Cars, SUVs and pick-up trucks lined the beach, facing the sea like gulls on the sand.
Families relaxed under colorful umbrellas they’d planted next to their vehicles, while others soaked up the sun from the beds of their trucks. A few had even set up tents in the sand.
“We always put our tent up here, next to the dunes,” a woman told me one day at Huguenot Memorial Park. “That way, when the tide comes in, we don’t have to move. We love it.”
Driving on the beach was once common throughout the First Coast. During the first half of the 20th century, it was legal in most places, and the right to do so was taken for granted. Jacksonville Beach during that time was known as America’s Finest Beach, in large part because its wide beaches with hard-packed sands offered smooth driving and easy access to its bustling boardwalk, and fishing and dancing piers. Vintage postcards seem to show more cars than people.
Where to Go and Things to Know
A handful of beaches in Nassau, Duval and St. Johns Counties offer beach driving, and for the most part, an entrance fee is required. Cars are permitted in limited areas on beaches, including Amelia Island State Park, Huguenot Park off Heckscher Drive in Jacksonville, and on several beaches in St. Johns County, from Vilano Beach southward. No fees are required in St. Johns County during the winter, although daily and annual passes are necessary for the beach season beginning in March. Slow speed limit signs are posted at all locations, and driving on dunes is forbidden.
A few First Coast beaches still harken back to those days. In Vilano Beach, just north of St. Augustine, shops and restaurants are a short stroll away. Beach-goers traipsed on and off the beach throughout the warm winter day I was there, while a steady stream of vehicles came and went. With the tide coming in, parking spots were limited.
“This is amazing,” I thought, as I watched people run in and out of the ocean. “It looks like a typical summer day.”
Driving on the beach makes the waterfront more accessible to people with health conditions that inhibit mobility. Regardless of the season, it is both convenient and comfortable for all.
For more information about locations, fees and daily and annual passes, visit:
Nassau County: nassaucountyfl.com
Huguenot Memorial Park in Duval County: coj.net
St. Johns County: co.st-johns.fl.us