As I watched The Goonies at a local drive-in theater the other night, I was reminded that beach races used to be, and very well may still be, a thing that people do. Bubbling with curiosity, I pulled my gaze away from the famous Fratelli chase scene and laid my eyes on my phone. Time to research.
Before I knew it, I’d spent 20 minutes reading the various “should we or shouldn’t we drive on beaches” articles and comments. In that span, I missed the Truffle Shuffle, our introduction to One-Eyed Willy, and a nearly grown man stealing a 5-year-old’s bicycle. But it was worth it, as now I know more about beach driving than anyone in my inner circle.
What I discovered is that driving your car on the beach is legal, though it exists in sort of a gray area. While it’s legal in some Florida cities — primarily Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach and Volusia County, though there are others — and in certain coastal areas around the country, beach driving is typically frowned upon by locals, mostly due to concerns revolving around safety, the environment, and aesthetics.
It is still legal (for now), however; and in my experience, if something’s legal, people will probably do it. So, to all you beach-driving folks searching for drive-on beaches near you, here’s some important info to keep in mind. Godspeed!
1. Know the Rules
Every drive-on beach has its own set of rules, regulations and laws for vehicles. For instance, driving on Daytona Beach is permitted for visitors with a day pass; on Amelia Island, however, only Nassau County residents and members of the Military or government are qualified to drive vehicles on the beach.
Always check the drive-on beach rules before you head out, and abide by them not just for your sake, but also for the safety of everyone.
2. Know the Access Points
Take a good, long look at the beach’s map to find approved vehicle access points — you can’t just drive out of the parking lot and onto the sand!
3. Drive Slow
Speed limits on beaches are very low, usually 10-20 mph, and are typically strictly enforced. This is because it’s not uncommon for beach drivers to run over kids or sunbathers.
Driving slow also prevents you from having to brake too suddenly, which is a big no-no when driving a vehicle on sand. Always try to coast to a stop whenever possible, as braking too hard can dig your tires deeper into the sand.
4. Underinflate Tires
On pavement, you want your tire PSI to be at the recommended level. When you drive on sand, it’s the exact opposite. With full tires, your vehicle will tend to want to sink down; if your tires aren’t as firm, they’ll have a tendency to spread out and roll easily across the sand, reducing your risk of getting stuck.
What’s a good tire psi for driving on sand? A lot lower than you think. Popular Mechanics recommends something in the neighborhood of 12-15 psi, and we feel like that’s a good range, if not a little low. (Aim for no more than 18-20, to be on the safe side.)
Just don’t forget to inflate them back up before you leave. A portable air compressor, like this cheap product, will be indispensable to any regular beach driver, as driving even a couple miles on underinflated tires can bend a rim.
5. Bring Traction Mats
Do it enough times and driving on a beach will eventually result in a stuck vehicle, no matter how underinflated your tires are. Everything comes down to forward momentum; if you have enough of it, you shouldn’t get stuck, but if you lose it, you may be in trouble. When in doubt, throttle forward a bit to avoid a stall.
But if you get stuck, products like this traction mat, which you put under your wheels, provide a bit of extra grip to get out of sticky (or sandy) situations. You can also try to wet the sand slightly near your tires to increase surface area. Just don’t use too much, or you might be asking for a winch-and-tow.
6. Pack Light
The heavier you are, the farther you’ll fall…into the sand. A lighter load will reduce that risk of getting stuck and provide you with a bit more ground clearance.
This also applies to your vehicle weight. For instance, instead of a heavier Toyota Tacoma, which has a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of over 11,000 pounds, you’d be better off driving on the beach with a Honda Ridgeline (GCWR of 9986 lbs.).
Towing on a beach is also not a good idea, for the same reasons as above. Even though the Ridgeline can haul up to 5,000 pounds*, it’s best to leave your big stuff at home or back at a parking lot.
7. Absolutely No Texting While (Beach) Driving!
Do we really need to say it? If you text while driving on a beach, you’re a danger to everyone, just as you are when driving on pavement. Put the phone away. Use Wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto if you really need to be connected to your phone while behind the wheel.
8. No Disturbing Wildlife
Areas of drive-on beaches may be closed off for vehicles due to marine life. In Florida, these areas are commonly found from May through October, as those are the months in which sea turtles nest, lay eggs, and hatch. Disturbing their natural habitats and any protected dune vegetation is illegal.
Sometimes these forbidden areas are called “Natural,” “Conservation” or “Transitional” beach zones. Be on the lookout for special signage when driving or review the beach’s regulations prior to visiting.
9. Check the Tides
To figure out the safest and best time to drive on a beach, you’ll need to learn how to read the lunar cycles — or just check the tide times and levels in your area. You’ll do best driving on the beach within two hours of low tide, but you’ll want to follow that same logic and get off the beach within 2 hours of high tide. Otherwise, you may be stuck with a four-wheeled submarine.
10. Have the Right AWD Vehicle
With an AWD Passport, you gain torque-vectoring all-wheel drive that’s designed to respond precisely to each wheel’s traction level. Honda’s clever Intelligent Traction Management system is also included, enabling you to engage a special Sand drive mode for increased maneuverability on… well, sand.
It’s also lighter than rival beach-driving SUVs like the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which has a curb weight of over 4,600 pounds, 500 more than the Passport.
Start Your Beach-y Adventure at South Florida Honda Dealers
Although there aren’t many public drive-on beaches near Miami, a road trip around Florida could put you within driving distance to one. So why not start that adventure right here at any of our South Florida Honda dealerships? We have the Ridgeline, Passport, and many other new and used AWD vehicles for sale to ensure your beach-driving journey gets off on the right tire. Contact your nearest South Florida Honda Dealers to schedule a test drive, or click here to request a quote.
Maximum towing capacity is 5,000 lbs. Towing requires accessory towing equipment. Please see your Honda dealer for details.