This is the year! America’s oldest city, St. Augustine, Florida, celebrates its 450th anniversary! So this is your year to plan a trip and make a list — a “must-do list” for beautiful St. Augustine.
Not sure what we expected, having waited until our retirement years to see St. Augustine for the first time. But now we’re wondering what took us so long. St. Augustine melds the Old World charm of New Orleans with the Bohemian atmosphere and laid-back fun of Key West into one. For history buffs or party-hardies, St. Augustine comes in just right. Here are our six must-do’s for when (not if!!) you come down South to the city with the slogan “Beautiful beaches and the rest is history”!
1. Soak up the beauty
It wasn’t five minutes after we stepped out the door of our B & B on Cedar Street that we took out the cameras and pointed upwards at the impressive architecture of the Flagler Buildings. An original partner with John D. Rockefeller, Henry M. Flagler arrived in St. Augustine in 1883, had two new hotels built (the Ponce de Leon and the Alcazar), and purchased the Casa Monica (a Moorish Revival building) renaming it the Hotel Cordova.
Now, the Hotel Ponce de Leon is the home of Flagler College, and the buildings represent some of the finest examples of Spanish Renaissance architecture in America. The Alcazar has become the Lightner Museum known for its extensive collection of Louis Tiffany stained-glass art. And, if you wish, you can spend a night or a week at the Hotel Cordova!
2. Walk through time
After you stroll the campus of Flagler College and get a feel for the beauty of the Lightner Museum, you’re primed and ready to explore history on foot. Be sure to head down Aviles Street, the oldest street in North America dating back to the 1500s. Charm is the operable word here — a long bricked street frequented by horse-drawn carriages passing diners eating outside.
Here’s where you’ll shop if you love quality goods, art, and antiques. Drop in at Georgia Nick Gallery and ask to see Georgia’s hand-made note cards sporting her own photos from around the city. Or find a fashionable long skirt and creatively designed bracelet at Candida’s Closet. Don’t miss Aviles Gallery where we fell in love with the watercolors of artist Pam Pahl.
Put on your walking shoes for the longer (and possibly more crowded) St. George Street, where shops have become comfortable in some of the most treasured homes of the city. If you’re a history snob, you’ll have to overlook ice cream parlors, coffee shops, and t-shirts, but don’t let that stop you. Spanish Colonial-style masonry homes abound, some with coquina structure (rock formed with tiny embedded shells) and original foundations. Stand by the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse (everyone does!) and remember that it’s the oldest surviving wood frame building (cedar and cypress) in St. Augustine. Go inside to see rare school books, slates, maps, and such. (Open daily, admission charge.)
3. Fort-ify your outlook
Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort and the only extant 17th century fort in the continental U. S. Built in 1672-1695 to protect the town and treasure fleets on their way to Spain, Castillo de San Marcos is the granddaddy of all the forts in our Coasting series. The fort offers you a view of city buildings and Matanzas Bay from several vantage points as well as a chance to pose for a “selfie” beside the cannons!
4. See the light
One of only six lighthouses in Florida open to the public, the 126-year-old St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum offers an authentic look inside and out. Climb 126 steps to the top. Or you can stay below, tour the museum, and watch craftsmen at work on the ground.
5. Sleep Inn
Whether you prefer luxury accommodations, a night in a historic property, or the comfort of a B&B, you’ll find interesting places to spend time in St.
Augustine! Use your favorite internet search engine or Florida’s Historic Coast for reservations, but don’t wait too long. Special events like Rhythm & Ribs Festival (April 10-12, 2015), Celebrate 450! (September 4-15, 2015) and the 7th Annual Pirate Gathering (dates TBD) fill up available accommodations fast.
Our B&B, At Journey’s End, and the other three on Cedar Street were still decorated for the Annual Bed and Breakfast Holiday Tour. Lucky us. Elvis greeted us from the balcony, smiled at us from the front yard, and graced us with renditions of “Blue Suede Shoes” from a hidden boom box. Or some such apparatus! And we loved it!
6. Eat out! Drink Up!
Make it a point to search for what makes St. Augustine truly unique — an eclectic mix of restaurants offering everything from Cuban sandwiches at the casual La Herencia Cafe on Aviles Street to the upscale Cellar 6 where we toasted in the New Year at the bar. (Best place to view the action and get to the know the bartender!)
But our one “blown-away” place had to be Ice Plant. Focused on the art of mixing cocktails such as Florida Mule with vodka from their own St. Augustine Distillery located next door, Ice Plant also serves farm-to-table food (think grass-fed beef and local veggies). Even if you don’t eat a thing, you should order a drink (even the type of ice is selected) at one of two bars in this renovated 1927 ice plant, smile at the waiters dressed in their 20s working-class attire, and understand just what made Garden & Gun take note.
Here’s hoping you’ll find lots to put on your must-do list in St. Augustine. We have lots more to explore if we ever return. And if you’ve been, why not leave us a comment: What was your favorite must-do in St. Augustine?
Who knows? Come September, we may all gather to Celebrate 450!
For more information:
Celebrate 450! http://staugustine-450.com
For more posts in our Coasting series, click on the pelican on the right-hand side of this blog. And thanks for traveling the coast with us! Bert and Rusha