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Expert Tips

 

Explore 450 Years of Culture and Natural Wonders in St. Augustine



The old town of St. Augustine is a tight and rambling municipality with narrow city streets perfect for wandering on foot. Influences from its Spanish, British and American Colonial past are everywhere in the architecture and street design. The city's core has been active since the 1600s and the oldest house still standing dates back to the 1700s. Visitors have fun meandering the Old City, popping into artsy boutiques, jewelry stores and gift shops. Places to dine or grab a beer are also plentiful among the historical landmarks. You can't miss the Castillo San Marco on the on the waterfront, which may be one of the country's most important historical landmarks. Observing the Mantanzas River is easy along the bayfront sidewalk with rewarding views of the Bridge of Lions and sailboats breezing along. Beyond the town is St. Augustine Beach and undeveloped Anastasia State Park, both offering time for toes in the sand. The state parks also provide views Florida's native wildlife such as alligators, pink spoonbill birds and frolicking dolphins.  There is so much to see, we've narrowed down the best options for getting a sense of St. Augustine's spirit. Here are some great ways, in no particular order, to make the most of your visit. 



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Marineland
Photo courtesy of Marineland


 

At this accredited and scientific marine research center, guests can choose from several interactive programs that allow them to meet the resident dolphins. Packages range from simply viewing the dolphins to actually getting to swim with them. The park recently celebrated its 75th anniversary and one of its most famous dolphins, Nellie, recently passed away at the ripe old age of 61 (or 120 in human years), making her the oldest dolphins ever in human care. Also on site is the non-profit Conservation Field Station dedicated to research, rescue, rehabilitation and release of dolphins and small whales in Northeast Florida.


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There is no way you should leave this out of your St. Augustine itinerary. The impressive fort which dominates the water front of the Old City was built by the Spanish from 1672-1695 is the oldest stone fortress in the continental United States, Its walls are made from coquina, rock made from compressed seashells found along the coast. Make sure to make your way to the top of the fort for spectacular views of the Mantanzas River. Re-enactors and park rangers will tell you the fort's history and provide historic weaponry demonstrations that go off with a bang on a regular basis. Open daily from 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Dec. 25.


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Historic Downtown


 

Like many port cities, often the best way to see it is from the water. What makes the double-mast Freedom special is that it's an authentic replica of a 19th century sailboat. Master sailors guide the vessel, so those fancy sails are not just for show: wind and weather dictate the path of your journey. Guests can choose from several chartered rides including sunset, family, day or moon tours. The tours are peaceful with an emphasis on enjoying the water so you won't get a tour guides with a loudspeaker spouting of city facts as you cruise along. Save that experience on one of the city's trolley tours.


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Historic Downtown


 

This new and award-winning distillery makes small batch spirits on the spot and has created quite a "buzz" for its excellence in craft. Their New World Gin, which just won a gold medal at the American Craft Spirits Association Competition in Austin, Tex. is aromatic with its botanical blend of juniper and citrus notes and the Florida Cane Vodka is made from Florida sugar cane. You can take a free tour of the facilities housed in a former ice plant (Florida's oldest), sample the wares and purchase bottles. Throughout the year, the distillery offers workshops such as making cocktails with fresh, seasonal ingredients or learning how to use the proper tools and techniques to craft the perfect drink.


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Fountain of Youth Discovery Park
Photo courtesy of Flickr Commons


 

This is the site of the ancient Indian village of Seloy, but popular legend says Ponce de Leon arrived here in 1513 in search of magical waters that could keep him young and vigorous. While the story may be a myth, it's still fun to drink from the fountain at this garden-like park hoping for a miracle. Beyond the fountain, you can walk around the pretty grounds and learn about the first Indian inhabitants and see colonial re-enactors build camps and fire muskets. The peacocks that roam here add to the exotic air of the place. It is also a popular spot for outdoor weddings or to pop the question.


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Just south of St. Augustine, this former 1930s estate purchased by wealthy New Yorkers is now a beautiful state park that features an undeveloped beach on one side of A1A and a botanical garden on the riverside of the highway. On the riverside, a formal rose garden lies within a few hundred feet of a scenic stretch of the river where you can stroll along the bank and watch the boats go by. When you've finished wandering the grounds and visiting the gift shop, take your car across the street (A1A) and spend some time on the beach with pink-tinged sand. Large coquina sandstone rocks are fun to climb and their porous holes turn into tide pools after the tide recedes


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Airport - Ust

 

The Alcazar, once one of the finest hotels in America built by railroad tycoon Henry Flagler during the late 1800s, is now home to a fascinating museum dedicated to preserving Victorian treasures. Furniture, Tiffany glassware and other objects from everyday life of the wealthy during the Gilded Age are creatively displayed in this gorgeous building. Some highlights include the curio room on the first floor with cabinets filled with oddities such as fossils and old bones, a huge collection of Tiffany lamps and glass works and fine paintings in ornate frames and sculptures are around every corner. You can also visit an area that was a part of the hotel's spa, with its interesting plumbing and elegant benches for lounging.


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Historic Downtown


 

In the heart of St. Augustine, but blissfully located just outside of the tourist-trodden historic district, is this beautiful old mission. So old in fact the site is considered to be the spot where the first Catholic mass in North America took place. On the grounds is a tiny, ivy-covered chapel where visitors can go in to pray or light a candle. Moss-covered headstones dotted around the oak- and cedar-canopied cemetery are fascinating, and there are lots of benches just to sit for a quiet moment with views of the bay beyond.


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Anastasia State Park


 

Sink your toes into four miles of white sand beaches and explore the salt marshes teeming with wildlife. Bird enthusiasts will love checking species off their life list with pink spoonbills in the marshes, bald eagles and many types of heron and gulls. Like most places in St. Augustine, you can't escape its history. This is the place where huge chunks of coquina rock were mined to build the Castillo de San Marcos fortress and visitors can check out the old quarry site here. Camping, nature trails, boating and ranger talks are all activities available to visitors. The park is open year-round.


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Historic Downtown
Colonial Quarter
Photo courtesy of ©Colonial Quarter


 

This interactive museum gives kids and adults alike a view of the Colonial period--both Spanish and English. Activities include musket drills, blacksmith demonstrations, sailing ship construction and historical accounts from entertaining re-enactors. Young visitors can dig in the sand boxes searching for treasure or climb the watchtower for views of the Castillo de San Marco. A pub and eatery plus a gift shop full of Colonial-inspired souvenirs are also onsite. The Colonial Quarter also serves as music venue (tickets sold separately). Tucked inside the romantic courtyard and stage area, acclaimed touring bands such as Buckwheat Zydeco, Southern Culture on the Skids and Della Mae entertain the crowd.


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