Jim Abbott on Travel
Postcards from Florida
June 29, 2013
It stretches from the Atlantic Ocean almost to the Gulf of Mexico, a route that encompasses sandy beaches, springs, secluded forests and history from John D. Rockefeller to Elvis Presley.
There are a lot of diversions along State Road 40, a scenic east-west path from State Road A1A in Ormond Beach to Dunnellon, about 25 miles from the Gulf Coast. The road stretches 91 miles, short enough to be covered in less than three hours without stopping, but efficiency isn't the goal on this excursion.
Instead, take a day to meander amid the old-school roadside attractions, a showcase of the diverse landscape and culture that the state has to offer.
The road runs both ways, but I started on the Atlantic coast, where I gazed at the ocean a few blocks east of the intersection where S.R. 40 (Granada Boulevard in Ormond Beach) dead-ends at S.R. A1A.
That intersection is only a few miles from The Casements, the retirement home on the banks of the Halifax River that oil magnate Rockefeller bought in 1918. The grand house, named after the oversize windows that face the river, hosts a variety of community activities (yoga, writing classes and such) and 30-minute guided tours are available.
About 25 miles west in Barberville, there's more history at the Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts, but towering chicken and dinosaur sculptures at the intersection of S.R. 40 and U.S. Highway 19 are the eye-catching landmarks. You'll wonder if it's worth stopping. It is.
Keep on S.R. 40 heading west and you'll likely cross the Astor Bridge in time for lunch at Blackwater Inn, where an order of catfish nuggets is elevated by a view of the St. Johns River. After the meal, it's back on the road west through the Ocala National Forest toward downtown Ocala. In town, the glass-bottom boats still operate at Silver Springs and the Appleton Museum of Art is an under-appreciated air-conditioned gem.
West of U.S. Highway 27, the scenery shifts to horse farms and agricultural land. When S.R. 40 ends at U.S. Highway 41, head a few miles south to see the waterfalls and trails at Rainbow Springs.
In Dunnellon, County Road 40 West winds to the Gulf of Mexico. In Yankeetown, west of U.S. Highway 19-98, it's Follow That Dream Boulevard, a reminder that Elvis was here to film a movie of that name in 1961. It hasn't changed.
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