by Eric Barton | September 9, 2021

Where to Find the Last Slice of Solitude (and Homemade Pie) in Florida

Palm Coast and the Flagler Beaches remain a place that feels like it did decades ago, with quaint shops and independent eateries, and locals say that's what keeps it special.

A single t-shirt design in 2014 led Carla Cline to open Flagler Surf Art & “Cool” Stuff

Carla Cline bought herself a heat press to make T-shirts back in 2014, and being an artist her whole life, she figured inspiration would come to her.

“It was in my garage, and I stared at it for a couple days trying to figure out what I was trying to say,” Cline recalls.

An obvious idea came to her one day. She’d start printing something she had been saying about her home since she moved to Flagler Beach as a kid: “Please don’t make me cross the bridge.”

Cline posted the shirt on Instagram, and immediately people reached out wanting one. Stores around town started stocking them, and soon Cline started selling them at a place of her own, the eclectic Flagler Surf Art & Stuff.

The reason that shirt took off, Cline says, is that locals and people who visit Flagler Beach figure out quickly that it’s a small town that somehow has everything, with no need to cross the bridge to the mainland.

Tucked between Daytona Beach and St. Augustine, Palm Coast and the Flagler Beaches have remained a quieter, more relaxed, old-school version of East Coast Florida. With a population below 5,000 and a no-tall-building moratorium, the area has kept the beach feeling quaint and approachable.

Yet locals and tourists will tell you it has everything you’ll need, especially when it comes to dining, many of them not far from the salty air. Locals have vowed to keep Flagler Beach like they’ve always known it, and so it’s a city that’s proudly chain-free. 

For many, days in Flagler Beach should begin a block from the ocean at Swillerbees Craft Donuts and Coffee. The shop opened in 2017 and serves coffee that’s privately roasted from fair-trade organic beans. The Swillerbees’ team begins baking at 2 a.m., selling over 1,000 of its often-Instagrammed creations a day. Flavors include coconut cream pie, German chocolate, and The Bees Knees— a donut dipped in vanilla frosting, sprinkled with cinnamon, dusted with honey crystals, and striped in caramel.

At the independently owned Golden Lion, find a daily happy hour with drinks, food and oyster specials.

At lunch follow locals to The Flagler Fish Company, which Chris and Carolyn Casper opened in 2005 with the slogan “Food to knock your flops off.” Start with the clam dip and lobster cocktail before taking a look at the case in the market for the fresh catch. They’ll use your selection in tacos, a sandwich or simply serve it grilled to show off the fact that it might have been swimming nearby.

For a bite in the afternoon, drop into the retro-cool Whaam Burger. The place is known for its burgers, fish sandwiches and dressed-up hot dogs, but pick up some fuel to make it through the day by ordering the “tatchos,” nachos that sub chips for tater tots.

If grabbing some takeout is more your speed, put in a call to Tony’s Pizza, where the grandma’s pie is a charming little square number with plum tomatoes and lots of garlic, the meatball parm sub comes blanketed with melty cheese and desserts include chocolate-dipped cannoli.

Swillerbees Donuts is a local favorite for its innovative and ever-changing flavors.

For 30 years now, a lot of locals in Flagler Beach have defined dinner by a trip to Golden Lion, a family friendly spot with 300 seats not far from the sand. There’s a daily happy hour with drinks, food and oyster specials, but for many Golden Lion is about the fish and chips, with a beer battered filet served with the house-made Key lime tartar sauce.

End the night by hitting the iconic Waffle Cone, where you can enjoy a rootbeer float in chairs out front that have a view over to the beach or get a couple scoops and stroll over to the pier.

For Cline, she says one reason locals and tourists never need to go back over the bridge to the mainland is that they’ve got enough restaurants that they could spend weeks before eating at the same one again. “One of them is going to have one of the best meals of your life, I have to say,” Cline insists. “It’s the whole vibe. It’s the ocean, the people watching, the food, the whole ambiance.”

This post is sponsored by Palm Coast and the Flagler Beaches