Are you planning a trip to Daytona Beach but wondering what it is there to do beyond the beach? You may be surprised that the area offers fantastic opportunities for nature explorers. In Washington Oaks Garden State Park nearby, you can spend a day hiking, birding, fishing, or admiring the park’s unique shoreline of coquina rock formations along the Atlantic beach. Further inland, fascinating Blue Spring State Park is awaiting your arrival. Available activities include canoeing, scuba diving, kayaking, fishing, camping, hiking, wildlife watching, swimming, and in winter – manatee watching! Another favorite, Tomoka State Park, offers hiking, boating, fishing, birdwatching, and canoeing. Here is what you need to know about those beautiful Florida state parks.
Like most other visitors to Florida, at first I thought of the state as just a place to soak up the sun and explore the theme parks. But with each visit, I discovered more and more of its natural beauty. Turns out that Florida has 175 award-winning state parks, and many of them on the ocean!
Daytona Beach area is blessed with many green areas, some right at the city borders, some a short drive away. Even if you are a sun worshipper, you may want to take a break to check out these natural attractions.
WHAT TO DO IN DAYTONA BEACH – FLORIDA STATE PARKS NEARBY
Tomoka State Park
If you are wondering what to do in Daytona Beach, you do not need to drive far to find out. Tomoka State Park is a 2,000-acre nature oasis located along the Tomoka River, three miles north of Ormond Beach, just 10 miles from Daytona Beach.
When I visited the park, there was literally no one there. It felt unreal that a beautiful place like that sits undisturbed just minutes away from the urban world.
The area was home to Native Americans for thousands of years, as proven by archaeological excavations within the park. Researchers suggest that the land was occupied as early as 5000 B.C. (detailed history of the park)The park consists of scenic marshes and live oak hammocks that abound with wildlife. It also protects various wildlife habitats and endangered species, such as the West Indian manatee.
Tomoka is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Over 160 species of birds were sighted there, especially during the spring and fall migrations.
The park’s centerpiece is the 40-foot sculpture of “Chief Tomokie”, the legendary chief of Timucuan warriors, created in 1955 by artist Fred Dana Marsh. The statue needs restoration, but it still gives a park a unique vibe.
Website: Tomoka State Park
Tomoka State Park
2099 NORTH BEACH STREET
ORMOND BEACH FL 32174
GPS Info. (Latitude, Longitude):
The grand entrance to Tomoka State Park.
Activities at Tomoka State Park
Visitors can stroll a half-mile nature trail through a hardwood hammock that was once an indigo field for an 18th-century British landowner. A boat ramp gives boaters and canoeists access to the river. A park store and restaurant offer breakfast, lunch, snacks, camping supplies, and canoe rentals.
Camping at Tomoka State Park
The park offers 100 campsites with picnic tables, grills, electricity, and water. The sites do not have sewer hookups, but a dump station is located within the park. Three bathhouses complete with hot showers, one of which ADA compliant, are conveniently located throughout the campground.
Reservations for campsites may be made by contacting Reserve America, toll-free at 1-800-326-3521, between the hours of 8:00 am to 8:00 pm or 1-888-433-0287 for Hearing Disabled.
Reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance. For maps and reservations online at Tomoka State Park, click here.
Washington Oaks Gardens State Park
Put Washington Oaks Gardens State Park on your must-visit list when planning things to do in Daytona Beach. Extending from the Atlantic Ocean to the Matanzas River just south of Marineland, the park preserves 425 acres of Florida’s original coastal scenery.
Once a plantation dating back to the early 1800s, named by a former owner who was a distant relative of George Washington, the park is truly fascinating. It consists of two parts, one on the ocean and another among huge oak trees.
Much of what you see in the park today was left by Mr. Owen D. Young and his wife, Louise. Mr. Young bought the property in 1937 for their winter retreat. Mrs. Young donated the property to the state of Florida in 1964, following the death of her husband.
Formal Gardens in Washington Oaks State Park
The formal gardens are the centerpiece of Washington Oaks Gardens. A portion of the hammock contains a formal garden where many species of exotic plants are displayed along the footpaths and around reflecting ponds.
Vegetation includes southern live oaks, magnolias, hickories, cabbage palmettos, and saw palmettos. Plants that can be found in the gardens are roses, camellias, and azaleas, and more.
The Washington Oak
The Washington Oak, estimated to be between 200 and 300 years old, is one of Florida’s oldest and sturdiest trees, able to withstand hurricane-force winds, fires, droughts, and floods. The enormous tree at the center of the gardens provides shade and beauty for park visitors.
The unique beach of Washington Oaks Gardens State Park
The vast majority of beaches in Florida are made of sand. In contrast, Washington Oaks’ beachfront features mostly coquina rocks stacked on top of each other. These rocks provide not only very unique scenery but also form an ecosystem that provides a foundation for plants and animals such as algae, limpets, and crabs.
Coquina rock is found in only a few places – on the southern coast of the United States and in New Zealand. Washington Oaks beach has the largest of the Atlantic Ocean outcroppings.
The word “coquina” is Spanish for “cockle,” a name given to the small, burrowing clam that lives in the sand just at the ocean’s edge. This clamshell is the main component of the rock.
The park’s beach is subject to a constant transformation. The rocks can be exposed or covered up by storms as sand gets shifted around them. From one season to the next, the beach can look entirely different.
This ancient rock formation creates the perfect spot for beachcombing, tidal pool exploring, and photography. It’s important to note that there are no formal swimming areas due to the coquina rock formations along the beach.
Activities at Washington Oaks Gardens State Park
The park offers beaches (on both the Matanzas River and the Atlantic Ocean), bicycling, fishing, hiking, picnicking areas, and wildlife viewing. The visitor provides opportunities for learning about the park’s natural and cultural resources.
Washington Oaks hosts several annual events, including an Earth Day celebration, Holiday in the Gardens, and saltwater fishing clinics. First Friday Garden and History walk along with Second Saturday Plant Sales are monthly events enjoyed by the community and visitors.
Wildlife includes sea turtles, Florida gopher tortoises, West Indian manatees, white-tailed deer, raccoons, bobcats, foxes, Virginia opossums, eastern gray squirrels, pileated woodpeckers, northern cardinals, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and Florida scrub-jays.
Blue Spring State Park
This park is another excellent destination if you are looking for things to in Daytona Beach, especially in winter.
Blue Spring State Park
2100 WEST FRENCH AVENUE
ORANGE CITY FL 32763
About 30 miles away from Daytona Beach and just an hour away from Orlando, Blue Spring State Park is another wonderful escape from urban life. With its 72 degrees spring water and all year round and lush vegetation, it is the perfect winter escape not only for people but also for manatees!
Make sure you arrive at the right park! Do not get it confused with Lafayette Blue Springs State Park near Mayo, Florida, 140 miles away.
GPS Info. (Latitude, Longitude):
28°57’3″N, 81°20’2″ W
Blue Spring State Park is the perfect oasis.
Blue Spring State Park is home to a first-magnitude spring that is one of the largest winter gathering sites for manatees in Florida. Visitors can see hundreds of manatees enjoying the constant 72-degree spring water in the winter months.
Manatees depend on warm water for survival, as they cannot tolerate water temperatures lower than 68 degrees for long periods of time. Although manatees look blubbery, they have only about an inch of fat and very slow metabolism, meaning they cannot easily stay warm. This biology makes sanctuaries such as Blue Spring vital for their survival.
Activities in Blue Spring State Park
Of course, manatee watching is the most popular activity in the park. The season runs from approximately mid-November through mid-March. Several hundred manatees can be viewed atop the spring’s overlooks during that time. Swimming is not allowed in those months.
Visitors may hike the 4-mile trail through pine flatwoods and cypress swamp or marvel at the 1872 Thursby House that sits atop an ancient Timucuan shell midden.
Other favorite activities include sunbathing, swimming, tubing, snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding, and even scuba diving (outside of the manatee season). You can rent lockers, tubes, and swimming gear, such as goggles and snorkels. A guided riverboat cruise is also available.
Blue Spring State Park frequently reaches capacity. To avoid waiting, visit the park early.