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The Washington Oaks beach is lined with sculpted rocks.
The Washington Oaks beach is lined with sculpted rocks. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Florida has miles and miles of beaches, but nothing quite like the Washington Oaks beach, 12 miles north of Flagler Beach.

The beach at Washington Oaks Gardens State Park is full of swirling, sculptured rocks piled along the coquina beach, some sporting circular holes, others forming bowls that create tide pools for snails and anemones.

Water has created fanciful swirls in the coquina rocks at Washington Oaks beach in Palm Coast.
Water has created fanciful swirls in the coquina rocks at Washington Oaks beach in Palm Coast. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

You might recognize coquina rock as the large picturesque stones often used in landscaping. Or you may associate it with St. Augustine’s Spanish fort, the Castillo San Marco, which is made of coquina.

Coquina is a soft rock made of ancient marine reefs and limestone and it is found in only few places – a few sites on the southern coast of the United State and in New Zealand.  And Washington Oaks beach has the largest of the Atlantic Ocean outcroppings.

The beaches along Flagler County look like a giant container of cinnamon was sprinkled on them because of the orange specks of conquina that comprise the sand.

Close up of swirling coquina rocks at Washington Oaks beach.
Close up of swirling coquina rocks at Washington Oaks beach. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Washington Oaks Gardens State Park is located between the ocean and the Matanzas River midway between Daytona Beach and St. Augustine. As its name suggests, it features historic formal gardens. (Here’s more on the garden side of the park. )

Perhaps because the park has “gardens” it its name, visitors to the area sometimes overlook the spectacular Washington Oaks beach. It’s easy to do! There is barely a sign; the road to the beach references only the “Florida scrub” habitat adjoining the beach.

When you walk down to the Washington Oaks beach, you’ll first see some low outcroppings of coquina. Head north along the shore, and the rocks get larger and more fantastic.

The beach extends three-quarters of a mile. The rocks extend some distance north beyond the park’s borders and also crop up in the water. At high tide, the water crashing in the coquina rocks is a spectacular sight. At low tide, the coquina shapes create tide pools, and that’s the best time to appreciate the rocks.

Because of the rocks, this beach is better for exploring and wading than swimming.

How Coquina is formed

According to the National Park Service, the coquina rock you find at Washington Oaks Beach was formed by millions of tiny clams that died and accumulated for thousands fo years. These shells — tiny coquina clam donax variabilis — still live in the shallow waters along the coast. These are the small pink, lavender, yellow, or white shells one sees along the beach at the waterline, according to the NPS. Over time, the clams formed a submerged deposit of several feet thick. Eventually, water levels dropped, the deposits were exposed and rain dissolved some of the calcium in the shells, creating a chemical reaction that “glued” the shell fragments together. 

Coquina is Spanish for “tiny shell.” 

Video of waves crashing on coquina rocks at high tide:

 

Planning your visit to Washington Oaks beach:

Washington Oaks Gardens State Park
6400 N. Oceanshore Blvd.
Palm Coast, Florida 32137
(386) 446-6780

Best asset: The coquina rocks are fantastic, and this is the largest outcropping of coquina on the Atlantic Ocean.

Parking: There’s a beach parking lot with about 30 spaces.

Fees: $5 per vehicle. Bring correct change for honor box.

Alcohol: No

Pets: No

Location and directions: To find the beach, take the park road marked “Florida scrub habitat,” which is directly off of scenic A1A heading east. It leads to the beach parking lot.

 

 
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