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Overnight at St Augustine
St Augustine is quaint with a capital Q. If you like picturesque and pretty plus bucket loads of history, charm and great architecture, then it’s the ideal place to visit. Founded in 1565, it’s America’s oldest continuously occupied European settlement.
A good start especially if time is limited, is to take one of the tours around the city. We went on the red train tour. You can hop on and off at the many stops around the city but stay on for the full 90 minutes and you get a great overview of the city and some of its history.
Driving is a nightmare as the streets are mostly one way. After several unsuccessful circuits we made a dash the wrong way down a street to our hotel. It is however a very easy place to walk round, the tour helped with orientation. There are also horse drawn carriage rides on offer, something we might do another time. The many nightly ghost tours also seemed very popular.
We stayed in the cobblestone road of Aviles Street, Old St Augustine Village, which was quiet and full of wonderful old buildings. In contrast the Spanish quarter is very touristy and far more crowded. While it also has narrow streets and lovely old buildings, including the oldest wooden schoolhouse (one of the many museums), it felt a bit Disneyfied. In fact when we stumbled on it the first evening before taking the tour we thought it was a reconstruction! That is not to say it’s not worth seeing, it’s just that we preferred the tranquil atmosphere of the quieter streets. The Spanish quarter also has numerous restaurants including a branch of the Columbia restaurant.
By chance travelling to St Augustine, we found an amazing bar and restaurant on the coast just south of St Augustine’s Bridge of Lions. The Conch House has several dining areas mostly outside, including little thatched huts on stilts. It had a wonderful atmosphere and great service, plus the food was so good we just had to go back the next day on our way home. It was also extremely good value.
Also on our way back to Orlando we couldn’t resist stopping at St Augustine lighthouse and climbing the 219 steps to the top. The view was well worth it but we wished we’d taken our binoculars up. They also have an interesting museum that we didn’t have time to see properly.
Having only a day in St Augustine we concentrated on just getting a feel for the place but there are loads of thing we’d like to go back and see including the Flagler college and Lightner museums for their Tiffany glass, and the Oldest House. There are several living museums too with working exhibits and staff in period costume. As the St Augustine tour book and map proclaims St Augustine is ‘History coming at Ya! ,
There is plenty to do in St Augustine even if you’re not into history or architecture. There’s the original ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not’. It’s housed in a magnificent building that Ripley often stayed in and longed to own but wasn’t acquired until after his death. Potters wax museum has seven themed galleries, there are art galleries and rows of antique shops, an alligator farm and San Sebastian Winery tours. Plus miles of beautiful beaches, parasailing, jet skiing, fishing charters, powerboat charter, dolphin and harbor tours, helicopter tours and much more. In fact something to keep everyone occupied for some time.
On the way up we stopped at Marineland Ocean Resort. Now a dolphin conservation centre, they don’t have dolphin shows but you can watch the dolphin interactions with paying members of the public. For me the most captivating was dolphin painting. They really seemed to be enjoying creating their artwork and it was fascinating to see their different techniques. One in particular just went crazy with the paint covering the canvas like an aquatic Jackson Pollock. Another mostly went round in circles and another made very restrained marks.
St Augustine is easy to get to taking the I-4 and 1. It probably takes less than 2 hours but as we kept stopping and making diversions it’s difficult to say exactly how long it took. We followed the coast road from Flagler Beach but could have taken it from Daytona. However you get there, try to have an overnight stay it’s well worth it.
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