For our final stretch of Duval County, we begin where US 90/Beach Boulevard meets Third Street/A1A and continue south to the St. Johns County line and Ponte Vedra Beach. During this stretch, we venture into Jacksonville on both Beach Boulevard and J. Turner Butler Boulevard.
With the presence of Florida’s railroad magnate Henry Flagler, a record setting cross-continental pilot and later World War II legend Jimmy Doolittle, and one of the greatest car endurance racers—Hurley Haywood, welcome to Jacksonville Beach’s version of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
Of the five roads that bring travelers to the Jacksonville Beaches (Mayport Ferry, SR 116, SR 10, US 90, and SR 202), it is US 90/Beach Boulevard that holds significance as most historic. Almost 15 miles in length, it is the longest street in Duval County.
It is also the first route from Jacksonville’s downtown to the beaches, though not originally by automobile.
Once owned by the Jacksonville and Atlantic Railway, it was later purchased by Henry Flagler and became part of the famed Florida East Coast Railway, which eventually reached Key West following the completion of the wonderous Florida Overseas Railroad in 1912; this railway spur operated from 1900-1932; in the late 1930’s, Beach Boulevard finally connected downtown to the beaches for automobile use.
To truly get to know A1A travel, travelers should become familiar with Henry Flagler, and there will be many opportunities to do so. A great place to start is Jacksonville’s Beaches Museum and its History Park located just one block off Third Street/A1A and Beach Boulevard.
At what was then Pablo Beach, Flagler began to develop the tourism industry in Florida with luxury resorts all along Florida’s Atlantic Coast, including The Continental Hotel, built in 1901 as a summer vacation resort.
From the museum’s website:
“A summer resort, the Continental was a massive colonial yellow building with signature green blinds. The Continental had 250 guest rooms, 56 baths, large parlors, and a huge dining room. Although the exterior was architecturally simple, the interior was considered luxurious. For guests’ enjoyment, there was a 9-hole golf course, a dance pavilion, a fishing pier, tennis courts, and a riding stable. There was a train depot on the west side of the hotel.”
The museum’s History Park contains the following: 1903 Pablo Beach Post Office, a 1911 train engine, East Coast Railway Foreman House #93, a Florida cracker house—The Oesterreicher-McCormick Cabin, Heritage Garden, Beaches Museum Chapel, and the Mayport East Coast Railway Depot. Also, a historical marker stands in History Park honoring a historic 1922 transcontinental flight by famed WWII pilot Jimmy Doolittle, who in less than 24 hours flew from Pablo Beach to San Diego, making only one stop in Texas to complete the record-setting flight.
Inside the museum is a wonderfully interesting exhibit showing off the history of the Jacksonville Beaches, a room featuring temporary exhibits (currently exhibiting the works of Kathy Stark depicting the natural landscape of Florida), and a gift shop with a excellent selection of books related to Florida history and culture and other souvenirs.
Probably the most eye-catching painting in the museum is that of A.E. “Beanie” Backus. “Tropical Landscape with Birds” (1949) hung in the lobby of the Oceanic Hotel until its demise in 1957.
Backus, one of Florida’s revered landscape artists, is famous for his work with the legendary Florida Highwaymen, African American roadside landscape artists, many trained by Backus. The painting at the museum provides a glimpse of things to come on A1A; Fort Pierce, the lifelong home of Backus, is home to the A.E. Backus Museum and Gallery (Discover Where Florida Art Began) and the Highwaymen Heritage Trail.
As introduced in the Complete A1A blog entry #9, Visit Jacksonville provides a Jax Ale Trail passport; a visit to eight of the participating microbreweries in Duval County gets passport holders a free koozie and t-Shirt. The Beaches Museum, which also serves a Visit Jacksonville center Thursday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Passports may be picked up there or at any of the participating breweries, four of which are located within the Jacksonville beaches.
Up the road on Beach Boulevard but within Jacksonville Beach are two of the breweries: Southern Swells Brewing Company and Engine 15 Brewing Company. Another spot known for its beer selections as well as its German pub fare is European Street Cafe, with its Beaches location on Beach Boulevard.
As with Aqua East Surf Shop, mentioned in Complete A1A Entry #9, locally owned shop, Sunrise Surf Shop, serves the Beaches community, providing visitors with beach apparel, accessories, and store-brand souvenirs.
Prior to crossing the Intracoastal Waterway, H. Warren Smith Cemetery can be found to the right of US 90/Beach Boulevard westward; among those buried here are famed CBS Vietnam War Correspondent George Syvertsen and victims from the May 17, 1987 attack on the USS Stark.
More on the cemetery from the Florida Times-Union: “Cemetery tells story of the Beaches” by Tiffanie Reynolds (October 29, 2015).
Across and up the road just a bit is one of Jacksonville’s well-known restaurants, TacoLu, a funky Mexican eatery located on what was The Homestead, a legendary restaurant of the past.
More on The Homestead from The Coastal: “Long Before Taco Lu, There Was The Homestead Restaurant” (October 30, 2020).
Crossing the McCormick Bridge, the remainder of Beach Boulevard is mainly strip malls, stand alone businesses, and residential areas.
A couple of iconic spots can be found along Beach Boulevard. The first, Alhambra Theatre and Dining, is home to the nation’s OLDEST continuously-operating dinner theater. The Alhambra offers a range of shows, from Broadway-style musicals to its music series, often featuring tribute shows.
The true star of Beach Boulevard, however, is affectionately known as Rex, the orange dinosaur with eyes glowing red in the evening.
Rex has survived more than several attempts at removal, including a move to either Disney World or Disneyland. A Roadside America attraction, Rex has caught the attention of many not just locally, but from throughout the country and internationally.
Check out the Florida Times-Union article: “Call Box: Big orange dinosaur on Beach Blvd. not going extinct” by Sandy Strickland (November 27, 2016).
For another iconic Beach Boulevard that has fought for survival, we head back east to Beach Bowl, a popular bowling alley that closed in November 2019 after serving Jacksonville’s beaches for over 60 years.
Although closed, its classic signage is still in place, and makes for a excellent photo op. And good news, though with over $7 million in renovations that will modernize this beloved institution, Beach Bowl is expected to open back soon.
While the nearly 15 miles of Beach Boulevard to the west of A1A offers plenty of shopping and dining options along with some iconic sites, its two blocks to the beach is what will lure most travelers along A1A. It is close to several restaurants, including one of eight Joe’s Crab Shack locations in Florida, and yet another iconic site—the Jacksonville Beach American Red Cross Volunteer Life Saving Corps.
Created in 1912, this life saving corps is the FIRST and ONLY volunteer organization of its kind. The amount of service these lifeguards have provided since is mind-boggling. From their website:
“Today, our volunteer ranks include more than 120 active members and hundreds of alumni of the Corps who proudly hold the title of “Retired Surfman.” Members of the Corps have recorded over 1,400 lifesaving rescues and over 1,800 assists to swimmers in distress and more than 25,000 first aid cases which range from jellyfish to broken limbs. This extraordinary record of selfless service to the community has been accomplished over 1,300,000 hours of volunteer service along with the 4,000 members and alumni of the Volunteer Life Saving Corps.”
Along with their service to beachgoers, this organization is known for several events, including the Meninak Ocean Marathon (members and alumni only), Hammerhead Ocean Swim, and during the Christmas holiday season—Deck the Chairs.
To learn more about the American Red Cross Volunteer Life saving Corps, check out this write-up from Sarah Jackson the Jacksonville Beaches Museum.
Heading south on A1A/Third Street, you will come across the Salt Life flagship store, which once served as the headquarters for Salt Life, created in 2003 by four Jacksonville Beach locals. One of Salt Life’s three restaurants is also located in Jacksonville Beach.
Ginger’s Place, an established local haunt, is one of the most interesting dive bars in Jacksonville Beach. It also has a history of being the area’s most haunted bar:
“We love to share stories about the history of Ginger’s Place. Ginger and other happy spirits hang around for the good music, good times, and to help create new memories here at Ginger’s Place. Known by locals and travelers as “the haunted dive bar” in Jacksonville Beach, we have been featured on Local Haunts, by Jamie Pearce of Historical Haunts, Void Magazine’s Top Seven Haunted Spots in Northeast Florida, and we have created our own spirits of Ginger’s page on Facebook. Ginger is known for dropping dimes around this local establishment, so when you come check us out, keep an eye out.”
The remainder of A1A through Duval County provides a mix of chain and locally-owned businesses. As it approaches St. John’s County, A1A arrives at one more access road into Jacksonville—SR 202/J. Turner Butler Boulevard, locally referred to as JTB.
Unlike the previous roads mentioned and explored, JTB is an expressway providing quick access to I-295, I-95, and US 1, barring traffic, which often accumulates at the Gate Parkway exit. Along Gate Parkway is Jacksonville’s premiere shopping and dining destination—St. Johns Town Center.
Traveling along A1A is a dream ride for car racing enthusiasts, and you do not need to wait to arrive in Daytona Beach to immerse in this sport.
Just one exit from A1A/Third Street on JTB is Jacksonville’s NEWEST and most fascinating museum—The Brumos Collection. To truly get to know this collection, along with Brumos Racing, it is well-worth getting to know the team’s legendary racer, Hurley Haywood.
From the Brumos Collection website:
“Today’s cars are built on the knowledge, experience and ideas of the early innovators. But some of the innovation in the cars you’ll see in the Brumos Collection was the first of its kind – those creators started with nothing but their imagination and an unyielding passion for pushing the boundaries of what was possible. There were no computer models or previous designs to build upon. In fact, the early masters often sketched designs on the floor of their workshop, creating from scratch and by hand, things that have never been done or even imagined before.”
Next stop—St. Johns County and Ponte Vedra Beach!
And before we head on, a quote and a song from Jimmy Buffett:
“Go fast enough to get there, but slow enough to see.”