Ahh St. Augustine
St. Augustine is the oldest occupies settlement in America and a beautiful place for a summer getaway!
Anyone else already dreaming of a spring or summer getaway? Too soon? I didn’t think so! I love traveling, and thinking of our next adventure keeps dreary day doldrums away. If you’re turning your mind to your next trip and thinking of a sunny, beach-side getaway, you might consider adding St. Augustine into your mix of destination options.
If you are anything like me, you may never have heard of St. Augustine, but don’t let that sway you away from checking out this gem of a city full of history, beautiful Victorians and vistas, and delicious food. St. Augustine lays claim to being the oldest city in the U.S., pre-dating Jamestown by about 40 years, and boasts of being home to Ponce de Leon’s elusive Fountain of Youth (from which you may still sip, if you have a taste for mineral water and the promise of fewer fine facial lines). The city is a beautiful blend of Spanish Colonial history, Charleston-esque architecture, and verdant palm trees, with photo-worthy vistas almost everywhere you look.
Here are a few sights and sounds not to miss, if you have the opportunity to visit:
One of my favorite memories of our trip to St. Augustine was a sunny, leisurely walk through Lincolnville, a scenic neighborhood dotted with Victorian-era homes developed by emancipated slaves after the Civil War. (I was glad to have my wide-brimmed hat as we walked to keep the sun at bay - if you visit during the summer, expect hot, humid weather and pack accordingly!
The walk to Lincolnville is about 20 minutes from Flagler College (formerly Hotel Ponce de Leon and worth a stop for a tour - the painted ceilings are breathtaking). Along your way, you can also take in Markland House (102 King Street, just west of the Flagler College main buildings. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places and, although it has limited tour availability, you’ll have a nice view as you walk by).
The streets of Lincolnville are lined with breathtaking homes from a bygone era (some of which are available for rent through Airbnb), and I could have spent all morning simply walking, exclaiming over the next house we saw, and snapping pictures. If that’s all you have time to do while wandering Lincolnville, WORTH IT! But if you have a little more time to explore, I’d recommend checking out Excelsior Museum and Cultural Center and eating at either the Blue Hen or Preserved.
Excelsior Museum and Cultural Center (102 Martin Luther King Ave.) is housed in St. Augustine's first African American public high school and catalogues the community’s rich history from the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement, including the landmark protest at Monson Motor Lodge, and the acerbic response, that helped pave the way for the passing of the Civil Rights Act. You can still visit the historic spot of the Monson Motor Lodge (now Hilton Historic Bayfront hotel) at 32 Avenida Menendez.
The Blue Hen (117 M L King Ave) is located almost directly across the street from Excelsior. It’s casual dining, and I cannot recommend the crab quiche enough - I would love to have the recipe to the amazingly thick, buttery crust!). Preserved, another excellent dining option in the area, is situated in a striking Victorian home where President Thomas Jefferson’s great granddaughter, Maria Jefferson Shine, once lived and which offers an exquisite menu of southern cuisine created from ingredients from local farmers.
Fountain of Youth
Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is located on Magnolia Avenue, a road that has been called one of the most photographed streets in America by National Geographic. Magnificent oaks draped in Spanish Moss flank the road creating a regal effect as flecks of sunlight dapple the road below. If ancient southern vistas resonant with you, put a walk down this stretch of road on your ‘To Do’ list.
Inside the park, you can explore a planetarium, view blacksmith and armory demonstrations, learn about the Timucuan tribe that once inhabited the area, feed peacocks, and of course, drink from the park’s fountain that many claim is the same fountain Ponce de Leon proclaimed the Fountain of Youth in 1513.
The striking black and white striped St. Augustine lighthouse, located on Anastasia Island and standing approximately 165 feet tall, offers an expansive view of the area, and weather permitting, you can climb the spiral staircase to the top to enjoy the observation deck and lens room. The history of the lighthouse, from the first, wooden, watch tower built in the late 1500s, to the current structure built between 1871-1874, is told through the exhibits in the lighthouse keepers house.
While on the island, you can also explore the Alligator Farm and St. Augustine Beach. If you’re in the mood for a little sand and surf and plan to rent a car, I’d recommend a 4 x 4 for a little offroading on the dunes. The beaches are pretty and peaceful, and we didn’t find ourselves tripping over tourists every few feet so take a moment to dip your toes.
Castillo de San Marcos & the Colonial QuarterOne of the first things locals will ask when you arrive is, “Have you seen the fort?” and who can blame them? The castillo has guarded the city for more than 300 years and is the only extant 17th century masonry fort in North America. You can tour the outer grounds, punctuated with palms, without a ticket, but admission gains you access to the inner courtyard, gun deck, and former soldiers’ quarters, where you can still view etchings of ships former residents carved into the coquina walls.
Across the multi-laned street from the fort is the Colonial Quarter and St. George Street, a highly walkable section of town that offers a wide array of picturesque strolls, local dining, settlement and historic home tours, and excellent souvenir shopping for a little something to remember the city by.
We didn’t have an opportunity to see everything St. Augustine has to offer, but it was a charming surprise to explore. Here are a few of our favorites we found along the way:
We Airbnb’d it in an over-the-garage apartment within walking distance of historic downtown. The walk each morning surrounded by palm fronds, fragrant exotic flowers, and historic homes was an absolute wonder each morning, and we had an excellent experience with the owners so would highly recommend https://abnb.me/zKDfvrjdsZ
Ice Plant - based in a converted warehouse, this artisinal restuarant offers an industrial aethetic and brunch menu, both of which are seriously on point. And don’t forget to visit the distillery next door for a tour and some bourbon honey to take home as a delicious souvenir!
Blue Hen - I fell in love with this charming spot offering comfy, casual southern dining. Everything we had was fresh, scrumptious, and served by friendly staff in this sunny cafe in historic Lincolnville.
Preserved - If you love Victorian homes and farm to table menus, make sure to reserve your spot at Presevered in historic Lincolnville - exquisite!
Cafe Alcazar in the Lightner Museum - called the “castle of happy returns,” the Lightner museum displays beautiful exhibits in a stunning venue and is often used for weddings and special events. Check out the exhibits before experiencing a unique dining experience at a table in the converted indoor pool at the Cafe.
Cap’s on the Water - If you are looking for relaxing beachside dining, checkout one of our favorite’s at Cap’s. We sat on the outdoor patio watching the sun go down as we lingered with friends over fresh seafood. Do not leave St. Augustine without dining here (but be prepared for a little wind in your hair and make reservations to avoid a wait!)
Floridian - casual southern comfort food with a coastal, health-friendly twist, this super cute restaurant has a quirky yet quaint appeal and lighter fare and gluten free options available.
O.C. White’s and Harry’s Seafood - if you are looking for stunning outdoor dining near the heart of the colonial district checkout the patio at O.C. White’s or the courtyard at Harry’s - I could have sat for days at either (Also, try the oreo beignets at Harry’s!).
So much to see and do! And we had a ball. Where are your favorite spots in St. Augustine?