Florida Beach Guide: Canaveral National Seashore
A handful of anglers dot the shoreline at the northern entrance of Canaveral National Seashore. (DENNIS WALL, ORLANDO SENTINEL / May 12, 2000)
No cars on the beach, no places from which to rent rafts or buy sodas, no pier parties, no looming condos, no surf shops, no motels or lights.
What you'll find here are pristine beaches of large-grained sand, heaped into dunes like Mother Nature intended - untainted by car exhaust and unleveled by bulldozers.
The Canaveral National Seashore, which includes beaches from south of New Smyrna Beach to Titusville, is one of the last of the Florida wildernesses.
The beaches of the Canaveral National Seashore - which include Apollo, Playalinda and Klondike - might not prove as convenient as ''motorized'' beaches. If you are going to drink cold drinks, play on a raft or have a bite to eat, you've got to truck it in yourself. That means hauling everything you need several hundred yards from the parking lot to the beach, reached over boardwalked dunes that are covered with sea oats and palmettos.
The park charges no admission, but there are some restrictions. The seashore is popular, and when the limited parking areas are full, the gates swing shut and no additional visitors are admitted. Early morning is the best time to get here, especially on summer weekends when the lots fill up fast.
About 300 parking spaces are available at Apollo Beach on the north end, seven miles south of New Smyrna Beach on State Road A1A. Playalinda, which begins at the junction of State Road 402 and the Atlantic Ocean, near Titusville, has room for 1,100 vehicles.
Because of its proximity to several launch pads at Kennedy Space Center, Playalinda Beach closes during launch preparations. It reopens the day following a launch. Because Playalinda is inside NASA property, security regulations are closely followed. Visitors should heed signs that warn them away from certain areas and structures.
The seashore's location makes for curious juxtapositions. Virtually within the shadow of ultra-modern rocket towers prehistoric animals carry out their renewal-of-life rituals.
Canaveral is the birthing place for hundreds of sea turtles, huge creatures that lumber ashore during the night, dig nests with their flippers and deposit eggs that hatch in the late summer and early fall.
Rangers at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, which manages areas of the park, take visitors on guided tours in early summer, watching by flashlight as the turtles lay their eggs in their sandy nests.
The wildlife refuge is home to 13 species of endangered or threatened species of wildlife. Its skies are the territory of such birds as the southern bald eagle and the peregrine falcon; its waters the refuge of manatees.
Some of those endangered or threatened species might be glimpsed during the drive to the beach or, if time allows, during a leisurely tour of six-mile-long Black Point Wildlife Drive, off State Road 402.
At Apollo Beach, historic Turtle Mound provides some insight into the ways of life of the Timucuan people, nomadic Indians who once lived in the area. Turtle Mound is a shell midden - a mound of animals bones and refuse such as shells deposited there by the Indians.
But the main draw of Playalinda, Apollo and the remote Klondike Beach sandwiched between the two is the Atlantic Ocean, a gem displayed in a natural setting.
''For us, it's close by and it is a natural setting. Cars can't drive on the beach, and I like that,'' said Amanda Bradford of Titusville.
The surf at Playalinda occasionally can be rougher than on other stretches of the state's coastline. No one is certain exactly what causes it.
''We've speculated about it in the past, and it seems the general theory is that because of the way the Cape (Canaveral) is jutting out, the tide and wind transverse one another in our area, creating the rougher surf,'' said Bill DeHart, the park's assistant superintendent.
Whatever the cause, surfers like it.
Families are also drawn to the beaches.
''Daytona and other beaches nearby are just too crowded for young children. There you have to worry about them running out in traffic, here you don't,'' said Brian Martin of Orlando, as he watched his 2-year-old son dig in the sand at Playalinda.
Fishing also is a popular activity at the beach, and fishermen can hope to return from a trip with scrappy bluefish, whiting, pompano and other sport fish.
Nudists are another group drawn to Playalinda and Apollo, to the occasional dismay of beachgoers who encounter the sans-suit crowd unexpectedly.
The naturists usually congregate in the northern-most areas of Playalinda. Nudity at the park is lawful as long as it is not accompanied by lewd or lascivious behavior, according to a flier available at ranger stations.
Among the naturally occurring hazards at the park are the possibility of jellyfish and man-of-war stings, bees and other insects, sunburn, rough surf and strong ocean currents and thunderstorms.