PALM COAST, FL — When the perfect vacation consists merely of a book and a beach, the ideal location is necessarily defined by way of negation. Such a place would not have crowds, noise or congestion; it would not have nearby attractions that demand inordinate time and attention; it would not require unusual effort in travel or expense. If this destination could not be found on some maps (which is sometimes true of Palm Coast, incorporated in 1999) this last negative attribute would be best of all.
When friends ask why we enjoy renting a condo at Palm Coast, our enthusiastic answer is that it’s not Daytona, Orlando or even St. Augustine. We found the place by accident a few years back while looking in vain for a last-minute vacation rental near St. Augustine. Our only option was a new condo development called Cinnamon Beach in the resort community of Palm Coast.
What we found was a perfectly manicured and landscaped collection of gated resort communities. Like so many of Florida’s planned communities, it imposes a perfection on nature reminiscent of Seaside, made famous by the Truman Show. It’s an attempt at perfection that has the advantage of keeping your reading time quiet and the view beyond your pages unspoiled.
Our single complaint might be that this beach consists of coarse sand and a periodically exposed coquina reef. So if beach swimming or sugar sand is your preference, you’ll want to look elsewhere. But for us, the opportunity to enjoy Spring Break away from the crowds far outweighs any concerns about the diameter of sand grains.
If you begin to feel restless, you’ll find several good options for day trips near Palm Coast. None are so compelling that they’ll induce guilt if you pass them by.
St. Augustine: America’s oldest continuously inhabited city, just a half hour north, is an outstanding destination if you’re interested in old Florida history, shopping, and art. Highlights include the Castillo de San Marcos and the nearby historic district which dates back to the 16th century. Also check out the Lightner Museum, originally Henry Flagler’s Alcazar Hotel, which offers a vivid glimpse into St. Augustine’s opulent Victorian era. Kids will enjoy the evening ghost walks and the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! museum. For an old world dining experience, try the Columbia Restaurant (the original Tampa location is Florida’s oldest family owned restaurant).
Ft. Matanzas National Monument: The rather small Spanish fortress at the mouth of the Matanzas River dates from the 16th century. The outpost guarded St. Augustine from British attacks from the south. Although surrounded by natural beauty, the place gets its name from the Spanish word for “slaughters.” It was at Matanzas that Spanish colonials murdered 250 French Huguenots in 1564. From the park headquarters, a free boat ride transports you to the fort for a brief tour.
Washington Oaks Gardens: Worth visiting? Sure, why not. Kids will be bored senseless, but if you’d enjoy a manicured garden and a little taste of Florida’s Civil-War era plantation history, by all means stop in for an hour or two.
Marineland: One of Florida’s original tourist attractions is just a few minutes north (combine it with the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine and you’d have a two-fer of old Florida tourist attractions.) As I understand it, Marineland is now mostly devoted to marine research with the University of Florida. You can also swim with dolphins and check out some early Florida film history. It’s a place we pass by frequently, and keep telling ourselves we need to stop in and see what’s going on. So far, we’ve managed to put it off. Maybe this summer.
Bings Landing Park: The site of another Civil War-era plantation is also a good point of departure for a kayaking adventure in scenic nearby estuaries. This year we lugged along a kayak to explore the salt marshes and do a little fishing. In just a few minutes on the other side of the Intracoastal Waterway there’s a wonderful network of scenic salt creeks. Check out Tropical Kayaks for details.
Palm Coast Vacation Rentals: For vacation rentals, resort information and homes for rent, check out Vacation Rental Pros at 1-904-385-3888.
Palm Coast Dining: You’ll find plenty of good chain restaurants in Palm Coast — Outback, Cracker Barrel, Sonny’s BBQ. Local’s seem to like Thai by Thai for Asian Cuisine and we enjoy the hamburger stand across from Bing’s Landing as much for the signage as for ice cream and burgers.