Florida's Best Kept Secret
Updated: Jan 12
Nestled between Daytona and St. Augustine Florida lives a little coastal town called Flagler. Once my brother and I were older and had left the nest, my mum packed up our childhood home and moved here to fulfill her dreams of living at the beach.
We catch up throughout the year, sometimes here in Atlanta, sometimes in our hometown, and occasionally I'll make a trip to Flagler. This time we mustered up an impromptu family vacation involving a handful of aunts, grandparents, and cousins.
We arrived on Thursday, it was just me, Leigh Anna, my mum, and her husband Mike; The rest of the bunch would be trickling in throughout the weekend.
We didn't have an itinerary for this trip, but mum had an inkling that we'd enjoy the discount grocery warehouse in St. Augustine. (She was right.) If you didn't know, Leigh Anna is what some might call a "grocery store enthusiast." She likes checking out new stores and seeing the different things that each one carries. This particular store is home to almost expired food and "damaged" goods that were 100% still edible, but unsellable at a chain grocery store. #foodwaste
We were able to stock up on beach snacks and "souvenirs" at a major fraction of the cost!
On our way back to Flagler, we stopped at Kookaburra Coffee for an afternoon pick-me-up. Not only was it some of the best coffee I've had, but they had biodegradable straws made of hay AND a vegan brownie. In hindsight, I should have picked one up because the brownies I attempted to make later that night were a tragedy.
It was sea turtle nesting season during our visit, so on our first night, we went out after dark to patrol the beach in hopes of spotting some babies hatching. Not only did we not see any turtles, but we wound up getting pummeled by sand and caught in a rainstorm. We laughed and screamed until my mum rescued us.
The following morning we were given tickets to Marineland. Normally we would opt out of "Sea World" type attractions, but since the tickets were a gift and Marineland is more of an education facility, we agreed to go.
We watched a shark feeding and learned about Marineland's shark reproductive research program. Leigh Anna and I lingered to ask questions once the feeding was over and we wound up spending several minutes talking to an older woman about the project. As it turns out, she started her career in research at the same facility where Leigh Anna currently works! Small world.
Late that afternoon, my Aunt Dana, her three kiddos, and my grandparents arrived; Suddenly there were ten people under one roof. I thought this would be utter chaos, but fortunately, Flagler has a small community gathering every first Friday of the month. We were able to get out of the house, have snow cones, grab a drink, and catch some live music before calling it a night.
On Saturday morning Leigh Anna and I hit the beach early to set up camp and have some alone time. One of the nice things about Flagler is that it's not a hot tourist destination, so the beach was calm and quiet. We were able to read and listen to music in peace - until we got surprise slammed by the tide. We had to pull our tent out of the sand and Leigh Anna had to hang her book to dry.
Sometime after, we were joined by a few more of the gang. We spent the afternoon watching Hannah dig a hole as deep as I am tall and getting a family history lesson from Aunt Becky. She told me that I had a great, great, great grandmother who's name translated to Cactus Blossom.
That night, we had dinner at The Funky Pelican. This is your typical beach restaurant, but I was happy to see that they had the Impossible Burger - and that my mum's husband was so eager to try one! He noted that he didn't feel as bloated as he normally might have after a meal and said he wouldn't be opposed to trying more vegetarian/vegan meals. Score!
Meanwhile, Hannah, my oldest of younger cousins quietly drew Leigh Anna from across the table without anyone noticing. How cute is that?! Leigh Anna was so flattered!
Sunday was our last day, but we made the most of it.
While mum and Dana stayed behind to start cooking Aunt Becky's birthday lunch, the rest of us headed to the Java Joint for breakfast - mimosas not optional. I like this place because the waitresses keep their cigarettes in their apron pocket and call you "Darlin." It feels like a beach version of the truck stop that my grandpa eats at every day.
After breakfast, we all decided to go walk the pier. There was a funny mix-up about who was riding with who that resulted in everyone getting out of their vehicle and realizing that Grandma and Grandpa had been left at the restaurant. Whoops!
Before heading back to the airport that evening, we celebrated my Aunt Becky's 70th birthday.
I think it's safe to say that Aunt Becky is somewhat of a legend in our family and is so many things that I aspire to be when I reach that age. I'm always so grateful to be able to visit with her and hear about her days as a hippie and upcoming travels.
I'll be honest, I spent a lot of time dreading this trip.
It was the first time Leigh Anna was going to be around my mum's side of the family for an extended period of time and I just envisioned it being a circus: rambunctious kids, grandpa with Alzheimer's, my kooky mum, awkward questions about my relationship, patronizing questions about our vegan diet, etc.
However, it turned out to be none of that. The kids were entertaining, we had a two-hour conversation with my grandpa about the planes he owned in the '90s, my mum's husband expressed a lot of interest in vegan alternatives, and was an all-around good time.
It wound up being the perfect opportunity to get our toes in the sand and spend time with family.
If you've never been to Flagler, don't go.
I'm not sure that they want a bunch of spring breaker tourists running around.
Just know that my mum lives there and our visit was better than I anticipated.