In Best Backroads of Florida, Beaches and Hills, Volume 3 (copyright 2003), author Douglas Waitley explores the hidden gems of the northern part of the state and Northwest Florida in particular. Although the copyright is old for a Florida travel guide, the information for the most part is up to date and accurate, with the beaches exhibiting the most changes since the book was written. However, since the back roads are the focus, you’ll have to ignore any coastal changes since there is always something new there.
From St. Augustine to Pensacola
Waitley begins his journey on the east coast in Titusville and the Kennedy Space Center and travels north through St. Augustine to the Georgia state line on what were once the main highways of US 1 and A1A. He then turns westward through Lake City, eventually entering Northwest Florida on U. S. 90 over the Aucilla River.
Even today, this part of the state is very rural and agricultural. Prior to the Civil War, the area was home to many cotton plantations, some of which have today been turned into private hunting estates. The town of Monticello he calls “pungent with nostalgia” and takes you on a quick tour of the town and the Perkins Opera House before heading west toward Tallahassee.
Florida State Parks and Dry Humor
All along the way Waitley points out places of interest and historical note, like the Dueling Tree on Canopy Road and how the town of Havana, once a major tobacco market became an antique hunter’s paradise. He covers thestate parks you’ll find along the way, like Florida Caverns State Park near Marianna and Falling Waters State Park near Chipley (he calls it a sometimes waterfall).
Waitley isn’t afraid to tell tales of murder, drug smuggling, and redneck characters. Sub titles such as “Culture Comes to the Sticks” and “Sand or Cement: Destin’s Dilemma” illustrate his dry humor. Tourism officials might cringe when he talks of hurricanes and shark attacks, but he does admit that both are not everyday occurrences.
Back Roads Florida Travel
Best Backroads of Florida, Volume 3 is well organized and guides us through the region east to west along U. S. 90 from Tallahassee to Pensacola, then west to east on U. S. 98 from Pensacola along the beaches. Waitley has something to say about every town and attraction along the way and does so in a way that holds our interest. With an extensive bibliography and index, it’s also a great reference book.
I like to keep guidebooks handy in the car in case I find myself in a place with enough time on my hands to do a little Exploring. Best Backroads of Florida, Beaches and Hills, Volume 3 is the sort of book you can refer to often as both a travel guide (with detailed directions for finding things) and an armchair reference for historical information and interesting anecdotes. It’s a great book for newcomers to the region as well as long-time residents looking for hidden adventures.
By Douglas Waitley
Pineapple Press, Inc., 2003, $14.95
This book is available in bookstores and through online book sellers, or click on the link above to order from Amazon.com.