If you think Florida is all golf courses and palm trees, you haven’t explored St. Augustine. While I have been known to poke fun at Florida, I can’t get enough of “The Old City.” Whether you love romance or adventure, you need look no further than this playground. Just a short drive from Orlando or Jacksonville airports, it sits on a sound where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Matanzas at two inlets.
For the big picture view of how the city is laid out and a taste of the natural wonder, start off with a sunset cruise with sweeping city and harbor views from the Schooner--Freedom--a 72-foot tall ship. Departs from the City Marina next to the Bridge of Lions. Or for more exercise, walk up the 219 stairs at the St. Augustine Lighthouse for views you’ll never forget. Beats a Stairmaster any day.
St. Augustine was founded in 1565, long before Jamestown, the English colony in Virginia and 55 years before Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. One of it’s many claims to fame is it is the oldest European settlement in North America. Of course the Hopis were here long before the Spanish. With no cars allowed on some of the historic streets, the town is a walker's dream, full of quaint nooks and crannies to explore, quirky museums, unique shops, and art galleries with everything from Dr. Suess to work by local artists.
You can paddle 20 different runs to Anastasia Park or Crescent Beach from the Matanzas River where you can kayak or canoe alongside dolphin and manatee while bird watching, fishing or just reconnecting with yourself and the natural beauty.
Bald eagles nest from October to March and wright whales can be seen blowing as mothers and calves migrate from colder waters. Or catch Sea Monsters, a new film from National Geographic at the World Golf Hall of Fame and IMAX Theater.
New restaurants mean even world-traveling foodies can make mouth-watering discoveries and lasting memories. One such spot opened this summer. Fifth generation Chef Jean Stephane Poinard moved from the famed culinary region of Lyon with his charming, wine-making wife, Valerie, their children, and their sous chef to open Bistro de Leon. The name is a clever nod to the culture-combo. And when you're ready to recover from indulging in their baked goods and sauces, the revitalizing food of Present Moment Café offers an creative counterpoint across the tracks on King Street.
95 Cordova is an elegant spot to hit for a late dessert and quiet jazz. Don’t be afraid to wander in dressed in your touring clothes. Located in the Casa Monica Hotel where guests stroll through in everything from wedding attire to shorts, the gracious servers treat you the same in a business suit as in your coverup and bathing suit.
For a few laughs and an entertaining spin on accurate history, end another evening with a trip on Ripley's Ghost Tour. While many guides offer ghost outings, Ripley's includes a camera, an EMF meter and a spooky trip into the Ripley Museum after hours. You'll also find professionally trained guides give more fact than mythology with Ripleys. Believe it or not.
The St. Augustine Wild Reserve offers tours for small groups to see their rescued exotic pets, mostly big cats that didn't make Siegfried and Roy or other Hollywood pussycats.
See the EcoLuxury website for links to all the sites mentioned, suggestions for when to go, and how to save money. Caution: you’ll find no listings for tourist joints where you might overpay for the view and mediocre food. We figure you can find those on billboards and in hotel lobby brochures. We don’t get paid for advertising, we do it as a courtesy to our vacation rental guests.