Florida's North Peninsula

In northeast Florida there is a long, narrow stretch of barrier island known as the North Peninsula which harbors the towns of Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach, Ormond-By-the-Sea and Flagler Beach.  Known for its small beach-town lifestyle, rich and celebrated history, lively nightlife and limitless outdoor activities, this area is a beloved vacation spot for many while somehow remaining off the radar enough to keep its relaxed atmosphere, quiet charm and primitive beauty intact.  

Just north of famous Daytona is lesser-known Ormond Beach, which also has its downtown roots on the mainland but reaches across the Halifax River (part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway) to the ocean.  Originally inhabited by the Timucuan Indians in the 1500’s then settled by English pioneers in the early 1800’s, Ormond survived war and natural disaster alike to flourish as the Birthplace of Speed, home of the hard, flat, wide beaches which brought the first automobile manufacturers and racing enthusiasts to the area from around the globe in the early 1900’s to give birth to motorsport.  

Amenities such as fresh seafood, an expansive tiki bar, a farmers market and shops are part of downtown Ormond Beach’s modern life within the historic ambience provided by places such as John D. Rockefeller’s The Casements, the Nathan Cobb house (built from the wreck of the ship of the same name, the hull of which is still visible at low tide), Billy’s Tap Room and Grill (est. 1922) and Second Seminole Indian War-era battle sites like the Bulow Sugar Mill Plantation Ruins.

Ormond-By-the-Sea features quaint vacation rentals in quiet neighborhoods populated by kind locals, long-time visitors and restaurants specializing in great pizza, beachside barbecue and northern favorites on miles of clean, cinnamon-colored beach. The local hotspot is dog-friendly beach bar Lagerheads, from which you can view killer sunsets and blazing rocket launches from Cape Canaveral while enjoying great live music daily and indulging in innovative twists on American fare washed down with a cold margarita or craft beer.

Continuing north, you’ll pass through adjoining North Peninsula and Gamble Rogers State Parks, popular for viewing endangered right whales and oceanside RV camping.  Next is Flagler Beach is where you'll find a first-class farmers market, quirky shops and fun eateries serving fresh oysters and Florida wines, as well as a local history museum, art festivals, live music in the park, dog-friendly beaches and fishing from the Flagler Beach Pier where you can have your catch cooked at the Funky Pelican.

Only about 1-1/2 hours (yet worlds away) from Disney, there’s also camping, biking and hiking in Tomoka State Park, kayaking and fishing the river and backcountry salt marsh, surfing, fan gliding, paddle boarding, exploring coquina rock ruins like Bulow and Three Chimneys (the oldest rum distillery in the country).

The staggering amount of affordable activities and entertainment, laid-back beach life, friendly people and uncrowded natural beauty make the North Peninsula a must-try for anybody seeking old Florida charm near modern amenities and world-famous events like Daytona Speedweeks, Bike Week, and spring break.  Once you spend some time here, you'll always come backā€”if you don’t just move here, like I did.

Photos: Brian Best