Bridging the Gap

Donald Raab
18 min readFeb 7, 2024


Taking a road trip and checking off some bucket list items on my todo list

Bahia Honda Rail Bridge from the Bahia Honda State Park in Florida Keys

Empty Nesters with Time Off

My wife and I decided that on January 16th, the same day both of our kids had returned to university, that we would drive down the east coast with the ultimate goal of spending some time with my aunt. For various reasons and pandemics, I hadn’t seen my aunt in at least five years. It had honestly been so long, that neither my aunt or myself could remember exactly when we had last seen each other in person. No matter, I had set my mind on visiting and spending some quality time with my aunt for a few days, so that’s what we did.

This trip was unlike any other I have ever taken in my life. The trip had a beginning (New Jersey), a goal (visit with my aunt), a final destination (New Jersey), but not much in the way of advance planning for particular destinations along the way. Only the first two bullets below were scheduled stays before we started the trip. Once we reached Palm Coast, Florida, we decided how long we would stay, and what we would do next. We used our previously banked (thanks pandemic!) Marriott timeshare points for overnight stays anywhere we could. This determined most of the places we decided to stay.

Plan is nothing. Planning is everything.

Our plans and destinations changed on a daily basis. By the end of the trip, my wife and I saw many new places, sights, sunrises and sunsets. We also ate a lot of great food and drank a lot of yummy coffee. I’m honestly at a loss for how much we were able to see and do. The trip felt like it was months long, but was seventeen days and sixteen nights with nine overnight destinations. We spent 50–60 hours driving in our SUV. I estimate we drove at least 3,500 miles during the trip. I am now taking some much needed time off from driving.

Major Stops along our trip:

✅ Williamsburg, VA (overnight)
✅ Myrtle Beach, SC (two nights)
✅ Palm Coast, FL (three nights)
✅ Orlando, FL (two nights)
✅ Pompano Beach, FL (🛑 How You Brewin? Coffee House for ☕️)
✅ Singer Island, FL (two nights)
✅ Pompano Beach, FL (🛑 How You Brewin? Coffee House for ☕️)
✅ Miami, FL (checked in but didnt’ stay)
✅ Key Largo, FL (two nights)
✅ Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key (🛑 for 🏝️)
✅ Pompano Beach, FL (🛑 How You Brewin? Coffee House for ☕️)
✅ Palm Coast, FL (overnight)
✅ Hilton Head Island, SC (two nights)
✅ Williamsburg, VA (overnight)
✅ Washington, DC (🛑 for lunch)

Every day of this trip was a beautiful day. We literally had only 10 minutes of rain the entire time. I feel like I understand the motto of my cousin Chris a lot better after taking this trip. We enjoyed every beautiful day! Thank you for the best life advice, Chris!

The rest of this blog will be organized by the stops we took with some select pictures. We took hundreds of pictures, so it was a challenge to filter them. I hope you enjoy the ones I selected, and find inspiration to go on your own road trip adventures. We sometimes forget how many wonderful things there are to do and see in this beautiful country we live in. Enjoy it!

Williamsburg, VA

We love visiting Williamsburg, Virginia. It is a nice place to stop on a long road trip to the Southern East Coast and has some great alternatives for food and entertainment. When the kids were younger, we used to visit Busch Gardens and Water Country USA. On this trip we spent one night on the way down, and one night on the way back. We ate at the same restaurant both times this trip —Mellow Mushroom Pizza Restaurant.

It was cold in Williamsburg, and we got there after dark I so didn’t take any pictures this trip.

Myrtle Beach, SC

The first destination on our trip that neither my wife nor I had been to before was Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Day 1

This is a picture I took from the Marriott Vacation Club resort we stayed at after we checked in.

Main Pool at Marriot Vacation Club in Myrtle Beach

The temperature was in low to mid 50’s (Fahrenheit) when we arrived. Some folks were going in the hot tub, but no one was brave enough it seems to go in the pools, even though they were heated.

I went for a walk on the beach and caught a decent sunset.

Sun setting on Myrtle Beach

I love taking pictures of sunsets and this trip was full of some great ones.

Sunset on Myrtle Beach with seagulls taking in the view

Day 2

I’m not a morning person. I’ve always been a night owl. I made an exception during this trip. In addition to my usual sunsets, I wanted to take advantage of our ocean based stays and capture some hopefully amazing sunrises. I was not disappointed.

I woke up a half hour before sunrise in Myrtle Beach and started taking photos.

Before sunrise on Myrtle Beach

As the sun began to rise over the clouds after 7:15am, I caught this picture in all its splendor. The gray clouds on the horizon were challenging my ability to determine how to balance the photo.

Sunrise at Myrtle Beach

The sun had risen fully by the next picture, and was beginning to reflect strongly on the ocean.

Sunrise at Myrtle Beach with reflection

I zoomed in with 2x for this wonderful shot of the sun, which by this point was drowning out the dark gray clouds behind it so I could finally find my balance with the the ocean line. I went back in to get a bit more sleep before breakfast.

Sunrise with 2x zoom at Myrtle Beach

I am not fully functional until I have had at least one cup of coffee. The coffee at Blueberry’s Grill in Myrtle Beach was very good. I enjoyed the breakfast as well. I also quite liked the mug, so I took this picture.

Coffee at Blueberry’s Grill in Myrtle Beach

We caught nice sunset dinner at a restaurant called Chestnut Hill in Myrtle Beach. We had a delicious dinner two nights in a row there as well. I find when you are on a short trip somewhere, there is no need to experiment with multiple restaurants. If you find some place good, then go back and try different things on the menu.

Sunset at dinner at Chestnut Hill in Myrtle Beach

Day 3

Two days in a row, I woke up early for the sunrise. The sun did not disappoint. Every sunrise and sunset is different. I recommend enjoying as many as you possibly can. We had to check out of the room by 10am, so I had to get up anyway and pack the car. This picture was worth getting up a little bit earlier.

Sunrise at Myrtle Beach

Palm Coast, FL

The day we arrived at Palm Coast, FL, we took a quick drive with my aunt to visit Flagler Beach. For three days we pretty much ate breakfast and dinner at Metro Diner, which was just awesome.

Day 1

We had hoped to go eat at the Flagler Tea Company, but it was closed until a few days after we visited. I took this picture of the waves and surf at the pier at Flagler Beach.

Pier at Flagler Beach, FL

Day 2

We took a drive to Washington Oaks Gardens State Park. It was cold and windy the day we went there, but it was totally clear blue sky.

Map of Washington Oaks Gardens State Park

I took this picture of the gazebo in the water in the middle of the park. I really love the colors that come out in this picture. I half expected fairies, elves, and gnomes to jump out and say hello.

Gazebo in Washington Oaks Gardens State Park

We went the ocean side of the park, but the winds were so strong, they were blowing sand everywhere. I got this decent picture of the waves being blown in by the wind.

Rough winds and seas on the Atlantic Coastline at Washington Oaks

Orlando, FL

I wasn’t originally planning to go to Orlando on this trip. I was hoping to stick mostly to the coastline. We decided while in Palm Coast to book a couple nights to help us move further south on our trip through Florida.

Day 1

We took a ride in a boat car next to The Boathouse in Disney Springs. This was the car we drove in the water with. I kept wondering about the seal on the doors and if we would take on any water. We stayed dry.

Boat car at the Boathouse in Disney Springs

Day 2

We decided if we were going to stay in Orlando, we were going to spend a day at Epcot. So we did. I took this one of many pictures of Spaceship Earth.

Spaceship Earth at Epcot Center

We travelled around the countries of the world at Epcot, and I tried to buy a shot glass at each country, but was only able to find four of them. My favorite one was from Norway.

Shotglasses and mugs at Norway in Epcot

I got a decent picture of a sunset over the lake in Epcot.

Sunset in Epcot

Finally, we went for dinner at a nice restaurant called Space 220. After dinner I took a bunch of pictures of Spaceship Earth at the entrance, as it was lighting up in all different colors.

Spaceship Earth at Epcot Center in Orlando

Pompano Beach, FL

We didn’t stay at Pompano Beach, but was stopped there three separate days for coffee at How You Brewin? Coffee Company. The first day we dropped by on our way from Orlando to Singer Island. Pompano Beach is about an hour south of Singer Island, but was worth the detour to visit my favorite coffee house originally from Long Beach Island, NJ.

How You Brewin? Coffee Company in Pompano Beach, FL

We walked out on the pier at Pompano Beach, which was quite nice. I liked how colorful the lifeguard stations were on the beach.

View of north side of Pompano Beach from the pier

Singer Island, FL

We stayed at Marriott’s Ocean Pointe location on Singer Island. We were staying on the South Eastern corner of the island right next to an inlet that let ships and boats come in and out from the Atlantic.

Day 1

We got to the resort after sunset, and I took this picture of the pool at our building.

Pool at our building at night with the moon behind the clouds

Day 2

Since I had committed to morning ritual of sunrises on this trip, I walked to the beach by the main building to catch the sunrise. It was about a 10 minute walk from our building to the main building.

Large Ship and bird enjoying the sunrise at Singer Island

I was a bit confused and excited to see this large ship off the beach, as it kept coming closer and closer.

A boat and a large ship enjoying the sunrise off Singer Island

At one point I thought the boat was going to land on the beach. It turns out there is an inlet next to where we stayed that both large ships and boats come in and out of to get to and from the Atlantic.

Land ho! It looked like this ship was going to run aground on the beach

We went to a manatee viewing spot on the mainland, but didn’t see any manatees. Between the mainland and Singer Island, there was an island called Peanut Island. We got some beautiful sunset pictures from Singer Island overlooking Peanut Island.

Sunset from Singer Island overlooking Peanut Island

The colors of the sunset were a bit surreal. They seemed to change colors and hues every few minutes.

From purple hues to burning skies and fiery water in just a few minutes

Day 3

Another day, another sunrise. There are certainly perks to getting up early. I’m glad I took pictures so I can enjoy them as I return to being a night owl.

Sunrise over the pool next to our building on Singer Island

The following is a photo I took of a ship coming in the inlet we were next to on Singer island.

A ship coming in the inlet next to our hotel on Singer Island

Pompano Beach, FL

When we left Singer Island, we stopped first at Pompano Beach to pick up some yummy coffee from How You Brewin? coffee shop.

Miami, FL

We had planned to stay two nights at Marriott’s Villas at Doral, but once we checked in at noon, we found out we would have to wait until 4pm to get our room. We decided quickly we would take a drive down to check out Key Largo, which was about an hour away, so we would not waste any time. This was the one photo I took of the pool at the Marriott we booked, but never wound up staying at.

Main pool at Marriott ‘s Villas at Doral

Key Largo, FL

Once we were on the road driving to Key Largo, we decided that we would see if we could find an available hotel to stay at. After being booked in an overbooked Courtyard by Marriott, we were referred to the Reefhouse Resort and Marina. We really enjoyed staying here, and it was a great launching point for two drives down through the Florida Keys.

Day 1

On our first drive on US 1 through the Florida Keys, we stopped at Marathon Key and the Sunset Park at Key Colony Beach.

Sun in full splendor at Sunset Park on Marathon Key

From Marathon, we turned around on US 1 and stopped along the way at Long Key State Park for a few minutes and few photos.

Long Key State Park on Long Key

We got back to the Reefhouse Resort and Marina just after sunset, but I was able to catch some great after sunset photos overlooking the Blackwater Sound.

After sunset on the Blackwater Sound at Reefhouse Resort and Marina

Day 2

We had to wake up at 6am to see the sunrise at Harry Harris Park on Key Largo. We had looked up what the best place to see a sunrise on Key Largo was, and this park was what we found. We drove there at 7:00am and found a line of cars with boats waiting for the gates to open. Unfortunately, the park opened for cars at 7:30am, which was about 15 minutes after sunrise. We decided I would enter the park on foot, and my wife would wait for me in the car. I took pictures of the sunrise for us. The sunrise here was nice, but not the best sunrise ever.

Sunrise at Harry Harris Park on Key Largo

After the sunrise, we were hungry, so we found a great little restaurant named Harriette’s for breakfast. The breakfast was delicious, and I had the biggest biscuit I have ever seen on a plate along with a crab filled omelette. I also had a delicious Key Lime muffin. I would definitely go here again. Both the food and service were great.

Harriette’s Restaurant on Key Largo

After breakfast, we decided to explore and see if we could find a decent beach or two in Key Largo. We drove to the north of Key Largo, only to find the road ended with a gate to a private club. We then went to a Botanical Garden in Key Largo for a nice walk. Then we drove around a bit looking at the map on our GPS for places we might be able to see a beach. Unfortunately, there weren’t any that we could find. We went back to the hotel we were staying at and asked the very nice concierge where the nicest beaches we could go to within a reasonable distance were. One of the beaches was at Mile Marker 37, which was past the Seven Mile Bridge. The beach was at Bahia Honda State Park. We were at Mile Marker 103.8 in Key Largo. After driving 66.8 miles, we would cross the Seven Mile Bridge and arrive at Bahia Honda State Park.

GPS as we drove over the Seven Mile Bridge

I always wanted to drive over this bridge. Now I have. Twice. I thought it was going to be a bit harrowing to drive over such a long bridge over water, but I found the drive kind of relaxing and fun.

Seven Mile Bridge and old Seven Mile Bridge on the right

The wide shoulder on the bridge made the drive mostly stress free. The dotted line for cars to pass made it somewhat less so, but I guess some folks just can’t wait to get where they are going. When we arrived at Bahia Honda State Park, we paid the entrance fee and found some parking near a Beach Shop near the marina. We bought some towels and some water shoes, as I planned to go walking out in the amazing looking water.

Picture of the marina at Bahia Honda State Park

Here’s a selfie of me walking in the water with my new water shoes.

Walking on water at Bahia Honda State Park

The views at several beaches that are part of Bahia Honda State Park were just stunning. I hope you enjoy a few of them here.

Bahia Honda Rail Bridge as seen from one of the beaches in the park

This is a picture of the bridge we did not drive across. It was a bridge too far for our one day driving on the Florida Keys. Next time!

US 1 Bridge seen from Bahia Honda State Park — A Bridge too far

When we were done hanging out at Bahia Honda State Park, we headed back across the Seven Mile Bridge and the rest of the keys to Key Largo and the Reefhouse Resort and Marina to enjoy the sunset.

The Reefhouse Resort beach on Blackwater Sound

The sunset on Blackwater Sound was cool and somewhat eerie.

Sunset on Blackwater Sound

Day 3

We would check out of the Reefhouse on Key Largo at 10am and head back up the east coast of Florida to Palm Coast to visit again with my aunt. But first, we would stop again in Pompano Beach for my favorite coffee at my favorite coffee house.

A cup of pure Joy at Pompano Beach location of How You Brewin?

Palm Coast, FL

We only stayed one night at Palm Coast, but I got to have a couple of Sierra Nevadas at our hotel bar while watching San Francisco win against Detroit.

Drinking beer after over a decade avoiding due to allergies

Hilton Head Island, SC

My wife and I had never been to Hilton Head Island, South Caroline, so we booked two nights at a Marriott Grand Ocean resort there. Sunsets and sunrises were great here. So was the food.

Day 1

We arrived after a 3–4 hour trip from Palm Coast, Florida. This was the view of the ocean from our room.

Ocean view at our hotel in Hilton Head Island, SC

The beach at Hilton Head Island seemed to be at a really low tide when we took a walk.

Walking on the beach at Hilton Head Island, SC

We drove to Harbor Town on Hilton Head Island and got some nice after sunset photos. The following picture is of the lighthouse in Harbor Town.

Harbor Town lighthouse after sunset

Day 2

As it would turn out, the sunrises from our room would get kind of obstructed by the trees. No worries. I walked down to the beach to get some unobstructed pictures.

Sunrise on Hilton Head Island, SC

I always enjoy when wildlife or boats decide to get involved in my sunrise and sunset shots. A seagull was nice enough to grace this shot.

Sunrise with seagull on Hilton Head Island. SC

My wife has Celiac, so finding safe and good food is always a challenge. On this trip, we found the G-Free Spot! The breakfast sandwiches and bakery items are great here. I had a BEC on an everything bagel that they prepared non-gluten free in a separate kitchen. The coffee was great too.

The G-Free Spot

We got a recommendation to visit the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. I wish we had more time to spend there, but I would go back. We were lucky and got to see an alligator in Ibis Pond while we were visiting.

I had to zoom on my camera to get this shot, but hopefully you can spot the alligator without too much strain.

Alligator sunning in Ibis Pond

We returned to Harbor Town for the sunset and dinner, and we were so very happy with both. This picture had a really cool cloud interaction. It almost looked like a left over tornado getting sizzled out by the sun.

Sun with cool cloud at Harbor Town

I like when I am able to line up the sun with something that makes a fun picture. Here the sun is turning on the light which was off.


My two favorite sunsets on this trip was this one and the one we experienced on Singer Island.

Sunset at Harbor Town on Hilton Head Island

I am always excited to wait and see what the sun will do with the clouds as it goes down. This sunset did not disappoint.

Sunset with more clouds at Harbor Town

The after sunset effects are always a treat when they work out well.

Pastels in the sky after sunset at Harbor Town

I guess I was enjoying the sunset so much, along with a terrific dinner at the Quarterdeck restaurant, that I didn’t notice that I drank three IPAs with my dinner.

IPA number 3 with after sunset view from our table at Quarterdeck

My wife drove us back to our hotel. After all of my driving the previous 15 days, I was happy to have the break.

No More Pictures, but Plenty of Memories

We checked out of our hotel at 10am as per the usual, and had our longest drive from Hilton Head Island, SC to Williamsburg, VA. It took us about 8 hours and I had to refill the gas tank once along the way. When we arrived in Williamsburg, we booked a reservation again at Mellow Mushroom and had a great dinner. The following morning, we checked out again, and decided to break our final drive home to New Jersey in half by stopping by Washington D.C. to have lunch with my wife’s uncle and aunt. After a nice lunch, we finished the drive back to New Jersey.

There were many other amazing things we did on this trip, like driving up the A1A in Florida from Palm Coast to St. Augustine. We also drove up the A1A from Pompano Beach through Boca Raton up to Palm Beach when we were headed to Singer Island. We also drove the A1A down to Ft. Lauderdale from Pompano Beach on our way to Miami. Our goal was to see as many places and things as we could while we were driving. This trip was about the journey, not the destination. We enjoyed every single minute of the drive, and there were a shit ton of minutes for us to enjoy.

I always wanted to take a slow walk road trip with my wife down the east coast. We’ve now done it, and I feel like we’ve bridged a gap in our lives. We are both ready to try some trips from east to west. I once drove from San Diego to New Orleans with my brother over the course of a week. We took one path that I enjoyed but would not take again. I would like instead to drive along the famed Route 66. The trick is that you need more time to enjoy the journey. One week is not enough. Three weeks lets you take your time and see more stuff.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the selection of pictures I used to tell my January 2024 road trip story!

I am the creator of and committer for the Eclipse Collections OSS project, which is managed at the Eclipse Foundation. Eclipse Collections is open for contributions.



Donald Raab

Java Champion. Creator of the Eclipse Collections OSS Java library ( Inspired by Smalltalk. Opinions are my own.