Just north of Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach is a city with stunning nature, enthralling history, and all of the comforts of a beach destination.
Gilded Age giants John D. Rockefeller and Henry Flagler were drawn to this place. Flagler built the Ormond Hotel, while Rockefeller owned an estate on the Halifax River.
Known as The Casements, this mansion is owned by Ormond Beach, and the old gardens host many of the city’s public events.
To the north is a set of state parks that demand your attention. At Tomoka State Park and Bulow Creek Park you can kayak in lagoons, and hike through untouched live oak forest.
There I came across the ruins of a 19th-century plantation, and visited the site of a Native American village, documented by a Spanish explorer in 1605.
1. Tomoka State Park
I think you have to allow at least a day to experience some of the nature around Ormond Beach. Start with Tomoka State Park, which preserves 2,000 acres of lagoons and hardwood hammocks on the lower reaches of the Tomoka River.
The park is on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, and during the spring and fall migrations is one of the best places for bird-watching in the region.
Cape May and black-throated blue warblers are a couple of the visitors during these seasons, joining a large cast of wading birds, including ibises, herons and egrets.
Also here, a half-mile trail takes you through a hardwood hammock once cultivated as an indigo field by a British landowner in the 1700s.
Before that time, a population of Native Americans caught fish in the lagoons. In fact, the park’s elevated section is on the site of the Timucuan Native American village of Nocoroco.
The first European to visit this was the Spanish Explorer Álvaro Mexía in 1605.
2. Ormond Beach
There’s a lot to do in Ormond Beach, but it’s hard to compete with the white sandy beach on the oceanfront.
There’s a long line of public access points all along the shore in the city. My obvious rule of thumb is to stay south for amenities and restaurants, and go north for a natural experience.
The city maintains two beachfront parks, and I’ll talk about one later in the list. There are lots of interesting things to see on the shore.
One is the Birthplace of Speed Park at 21 Ocean Shore Boulevard. This celebrates the international speed trial tournaments that took place on Ormond Beach’s hard-packed sands at the start of the 20th century.
You can see a replica of the Ormond Garage, built for these events in 1904 by oil baron and Ormond Hotel owner Henry Flagler.
3. Ormond Beach Memorial Art Museum and Gardens
Pairing an art gallery with a botanical garden, this unique cultural hub was founded in the wake of WWII as a celebration of freedom and those who defend it.
Inside, the temporary exhibitions are exceptional. Some recent shows when I went to press were a traveling exhibition by the Florida Watercolor Society and an international exhibition by the Colored Pencil Society of America.
Whenever you come, you can check out a noteworthy collection of oil paintings by Malcolm Fraser (1869-1949). Fraser himself donated these 50+ works to the museum when it opened.
Out back you’ll suddenly find yourself in a tropical rainforest, laid out by the Chicago landscape architect Henry Stockman in the 1940s. Among this dense vegetation is the historic Emmons Cottage (1886), an example of a Florida Cracker Cottage.
4. Bulow Creek State Park
If there’s one tree that represents The South it could be the stately southern live oak, with its twisting branches and wispy strands of Spanish moss.
This 5,500-acre property in the north of Ormond Beach protects the largest stand of this species on the east coast.
One of the sights I think everyone should check out in Ormond Beach is the magnificent Fairchild Oak, dating back around four centuries.
There’s absorbing human history here too. The seven-mile Bulow Woods Trail takes you into the adjoining Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park.
There you can ponder the eerie remains of what was once the largest plantation in East Florida. This came to a sudden end in 1836 when it was destroyed in the Seminole Wars.
5. The Casements
John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937), considered the richest man in history, had a winter home in Ormond Beach and died here.
After spending a few seasons at the grand Ormond Hotel, he purchased The Casements estate in 1918. Facing the Halifax River, this mansion was named for its many casement windows, which helped to keep the interior cool.
After a period of decline later in the 20th century, The Casements is now restored and owned by the city, and you can take a guided or self-guided tour.
I was amazed by the stained glass over the atrium, and there are lots of intriguing details about Rockefeller’s later years.
“Neighbor John” was a member of the community, joining a weekly sing-along at the Ormond Hotel and playing golf. A few of the noted guests at The Casements were Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Edward VIII.
6. Paddle the Tomoka River
Renting a kayak or canoe at Tomoka State Park, you can explore a truly wild stretch of river by paddling along the Tomoka River.
This is a slow-moving watercourse, so you’ll have no trouble traveling against the current. Heading upstream you’ll soon leave the brackish salt marshlands behind and enter a swampy freshwater environment.
This is my favorite part of the river, where bald cypresses, draped in Spanish moss, tower overhead. Look out for waders like reddish egrets, wood storks, and great blue herons.
Downriver, in the estuary you may get to manatees and bottlenose dolphins. Wherever you go, it’s important to be prepared, bringing potable water, cellphones, sunscreen, a hat, and insect repellent.
7. Andy Romano Beachfront Park
Surrounded by hotels and sitting opposite a row of restaurants, Andy Romano Beachfront Park is a convenient public access point for the beach.
On the scenic terrace above the beach there’s a pavilion, covered picnic tables, grills, showers, and restrooms.
What makes this park essential for families though is the splash pad. Compared to the Atlantic and its roaring waves, this is a place for kids to play and stay cool in perfect safety.
Down the steps, another thing I appreciate about this stretch of beach is the total absence of cars, which can be a hazard elsewhere. As ever, the view at sunrise is out of this world, and is worth the early start.
8. Rockefeller Gardens Park
For an evening stroll in Ormond Beach, I don’t think you can do better than the riverfront park by The Casements.
The estate was abandoned for decades, and what you see now is a careful recreation of the gardens in Rockefellers’ day. There’s a palm-lined promenade along the river, manicured lawns, a pond and neatly trimmed shrubs.
Rockefeller Gardens Park is the picturesque setting for a host of events in Ormond Beach. There’s the Celtic Festival in April, followed by Art in the Park in May. Also look out for the outdoor Movies on the Halifax series on the first Friday of the month.
9. Fortunato Park
Across W Granada Blvd from The Casements there’s a sweet little park on the Halifax River. Facing west, Fortunato Park is a fantastic place to see the sun go down in Ormond Beach.
There’s a small beach area, and at the south end is a wooden pier that leads to a covered platform.
The Halifax River is a spellbinding sight in the low sun. The only thing that can make it more romantic is a bottlenose dolphin playing in the golden waters.
Sadly I didn’t see any, but they are often sighted here. An interesting curiosity to look out for is the preserved cupola from the Ormond Hotel. A haunt of the ultra-wealthy from 1888, this eventually made way for a condo in 1992.
10. Ormond Scenic Loop & Trail
If you still have a nagging feeling you haven’t seen all of the area’s natural beauty, there’s a 34-mile byway leading through the wilderness to the north of Ormond Beach.
Taking in the oceanfront, tranquil backwater creeks and miles of unspoiled native vegetation, this is some of the most beautiful scenery in coastal Florida.
An incredible diversity of habitats scrolls by, from dunes to marsh, swampy creeks, and great stands of old-growth oak forest.
What thrills me is how the experience changes with the season. In the summer there are turtles nesting on the remote beaches here. Then in the first few months of the year you might see right whales, which come to these waters to calf.
You can stop at numerous public properties on the route. To list a few, you’ve got Tomoka State Park, Bulow Creek State Park, Atlantic beaches and North Peninsula State Park.
11. Central Park
Four parks in one, Central Park’s different sections are divided by quiet backroads. Every part, from Central Park I to IV, has at least one body of water. So, this is another fantastic place for a paddling trip, with kayak/canoe launches at four of the lakes.
If you’re up for an extended walk, you can make your way from one end of the park to the other, on a mix of paved trail and elevated boardwalk.
The main parking area is at Central Park III, where you can visit the Ormond Beach Environmental Discovery Center.
I spent quite a while poring over the displays here, shining a light on Ormond Beach’s ecosystems. One nice touch is a working beehive that you can study through a glass panel.
12. Ormond Brewing Company
Volusia County’s first ever craft brewery, Ormond Brewing Company was founded in 2013. This is a local operation in every sense, sourcing many of its ingredients from the Ormond Beach Area.
There are 18 beers on tap at any one time, and you can also try local wine by the glass. I stopped by during my time in Ormond Beach. Two beers that really stood out for me were the malty Ponce Inlet Light (Blonde Ale), and the Tomahawk (Red IPA), with caramel notes.
Ormond Brewing Company is also visited by a number of local food trucks. There was a grilled cheese truck when I visited, but the lineup also includes BBQ, tacos, poke, and southern favorites.
13. Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf
Ormond Beach has a location for this national chain of mini golf attractions, just one block from the oceanfront.
Pirate’s Cove has two 18-hole courses, one a little trickier than the other. For me, the pirate theme is even more convincing in Florida, where the palms and other tropical vegetation are all real.
Your putting adventure will take you across streams, into caves, and even behind waterfalls. The course is littered with swashbuckling artifacts, from treasure chests to barrels, cannons and a shipwreck.
You can use your phone to keep score with QR codes. Also, if you sink a hole-in-one on the right hole you’ll be eligible for a free game.
14. Daytona International Speedway
Every February since 1959, the Daytona Beach has been overrun with race fans from all over. They come to experience the Daytona 500, one of the most iconic auto races in the world.
This is just one of nine major event weekends at what may be the world’s most famous track. All the same, I don’t think you need to see a race to understand the magic of this place.
For one thing, there are daily guided tours of the facility. These take an hour, and take you up close to the 31° high banks, the infield and garages.
Another great reason to come is for the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. You can check out dozens of vehicles relating to the Hall of Fame’s hundreds of inductees, together with a trove of rare memorabilia.
You might see the aviator Howard Hughes’ map box, or a aDale Earnhardt No. 3 Chevrolet.
15. Ormond Lanes
With 40 computerized lanes and helpful staff, Ormond Lanes is a fun alternative when the weather isn’t conducive to being outside.
There’s league bowling six days a week, but this facility has plenty of space for all-comers at this up-to-date facility. Each lane features 55-inch monitors, and up-to-date Qubica BES Scoring systems.
On Saturdays there’s a little extra razzmatazz with the Lightning Strikes light and show, akin to cosmic bowling.
Check the website for weekly specials. I played a few games on a Wednesday night on an all-you-can-bowl deal for $15.
There’s also a laser tag arena in the same building, as well billiard tables, and an arcade with ticket redemption machines and a prize counter.