Driving down U.S. 1 south of Daytona Beach, you would never know Oak Hill even existed. A couple of storefronts, a blinking traffic light, a handful of houses on a desolate stretch of Volusia County highway. The two major stores are the Dollar General and Windwalkers Motorcycle Outfitters (and Saddle Shop).
But this gateway to the Mosquito Lagoon is worth finding. There’s fascinating history, a great fishing pier and the sort of atmospheric, out-of-the-way waterfront seafood shack that we love to discover.
This little outpost has been on the map since 1564, when French explorer and cartographer Jacque LeMoyne de Morgues discovered an Indian village here, but the French colonization effort failed and the area wasn’t settled by Europeans until the late 1700s, when timber cutters tapped the area’s rich forests of live oak for shipbuilding. Or they tried to. The Indians drove them out.
Eventually, Oak Hill evolved as a commercial fishing village, and citrus growers found the climate and soil suitable for agriculture.
I discovered Oak Hill about 30 years ago. There was once an ice house on the lagoon, where oystermen and fishers would drop their catch for distribution in Volusia and Brevard counties. And there was a dilapidated old waterfront restaurant that was closed more often than it was open.
The old Goodrich ice house is gone, but the restaurant has recently undergone a major renovation. I was there for lunch on a recent weekday and wondered where they would get their customers – and then I watched the crowd of diners grow. They flocked to the outside deck, arriving by car, by truck and by boat. And it wasn’t even noon yet!
Finding this gateway to the Mosquito Lagoon
The easiest way to reach the waterfront in Oak Hill is from the blinking light at Halifax Avenue and U.S. 1. Take Halifax east, past the small school and the post office, all the way out to River Road (about two miles) and bear left onto River Road at the Mosquito Lagoon RV Park.
You can’t miss the RV park. It’s an old fish camp with a “new name,” but it’s still a fish camp and quite popular with a breed of snowbirds that enjoys the great outdoors and the remote, peaceful setting along the shores of Mosquito Lagoon.
Once on River Road, you’ll be looking out onto the vast lagoon, which separates the mainland from Canaveral National Seashore.
Seafood with a view: Goodrich
Oysters are, of course, the specialty at this waterfront restaurant, and they welcome parties to the deck for an oyster roast – “steamed oysters by the bushel available for parties of 20 or more.”
But you don’t have to have a large party to dine on oysters here. You can buy oysters by the dozen – grilled, steamed or raw at competitive prices. Or you can order the Steamed Oyster Bucket (48-plus oysters.)
Personally, I cannot consume oysters without a beer, and it was bit early in the day for a brew, so I opted instead for iced tea and a bowl of the “Kickin’ Corn and Crab Chowder.” This chowder ($5.99) was a real treat and reminded me of my favorite lobster “corn chowda” when I visit Maine every fall.
Goodrich offers a variety of seafood platters, grilled or fried, at very reasonable prices, from a grilled or fried shrimp platter for $18.99 to $20.99 for Goodrich’s Seafood Combo (shrimp, scallops, fresh catch filet, oysters and a crab cake).
No oyster house is complete without a “po’ boy,” and Goodrich’s offers their tasty specialty on a toasted hoagie for $10.99, including sides of hush puppies, cole slaw and French fries.
Goodrich’s fame is spreading: Celebrity Chef Emeril LaGasse taped a show for the Food Network here in November 2013. LaGasse interviewed the owner, Karyn McNamara, whose father built the restaurant in 1971, according to the Daytona News Journal. Her family’s history with the spot goes back to the 1930s, when her grandfather started a seafood business there.
The best feature of eating here is the outdoor deck overlooking the lagoon, where you can watch sailboats and fishing boats cruise in the distance along the Intracoastal Waterway. If you come by boat, there’s a well-marked channel at Marker 8 that takes you right up to the restaurant’s dock.
A special treat on the day of my visit was a rare white pelican, perched just a few feet away, pruning its feathers. That’s the beauty of this place – the Mosquito Lagoon is a haven for wildlife and you are bound to see plenty on your visit.
National Park System operates historic Seminole Rest
This little park in Oak Hill is an unexpected outpost of the national park. It features a Victorian-style home built in the 1850s that was later moved atop an Indian mound of quahog-clams, discards of the harvest by the Timucua Indians who once lived here.
The value of this house to the National Park Service is not in its architecture, but rather in its heritage as a protector of the Indian mound. When Hatton Turner purchased the house and surrounding property in 1888, he moved the house to the top of the Indian mound for a better view of the river.
By most accounts, Turner had another motive – to protect the mound from railroad work crews who had torn up similar mounds for the shells they would use for railroad beds. Indeed, there was considerable profit available to those who sold the shell mounds to the railroad.
The main house is now a museum open to tours every Friday, Saturday and Sunday throughout the year from 12 noon until 4 p.m. During the winter season (November-May), the hours are expanded to include Wednesdays and Thursdays.
The museum features the history of the Timucua natives, how they lived and thrived in this part of Florida. Also on the site is a caretakers house, which the Turner family added in 1888.
Kayak launch, beach and fishing pier
Just north of Seminole Rest, is a public fishing pier that reaches deep into Mosquito Lagoon. This pier is one of the longest I’ve ever seen – extending 200 yards or more to the deep water of the channel.
One could easily spend a day here fishing in the lagoon.
Just a bit further north, on the other side of Goodrich’s, is a narrow public beach that is ideal for launching a small boat or kayak. You’ll see the parking alongside the road and a few picnic tables along the beach.
This kayak launch offers amazing access to Mosquito Lagoon and the islands of Canaveral National Seashore, where you’ll find private beaches, primitive camping and excellent fishing around the oyster bars and mangroves.
After a day on the water, you’ll be ready for your repast at Goodrich’s, which is next door.