From the heart of St. Augustine, Hwy-A1A crosses over the Matanzas River on the lovely historic Bridge of Lions to Anastasia Island, bound for the Atlantic beaches three miles to the east. On the way to the beach, just two miles southeast of Old Town St. Augustine on Anastasia Boulevard (Hwy-A1A), sits one of the greatest of Florida’s many tourist traps, Alligator Farm (904/824-3337, daily, $25 adults). Touted as the world’s only complete collection of crocodilians, this was the first and is now one of the last of many such roadside menageries. A legitimate historical landmark, Alligator Farm is also a fun and informative place to spend some time—great for kids and anyone who finds gators and crocs (and turtles, iguanas, lemurs, and tropical birds, all of which are here) to be captivating creatures. Start at the mossy pond seething with gators (which you can feed), and be sure to pay your respects to Gomek, the Alligator Farm’s massive taxidermied mascot, and to Maximo, a 15-foot Aussie crocodile.
Across from Alligator Farm, a road turns east from Hwy-A1A to Anastasia State Park, the site where the stone for Castillo de San Marcos was quarried, and where in addition to beaches there’s an inlet set aside for surfing, hiking trails through coastal hammock forests, and a nice campground (904/461-2033) amid stately live oaks and magnolia trees.
Eighteen miles south of St. Augustine, 35 miles north of Daytona Beach, the original sea-creature amusement park, Marineland Dolphin Adventure (904/471-1111, daily, $13 adults), opened with a splash in 1938 and is credited with the first performing dolphins. It later played a key role in the sci-fi movie Creature from the Black Lagoon. After struggling to compete with the much larger Sea World and Disney World, the park closed suddenly in 1998, but reopened in 2005 on a much smaller scale, with an “edutainment” focus on up-close encounters with its famous dolphins. It sounds like a magical experience, but be warned: pricing starts around $200 per person and continues upward depending on how much time you spend in the water.
Continuing along the coast south of Marineland, you start to see roadside fruit stands advertising “Indian River Fruit”—something you’ll see more of as you travel south. This is a major citrus-growing region. This stretch of Hwy-A1A, around the town of Flagler Beach, is also one of the few where you can actually see the ocean from the road.