Last updated on June 22nd, 2020 at 04:46 pm
FLAGLER BEACH — The beach houses are modest cottages, more than a few years old, and some have added patios for instant conversions to beachfront businesses. A few bright colors give these home-grown beach businesses an island feel.
A house with sculptures of pirates climbing walls and sitting atop its “forecastle” doesn’t draw code violations, it draws admiration. McMansions and high-rises are unwanted here, and they are rarely seen along this beach.
This is a beach where you can cruise the beach highway and park on the shoulder for free.
There’s one stretch of pristine beach south of town where you ride, bike or hike for miles and miles without seeing a single home, save a single high-rise that seems to have crawled into place when nobody was looking.
The broad, flat beach looks like it was sprinkled with cinnamon. The coral color comes from coquina, a soft rock made of ancient marine reefs and limestone that was used to build historic Castillo San Marco in St. Augustine. (St. Augustine is only 30 minutes away.)
Around town in Flagler Beach
The central pier has anchored this classic Florida beach town for 80 years, rebuilt many times because of violent storms.
The village green across the street was once the front yard of a grand hotel and is now surrounded by quaint cafes, small businesses, City Hall and side streets that take you further down memory lane through the historic district, where many buildings date back to the 1920s. These stories are told at the Flagler Beach Museum, just off the square behind City Hall.
On north side of the green, fronting the beach, is the landmark Finn’s rooftop tiki bar, where on nice days you can sit in the sun, enjoy a cocktail or a beer and lunch with a spectacular view of the ocean. The food is not fancy — fish sandwiches and seaside pub chow — but it is tasty and inexpensive, a consideration given the oceanfront location.
One of the most popular seafood places in town is right off the main square: Flagler Fish Company, 180 S Daytona Ave. Pick your fish from a refrigerated display and choose how you want it cooked. Yelp readers loved it and so did we.
A traditional favorite is the Pier Restaurant, where you dine inside looking out over the beach, pier and ocean. On a recent Sunday lunch hour, we enjoyed a fresh and flavorful fried flounder sandwich from a table right next to a huge glass window with a perfect beach view.
The pier itself is a great place to spend the day with your fishing rod, get away from it all and bring home your own dinner of pompano, whiting, flounder, black drum or redfish. (No alcohol allowed on the pier, lending to a more family-friendly atmosphere).
State Road A1A is lined with classic Florida mom-and-pop motels, and it shouldn’t be difficult finding a room, except during peak weeks at nearby Daytona International Speedway: Speedweeks (mid-February), Bike Week (early March), Coke Zero 400 (July 4th) and Biketoberfest (mid-October).
Flagler Beach: The beach, the birds – and the whales
Flagler Beach’s main attraction is the beach, and when the surf is up, you’ll find plenty of wave-riding vehicles. If the breeze is strong and steady, as it often is, kite-surfers and sailboards join their beach brethren.
On low tide, the beach is covered by shore birds pecking through seaweed for snails and digging for tiny crabs, known locally as sand fleas. This is also a popular snacking stop during the fall and spring migrations, serving as a rest stop of sorts for birds swerving southeast to the Bahamas, or continuing on to the Everglades and the Caribbean.
Add the always fresh salt air and the gentle splashing of the sea, and you’ve found your place in the sun. It certainly works for me.
In winter, the rare North Atlantic Right Whale seeks refuge in the warm waters off this beach, and the whale-watching is especially fruitful in January and February. Only 450 are known to exist – and they nuzzle close to shore to give birth.
A prime location for whale-watching is the pier, and when there are sightings, the pier magically fills whale-watchers.
Gamble Rogers State Recreation Area
One segment of beach worth visiting is Gamble Rogers State Park, south of town. It’s not a very big park as state parks go, but it has a beautiful half-mile orange sand beach, and there is an oceanfront campground with 34 sites. The inland side of the 145-acre park has a second campground, a boat ramp and hiking trails that open up the Intracoastal Waterway and saltwater marshes common along this coast, making it an excellent launch pad for kayaks, stand-up paddle boards and canoes,
The campground is nestled in the dunes and can accommodate RVs up to 40 feet. Each site has water and electric hookups, a picnic table and fire ring, and all sites have access to a communal dump station. The sites are close together, but that coziness can be a blessing in winter when brisk ocean breezes can make camping here a might uncomfortable.
The park is named after Florida folk singer Gamble Rogers, who drowned in 1991 trying to save a couple foundering in the surf. Rogers jumped in the churning surf despite his spinal arthritis disability.
Soon after, the park was renamed in his honor, and twice monthly, folk singers and musicians gather under the park pavilion for an acoustic jam session. All musicians are welcome on the second and fourth Saturdays every month.
Day-use admission is $5 per vehicle, including use of the boat launch.
A paved bike path runs along State Road A1A through both Gamble Rogers and the adjacent North Peninsula State Park.
North Peninsula State Park
Just south of Gamble Rogers, North Peninsula State Park is a real gem, an undeveloped 2.5-mile stretch of beach that seems endless, its glistening orange sand inviting sunbathers, swimmers and surf-fishers. It’s very quiet here, except for the breeze, the surf and the shore birds.
Dune crossings are available at several points along State Road A1A, and parking is free.
On the inland side, there’s a nature trail for hiking (no bikes), a kayak and canoe launch, and a walkway under a bridge where you can fish in the Halifax River.
With breeding marshes and tidal creeks feeding the river from every direction, this is an ideal location to hook sea trout, snapper and red drum, and it is popular with locals in summer during the shrimp runs.
The boat launch is at Highbridge Park, off A1A at the High Bridge. On the north side of the bridge is Smith’s Creek Landing, where you will find a picnic pavilion, rest rooms and the trailhead for the park’s Coastal Strand Trail.
The Coastal Strand Trail is a 2.5-mile loop that winds through several distinct eco-systems, including maritime hammock, coastal strand and coastal scrub. There is considerable change of grade, around and over dunes and hammocks, and there are sandy sections, but it’s not overly challenging.
This is also great spot to just sit and watch the boats cruising the Intracoastal, or the birds following the waterway during migration. On a recent visit, I saw numerous paddlers enjoying the paddling trails back into the marshes and islands.
Cross the High Bridge and follow narrow, curvy two-lane Highbridge Road as it winds through the marshes, part of the scenic Ormond Loop Trail.
This is easily done on a bicycle. Although narrow, there is little traffic on Highbridge Road until you get to the Low Bridge on Walter Boardman Lane. You can leave your car at the beach, Highbridge Park or Smith’s Creek Landing.
Things to do near Flagler Beach
Washington Oaks Gardens State Park — Historic oak-shaded gardens and a beach with fantastically shaped coquina rocks on the other.
Princess Place Preserve — A delightful place to hike, kayak, camp and tour the lovely 1888 hunting lodge, which has a great story of a real princess behind it.
Marineland, The historic oceanarium founded in 1938. General admission is $14.95 for adults ages 13 and above, $9.95 for children (ages 3-12), $13.95 for seniors (60+). Behind the Seas admission is $24.95 for adults ages 13 and above, $14.95 for children (ages 3-12). The facility offers a variety of experiences with dolphins, starting with “touch and feed” for five minutes for $35 to $219 (and up) for a “dolphin immersion” to $485 for a “trainer for the day.” Details: Marineland.net
Kayaking near Flagler Beach
Here are several county and state parks and paddling trails that offer good kayaking in the region:
Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park is a good place to access the 6.5 mile Bulow Creek Paddling Trail. Here’s a map of that trail with put-in spots and information about outfitters. In addition to paddling the trail, you can also paddle upstream about 3 miles as the creek narrows. This section is considered the most wild and scenic.
Haw Creek Preserve State Park and its Russell Landing marina give you access to the pristine blackwater Haw Creek. It passes through an old cypress swamp under a lush tree canopy that leads to Crescent Lake. The remote Haw Creek is not heavily used, so you may have it all to yourself. The trail is 5.7 miles from Russell Landing to Bull Creek Fish Camp, which is located at the end of Mud Lake.
Princess Place Preserve is the start of the Pellicer Creek Paddling Trail through an unspoiled tidal estuary to Faver-Dykes State Park. Here’s the trail map and guide to the 6.5 miles round trip Pellicer Creek Paddling Trail.
Gamble Roger State Park has a boat ramp on the Intracoastal Waterway and offers inexpensive kayak rentals. (a single for $15 or a tandem kayak or canoe for $25.)
Fort Matanzas is one of my favorite places to go in the Flagler Beach area, and it is on a body of water that is a great place to kayak – the Matanzas River and Matanzas Inlet. One place to launch your kayak is the Helen Mellon Schmidt Park in St. Augustine.
Campgrounds in and near Flagler Beach
Gamble Rogers State Park, 3100 S. Oceanshore Blvd., Flagler Beach FL. (386) 517-2086. There are 34 sand-base campsites behind the grassy dunes, and another 34 sites inland on the banks of the Halifax River. All sites feature water, electricity, a picnic table and a fire ring. All sites accommodate tents or recreational vehicles, although I would suggest that the beach sites are more welcoming to RV’s because the sites are close together. Sites are $28 a night, reservable up to 11 months in advance through ReserveAmerica.
Tomoka State Park, 2099 North Beach Street, Ormond Beach, FL. (386-676-4050). Located in a shady hammock near the Tomoko River, this park has 100 campsites with electric and water, picnic tables and a grill. Maximum RV length is 34 feet. Sites are $24 per night and can be reserved up to 11 months in advance through ReserveAmerica.
Faver-Dykes State Park, 1000 Faver-Dykes Road, St. Augustine. (904-794-0997). This tranquil park just off I-95 south of St. Augustine is a popular destination for paddlers and fishers. It has 30 campsites in a shady hardwood hammock with natural buffers between most of the sites. Each campsite has water, electric, an inground fire circule with a grill and picnic table. Maximum RV length is 30 feet. Sites are $18 per night and can be reserved up to 11 months in advance through ReserveAmerica
Beverly Beach Camptown RV Resort, 2816 North Oceanside Blvd., Beverly Beach, FL. — Private oceanfront RV campground with 130 sites, each with full hookups, sitting atop a seawall. (Best sites are the lower numbers). Beach views are limited. Three miles north of Flagler Beach on State Road A1A. Sites are $65 and up per night. Weekly rates available. Call (386) 439-3111 up to a year in advance for reservations.
Flagler by the Sea, 2982 North Oceanshore Blvd., Flagler Beach, FL — Private oceanfront campground with 31 campsites with full hookups and 30-amp electric. Consider oceanfront “deluxe” sites for added scenic atmosphere. Directions: 3.5 miles east on FL 100, then 4 miles north on FL A1A. Sites are $79 and up. Call (386) 439-2124 for reservations:
Bulow RV Resort, 3345 Old Kings Rd. S., Flagler Beach, FL — Shady, scenic private RV park with 326 sites with full hookups. Near Bulow Plantation Ruins State Historic Site and Bulow Creek State Park. $45 and up per night. Call (386) 439-9200 for reservations.