It might be known as the Birthplace of Speed, but Ormond Beach is a good spot for taking things slowly.
The small city of 40,000, located in Volusia County just eight miles north of Daytona Beach, has evolved through several identities.
At the end of the 19th Century, it was a winter playground for northern industrialists. By the dawn of the 20th, Ormond Beach became a practical destination for pioneering automobile racers to find top speeds on hard-packed sand. And today, it is known as a nostalgic place where modern Daytona 500 revelers can discover where racing began.
But one way to explore Ormond Beach takes you beyond the cute Main Street, historic homes, beach resorts and the oceanfront Birthplace of Speed Park and into the scenic wilds of natural Florida. Known locally as “The Loop,” the Ormond Scenic Loop & Trail is a 30-mile stretch of roadways leading through dense oak canopy, sawgrass marshes, and along the Atlantic coast.
“It’s prehistoric Florida,” Suzanne Heddy, director of the Ormond Beach Historical Society, says of The Loop. “You’re going to see what the Indians saw. That’s what I tell people all the time.”
The road skirts three state parks as well as several county and city parks and allows views of rivers, creeks, marshes, dunes, beaches and historic homes. Opportunities abound for fishing, hiking, biking, boating, swimming, strolling the beach or just pulling over to admire the view or take a closer look.
The largest park travelers encounter along this route is the 1,800-acre Tomoka State Park, where bird enthusiasts have spotted more than 160 species. In addition to a boat ramp and canoe launch, the park has nature trails and a hardwood hammock that has grown on the former site of an indigo plantation owned by 18th Century British landowner Richard Oswald.
In 1782, Oswald represented the British governments in negotiations for the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War between the United States and Britain.
But the land that would become Tomoka State Park was critical long before a portion of it belonged to Oswald’s indigo- and sugar cane-farming operations. Ormond Beach earned a spot on Florida’s Spanish Colonial Heritage Trail because of its connection to early Spanish explorer Alvaro Mexia, who was dispatched to this area in 1605.
Mexia encountered the Nocoroco Site, a large Timucuan settlement located at the mouth of the Halifax River in the area that would become Tomoka State Park.
“His goal was to learn more about Native Americans along the coast, south from St. Augustine,” says Bruce Piatek, now the director of the Florida Agricultural Museum in Flagler County, who has done extensive archaeological surveys at Tomoka State Park. “The Spanish were always looking to explore their control over the peninsula and interact with Native Americans, and to make sure they had happy relations with their neighbors to the south.”
A good place to launch a day in Ormond Beach is at the MacDonald House, home of the Ormond Beach Welcome Center. The historic home is located on East Granada Boulevard, located between two legs of The Loop and just west of the Granada Bridge that leads into downtown Ormond Beach.
With help from the welcome center staff, you can chart a day on The Loop that might include:
* A formal bus or walking tour of more than 30 historic sites in Ormond Beach, from Oswald’s Three Chimneys Sugar Mill Ruins to the Ormond Indian Burial Mound. Tickets can be purchased at the MacDonald House.
* If you opt for a self-guided tour, considering traveling The Loop beginning on the west side of the Granada Bridge, traveling north on North Beach Street. This route follows the Halifax River and takes you along the western edge of Tomoka State Park.
* One can’t-miss stop along North Beach Drive: The Fairchild Oak, the granddaddy live oak at Bulow Creek State Park, a 5,000-acre-plus park that includes an enormous southern live oak forest. The Fairchild Oak, which is accessible to the public without a park admission fee, is more than 400 years old, and the park itself includes the Bulow Woods Trail, nearly seven miles long.
* For lunch, venture slightly off The Loop for High Tides @ Snack Jack’s, an oceanfront shrimp shack. Valet parking is required at Snack Jack’s—not because it’s fancy, but because the little postage stamp property has no extra space for vehicles.
* If your lunch destination makes the ocean so appealing that you decide to spend the rest of the afternoon at the beach, head south and look to the west for beach access and one of the many Volusia County Beach Rentals locations. There, you can load up on beach chairs, umbrellas, bikes, surfboards and even stand-up paddleboards.
* After exploring all that natural Florida has to offer in Ormond Beach, consider checking out the attractions that arrived centuries later. John D. Rockefeller’s winter home, now known as The Casements, is open to the public in downtown Ormond Beach.
If you go…
· Ormond Scenic Loop & Trail, ormondscenicloopandtrail.com
· Ormond Beach Welcome Center, 386-677-7005, 38 E. Granada Blvd., Ormond Beach, ormondhistory.org,
· Tomoka State Park, 2099 N. Beach St., Ormond Beach, 386-676-4050, http://www.floridastateparks.org/tomoka/default.cfm,
· Bulow Creek State Park, 3351 Old Dixie Highway, Ormond Beach, 386-676-4050, http://www.floridastateparks.org/bulowcreek/
· High Tides at Snack Jack, 2805 S. Oceanshore Blvd., Flagler Beach, 386-439-3344, http://www.snackjacks.com/
· Volusia County Beach Rentals, vcbeachrentals.com
· The Casements, 25 Riverside Drive, Ormond Beach, 386-676-3216, thecasements.net