We were up early today as it was time to leave the Keys and finally head north. It was great to see our “Hotel California” in the rear view mirror as we headed up I-95 toward the east coast of Florida. We have always struggled driving through Miami and much of Florida because of the toll road system. Florida has many toll roads, but in the Miami area there are no toll booths to pay your bill. When we were here in 2016, we had a rental car and waited for the toll bill to arrive in the mail, but alas it never came. On the way to the Keys, we avoided the toll roads, but paid the price in time at stoplights and traffic. Today we learned the state will send us a bill for the tolls (+$2.50) since we didn’t have a SunPass like the locals do. It’s confusing for travelers like us just driving through, but once we figured it out, we had clear sailing all the way up the coast!
First stop: Cocoa Beach. It’s on a stretch of beach just south of Cape Canaveral. Jim’s friend, Matt, recommended it and Lisa wanted to get a glimpse of the NASA facility (she already used up all of her “NASA time” at the Houston Space Center, but she still wanted to be there to feel the vibe). We drove and drove and drove trying to find the beach and maybe a place where we could eat lunch while looking at the beach. Not so easy. All of the waterfront property is faced with older condos and the parking at the city pier was totally full (plus it was $20 to park!). So what do the Lyon’s do instead? Crash a restaurant located in one of these resorts, eat lunch at a little outdoor cafe with live music, get free parking and then just saunter to the beach like they belong there. THAT’S what they do!
After the obligatory picture on the beach, we waved to Kennedy Space Center and kept going north toward Daytona Beach (based on Billy’s suggestion). The cool thing with Daytona is that you can actually DRIVE on the beach — Subie was SO excited! Here’s some history: At the beginning of the 1900’s, when cars first came into being, people would race them on the big, wide, flat beach. Around 1935, they decided that they would race on a real race course (which they built nearby), but people can still drive on the beach today (There’s a $20 admission fee). The best time to go is at low tide and we lucked out! The beach was so wide, and the sand was nice and hard as the tide was out.
It was Sunday afternoon and families and spring breakers and EVERYBODY was on the beach, tossing footballs, having tailgates, playing Latin music really loudly, guys cruising for girls, the ice cream man driving by (yes, with the music, Katie) and it was just a blast to see! Even people with walkers and wheelchairs were out there. The cars have to stay in their lanes, but Lisa really wished she could drive the Subie into the shallow water like Jack Nicholson did with his Corvette in “Terms of Endearment.” We cruised for 5 miles before we parked and watched the action with the chairs we brought from our St. Joe to Daytona Beach. Other camp chairs are now jealous.
It was soon time to head toward our last beach of the day (and yes, all this driving and we’re STILL in Florida!). We figured we could make it to St Augustine for the night and booked a room there, not knowing much about the town or the hotel (and yes, we’re a bit skittish about hotels since our last adventure). St Augustine is about an hour north of Daytona and famous for being the oldest European settlement in the lower-48 — settled in 1562 by Huguenots… now THAT’S history! That’s much older than Cataldo Mission in Idaho.
Our cheap hotel (Smart Stay Inn) is actually AWESOME and clean and safe (and there’s water in the pool!). We went out to find the sunset at St Augustine Beach (which we did with 2 seconds to spare) but then found a fun little Filipino restaurant called Little Margie‘s which just topped off our night. We even met Little Margie and there’s a beer named after her which Lisa loved (a nice red amber). Tomorrow we’ll check out some of the local history before heading up the Georgia coast toward Savannah.