Driving down historic
coastal road A1A, I was determined to get to the United
States’ oldest city, St. Augustine. I thought
how unbelievable it is that I have lived in Florida
for 20 years and never visited this landmark city. The
view is quit exhilarating coming from the north down
A1A,. You travel over Vilano Causeway, which gives you
a great view of the city, and Castillo de San Marcos,
the Fort that guards the city. I was excited to see
what other sites and surprises the city and the local
area had to offer.
St. Augustine was established
in 1565 by Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, and is the
oldest permanent European settlement in the continental
United States. For 235 years it was the political, military,
and religious capital of the Province of Florida from
which Spain exercised jurisdiction over a vast geographical
region. The town’s principal value, however, was
as a military base for the protection of Spain’s
colonial trade and commerce. The old fort that was meant
to protect the city is something to see. The construction
of Castillo de San Marcos began in 1672 and was completed
by 1695. The Castillo replaced nine successive wooden
fortifications that had protected St. Augustine since
Augustine is perhaps the earliest example of community
planning within the continental United States. This
is exemplified by it regular and narrow streets, a pleasant
central plaza, abundant open spaces, beautiful patios
and gardens, impressive government and religious buildings,
and comfortable homes. These attributes suggest an emphasis
on the development of an orderly, dignified, healthy
and pleasant environment. I loved traveling through
the cobble stone streets and observing the lovely architecture.
The city is very pedestrian friendly. To see the city,
you can begin by parking your car at one of the municipal
parking lots on Cordova Street. Next, stop by any shop
or hotel and get a visitor map with the street layouts.
You can, realistically, walk the entire city in one
day. There are plenty of tour guide services, buses,
horse drawn carriages, and walking tours. You can always
try it on your own. If time permits, though, you might
enjoy a guided tour that will provide you with plenty
of details on the history of the city.
The Castillo de San Marcos
Fort is a must to see and a fantastic place to start
your tour of the city. There is a cost to go in and
you need to be there before 4:30pm, which is the last
tour of the day. The other cultural attractions to explore
are the Colonial Spanish Quarters, Oldest Wooden School
House, Old St. Augustine Village, the oldest house,
Flagler College, San Sebastian Winery, and Old Florida
Museum. If you enjoy the more mainstream attractions
you can spend time at Ripley’s Believe it or Not
or Potter’s Wax Museum.
My August visit was steamy,
so a jump into some air conditioning was a pleasure.
The city has plenty of shops and restaurants where visitors
can cool off. The streets are lined with trees, which
can bring reprieve as well. Sunscreen is must for your
journey. The fall and spring months offer the most pleasant
weather. The winter months can be very cool, even cold.
You should pack accordingly.
Off the beaten path
is the National Cemetery near San Salvador and Charlotte
Streets. This cemetery houses the gravestones of soldiers
from the Seminole-Indian War, which took place from1835
to 1842. This is where General Dade, which Miami-Dade
County was named after, and his troops are buried. The
Seminole-Indian War ended up as the worst defeat of
U.S. troops to the American Indian outside of the George
Armstrong Custer’s battle. Major Francis L. Dade
and 110 soldiers, many of them artillery units, formed
in Fort Brooke (Tampa) and were sent to bolster forces
at Fort King (Ocala). Halfway to their destination they
were ambushed by a large band of Seminoles and their
slave allies, at a site where many of the Indians hid
in the unlikely spot on a lake bank. Only a few soldiers
escaped the attack.
Another off the beaten
path adventure is St. Augustine beach; one Florida beach
that is not well known and or well used. If you get
tired of the city, you can drive about 20 minutes to
the beach and take advantage of the FREE parking. At
night, they have lighted volleyball courts to play beach
volleyball for free. The courts stay lit up till 11pm
during the summer. It’s a great way for a family
to have fun with very little cost. You just need to
provide your own volleyball. For 50 cents visitors can
walk the mighty long fishing pier at St. Augustine beach.
Put aside a full 2 or
3 days to truly explore and experience St. Augustine,
and its surrounding attractions. As you can imagine,
there are numerous quaint bed and breakfasts to stay
in. You can choose to camp, my favorite form of lodging.
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of options for camping
in St. Augustine. Anastasia State Park seems to be the
only game in town. Anastasia State Park is a nice place
to stay but certainly not the best. The scenery isn’t
bad. It’s the noise that makes the difference.
State road A1A is adjacent to the park and at night
the sound of the road is deafening. If planning to camp
at Anastasia State Park, wear your earplugs and don’t
expect the frogs and crickets to lull you to sleep.
I do, however, give the park thumbs up on the cleanliness,
and its location adjacent to the beach. Following a
short hike, you can walk and swim on the beach. The
beaches in North Florida are expansive, with pleasant
waves to body surf.
are abundant throughout St. Augustine. Surprisingly,
the only place that was recommended to me was the Seafood
Kitchen at 108 Anastasia Blvd; 904-819-0082. The menu
had a variation of combo plates, including fish and
shrimp, shrimp and scallops, and a regular fishplate
featuring local catches. The portions are huge, with
nice side items and very reasonable prices. I had a
grouper dinner for $10.95. The food was a little over
cooked, but tasty. I would recommend you give Seafood
Kitchen a try.
Anastasia State Park
is located at 1340A A1A South, St. Augustine, FL 32080-5422;
904-461-2033. You will need to call to make reservations
if you plan to stay at the state park and camp. RVs
are allowed, and the park provides electrical hook ups.
The cost is $17.44, and $19.56 with electrical hook
Getting to St. Augustine
if very easy. Take I-95 to Exit 311 or 317 and follow
the signs to the city.
I hope you enjoy this
historic city and all that is offered in the surrounding
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