As the temperature climbs, the mind drifts to thoughts of relaxing days spent by the ocean – white sand between your toes, a soothing lullaby created by the gentle surf, and the tranquil azure-blue water that seems to stretch infinitely before you. The appeal of the ocean is universal and beach vacations have been a favorite of travelers for generations. As pristine beaches become harder to find, St. Augustine remains absolutely beloved by travelers for one very simple reason - here you feel a sense of renewal and peace that can’t be found anywhere else.
St. Augustine was discovered in 1513 when Juan Ponce de Leon, sailing along the Atlantic coast in search of the fabled fountain of youth, came ashore somewhere in the vicinity and claimed the continent for Spain. Nicknamed “The Old City, ” it is the oldest continually inhabited settlement in America – that’s right, it was settled before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock – and remains one of the most charming and quaint beach towns in America. In addition to its historical ties to the Spanish Empire, the town also boasts many remnants from the Flagler Era, when Henry Flagler’s vision of a luxury resort community added marinas, golf courses, and luxury hotels to the landscape in the late 19th century.
Each day, the area’s delightful historic district, with its cobblestone streets and its quaint cafes, bars, unique shops, and bed-and-breakfast inns, comes alive with locals and tourists setting out on foot to explore the multiple landmarks located in St. Augustine. Five you won’t want to miss are:
* The Castillo De San Marcos, a national monument with an elaborate double draw-bridge entrance, has been both a mighty fort and a fearsome prison. An outstanding reminder of the power and might of the early Spanish empire in the New World, it is commonly referred to as “The Fort. ” The Castillo de San Marcos is entirely made of coquina, a virtually indestructible limestone comprised of seashells and coral, and took more than 23 years to complete. Since its completion in 1695, the monument has remained impenetrable to both enemy fire and violent pounding by hurricanes.
* The Casa Monica is once again a luxurious landmark hotel, blending contemporary pleasures with a legendary past. Built in 1888 and restored in 1999, the hotel offers visitors an inspired Spanish décor. Both elegant and opulent, the hotel surrounds guests with jewel-toned velvet, elaborate tapestries, and luminous chandeliers.
* Colonial Spanish Quarter, a living museum where costumed interpreters relive a time when St. Augustine was a remote outpost in the Spanish Empire, will interest both young and old. Visitors experience how families lived, how they grew and cooked their food, and how they tended their livestock in 1740 St. Augustine.
* The St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum, built in 1874 and still in use by the U. S. Coast Guard, preserves the history of the St. Augustine Light Station and its associated maritime, coastal, and social history. Those daring to climb the 219 steps to the top of the lighthouse are rewarded was a spectacular 360-degree view of downtown St. Augustine and the beach areas.
* The Fountain of Youth, where Ponce de Leon used stone markers to draw out a cross whose center marked what he believed to be its exact location. The spring still flows and, whether seeking relief from the Florida heat or the secret to eternal youth, visitors are invited to sample to cool waters. The grounds also include a village that was home to the Timucua Indians for more than 1500 years, a planetarium where visitors journey through the night sky, and pathways that visitors can stroll idly while examining the native plants and historical artifacts along the way.
In addition to the charming waterfront reflecting the glories of Imperial Spain, St. Augustine has something for every member of your family. Children will enjoy the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, the only place in the world where 23 species of crocodile can be observed. Historic tours of the Old City are available in a myriad of forms. Visitors can choose to watch the world go by from a helicopter, open trolley, or horse-drawn carriage. If you’re looking for something unique, those with an interest in the paranormal can even take a ghost tour of the city’s historic attractions and cemeteries in an authentic hearse.
For help in planning a vacation to the St. Augustine area, contact the St. Augustine Visitors and Convention Bureau at (800) 653-2489 or visit them on the web at http://www.visitoldcity.com .
Nicole Brownfield is a Southern writer in her late twenties. Contact her at:
71 County Road 269
Stevenson, AL 35772