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Florida History: A1A is arguably the most romantic road in Florida

Eliot Kleinberg
Palm Beach Post

Readers: Say the name, and you can feel the breeze blowing through the palms and smell the grouper on the hibachi. Think Jimmy Buffett strumming ballads and a convertible cruising along the beach, grouper sizzling on a grill and tropical drinks spinning in a blender. All in three characters: A1A.

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It arguably is the most romantic and best-known road in all of Florida, a symbol of the easygoing beachcomber lifestyle. But it is also home to sprawling mansions, impersonal high-rises and even stretches that leave the beach to cut through industrial and commercial districts.

Designated a state historical highway in several stretches, it winds along the east Florida coast, with some interruptions, from Fort Clinch State Park, just two miles south of the Georgia state line, all the way down to Key West.

Read More: How did Key West get its name?

How did it get its strange and unique name? The answer isn't romantic at all. Instead, it's bureaucracy.

The road opened in 1927 as Atlantic Boulevard. Later it was called State Road 1. In 1946, the state gave it its current name. The reason: confusion with nearby U.S. 1.

You could do worse than to mosey up to it. Don't ride it if you're in a hurry. In fact, that's the whole idea.

The road starts in Key West, a little more than a mile from the "Southernmost Point." It jumps on and off U.S. 1 up through the Keys into Miami. In Fort Lauderdale, the stretch of open beach -- structures are banned on the ocean side -- became famous in the 1960s as the Spring Break capital of the world. Look for "Where the Boys Are" or watch the trailer here.

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In Palm Beach County, the road passes from beach parks to mansions to ritzy Palm Beach and opens up just north of the Jupiter Lighthouse into long stretches of beach, stretching all the way to the Kennedy Space Center.

It then moves up past Daytona Beach and Ormond Beach, where early daredevils raced their cars on the hard sands of the beach, and through the ancient city of St. Augustine before dead-ending at Fort Clinch.

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If you can't get a convertible, the next best way to enjoy A1A just might be on a bicycle. The Florida stretch of the East Coast Greenway runs for some 600 miles, much of it along the historic coast road.

READER REWIND: Everyone has their own piece of Florida history. Share yours with us by leaving a voicemail at (850) 270-8418.

Next week: Sebring

Last week: Hypocrites Row: The plea deals, the executions and more

A reader asks: I may be the only one that feels this way, but I was really shocked to see the column you wrote about serial killers. What a time to put in such a thing. Do you not realize that there are so many upsetting things going on in our country? What a subject for families to add to their worry list. - Laurel O., Nokomis, Fla

Eliot responds: Ms. O, Thanks for writing. First of all, please understand that, because I am a breaking news reporter and often get tied up in big stories, I write these features months in advance. I had this "in the can" long before the coronavirus became a major crisis. Having said that, you must agree that there is no good time to write about serial killers, when you think about it. My history column tells Florida’s story, both the good and the bad. Hope this helps.

Eliot Kleinberg has been a staff writer for the past three decades at The Palm Beach Post in West Palm Beach, and is the author of 10 books about Florida (www.ekfla.com). Florida Time is a product of GateHouse Media and publishes online in their 22 Florida markets including Jacksonville, Fort Walton Beach, Daytona Beach, Lakeland, Sarasota and West Palm Beach. Submit your questions, comments or memories to FloridaTime@Gatehousemedia.com. Include your full name and hometown. Sorry; no personal replies.