My husband and I traveled to St Augustine for the first time in the fall of 2007 and have been twice more since. The beaches are pristine. The water is warm. The people are friendly. Our lodging of choice is on Crescent Beach and is perfect for couples and families alike. We can hang out on the island all day long, cross the Bridge of the Lions into historic St Augustine, drive a little farther south to Daytona Beach or an hour north to Jacksonville. The restaurants in the area are varied and affordable, unlike so many other tourist destinations. That’s what we so enjoy about St Augustine. It’s a college town, a retirement town, a tourist town and a work-a-day town all rolled together. It’s real and I like real.
|Sunrise on Crescent Beach – St. Augustine, FL.|
On Anastasia Island, we’ve enjoyed watching dolphins play with their trainers at Marineland, spent a cozy afternoon sipping wine and eating cheese while playing checkers tucked into Hammock Wine & Cheese, walked around the diverse grounds of Washington Oaks State Park, and been entertained by forest rangers dressed in period garb at Ft Matanzas as they shoot cannons and describe life stationed there in 1742. St Augustine Lighthouse has the best lighthouse museum on its grounds that I’ve ever been to with eyewitness accounts of German submarines surfacing right off Crescent Beach and what it was like being a young person sharing rides to dances due to gas shortages during that time. The Alligator Farm is much more than that and, if animals aren’t your thing, you can even zip line over them though this writers’ guts stop at zip lining over forests in the Caribbean. One of our lazy day favorites is buying some of the best deli sandwiches we’ve had at The Black Knight Deli on the A1A and lounging around the pool or playing in the ocean.
If the island has all this and more to offer, imagine crossing the Bridge of the Lions into historic St. Augustine. This place does lay claim to being the oldest continuously populated city in the United States. The Lightner Museum (formerly Hotel Alcazar), and Flagler College (formerly Hotel Ponce de Leon) both date back to 1887 and 1888 respectively and were financed by Henry Flagler to be luxury hotels. For a more intimate view, there are student-led tours of Flagler College whose interior designer was Louis Comfort Tiffany. Think breathtaking stained glass all around you. Additionally, there’s the Oldest Schoolhouse, the Fountain of Youth, the Castillo de San Marcos, cobbled streets with shops and cafes. It’s all there for you to explore. A perfect day could be an Americano at Crucial Coffee, exploring the circa 1672 Castillo, wandering the narrow streets and their abundance of shops, ordering sandwiches from Ann O‘Mally‘s and picnicking on the Castillo grounds overlooking the Matanzas River, touring the archaeological site that is the Fountain of Youth, wine tasting at The Gifted Cork, dinner at The Floridian with their amazingly creative entrees, and dancing on the rooftop of the San Sebastian Winery with the twinkling lights of this magical city spread out before you. Another, more family-friendly, ending to this day would be a historically entertaining walking tour. Walking St Augustine by night is akin to being in a quiet Italian hill town after the crowds have cleared.
Before you think even this is all there is, as the infomercials famously say: But wait, there’s more. Driving a bit north takes you to the Vilano Beach boat ramp. From here, you can slip a kayak into the water and paddle to your heart’s content exploring groves that end about where the Mission de Nombre de Dios begins. You’ve seen the 400’ tall cross and the Castillo from land. Enjoying the St Augustine approach from the water gives you the perspective of many a marine discoverer. If you hit the island early enough, Vilano Beach is a terrific shelling beach. I found a hand-sized conch shell in pristine condition on my first trip here that took my breath away! There’s also an ocean-facing restaurant called The Reef with stunning views that’s perfect for lunch. Adorned with white linen table cloths, they appreciate their more dressed down, casual customers as well so don’t feel shy about sauntering in here after a morning of shelling. For a truly local and inspiring sunset, Caps on the Water is a must. Caps faces the Tolomato River and if you happen to pull in during one of their torrential downpour periods (It’s a tropical climate. Expect it from time to time.), hunker under the thatched-roof bar to be dazzled with the friendly wait staff.
One of the most memorable experiences we’ve had to date in St Augustine is touring the St. Augustine Wild Reserve. The volunteers here are truly passionate about what they’re doing and that is providing homes to more than 30 big cats ranging from white Bengal tigers to Asian leopards to a Barbary Coast lioness, extinct in the wild since 1922. If you like rescue stories, happy endings and heroes in general, you won’t want to miss this two hour tour.
From romantic restaurants to picturesque beaches to water sports of every kind to historic attractions, St. Augustine makes a perfect family or couples only retreat. I’m already looking forward to our next visit.