Originally published April 2012:
It was a sunny and breezy Sunday – perfect for a trip to Washington Oaks. The park is about an hour south of Jacksonville. Taking I-95 to Palm Coast and then east towards the ocean is probably the quickest route, but you will have to pay the toll to cross the bridge in Palm Coast. For a longer, but more scenic route, take A1A along the coast past St. Augustine and Marineland. Washington Oaks is just a couple of miles into Flagler County.
Washington Oaks lies on both sides of AIA. To the west are the gardens a nature trails. To the east is the beach access. We visited the gardens first, where you’ll pay the $5 per car entrance fee. From the parking lot, the path towards the gardens runs straight to the intracoastal – there are plenty of benches overlooking the marsh. The visitor center relates the history of the park and how it came into the possession of the state.
The Mala Compra trail runs parallel to the water through the oaks and dead-ends near the overflow parking and picnic areas. The trail is about half a mile long and offers a couple of places to stop and see the water through the trees and tall grass.
Turning around and heading toward the gardens, one of the first exhibits is the circular rose garden. There must have been over a dozen varieties, all in bloom at the time. Next to the rose garden is the citrus grove, composed of a few orange trees. Beyond the grove and down the hill was the center piece of the garden – the pond and gazebo. There are several nondescript fountains under the shade trees and flowers which made it the perfect place to get out of the heat. There are actually several ponds, including one larger koi pond. Just beyond the shade trees and water is the greenhouse, which houses plants that are sold on-site. The nursery and greenhouse were closed, but are open for business on select days. There are several ‘coming soon’ signs for an amphitheater and other buildings. You get the impression that the park needs funding and isn’t afraid to ask for donations.
Across A1A is the beach access for the park. A short drive from the main road is parking lot with the boardwalk over the dunes to the beach. Rather than a sandy beach like in Jacksonville, the first few hundred feet are composed of shells. Heading north, the coquina rocks stick out of the beach and into the surf. The tide was coming in, which made for a lot of crashing waves and fleeing visitors. Pools of ocean water have eroded perfectly circular holes in the rock, some of which contain shellfish, crab, and other tidal wildlife.
Washington Oaks is definitely worth a visit – whether for the gardens or the unusual rock formations on the beach, it’s a great way to spend a sunny day in Florida .