Palm Coast and the Flagler Beaches are a string of seaside communities located in Northeastern Florida. The vibe is low-key and laid-back. You are more likely to see dolphins and loggerhead turtles then rowdy spring breakers. Don’t be surprised to see traffic come to a standstill when sea turtles stroll too near the road, as locals regularly get out of their vehicles to move them to safer ground.
Visiting families will be hard pressed to leave the 19-miles of Atlantic sun, sand and waves. Those who do will be rewarded with activities that show-off the areas’ natural side. Just keep in mind that Palm Coast has little in common with the other posh Palm in South Florida. This community is comfortable with its down-home, non-pretentious spirit. Relaxed is the rule and no one is ashamed that nothing’s fancy. Free beaches and parking, low-priced admission to attractions, inexpensive dining and accommodations make a moderately priced family vacation a reality.
Palm Coast Activities and Attractions
1) The Beach
All area beaches are noted for their unusual cinnamon colored sand, courtesy of crushed coquina shells. Head to popular Flagler Beach, where you’ll find lifeguards and a pier. There are no arcade games, wax museums or rollercoasters. Entertainment comes in the form of the colorful characters and surfers who populate the town. For a more solitary experience, turn down any road with beach access and throw your towel down.
The area offers decent surfing conditions with potentially big waves. For surfing lessons and board rentals, try Sully’s and Si Como No. If you're going to try and catch some waves on your own, the break is best near the pier.
The Flagler Beach Municipal Pier rents fishing poles and sells bait. Local seniors, kids and families can all be found casting a line here. You pay a small fee to access the pier, which includes your one-day fishing license.
Ripple Effect in Marineland offers eco-tours of one of the country’s most pristine estuaries. Kayaks provide a unique vantage point to view Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins, manatees, eagles and hundreds of species of rare shore birds. Professional naturalists lead small groups (age six and older) of kayakers around the waterways that are considered to be one of the most biologically rich ecosystems on the planet. All ages are welcome to tour the coastal habitat on a vegetable oil- powered boat.
The area has a network of nearly 100 miles of connected bike trails. Families who enjoy traveling on two-wheels should head for the Mala Compra Plantation Greenway, located directly off the A1A, spanning between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic. A lush canopy of oak trees surrounds the trails, so you can cycle in the shade. Stick to the perimeter, where the trail is gentle even for novice cyclists. You can rent bikes at Ocean City Surf Company.
6) Bing’s Landing
Bing's Landing is a fully excavated dig site for kids interested in archeology. A spacious and shady playground is a good spot to expend some energy. It is just next to the Mala Compra bike trails.
7) Horseback Riding
The Florida Agricultural Museum offers guided trail rides for those aged 8 and older. No experience is necessary, but you need to book in advance online or phone 386-446-7630.
Years before there was Sea World, visitors communed with dolphins at Marineland. It opened in 1938 and for years was Florida’s biggest attraction. Today it’s a small educational facility run by the Georgia Aquarium, and its primary goals lie in science and research. It is not a theme park and entertainment takes a back seat, so you will be disappointed if you come expecting shows. Thirteen dolphins live here, and general admission gets you unlimited time watching these fascinating animals at play. At under $10 for adults with discounts for kids, it is cheaper then a movie ticket. For those willing to shell out bigger bucks, they offer a variety of swim-with-the-dolphin experiences and a weekly summer camp that gets culminates with campers romping with dolphins.
9) Florida Agricultural Museum
Visitors to this restored 19th century homestead will get a glimpse at what farm life was like in the 1880’s. The 2-hour tour of this living history museum will guide you through the dairy barn, mule barn and dry goods store. Feed a chicken, hunt for eggs, husk corn or wash clothes on a washboard. There is an informative exhibit on the history of Florida’s Black Cowboys that should not be missed. Open Wednesday-Sunday.
10) Washington Oaks Gardens State Park
This grand estate was once the winter residence of a wealthy family. You can tour the lovely home, but kids will prefer romping through the acres of gardens, citrus groves, a greenhouse and ponds. The park is famous for its unique shoreline of coquina rock formations that line its Atlantic beach. Picnic, hike or bike the property.
Where to Eat
No need to change out of your flip-flops, as the dining scene has a distinctly casual bent. There are very few chain restaurants. Family-owned spots with heaps of local color and easy-on-the-wallet prices dominate. The seafood is fresh and the preparation gives simple a good name. The following eateries all offer kid’s menus.
11) Flagler Fish Company
Flagler Fish Company is a market and relaxed restaurant in Flagler Beach, a few blocks from the pier. If the fish were any fresher they would be swimming. They serve tasty burgers, salads and sandwiches too.
12) JT’s Seafood Shack
JT’s Seafood Shack is another local favorite. Oysters, shrimp and crab are briny treats prepared with a light touch, served in cozy digs.
13) Burrito Works
Burrito Works in Flagler Beach is a local joint in the best sense of the word. The fish tacos, served in the most basic environment, are delicious and keep the crowds coming.
14) Captains’ BBQ
When nothing but meat will do, some of the best barbecue in Florida is found at Captains’ BBQ in Palm Coast. Perfectly cooked pork, beef, chicken and ribs are served with classic sides like baked beans and collard greens. Save room for dessert.
15) The Waffle Cone
If Flagler Beach didn’t already scream Old Florida, the Waffle Cone is a classic ice cream shop serving 50 homemade flavors. There are old-fashioned games for the kids to play, penny candy to purchase and even free cones for toddlers under age three.
Where to Stay
16) Rent a condo
Larger families and multi-generational groups may consider renting a house or condo. Vacation Rental Pros is a well-regarded local holiday rental company that has dozens of properties.
17) Hammock Beach
If you are looking for a resort experience, Hammock Beach is a large Oceanfront hotel. It is the kind of place that the kids (and their parents) might never want to leave, thanks to a multi-level fantasy pool complex with slides and a lazy river, tennis, 2 championship golf courses, dining, a spa and more.
18) Si Como No
Si Como No is an intimate family-owned motel offering eight cottage-style rooms and excellent value. Guests are greeted to a rainbow of colors and bold stripes that will make you think you’re south of the border. Comfy hammocks provide the perfect napping spot. Rooms are spotless and come equipped with microwaves and fridges. There are kayaks for your use and a small skateboard ramp. The owner gives surf lessons and runs a popular summer surf camp.
19) Tent Camping
If your family enjoys camping, Princess Place is an unspoiled preserve that offers several serene and rustic sites to pitch a tent. Tent camping is not recommended in summer, as Florida is as famed for its mosquitos as its glorious beaches.
20) RV Camping
For RV camping, Gamble Rodgers State Park has 34 beachside sites, plus kayak, canoe and bike rentals.
Palm Coast and Flagler are on the scenic A1A and only a few miles off I-95. The closest airport is Daytona Beach, only minutes away, followed by Jacksonville an hour north and Orlando, 90-minutes southwest. For more information on planning a visit to the area, go to Palm Coast and The Flagler Beaches.