Ponce de Leon Visits The Beach

Just south of the upscale homes and world-renown golf courses of Ponte Vedra, scenic A1A enters a part of Florida that remains much as it has been for thousands of years. This is the Guana, Tolomato, Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. Like its name, the Reserve is long. It stretches for more than 40 miles and within its protected borders research is conducted to better understand estuaries – some of the planet’s most vital ecosystems. But shortly after entering the reserve, a stop at the North Beach Access Parking Area reveals one of the most significant sites in American history.
 
April 2, 1513
 
At noon, a Spanish navigator named Anton de Alaminos stood on the deck of Ponce de Leon’s flagship and used an astrolabe to determine that the ship’s position was 30 degrees 8 minutes north latitude. Earlier that day, Ponce had named this newly discovered land La Florida because of its colorful vegetation and because it was the Easter season known as Pascua Florida – Festival of Flowers. Anchoring before sunset, the Spaniards came ashore the following morning to claim La Florida as part of their vast empire.
 
April 2, 2013
 
On the 500th anniversary of Ponce’s historic visit, a ceremony at the North Beach Access Parking Area featured the unveiling of the Ponce statue commemorating his close encounter with the beach here at 30 degrees 8 minutes north latitude. A short walk across A1A takes visitors to a beach overlook with interpretive panels describing Ponce’s exploration and naming of La Florida. From this vantage point, it would have been easy to view Ponce’s little fleet on April 2, 1513 – the first official visit of Europeans to what would become North America. Remarkably, the high dunes and beach remain just as Ponce described them.
 
A visit to Florida’s Historic Coast wouldn’t be complete without a little “discovery” or your own. Make this beautiful stretch of beach off the beaten path your place for a great day in the sun.