We finally made it to Florida!
Last week, we had left the South Point I-95/Yamassee KOA Holiday campground in South Carolina. To avoid bumper to bumper traffic and to see more of the countryside than Interstate, we drove State Highway 17.
We pointed our Transit into southern Georgia, through a number of quaint “low county” towns, passed under trees ladened with spooky Spanish moss and crossed several awesome bridges to get into Florida.
We were both surprised with how many pine trees there actually are in the South. Most of the tropical palm trees looked to be transplants done by landscapers.
After cutting across the far northeast corner of Florida to the town of Yulee, we made a beeline east to the famous Florida State Highway A1A.
Unfortunately, in this section of Florida, the A1A (also known as highway 200) is nothing like the A1A highway down in the Keys that Jimmy Buffet sings about.
The highway here is more like a suburban parkway that passes a lot of shopping strip malls featuring such tropical icons as Walmart Supercenter, Target, Kohls, Culvers, Olive Garden…Wait! What?
Kim thought it was somewhat comforting to see familiar stores. But on vacation, we want to see different things rather than these big, national box stores that are also prevalent in our home state of Minnesota!
As we slowly made our way, stoplight to stoplight, in the direction of Fernandina Beach, we began to notice some more regional places, like Willie Jewell’s Old School Bar-BQ, Huddle House, Publix Super Market, Chick-fil-A, Waffle House, and Shucker’s Oyster Bar & Grill. Now that sounds more Southern!
With our destination within an easy drive now, we headed directly to the beach before taking the drive to the hotel. Plus, we wanted to scope out the area that we would have to come back to one evening as part of Kim’s conference.
We did a quick drive through of the famous and beautiful downtown area of Fernandina Beach. We so wanted to find a place to park and do the tourist thing of shopping and exploring, but hotel check-in time was quickly approaching.
Our first encounter with the Atlantic Ocean was at Seaside Park on A1A.
Happily, we found a great parking space for our van in a small parking lot next to the beach access. We were both pinching ourselves over the fact we were – 1. In Florida. 2. In Florida in our van. 3. Parked at the beach in our van in Florida!
And the sand was so white and soft!
We refrained ourselves from getting too carried away at the beach. We knew we had a lot of luggage to unload and carry. We would probably have to do quite a bit of walking before we got settled in our hotel room for the week.
Reminiscing about it now – as we look out our windows at home onto a bleak, cold and white winter landscape of 6-foot-tall snow drifts – the realization that we were living out a life-long bucket list goal of standing in warm sand, staring at the ocean in Florida seemed like a dream.
What a reward at the end of four days and nights of driving from Minnesota to finally be in Florida.
Another dream was seeing all the oceanfront properties that line the beach shoulder to shoulder here.
Kim, always the REALTOR®, was quickly on her phone finding out the prices for all these ocean front properties and vacation rentals. Needless to say, they were all out of our price point by a lot!
One of the nice things we saw along this stretch of A1A (S Fletcher Ave.) was the vast number of public beach access trails that are squeezed in between the multi-million-dollar homes, which gives the “regular Joes” a way of enjoying the beach, too.
Turning off A1A onto Beachwood Drive, we headed to the Omni Amelia Island Resort. Pulling onto the palm tree and tropical flower accented property, we admitted, we were feeling pretty nervous about staying at such a fancy Florida “resort.”
Traveling for the past several years in our van or our RVs, we usually stay at a campground or rest stop when traveling. Nothing fancy. No valet parking. No bell boys to tip. No airs to put on.
We’re not “fancy” people. We tend to feel very uncomfortable in those hoity toity situations. JK had to go out and find a fancy suit to wear for a couple of the evening convention events that week. lol!
So here we were, arriving in our humble little camper van, praying they wouldn’t refuse to let us park on property. We had read on their website RVs were not allowed.
On top of that, if we were allowed onto the resort property, we were unsure about where we could safely park our high roof van. The Pineapple Princess was definitely not going to fit in a multi-level parking garage.
As it turns out, our worries were for not.
Our van was allowed through the front gate by security and we pulled up to the hotel’s front check-in circular driveway. We were greeted by an enthusiastic young bell hop who shared his admiration of our rig. He told us he would love to have a van someday. That was a real relief!
Happily, we were instructed to park in a small nearby open parking area with ample room and good overhead lighting. Most of the time, our van was the only vehicle there, except for a bunch of golf carts! That was a relief.
With our van locked and safely tucked away where we could check on it periodically, we checked into our oceanfront upper floor room.
Kim’s annual EXIT Realty convention was packed, non-stop, morning, noon, and night with keynote speakers, workshop sessions, meals, award ceremonies (in which Kim took home several top producer awards, btw!), cocktail gatherings, and evening dinner soirees.
By the end, we were both exhausted and ready to put our flip flops and shorts back on and get some much-needed decompression time before heading north towards home.
As soon as we checked out of the resort, we were headed to the Gulf Coast.
We scooted past the congestion of Jacksonville, across the northern portion of Florida, and landed at the Ho-Hum RV Park along Hwy 98, four miles east of Carrabelle, Florida.
After the hustle and bustle of convention week, a little ‘ho-hum’ was just what we needed!
This humble little campground is located right on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico with 35 RV sites “within an oyster shell’s throw” from the Gulf, and 17 RV camping spots right along the water’s edge.
All of the sites have water and sewer hookup, and 30/50-amp service. But, the pedestals did not have 110 volt household outlets in them, so we had to borrow a “dog bone” adaptor plug from the campground manager to get some juice for lights and to charge our house batteries.
They have a short waterfront nature trail and a 250-foot private fishing pier. The campground features free Wi-Fi, laundry facilities, community room, and small gift and sundries shop in the office.
Unlike many locations in Florida, this little oasis was untouched by recent hurricanes.
We checked in, got our site near the water, then headed off to town to find a local haunt to have a late afternoon meal.
The first recommended restaurant, the bright red and yellow-painted Seafood Shack, seemed like it was right up our alley. Unfortunately, we arrived just as they were closing for the day.
We landed at The Fisherman’s Wife restaurant at 201 W 8th St. in Carrabelle.
This unassuming eatery is located in an old residence. Mainly a Southern-style seafood place, it has a Florida, fishing village, Gulf beach laid back feeling without all the gaudy bright colors, and seashell Disneyland-like tourist trappings.
Kim ordered crab cakes with cheesy grits, and JK had a shrimp Po-boy with hush puppies.
Fishermen and fisherwomen will like that the Fisherman’s Wife will cook your fresh catch and add a couple side dishes for a reasonable price!
Of course, we had to have a Jimmy Buffett Landshark beer to wash it all down with!
The small coastal town has lots of Gulf atmosphere. A harbor serves a working commercial fishing industry, and the rustic coastal oyster and shrimp dives and rundown beer joints seem to match perfectly like somewhere you would read about in a novel.
Back at the campgrounds, we took a stroll before dark out onto the 250-foot fishing pier.
We explored the beach area and chatted with some of our fellow campers before heading to bed for the night.
It was the day before Halloween, so many of the campsites were decorated for the holiday. One night was barely enough time to get used to the laid-back vibe of this campground.
Next morning was cloudy, drizzly, and gray. We packed up and hit the road to our next Gulf campground experience in Navarre Beach, FL.
It’s here that we would plant roots for several days to just stop and relax before facing the reality of a long drive home.
More about this part of our Florida Gulf Coast adventure in next week’s blog!
In the meantime, thanks for hanging out with us and safe travels!