Places We’ve Seen
It’s important to us to get out of our motorhome and out of the campgrounds and see some of the sights in the area. One of the questions we always ask ourselves is, “Why is this place here?” And we don’t leave until we get a satisfactory answer. If it’s a populated area, it’s usually because of transportation or natural resources. If it’s a natural wonder, it’s usually because of geological forces from long ago.
Below are the places we’ve seen most recently. Click here to see all the places we’ve seen since going full-time.
This winter is the first time that we are staying for an extended period in one park, i.e. three months at Three Flags RV Park in Wildwood FL. As much as we like it here, we also wanted to see some other areas in the state. We had an old timeshare week and decided to use it at the Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort.
Our hotel was across the street from the Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, which was the site of the South Florida Folk Festival. We decided to attend the Festival since it was running on our first full day in town. The Festival has been around since 1990, and bills itself as a combination music fest, family reunion, community gathering, and weekend musical retreat. It was clear that most of the attendees knew each other. The quality of the music mediocre, but the venue was unique. There were two stages, with one under a huge banyan tree.
The weather was perfect, so we had a nice time all things considered. Unfortunately, the rest of the week the weather was not on our side. Way too cool and windy to spend on the beach. We did have a couple of hours at the pool, which was sheltered from the wind, but it was still cool.
We cut our week short by two days, but not before a visit to Los Olas Blvd, which is an upscale shopping area. Had a nice lunch there at the Cheesecake Factory on our way out of town.
We were camping in Melbourne, which is on the Indian River across from Merritt Island, which in turn is separated from the coast by the Banana River. Lots of water. So we decided to take a two hour boat ride from Palm Shores, which is just north of Melbourne, down the Indian River, around the southern tip of Merritt Island, then up the Banana River.
It was a very nice day, mid-seventies, and the water was fairly calm. A perfect day for a boat ride. The Indian River is wide and shallow, and attracts dolphins and manatees. Our boat pilot was quite skilled at finding them. The dolphins were especially numerous. We saw several pods, including a mother and baby dolphin. Very cool.
The damage from Hurricane Irma was everywhere. The shoreline showed a lot of erosion, and nearly all of the private boat docks were in disrepair. There was even a sunken sailboat in the middle of the Banana River. Irma was the second major hurricane to strike the area in two years. Hurricane Matthew hit in 2016. So repair work is slow going. But the natural beauty of the area means that those who can will still want to live here even with the threat of recurring hurricanes.
Daytona Beach is historically known for its beach where the hard-packed sand allows motorized vehicles to drive on the beach in restricted areas. We drove down to the beach using the University Dr ramp. The cost is $10.00 for a day pass.
This hard-packed sand made Daytona Beach a mecca for motorsports, and the old Daytona Beach Road Course hosted races for over 50 years. This was replaced in 1959 by Daytona International Speedway.
It was sad to see that the town is still rebuilding from the damage it sustained during hurricanes Matthew, in 2016, and Irma, in 2017. Many of the beachfront hotels were pretty beat up. And the amusement park at the pier is completely shut down. Reportedly there was also considerable flooding on the Halifax River side of the town as well.
But the beach is still spectacular. We had a great time.
Jekyll Island was only half an hour from our campground at Blythe Island. The weather was right, so we decided to hop on over. What a lovely place! We were pleasantly surprised by its beauty and tranquility. We started our visit with an early lunch at the Wharf Restaurant and then walked over to the Jekyll Island Club Resort and Historic District.
During the Gilded Age, the island was a winter playground for the super rich. We recognized many of their names (Vanderbilts, Astors, Lorillards) from our trip to Newport RI. Turns out that some of the same families who made Newport their summer home also spent their winters in Jekyll Island.
In 1886, the island was purchased by the Jekyll Island Club, which was a turn-of-the century vacation resort patronized by 55 of the nation’s wealthiest families. Membership was very exclusive, and included such prominent figures as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, Marshall Field, Jay Gould, and William Rockefeller. Morgan used to visit the island on his 300 foot yacht, the Corsair, and dock at the Club’s wharf. When asked how much it cost to operate the yacht, he famously said, “if you have to ask that question, you can’t afford it.”
The Jekyll Island Club has an illustrious history. Following the Panic of 1907, Morgan along with several other banking and government leaders met at the Club and devised a plan that resulted in the creation of the Federal Reserve System.
The Club fell on lean times during the Depression, and the entire island was abandoned at the beginning of World War II, since members felt it was vulnerable to enemy submarine attack. After the war, the State of Georgia purchased the island from the Club, and opened it to the general public. Fortunately, many remnants of the Gilded Age still exist, most notably the Jekyll Island Club Resort.
There are also several beautifully restored mansions, called “cottages”, that some of the families built around the clubhouse, along with a number of smaller service buildings. The clubhouse and surrounding buildings form a Historic District of 33 structures situated in a park-like setting. The clubhouse has been restored as a luxury hotel, the cottages are mostly museums or part of the hotel, and the service buildings are mostly shops.
The Historic District is fenced in, and closed to automobile traffic. This makes walking the landscaped grounds a pleasure. After we had explored the Historic District thoroughly on foot, we drove off to see the rest of the island.
Our first stop was Driftwood Beach, which is at the north end of the island. We were amazed by the huge driftwood and fallen trees that resemble a giant tree graveyard. The north end of the island is slowly eroding away and being deposited on the south end of the island, which causes the trees on the north end to collapse into the sea. Recent hurricanes have accelerated the destruction.
Driftwood Beach is beautiful, but has a lot of debris, so it is not the best beach for sunbathing. However, it is a wonderful location for picture taking, and we took a lot. It’s also a very popular site for weddings. When we were there we saw what we thought was a wedding, but on closer inspection it appeared to be a photo shoot for wedding gowns.
Next we drove to Beach Village, which is a newer commercial area on the beach in the center of the island. This is where most of the modern hotels are located. There’s a long sandy beach in front of the hotels as well as a convention center nearby. And finally, we drove toward the south end of the island, and stopped at Great Dunes Beach, which is a broad public sand beach with a huge parking lot.
Sadly, there was a lot of damage from Hurricane Irma over much of the island, especially on the north end. This was the second year in a row that a hurricane has hit the island (Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017).
But despite the damage, the impression we came away with is that Jekyll Island is a gem, mostly unspoiled, elegant yet affordable. We can only hope it stays that way, especially when you compare it to many other East Coast beaches that are overbuilt, overcrowded, and overpriced. We loved it.
Our campground in Yemassee was situated between Charleston and Savannah, so it was always our plan to visit both cities by car on this trip. Because Charleston was 1½ hours away, we chose to stay there overnight. But Savannah was only 45 minutes away, so we decided to make it a day trip. Looking back, we wish we had stayed overnight in Savannah as well, because we enjoyed it even more than Charleston.
In many ways, the two cities share a similar history. They were founded during the colonial period, Charleston in 1670 and Savannah in 1733. Both are peninsular cities that became major seaports for plantation crops during the slavery period. Charleston shipped rice and Savannah cotton. Both were important Southern cities during the Civil War. And both survived the war fairly intact.
The most notable difference between the two cities as we experienced them was that Charleston seems much more formal and rooted in its Antebellum past, even to the point of being especially proud of its role in the Civil War. Savannah on the other hand is more modern and casual. It seems to highlight the way it adapted after the war and to embrace its multi-racial and multi-religious heritage.
Another difference is that Savannah is built on a high bluff overlooking the Savannah River. The streets are wide and shaded with huge live oak trees. The original layout of the city included 24 park-like squares, of which 22 still exist. Even though we took an Old Town Trolley Tour, we found ourselves retracing the route on foot to get the full effect. Savannah is arguably one of the most walkable cities we’ve visited, with the exception of Colonial Williamsburg.
Charleston’s streets on the other hand were more narrow and clogged with people and automobiles. Charleston also hosts cruise ships, which can overwhelm the historic area. That said, Charleston has done a wonderful job preserving its historic area, and provided a model for Savannah to follow.
Our favorite locations in Savannah were the wonderful Forsythe Park, the beautiful city squares, the historic churches where John Wesley and M.L. King Jr preached, the oldest Reform synagogue in the United States, the festive City Market, and even the touristy East River Street.
We came away from Savannah with a strong desire to visit again. We’ve even added it to our short list of permanent locations to live after we give up being full time nomads. Who knows?