On the Beach – Daytona Beach FL

RATING: ♦♦♦♦

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.

Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area – Flagler Beach FL

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦
  • Length of stay: 7 days
  • Cost per night: $17.00
  • Discount: Florida Senior Discount
  • Hook ups: 50 amp electric and water. No sewer or cable TV. Dump station.
  • Site number/quality: #57. Gravel pad. Very level. Wide with gravel seating pad. No shade. On river side of FL-A1A.
  • Park quality: This state park is just south of the beach town of Flagler Beach, which is on a narrow strip of land between the Atlantic Ocean and Halifax River. Scenic route FL-A1A runs through the middle of the park, and divides the campground into two sections: one on the beach and the other on the river. The beach section it is older and can only handle smaller RVs and tents. The river section was built in 2015 and can easily handle big rigs. We stayed in the river section. It very well maintained. We watched the park host clean up each site after departure and even rake the gravel bed. Impressive! 
  • Access: Directly on FL-A1A just a few miles off I-95.
  • Connectivity: Verizon OK, AT&T strong with antenna, T-Mobile strong with antenna.
  • Return yes/no?: Would love to.
  • Notes: The Halifax River is part of the Intracoastal Waterway. Lots of pleasure boats passing by. River side campground is within walking distance to the beach, which is just across FL-A1A, or we could drive and park at the beach. It’s close to restaurants and shopping in Flagler Beach, and half-hour to Daytona.
  • Website: Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area

Beach Most Elegant – Jekyll Island GA

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

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.

Blythe Island Regional Park – Brunswick GA

RATING: ♦♦♦♦
  • Length of stay: 6 days
  • Cost per night: $40.00
  • Discount: None
  • Hook ups: 50 amp electric, water, sewer, and cable TV.
  • Site number/quality: #86. Gravel pad. Very level. Long but narrow pull-through. Concrete seating pad. Moderately shaded.
  • Park quality: This is a nice county park. Large sites. Between river and man-made lakes. Quiet.
  • Access: Directly off I-95.
  • Connectivity: Verizon OK, AT&T strong with antenna, T-Mobile strong.
  • Return yes/no?: Sure.
  • Notes: Close to St. Simons Island, Sea Island, and Jekyll Island, which we visited. Not far from plenty of shopping in Brunswick. Lots of rabbits making their home at the campground, cute and tame.
  • Website: Blythe Island Regional Park

Historic Downtown Savannah – Savannah GA

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

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?