~ It is and always will be controversial.
But driving your car on the hard-pack sands of Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach and St. Augustine is a Florida tradition. Pioneers did it with horses and buggies. Stock car racers did it with roaring engines until 1959.
And thousands of people still drive on the beach every year. It is the ultimate scenic drive and a habit that Florida cherishes.
There are only a few dozen miles of beach left where driving is permitted. Over the years, many communities ended the practice. Driving on the beach is now possible only in Volusia County — in Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach –and in St. John’s County in the summer.
Driving on the beach in Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach
Vehicles pay $10 for the privilege and then cruise slowly right on the sand, which is amply wide and packed as hard as many roads. Annual passes for residents ($25) and non-residents ($100) are also available. For details, visit Volusia.org.
To park, pull over perpendicular to the beach in an area designated and then haul out the lawn chairs, tents, toys and gear. Park carefully and only on hard sand. Stay to the ocean side of the posts, and if the sand appears soft, give it up and park someplace else or you’ll get stuck.
The south side of the Ponce Inlet jetty in New Smyrna Beach is a mecca for surfers, and the jetty itself is a magnet for fishing, so it’s always crowded. Newbies try to double park, and many inevitably get stuck in the soft sand. While there is usually a friendly crowd to help rock you free (regulars bring shovels), it’s not a fun way to spend your day, and it can be a dangerous exercise. Florida Rambler colleague Bob Rountree often visits this area, and he’s been stuck in the soft sand more than once.
The surfing beach near the jetty is the area of New Smyrna Beach that has the dubious distinction of being the shark-bite capital of Florida. Sharks congregate around the inlet to feed on the tidal migrations of fish, sometimes mistaking surfboards for their prey. And there are plenty of surfboards.
“I once took my boat just outside the inlet to fish,” Bob says. “After catching a half-dozen sharks and one barracuda inside of an hour, I gave it up. I also gave up swimming from the beach near the jetty.”
You can also access a magnificent boardwalk near the south jetty that rises above a wide expanse of dunes, known as Smyrna Dunes Park. There are two miles of elevated boardwalk that skirt 73 pristine acres. The boardwalk is also accessible from the Coast Guard Station on Peninsula Avenue, two miles north of Flagler Avenue. Leashed pets are permitted on the boardwalk, but not the ocean beach. (There is a section of beach inside the inlet where pets are allowed.)
On the north side of the jetty — the Daytona side — is the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum, which is open at 10 a.m. every day. Closing times vary with the season.
In both New Symrna Beach and Daytona Beach, the areas where you are allowed to drive are clearly marked, with natural areas and select beach areas designated as no-drive zones. You pay a toll as you enter the beach, and if you leave one area, your pass allows you to re-enter on other access ramps.
There are four access ramps where you can pay your toll and drive onto the beach in New Smyrna Beach. Here’s a map that shows areas where you can drive on the beach in New Smyrna Beach.
There are 13 access ramps off State Road A1A where you can enter the “driving zone” beaches in Daytona Beach. The longest drivable section is south of the Main Street Pier, from International Speedway Boulevard south to Emilia Avenue, just past Dunlawton Avenue. The crowded beaches around the Main Street Pier, once the focal point of stock-car racing on the sand, is now off-limits to vehicles. Here’s where you can drive on the beach in Daytona Beach.
- The speed limit is 10 miles per hour, and it IS enforced.
- Under no circumstances are you allowed to pass another car, even if it appears to have stopped. (This was learned the hard way.)
- There is two-way traffic: You can drive in either direction.
- Park perpendicular to the beach, and be careful not to go beyond the posts into soft sand.
- Parking near Ponce Inlet on the New Smyrna side is limited, and soft sand plays havoc as people try to double park. Park a little further south and avoid the congestion.
- Driving is permitted sunrise to sunset from Nov. 1 to April 30, and from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., May 1 through Oct. 31, tides permitting. Unusually high tides can close down driving.
- You can exit the beach and re-enter once without paying an additional fee.
- Regulations and information from Volusia County on driving on the beach.
Driving on the beach near St. Augustine
The spectacular beaches around St. Augustine permit beach driving from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. March 2 to the end of September. St. Johns County offers daily and annual passes to drive and park on beaches. Passes can be obtained from toll booth operators during the beach season. Non-residents pay $7; residents pay $6. The traffic lane is marked with cones and the speed limit is 10 miles per hour.
Cars can access the beach at these ramps:
- Vilano Access Ramp in Vilano
- Porpoise Point in Vilano)
- A Street in St. Augustine Beach
- Ocean Trace in St. Augustine Beach
- Dondanville in St. Augustine Beach
- Matanzas Avenue in St. Augustine Beach
- Mary Street in St. Augustine Beach
- Crescent Beach
There is no beach driving permitted on the beaches near Fort Matanzas or in Anastasia State Park.
Driving on the beach near Jacksonville
There is one spot in Jacksonville where cars are still allowed on the beach – Huguenot Memorial Park, 10980 Heckscher Drive. While environmentalists would like to end the practice to protect shore birds, this popular city park allows cars right on to beach. The beach isn’t a thoroughfare, as it is in New Smyrna and Daytona. It’s more of a parking lot where folks coming to the beach for the day can bring all their toys with ease.
Things to do near New Smyrna Beach:
- JB’s Fish Camp, Bethune Beach
- Toni and Joe’s Beachfront Patio Bar is another unique local eatery. Located off Flagler Ave. just south of the main beach in New Smyrna Beach, this is another classic Florida oceanfront bar and restaurant. The wide patio is directly on the beach, and the bar opens up onto the patio. Music on weekends. My favorite is their Philly cheese-steak hoagie.
- New Smyrna’s beachside Flagler Avenue is a destination in itself, a quaint, “Old Florida” shopping district with antique shops, art galleries, handmade pottery storefronts, bars, restaurants, etc. Many of the buildings are 100 years old. Definitely worth an hour or two to explore.
- Campgrounds: There are two decent RV campgrounds on Old Mission Road as you enter New Smyrna Beach on State Road 44, the New Smyrna Beach Campground RV Park and the Sugar Mill Ruins Travel Park.
- Cool Places to Stay: Black Dolphin Inn and Riverview Hotel and Spa
- Hotel Reservations: Hotels in New Smyrna Beach