DC/Winchester to Jacksonville with kids
July 6, 2016 3:39 AM   Subscribe

I'm heading off for my first semi-solo road trip with kids (and my mom) from either DC or Winchester to the Jacksonville/St. Augustine area of Florida. We are planning to take two days and stop every few hours for a break, preferably somewhere scenic and fun for the kids.

Scenic and fun can be "funky diner off the interstate for supper" or "you have to stop over in Savannah and walk around in the evening."

I've searched the archives and found this and this, but I'm hoping for some elementary school kid (and history buff mom and scenic travel appreciating me) specific advice. On the one hand, I want the drive itself to be fun, but on the other hand, I don't want it to last infinitely long or to add a vast amount of driving to the quickest route. What's worth seeing? Any kid-specific road trip tricks?

Note: starting from Winchester adds a couple of hours in the car with kids, but I can do it if 95 is just so awful it's worth it.

The last time I did this drive with adults, I followed a route very similar to this one from mdonley through the Outer Banks, Charleston, and Savannah, but that seems kind of on the long side with kids? It's been 20 years, so I don't quite remember exactly. We are driving both ways, and so could do Charleston/Savannah in the way down and Outer Banks on the way up, or whatever route variant makes the most sense in either direction.

Any St. Augustine area suggestions are also welcomed. Or Gainesville, as we have a side trip there as well.
posted by instamatic to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total)
There's a bit of a trade off between the scenic routes and getting there in two days.

Looping through the Outer Banks will likely ruin your two-day schedule. Getting there after leaving I-95 in North Carolina is a 3-4 hour drive. Getting back to the mainland from the southern end of the Banks is a ferry ride. So, fun to do, but allot an extra day or two.

From Winchester, there's I-81 down to I-77 into South Carolina, where you can make your way to I-95 for the leg into Florida.

Very soon after you enter Florida on 95, you can exit on A1A north of Jacksonville. This runs east for several miles, and then turns south along the coast down to St Augustine. There's a river ferry along the way. (The site says it won't be running the last week of July: http://stjohnsriverferry.com/). Watch for it. It's off to your left as you drive by.

This avoids the very large sprawl of Jacksonville. The A1A does run right along the shore in many areas, but it also includes a lot of stop-and-go through the towns out there.
posted by justcorbly at 5:16 AM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Jacksonville is sprawly, but it's generally not hard to get through, and at that point you'll be so close to St. Augustine that you may just want to hustle down.

I'm from St. Augustine, and after a 15 year sojourn in NYC just moved back with my wife and our daughter (now 2 daughters!) last year. Here's my non-exhaustive list of fun kid-friendly stuff to do in St. Augustine (obviously some stuff will be better for older kids):

- Walk around the Historic Downtown area and see the sights, including
* The "Oldest X in America" (where X equals basically any noun)
* Historic St. George Street
* The Castillo de San Marcos
* Flagler College (amazing former gilded-age hotel) and the Lightner Museum (ditto)
* about a million ice cream shops
* creepy historical reenactors and "pirates" walking around
* a bunch of beautiful old buildings and colonial Spanish architecture
* the original Ripley's Believe it or Not museum
* a shockingly good popsicle place called The Hyppo
* The Bayfront seawall, where you can catch a breeze and look for dolphins/manatees/sea turtles
* The various trolley tours
- Climb to the top of St. Augustine Lighthouse. It's really nice, and on a clear day you can see the Saturn V assembly building all the way down in Cape Canaveral.
- Drive down to Fort Matanzas (at the southern end of Anastasia Island) and take the free boat out to explore the fort ruin. There's a beach on the inlet side down there that's perfect for small kids, because it's completely flat pretty much all of the time.
- Go visit the St. Augustine Alligator Farm. It's pricey, but pretty cool, especially if the kids are in to animals, and there's even a playground in the park.
- Go to Anastasia State Park and walk north on the beach until you round the inlet and marvel at the view and the fact that you're the only people out there.
- Go hiking in the dune forests at Guana River State Park
- Since you've got a car and will be heading over to Gainesville anyway, you should really consider driving the hour to hour and a half out to Ocala National Forest and visiting/swimming in some springs. They're one of the best parts of North Florida. Salt, Silver Glen, Alexander, and Juniper are all really fun and relatively close by.
- Go canoeing in Faver Dykes Park, and scope out the alligators.
- Go to the Florida Agricultural Museum south of town, scope out the working farm and go on an amazing and cheap horseback ride through the pine uplands surrounding the museum.
- Go to Marineland and swim with some dolphins (but maybe ethically indefensible? I guess only if the kids are adamant).
- Take a walking tour of beautiful and historic Lincolnville and learn about St. Augustine's civil rights history.
- Go to Vilano Beach and walk east and south around the edge of the inlet to Porpoise Point, which is a great beach for kids (generally smaller waves) and has an incredible view of downtown.
- Play at Project SWING (amazing playground downtown) and Davenport Park (solid playground with a dollar-per-ride carousel, right next to the public library).
- Rent kayaks and paddle around in Salt Run.
- Watch a free outdoor movie at the Amphitheater.
- Go nuts at the Splash Park at the pier, then run down the beach and swim in the ocean, then repeat, all day.
- Walk the long boardwalk at Ocean Hammock park and check out the amazing coastal ecology (and sometimes see deer grazing in the dune swales).
- Hike to the bluffs on Moses Creek.
- Probably 100 other things I'm forgetting.

We live right downtown, and I'd be happy to answer any other questions you might have. My email's in my profile. Have a great trip!
posted by saladin at 6:24 AM on July 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

Oh and if you'd like any kid-friendly restaurant recommendations let me know! Most places in town are fine to bring kids to, but some are more accommodating (and less boring for kids) than others.
posted by saladin at 8:27 AM on July 6, 2016

Mrs. W and I just discovered a wonderful French Bakery on A1A called Les Petits Pleasures. Worth stopping at!
posted by wittgenstein at 4:25 PM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for all the suggestions, especially the St. Augustine ideas, saladin! I would love some kid-friendly restaurant ideas. (And I have a kid special-request of sushi, if you have suggestions for that, too.)

It sounds like the Outer Banks probably isn't for us this trip (no real surprise there). Any suggestions of places to stop for roadside attractions, meals, or places to stay that are a bit more directly on the route from Winchester or DC to St. Augustine?
posted by instamatic at 5:42 AM on July 7, 2016

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