Stretching from the Atlantic to the Matanzas River, Washington Oaks Gardens State Park is extremely diverse in terms of ecology.

Start your visit under a majestic canopy of oak trees and stately, well-manicured gardens. Head west to the river and explore coastal maritime hammock. Venture east to the ocean and view the same coquina rock formations that greeted early explorers.

The gardens have an interesting history. Second Seminole War General Joseph Hernandez bought the 400-plus acres in 1818 and the property changed hands several times over the years. In 1936, New York designer Louise Powis Young and her industrialist husband Owen D. Young purchased Washington Oaks to use as a winter retirement home. Mr. Young was the founder of RCA and was Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1929.

A large live oak tree at the center of the gardens is estimated to be between 200 and 300 years old and is arguably one of the most beautiful trees in all of Florida. Wooden benches at the base of the tree encourage visitors to “sit a spell.”

The formal gardens were developed by Mrs. Young and have both native and exotic plantings. The walled rose garden by itself is worth the price of admission.

The gift shop is housed in Mr. Young’s former office. It’s an excellent example of construction techniques of the era and has some wonderful antique pieces that once belonged to Mr. Young. The assortment of garden items available for purchase isn’t bad either.

On the second Saturday of every month, a plant sale is held by the organization Friends of Washington Oaks. A number of the plants are grown in the park by volunteers. All proceeds go to park maintenance and upkeep.

There are plenty of recreational opportunities on the grounds of Washington Oaks. Visitors can picnic and fish from either the beach or seawall along the Matanzas River. There are also a number of hiking trails for walking or biking.

Washington Oaks Gardens State Park is a great place to spend a day away from the hustle and bustle of Florida. Everything about the place is serene. And if you’re looking for a gorgeous beach that isn’t crowded, look no further than Washington Oaks. Depending on the day you visit, you might just have the beach to yourself.