It was “Real Florida,” but it seemed otherworldly. Or, at least it didn’t look like any beach I’d ever seen in the state. Waves crashed onto huge coquina rocks. Water rolled over the tops of those closest to the tide line and then seeped into holes and crevices, forming small pools. Around me, children scampered onto boulders that lined the beach between the ocean and the dunes. It is a natural playground.
Located in Palm Coast, two miles south of Marineland, Washington Oaks is famous for its unique shoreline of coquina, a sedimentary rock made of sand and shells. But it also has beautiful gardens, a citrus grove, wooded paths and an expansive view of the Intracoastal Waterway.
“It’s so different from any other state park,” said gift shop volunteer Kim Church. “But it’s the history that draws me most.”
The 425-acre park was once a place where Timucuan Indians came to fish and harvest oysters. During the Spanish era, it was a citrus and cattle farm. In the 1800s, a distant relative of President George Washington owned the land and used it as a sportsman’s retreat. In 1936, wealthy businessman Owen Young bought the property as a wedding gift for his wife Louise. They built a home overlooking the Matanzas River, part of the Intracoastal Waterway, and Louise planted gardens that still exist today. Maintaining the gardens for the enjoyment of visitors was a stipulation in Louise’s will when she left the property to the state in 1964.
During a recent visit, I went to the beach first and then explored some of the rest of the estate by walking a hard sand path that leads from the entrance parking lot to the Intracoastal. The self-guided half mile sign-marked tour meanders through the park’s 21-acre historic district. It leads to a citrus grove planted by the Youngs and through Louise’s rose garden, which was filled with red, yellow, pink and white flowers. I stopped to smell some and then strolled through the back gate to the Matanzas.
After admiring a view of the waterway through thick trees, I took a shady path that runs along the top of an ancient Timucuan shell midden. Quiet and peaceful, it ended at the Young’s home, which is now the visitor’s center. Benches and picnic tables at the edge of the lawn by the river offer relaxing places to enjoy a view of boats and dolphins going by.
The park is open from 8 a.m. to sundown 365 days a year, with a $5 per vehicle entrance fee. Swimming is permitted on the beach, although visitors need to be careful of the coquina rocks. I didn’t swim, but I did climb on the rocks. It was just like the state parks slogan says: real fun in “Real Florida.”
For more information
6400 N. Ocean Shore Blvd.
Palm Coast, FL 32137
Park Office: 386-446-6780