Pivotal to projecting the fate of coral reefs is the capacity of reef-building corals to acclimatize and adapt to climate change. Transgenerational plasticity may enable some marine organisms to acclimatize over several generations and it has been hypothesized that epigenetic processes and microbial associations might facilitate adaptive responses. However, current evidence is equivocal and understanding of the underlying processes is limited. Here, we discuss prospects for observing transgenerational plasticity in corals and the mechanisms that could enable adaptive plasticity in the coral holobiont, including the potential role of epigenetics and coral-associated microbes. Well-designed and strictly controlled experiments are needed to distinguish transgenerational plasticity from other forms of plasticity, and to elucidate the underlying mechanisms and their relative importance compared with genetic adaptation.