A gorgeous former Spanish land grant and homestead, Washington Oaks Gardens State Park impresses the senses with memories.
The bloom of the rose garden, the stinky sulfur spring, the live oak canopy blotting out the Florida sun: all will stick with you after you leave.
This park and its woodland gardens stretch across the barrier island, enabling visitors to watch manatees and dolphins in the Intracoastal Waterway or walk along its unusual rocky shores along the Atlantic Ocean.
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Address: 6400 N. Oceanshore Blvd, Palm Coast FL 32137
Fees: $5 per-vehicle state park entrance fee
Restroom: at the visitor center
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM to sundown. Leashed dogs permitted. Swimming is not advisable at the beach due to a strong undertow and large rocks.
Cyclists are welcome to ride Old A1A through the park. Two hiking trails provide places to explore natural habitats in the uplands and along the Intracoastal.
The gardens are at their peak in March. If you go hiking, take precautions for mosquitoes and ticks.
The park is along the west side of A1A, south of Marineland and 4.1 miles north of the Hammock Dunes Bridge at Palm Coast.
When you drive in on the park entrance road, the first parking area is for the Bella Vista trailhead. The next one is for the gardens. The road continues north to the picnic grove at the north end of the park, which has the largest parking area.
Coquina Beach is on the ocean side, across from the main entrance. You’ll need to display your day pass or your state park pass in your window when parking there.
About the Park
It’s mesmerizing to watch the waves carve the coquina beach into unusual patterns, emerging over time. A natural arch. A tidal pool. A narrow channel to walk through.
As grand as the gardens get in the formal side of this sliver of barrier island, you’ll always be drawn to the oceanfront, one of the weirdest beaches in Florida.
You can’t swim here, of course. Just appreciate the geology. Then head across the street and see what’s become of one of Florida’s original Spanish land grants.
The Bella Vista Plantation, the homestead of General Joseph Hernandez, passed into the hands of Owen D. Young, the chairman of the board of General Electric, in 1936.
Young and his wife expanded on the centuries-old citrus groves, adding formal gardens between their riverside retreat, which now serves as the Visitor Center.
They also planted gardens and added water features beneath the grand live oaks that canopied the original route of A1A, which now serves as the park’s entrance road.
After Young’s death in 1964, his wife donated the property to the state to become a state park.
In 2009, the complex of gardens and historic buildings formally became the Washington Oaks Historic District.
Trails at Washington Oaks
There are several distinct trails at Washington Oaks State Park.
The Mala Compra Trail connects the gardens with the picnic area at the north end of the park. It is open to bicycles as well as hiking.
The Bella Vista Trail has its own trailhead at the northern edge of the gardens. It’s a 1.8 mile loop that traverses most of the upland and waterfront habitats. It is for hikers only.
Cyclists can use Old A1A to the north and south ends of the park. It is shared with cars between the entrance station and the picnic area.
In addition, you can walk more than a mile of oceanfront along the ever-changing rocky shore at Coquina Beach.
See our photos of Washington Oaks Gardens State Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
On the shores of Fort Matanzas, a significant historic site south of St. Augustine, the dunes are now swaddled in maritime forest, a gentle place with ancient oaks and an accessible boardwalk.
History and natural beauty meet under a dense oak canopy at the ruins of one of Florida’s oldest sugar mills
Betty Steflik Memorial Preserve protects more than 200 acres of mangrove marsh, mud flats, and coastal uplands right on the edge of downtown Flagler Beach