our next stop was Channel 5 Bridge where I used to fish in the 1970s. This too has a new bridge much wider than the older. When we fished the bridges we would have to stand on the narrow 6 inch concrete ledge and balance against the crumbling concrete rail. We were always on the watch for trucks and buses in our lane that would sometime come so close that we’d have to lean out over the water to avoid their mirrors. We fished with live mullet or large plugs for tarpon up to 200 pounds or even more. It was quite a dangerous sport when you were fighting one of these monsters and traffic was coming. Just up the road we entered the Upper Keys at Lower Matecumbe .
My parents used to vacation in the Keys and it was legal to use lobster traps from the bridges. We’d return to the motel after a couple of hours fishing with huge red snappers and a dozen lobster. Times have changed …. the fish are not as plentiful and regulations are mind boggling.
We motored past Long Key State Park which looked like an excellent place to camp (mm 67). All of the sites are located directly on the waters of the Atlantic . Camping fees are $26 a night and you can make reservations on line.
We passed the now boarded-up Papa Joes Lounge and Restaurant on Tavernier. This used to be the best place to eat in the Keys and I once met Ted Williams there in the 70s. Wonder what happened?
We spotted the huge lobster at Plantation Key and stopped for a quick pict. It was getting to be lunch time as we entered Key Largo . We figured we had better stop before hitting the 20 miles of no-mans land on the way to Homestead . A big sign for fresh fish caught our eye and we stopped at the Fish House which looked to be fairly busy with locals, usually a good sign. We both ordered fried grouper with black beans and rice. It was terrible. The fish was tough, the beans and rice blah. The fish was not fresh and it was overdone to the point of being hard to chew. Oh well, at least this was the first bad meal of the trip.
Heading up US 1 we encountered the Florida Highway Patrol once again shooting radar where the construction began. Thankfully they didn’t spot us.
We hit heavy traffic when we reached Homestead and it would get progressively worse. We had to stop at the Coral Castle . This is a small but amazing piece of local lore. The mostly open fort type structure was built over a 28 year period beginning in 1923 by a single man without the use of heavy machinery. He was 5 feet tall and weighed only 100 pounds but single handedly he constructed this American Stonehenge. Ed Leedskalnin carved more than 1,100 tons of coral from bedrock using only hand tools. Each single block of coral in the outer walls weigh in at 58 tons. One nine ton door swivels on a center mounted shaft and can be turned with the pressure from one finger. He arranged and placed the pieces with uncanny precision and skill. He was a very private person and no one ever witnessed him at work. Much of his labor was done at night by lantern light. His only mode of transportation was a bicycle which he rode 3.5 miles to get food and supplies. There is much more here to wonder at.
Back on the road we hit more traffic before turning onto Old Cutler Road . We passed a mobile TV set-up and a house lined with POLICE TAPE and realized it was the home of Washington Redskin’s defensive back Sean Taylor who had been shot and killed only a few days before. It reminded us on the dangers we might encounter in the city.
The scenery suddenly became much more interesting as we entered Coral Gables . The 100 foot tall Banyan trees with branches reaching the ground and forming ever larger trunks defy description here. The roadway is a virtual tunnel through the think canopy of branches. We then reached our destination for the next few days, the Doubletree Hotel in Coconut Grove. We picked this place because it is kind of off the beaten track yet near Biscayne Bay and had a reasonable nightly rate. We splurged and took a high room with bay view. The bellhop was a motorcycle rider and allowed us to park the bike right at the front door which made us much more comfortable.
Nancy is a long distance runner, not a long distance rider. Sitting almost still on the back of the CapoNorde for 200 miles on straight roads is not her idea of a great day. By the time we hit Miami she wanted off bad.
After resting-up a bit we wandered across the street to the Fresh Market. WOW ….. talk about an overload on you senses after living in the mountains for so long! This bustling market had fresh fruit, vegetables, breads, cheeses, meats and seafood that had us salivating down the front of our Dragon shirts. We were actually a little disappointed that we were heading over to Versailles for dinner. We grabbed some fruit, cheese and crackers for breakfast and a six-pack for a night cap. Then we dodged the speeding cars as we crossed South Bayshore Drive to get back to the hotel. It almost seemed like a reality show where the drivers got points for hitting pedestrians. We couldn’t watch as a handicapped woman in a wheelchair attempted to cross with her dog on a leash. We didn’t hear any tires squealing or crunching of metal so she must have made it.
Leaving our helmets in the room we were off to Versailles . Once again the Garmin GPS unit proved to be worth every penny. There is no way we could have navigated through Miami without it. The safety factor alone, being able to plan for turns ahead of time, is more than enough to sell us.
Versailles was hopping as always but we were able to pull right into the small parking lot and find a place. This restaurant has the Cuban feel and community flavor as nearly everyone is speaking Spanish and seems to know each other. It is clean, always open, and service is good. We always come here to eat when we are in Miami even if we have to travel out of our way.
Nancy had a sampler with rice, black beans, yucca and plantains. I ordered the braised beef, moros rice (rice cooked with black beans), cream of malanga soup, plantains, and a Presidente beer. We were somewhat disappointed as the seasonings didn’t seem to be as strong as we like. Normally the yucca was smothered in garlic and onions, but they were rather bland as were the black beans. Our Cuban lunch at the street side café in Key West was actually better. Oh well, all things change. We dodged traffic and other dangers as we zipped back to the hotel to get some rest.
SUMMARY: Long hard days ride with traffic
TOTAL DISTANCE: 156 miles riding
TOTAL TIME: 5 hours including stops
HIGHLIGHTS: Seeing some of the old places I used to frequent
The wonders of Ed’s Coral Castle
Dinner at Versailles
Knowing the cycle was safe at the front door of the hotel
Good imported beer and a hard bed
Thursday we were up and eating our fruit breakfast early. The Doubletree doesn’t offer breakfast.
Hitting the road we toured Key Biscayne located just across the bay and once again hit heavy traffic. Seemed to be the norm around Miami . We passed the Seaquarium and Crandon Park where the zoo was when I was a kid. Now it is an endless parking lot which is probably crowded with beach goers on summer weekends. The Town of Key Biscayne itself has gone to the extreme to “quiet” the streets. Every block on the back streets has humps, bumps and circles to slow the traffic which is mostly golf carts. The intersections are bricked as are most of the places we would see over the next couple of days. Must be a Florida thing. They have to spend their money on something.
The next stop was Vizcaya, the home of James Deering Vice President of International Harvester in the 1920s. This was our second visit here and getting there early we had the run of the place for an hour or so before the tourists ganged in. This three story mansion built around a central courtyard is truly unique. The art works, furniture and decorations alone are worth a fortune and were purchased in Europe by Deering himself. The French and Italian themes are gaudy, but interesting to look at. One table in the dining room dates to 100 AD. The house had central heat, central vacuum, and indoor/outdoor swimming pool, two elevators, church organ, bowling alley, refrigeration, automatic electric telephone system, and even a fire control system.
The house overlooks Biscayne Bay and the Italian Renaissance gardens complete with statuary, a bayside tearoom, maze hedges, bridges, moats, stairways, and fountains surrounded with sub-tropical trees and plants. The original property encompassed 180 acres and included a dairy, poultry house, greenhouse, machine shop, paint and carpentry workshop, and staff residences.
A quick run up I-95 took us to Opa-Locka which had a unique city theme. Many of the public buildings are designed with Arabian architecture. All of the residences in this area had metal bars over their windows indicating crime might be a problem, so we didn’t stop for long. We barely dodged one of Florida’s afternoon thunder showers that only lasted ten minutes.
We then took a tour of Coral Gables . This is a beautiful planned community with many homes of Mediterranean design dating to the 1920s that have retained their charm and are well maintained amid the tropical flora.
Coral Gables is the home of the University of Miami and is also known as “City Beautiful”. The Biltmore Hotel, constructed in 1926, was for a while the tallest building in Florida and had the largest pool in the world where Johnny “Tarzan” Weissmuller was swimming instructor. The hotel itself is said to be haunted. It is located adjacent to the Biltmore Golf Course which is open to the public. Nightly rates here are over $400, a little too expensive for our tastes.
Just down the street is another historical landmark built in 1924, the Venetian Pools. My grandmother, who lived in Coral Gables , used to bring me here to swim. The pool, complete with several waterfalls, is made to resemble a Venetian lagoon with bridges, grotto, beach and mooring posts. There is much more to see in Coral Gables , but you can just take a scenic 20 mph tour and enjoy the unusual qualities of this community.
A quick tour of Downtown Miami had the CapoNorde running hot even with the air temperature at a mere 80 degrees. We wondered how riders and bikes could stand the temps in the summer 90s. The traffic was unbearable and construction of new high rises everywhere. My family used to get a room in one of the upper floors of the Columbus Hotel overlooking Biscayne Boulevard to watch the New Years Eve Parade from the open windows.
After swinging by my grandmother’s old house which was sold in the late 1980s and still looks the same, we returned to our simple room at the Doubletree. Dinner was a tasty deli take-out from the Fresh Market across the street which we ate on the balcony as darkness descended on Biscayne Bay and the city noises slowly abated.
SUMMARY: Sightseeing loop around Miami
TOTAL DISTANCE: 45 miles and several miles of walking
TOTAL TIME: Most of the day
HIGHLIGHTS: Seeing some of the old places I used to frequent
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
Coral Gables tour
Good imported beer, dinner on the hotel balcony from Fresh Market and a hard king-size bed
Our wake-up call came early in the form of city traffic on South Bayshore Drive eight floor below. After a fruit and cheese breakfast from the Fresh Market we packed the hard luggage and prepared ourselves for the escape from Miami . We thanked the bellhop who had dutifully guarded our Capo during the three night stay, got his address so we could send him some goodies and headed north to regain A1A at South Beach in Miami .
I am familiar with all of coastal Florida having spent 44 years living and playing on most of it. Some areas have changed drastically while others have remained basically the same. Miami Beach still looks about the same with its art deco hotels which date to the mid-1900s and friendly beachfront strand. What has changed is the traffic. We were tangled for several miles along Ocean Drive and then Collins Avenue .
A1A officially begins after crossing McArthur Causeway to Miami Beach at US 41 ( 5th Street ) and Collins Avenue . From there it winds northward through old sections of South Beach art deco and then new hotels rising into the sky. Construction is everywhere and delivery trucks block lanes adding to the insane traffic problem. An odd memorial is located on a small island in Biscayne Bay just north of the Macarthur Causeway. A 110 foot tall concrete monument with statuary pays tribute to Henry Morrison Flagler, the railroad magnate who is credited with developing not only Miami , but all of southeast Florida in the 1890s.
Along the 15 block beach front there are special marked parking areas for motorcycles and scooters. We parked in one next to a local entrepreneur who was renting a tiny talking convertible that provided a talking tour as you drove through the madness …. looked a little scary to us.
Walking the beach we were surprised to see some topless sunbathing. Had that been allowed when I was growing up I’d have spent a lot more time in Miami . There are many sidewalk restaurants that looked a little too trendy and expensive for us and it was still early so we headed north dodging errant car drivers, trucks and buses. Every once in a while you might get a glimpse of the ocean as you cross a bridge and there are a few miles of scenic waterway views of the rich and famous, but for the most part A1A is lined with massive concrete structures that at least provide a little shade from the tropical sun.
Along this route we passed the site where the 1960s detective show Surfside 6 was filmed on a houseboat moored directly across the street from the famed Fontainebleau Hotel which is currently undergoing a complete renovation. Just for old times sake we stopped at an inconspicuous deli on 95th Street in Surfside and had a great South Beach sandwich and some incredible, possibly the best ever, potato salad.
Traffic slowly thinned as we continued through Atlantic Heights , Surfside, Bal Harbour , Sunny Isles, Golden Beach , and Beverly Beach before having to make a right angle back to the mainland. Not a whole lot to see along this route other than masses of population making use of every square inch of luxury ocean front and Intracoastal land. There are a number of causeways from the beaches to the mainland that skip across heavily populated islands. In the 1930s depression years you could obtain land here by simply taking over the delinquent taxes. Too bad my grandparents were among the many trying to earn a few dollars just to survive.
Back into the slums skirting US 1 it was a quick 3.5 miles north passing Port Everglades to the next section of A1A at SE 17th Street . Crossing the Intracoastal Waterway bridge we were presented with a great view of the port, waterway, Atlantic Ocean and Fort Lauderdale beaches. A local police officer was standing next to his motorcycle with a radar gun, but we saw him soon enough to brake. No telling how much leeway they give you down here.
Back on the outer islands A1A turns north once again and passes through Fort Lauderdale . The Yankee Clipper Hotel, shaped like a giant cruise ship, brought back memories from my teenage years. Fort Lauderdale was quiet compared to the bustle on South Beach in Miami . From here northward the traffic was actually tolerable along the beach road A1A. We continued through Lauderdale-by-the-Sea and Sea Ranch Lakes, crossed the Hillsboro Inlet with a view of the ocean and the 1907 iron lighthouse.
The scenery along here also changes. There are a few places where condos hide the sky, but there are also motels/hotels from the 50s, middle-income single family residences, and homes of the ultra rich often hidden by 30 foot hedges and security gates. Luckily there are still places for normal folks to access the ocean and the area is alive with people of all ages using the beaches, parks and pathways. Some of the beach access points do require minimal fees to park.
After Hillsboro Beach we crossed the Boca Raton Inlet, Boca Raton , Highland Beach , Delray Beach , and Gulf Stream . The next town is somewhat unique. Briny Breezes is a postage stamp size community consisting of about 490 mobile homes wedged in an area of .1 square mile – so close together that owners could literally cut their lawns with a pair of scissors. Many of these lots were purchased in 1958 for $2,000 to $2,500. In January 2007 the property owners voted to sell their tiny lots to a developer for $1,000,000 each. Subsequent disputes between the developer and town board of directors has since put the deal on hold. Think I want to vote in some new directors.
Just up the road we pulled into the Boynton Inlet for a Red Bull. This is a great place to take a break and watch the fishing boats fight their way to the sea. The narrow inlet has some strong currents and lots of boat traffic only a few feet from sightseers. There is free parking on both north and south on the lake side. Here we saw a south Florida red KLR turned pink by the sun. SEE PHOTO
Continuing north through Manalapan we passed the shipwreck of the Lofthus, a Norwegian vessel that sank in 1898 only 175 yards from the beach, easily accessed by snorkeling. To get there you’d have to walk ¾ of a mile north from the Boynton Inlet, the closest public parking. We then passed the beachfront home of boxing promoter Don King. The luxury yacht Octopussy which was offered for sale in 2000 for 7.8 million is moored nearby on the lake side.
Lake Worth is a good public beach amid the wealth of coastal A1A. I used to surf here at the pier and attend dances and concerts at the Lake Worth Casino (not the gambling kind). I saw Lou Christie perform here back in the 60s.
Just up the road is the Palm Beach Par Three Golf Course. I played here a lot when I was a teenager. It is a great little course with holes along both the ocean and the lake. The land here is dreadfully expensive, in the $100,000 a front foot for beach front land and even more for land that fronts both the beach and the lake. The course has .37 miles of beach frontage which equates to nearly $200,000,000 in land value alone. I was surprised to see the course still here. With green fees at $31 it is hard to see the economics here, but it is owned by the Town of Palm Beach .
A1A then follows South Ocean Boulevard into Palm Beach . This stretch is made famous by those who reside in the ocean front mansions. Mar-a-Lago, the seventeen acre estate of Marjorie Maryweather Post of cereal fame, is perhaps the most famous. This 115 room retreat built in 1923 sprawls from lake to ocean and is complete with a 75-foot tall tower and tennis courts. It at one time had a nine-hole golf course in the back yard. Once owned by the State of Florida , it had to be sold because of the extravagant maintenance costs. Today it is owned by Donald Trump who proudly flies a huge American flag in defiance of the Town’s ordinance. He is assessed a penalty of $1,250 a day for zoning violations.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono purchased El Solano in 1979 a mile or so to the north and just a few doors down from Ivana Trump. Rod Stewart owns an impressive mansion at 1435 South Ocean Boulevard . Jimmy Buffett lives at 540. Eric Clapton’s 1974 album 461 Ocean Boulevard had a photo of this Palm Beach address on the cover. The house is no longer there.
Approaching downtown Palm Beach there are beautiful views of the mansions on one side and the Atlantic on the other. Sadly the beaches here are disappearing due to erosion.
We took a turn onto the famous Worth Avenue , a special place to stroll and window shop. We passed the legendary Taboo, an American Bistro and Bar, a place that my father frequented for decades. It is rated as one of America ’s best night spots.
Down the street there is a labyrinth of off-street walkways or Vias on both sides of the street with hidden shops and places to eat. Via Mizner, one of the quaint walks is named for Addison Mizner who designed many of the exclusive Palm Beach homes in the 1920s in the Spanish Revival style. His personal residence was El Solano, later owned by John Lennon. He also built the Palm Beach home owned by Joe Kennedy that became the Winter White House for President John F. Kennedy.
All along The Avenue are exclusive businesses with windows showing merchandise worth more than the imported sports cars parked out front. Some of the best art in the world is for sale here at astronomical prices. At night it where the wealthy, the famous, and the want-to-bes party.
Just a couple of blocks to the west we came to the beginning of the Lake Trail, truly one of the most interesting bicycle trails in the world (no motorized vehicles allowed). The trail is nearly 5 miles in length running from the west end of Worth Avenue northward to Reef Road . The Palm Beach Inlet is just a short ride away along lazy residential streets.
The Lake Trail route takes you past the Palm Beach Docks, Royal Palm Way, the 4 Arts Museum, views across the lake of West Palm Beach and Trump Plaza, palm trees twisted by hurricane winds into unusual shapes, old rusted cannons, a giant kapok tree, the Whitehall Museum (Flagler’s home), the Breakers Golf Course, Royal Poinciana Way, remnants of the 1930s Bradley Casino, the old Biltmore Hotel, many luxurious private residences, the Palm Beach Country Club, and the Sailfish Club and docks. We highly recommend this as a great way to spend most of an entire day getting some exercise and seeing Palm Beach in a very unique way. The back roads of Palm Beach offer a safe and interesting return route. Bicycle rentals are available at a number of locations in Palm Beach. Search Google.
If you happen to be in Palm Beach at lunch time you might want to try another local tradition, Hamburger Heaven on South County Road . In business since 1945, the burgers are thick and juicy. Don’t forget the excellent shakes.
North of Worth Avenue A1A we crossed Royal Palm Way which has a median lined with royal palms for the entire 4-blocks to the lake. At Barton Avenue A1A turns west and then makes a quick turn back to the north following South County Road past Bethesda by the Sea Episcopal Church and Gardens (stop for a walk). We then passed the Breakers Golf Course and turned into the Breakers Hotel entrance for a quick peek. Rooms at this ocean front hotel range from $520 to $1030 a night for a couple.
At Royal Poinciana Way with median lined with royal poinciana trees A1A turns to the west once again to return to the mainland across the Flagler Memorial Bridge . This bridge is named for railroad tycoon Henry Morrison Flagler who is credited with opening the southeast coast of Florida to development in the 1890s when he extended his rails from Jacksonville into the Keys. His home is now the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach .
In West Palm we stopped for a mid-afternoon snack at Russo’s Subs on South Dixie Highway just south of downtown. A local tradition since the 1960s these are arguably the best Italian Subs in the world. Nancy is not a big bread eater, but she can put away a Russo’s Original by herself. After we finished two of these mouth watering sandwiches we ordered another to take with us for dinner. And it tasted just as good as the first two. They bake their own bread and it is only hours old when you get it. The ham, salami and cheese is fresh cut and plentiful. Add lettuce and oil and I’m salivating as I write.
Back on the mainland A1A rejoins US 1 through the north end of West Palm Beach and much of Riviera Beach . After 5 miles it turns eastward leaving US 1, crosses the Blue Heron Bridge and returns to the coastal island of Singer Island and Palm Beach Shores . You can stop at Phil Foster Park to watch the boat traffic and local fishermen on the bridges. The large island to the south, visible as you cross the high bridge, is Peanut Island . During the Kennedy Presidency it was the location of his secret underground command center and bomb shelter. Today it has been reclaimed as a natural park and maritime museum. It is only accessible by boat.
Heading north the ocean views are blocked by condos along the shoreline, but there is a view of the Intracoastal Waterway to the west. We escaped the developed area and came to John D. McArthur Beach State Park , a preserve consisting of tropical hammock and mangrove forest. Here a long walk bridge crosses the inland waters to the beaches.
After passing Lost Tree Village , home of Jack Nicholas, A1A rejoins US 1 for about a mile before veering off at Juno Beach . Juno Beach was a place where I learned to surf in the 1960s. I have great memories of my youth here, but today it seems cold and uninviting. The parking areas have been paved and condos line what used to be palmetto dunes on the landward side.
At the north end of Juno we passed Carlin Park , a great picnic area on the beach. We then turned right on Jupiter Beach Road . This road leads around to Jupiter Beach County Park and finally ends at the Jupiter Inlet. We stopped and watched a few moon fish (AKA lookdowns) being reeled in and a variety of boats going in and out of the inlet. Just a few parking places away artist Michael Plunkett had a number of paintings on display. We purchased a couple and Nancy had to hold them on the back of the bike for the next two hours. Perhaps he’d be famous someday so we took a snapshot.
Intersecting US 1 again A1A seemingly disappears. One would think that A1A would cross back over to the coastal island of Jupiter Inlet Colony on SR 707, but it actually continues northward on US 1 for another 7 miles passing the Intracoastal home of Burt Reynolds before veering off to the right on SE Dixie Highway, what used to be part of the Dixie Highway that ran from Michigan to Florida.
For the next 14 miles A1A follows the Florida East Coast Railroad tracks passing through the old Florida towns of Hobe Sound, Gomez, and Salerno . This is designated as Martin County Road A1A. In Hobe Sound there are still several ofthe original old light posts when this was part of the Dixie Highway stretching from Chicago to Miami in the 1920s. It finally reaches Stuart where it takes a sharp turn to the east at Confusion Corner. This infamous intersection has six intersecting roads at a railroad crossing and “go-around”. SEE PHOTOS
Heading east we crossed the St. Lucie River over Ten-Cent Bridge and then Twenty-five-Cent Bridge over the Indian River , so named by locals for the tolls that used to be charged. Just before the beach we took a right on MacArthur Boulevard and visited the House of Refuge, a museum that used to provide shelter for shipwrecked sailors. Built in 1876 it is the last remaining shipwreck life-saving station on Florida ’s Atlantic Coast .
Back on A1A we made the final 3.5 mile mundane run to the Jensen Beach Causeway where our first A1A trip ended two years ago. On these two trips we discovered hundreds of places of interest along the route. It would take a year to plan a trip that visited each of these stops. Hopefully we have provided some fodder to help those who might decide to follow in our tracks.
We plan to return to Key West , perhaps the high point of our excursions. We want to spend a couple of nights at Fort Jefferson next trip.
SUMMARY: Sightseeing A1A from South Beach to Jensen Beach
TOTAL DISTANCE: 163 miles and several miles of walking
TOTAL TIME: Most of the day
HIGHLIGHTS: Seeing some of the old places I used to frequent
South Beach art deco acrhitecture
A1A coastal sites
Kosher lunch at the deli with world’s best potato salad
Boynton Inlet Red Bull break
Tour of Palm Beach bringing back memories
Mid-afternoon snack at Russo’s – Worlds best subs
Red Bull stop at Jupiter Inlet
Paintings at Jupiter Inlet
Double Red-Eye at Starbucks in Salerno
Arriving at Port Saint Lucie safely after 675 miles of travel in dangerous south Florida traffic