FLAGLER BEACH PIER
Built in 1927, the pier has seen its share of fish and (acknowledging its handful of rebuilds), storms too. Considered the town's hub, you'll enjoy a lively fisherman's atmosphere with great people-watching as this beach town comes and goes. Weekends are the busiest. Want to fish? Licenses are not required at the pier, just pay a small daily rate and rent a pole and bait at the entrance. Only twenty poles are allowed on the pier at a time. Should you find it full, take an hour's detour to Flagler Beach Museum, below.
FLAGLER BEACH MUSEUM
"From the Stone Age to the Space Age" is the improbable, but fascinating, arc of Flagler's story. It starts with Indian artifacts (fossils, tools, etc) and spans the centuries to the town's connection with the 1960s Space Race. You won't take very long to see its exhibits but this sweet museum is a proud town fixture. While here, ask for a map for the self-guided historic walking tour around Flagler's downtown.
PRINCESS PLACE PRESERVE LODGE
It takes a minute to get your head around quite how this homestead came to house a princess. Though your guided tour offers greater nuance, the 'Princess' in question is the widow of Rich Husband #1 (who built the lodge), and the eventual wife of Rich Husband #3 (exiled Russian prince). Born Angela Mills of New York state, she had quite a life!
That's just a portion of a great story set in beautiful old Florida grounds. In another twist, the estate boundaries date to 1791, a grant from the Spanish. Today, all 1105 acres remain in their natural state.
The house itself was finished in 1888 and would have been the best-known house in all of Florida at the time. It included not only Florida's biggest citrus grove but also an indoor, heated pool (structure since destroyed).
With water on all sides, Flagler's oldest remaining estate is wonderfully maintained and makes a fascinating few hours' exploring. Following your tour, wander the grounds and look for nesting bald eagles. Hiking trails (1 to 5 miles long) loop all around the preserve, and flora/fauna include 80-foot oak trees, bobcats and foxes. Horsey people will be thrilled to see there are equestrian trails as well.
BULOW PLANTATION RUINS HISTORIC STATE PARK
A great spot for a hot day, the ruins are entirely shaded and will delight shutter-bugs to no end (speaking of which – bug spray might be a good idea in this natural setting). The drive to and from is very scenic, add a half hour's stop on to any day's excursion. Awaiting your exploration are the ruins of a 19th century sugar cane plantation and mill.
If keen to keep going and see more while visiting, a nature trail (the Bulow Woods Trail, approx. 7 miles) will take you through one of the south's biggest oak forests. The star attraction is the 'Fairchild Oak' – the grandaddy tree. Quiz family members to identify animal tracks along the way: deer, raccoon or something else? Canoes are also available to rent, if you'd prefer to paddle!
GAMBLE ROGERS MEMORIAL STATE RECREATION AREA
Where a state park board might think, "We've got a beautiful beach, great nature trails and water access galore", and leave it at that – Gamble Rogers kept improving. In fact, they offer the Shangri-La of park services. Never has your day's admission stretched so far, with activity options for the whole family including Turtle Talks, Crabbing for Beginners, Salt-marsh Kayak Tours, and – winning hands-down for the rhyme alone – 'Tai Chi By The Sea'. (And many other events besides – check the park's packed calendar for details).
A must-see point along the Florida Birding Trail, Gamble's beach is home to great bird-life including pelicans, osprey and egrets. Beach ramps are wheelchair accessible and bikes/kayak/canoe rentals can be found at the ranger station.
GRAHAM SWAMP PRESERVE TRAILS
Bringing nature into the 21st century, this biking/hiking trail invites iPhone and Android devotees to participate in its smart phone tours. Find eight QR codes along the 2-mile trail to learn the site's history, with tons of geology and ecology thrown in for added interest. Definitely one for teenagers, they can Instagram the whole thing too. For the slightly more intrepid, a 7-mile intermediate mountain bike trail is also available – lots of ups and downs, curves and swerves, so bring your good pair of knees.
The closest public beach access south of Ocean Hammock, Varn Park has eight acres of beach-front and offers visitors great opportunity for watching bird-life along the shore. As well, whether you'll watch or participate, this is the spot for surf fishing. The day's catch might include blues, whiting, flounder, snapper or a total surprise.
BETTY STEFLIK MEMORIAL PRESERVE
For a low-key afternoon when you've seen everything else, this preserve covers 217 acres of marsh and coastal scrub land along the Intracoastal. Boardwalks meander here and there, letting you stroll at your pace – whether with a dog or human companion. That is, unless the fishing pier and boat launch don't entice you to the water?
GALLERY OF LOCAL ART (GOLA)
A little gallery by the sea, showcasing the best local talent and an occasional classroom for art classes. Flagler's quaint sense of small beach town is put on best display here. Stop by to choose an affordable and lasting memory to frame and take home.