In the 1920s, Sinclair Lewis rented a house at Vilano Beach, where he wrote Elmer Gantry, among other novels. It’s quite likely that almost a hundred years later, the author would still recognize the area; although attempts at resort development have been made through the years, most notably with the 1920s construction of a casino, most of the projects have met with limited success, most notably the 1937 destruction of the casino by a tropical storm.
Feeling like a pastoral fishing village, Vilano Beach is best known for its fishing pier, but the beach at nearby Surfside Park (3070 Coastal Hwy.) has ample sandy access to the rough Atlantic, along with showers, restrooms, and picnic shelters.
Anastasia State Park
While the four miles of beach are what draws most people to Anastasia State Park and Recreation Area (1340 State Rd. A1A S., 904/461-2033, 8 a.m.–sunset, $3.25 per vehicle for up to 8 people), the park also has extensive nature trails that wind through hammocks and marshland. While the extensive wide beach access usually means that finding a spot isn’t much of a challenge, it’s worth noting that for some reason, the park allows visitors to drive their cars onto the sand. While such open-trunk beaching is expected in places like Daytona, in a more rustic setting like Anastasia, it’s somewhat unsettling.
Good surfing can be found north of the beach ramp where cars make their way onto the sand, and despite the park’s popularity, there are several areas to the south that are quieter but have much rougher water. Canoes, kayaks, and paddleboats can be rented at the on-site Island Joe’s store, providing easy access to the tidal marshes.
St. Augustine Beach
Also on Anastasia Island, a few miles south of the state park, is the town of St. Augustine Beach. The main action takes place around the St. Johns County Pier (2106 State Rd. A1A S., 904/471-1596), which provides a fishing pier along with a playground and volleyball courts. Public beach access—with vehicles allowed on the sand in most places—is available throughout town.
© Jason Ferguson from Moon Florida, 1st Edition