St. Augustine, Florida: not just a beach vacation

We did a quick getaway to St. Augustine, Florida back in January of this year (seems a lifetime ago already!) We had hoped we would get some decent weather, but as it turned out it was pretty cold. Fortunately, this is a great town to do sightseeing.

Despite the gloomy weather, we’d start our day with a beach walk. We were staying in the Vilano Beach area and unfortunately its beach is not as nice as St. Augustine Beach due to beach erosion due to a hurricane and the current restoration project. But we still got to get walk it the first two mornings. On the third morning we drove over to Anatasia Island State Park and hiked the beach on Bird Island, just north of St. Augustine Beach. Wow! Great beach. If you like long flat beach walks (or runs) it’s definitely better over on this side. Plus we finally had sunny weather.

So after our beach walks we’d head into town and do a little exploring and sight-seeing. On the first day we checked on the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park. This is a privately run park and charges a $18 entrance fee. Typically, I stay away from places like this, but you can blame it on the peacocks roaming the grounds freely. This were definitely worth the entrance fee and the rest of the park wasn’t bad either. I did learn about the early colonial history of St. Augustine, first explored by Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513 and settled by Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565, even before the Pilgrims came to North America. The walk around the grounds is beautiful and you can see various exhibits such as the canon firing and Timucuan Village, a replica of the village of the native people that lived here when the Spaniards first arrived. And of course, I drank from the fountain of youth.

We next headed Castillo de San Marcos, which is the oldest masonry fort in the US, constructed by the Spanish, with considerable help from local natives, in 1672. It’s been occupied twice by the Spanish, twice by the British, had two periods of US occupation, and also briefly occupied by Confederate troops during the Civil War. It was finally taken over by the US Park Service in 1933, having been using for nearly 250 years. Unfortunately, we could not go inside because of Covid 19 (only open on Wednesdays currently) but having seen a similar fort in Puerto Rico, we weren’t overly disappointed. We enjoyed walking the grounds and checking out the unique stone used to build the fort. It’s called stone called coquina (Spanish for “small shells”), which consists of ancient shells that have bonded together to form a rock similar to limestone.

The next afternoon was dedicated to exploring the historical district of Saint Augustine. It’s truly a beautiful town and while there is a hop-on trolley, it’s easily done on foot. Our first stop was historic Flagler College. While the college is only 53 years old, the main structure is over a 100 years old, constructed in 1888 as the Ponce de Leon Hotel for industrialist Henry Flagler.

Right down the street from Flagler College we saw another Flagler-commissioned building. Also built in 1888, this building was originally the the Alcazar Hotel. It closed during the depression and was purchased by Otto Lightner, a Chicago publisher, who then turned it into a museum that housed his extensive collection of decorative and fine arts. It also serves as a city administrative office building. We didn’t have time to tour the museum (my husband spends way too much time when he goes in one) but we did enjoy its beautiful courtyard. Finally, we closed out the afternoon by walking up past Plaza de la Consitucion, Cathedral Basilica, and doing a little shopping on the touristy St. George Street. After all that, we needed a little refreshment, so we drove to the nearby St. Augustine Distillery!

We wrapped up our visit of St. Augustine on our final day by visiting the lighthouse on Anatasia Island. This 165-foot lighthouse with 219 steps was constructed between 1871 and 1874. However, a watchtower was originally built here in 1589 and went through several renditions before funding for the present lighthouse was approved by Congress during the Florida Reconstruction period. It’s actually the first lighthouse I’ve climbed up and it wasn’t difficult for me, but it could be some as it is a tight space. Fortunately, it was a cool Florida winter day so it was quite pleasant and there weren’t many people due to Covid.

In closing here are pics of the wonderful Christmas lights in St. Augustine that were still up in January as a part of their Night of Lights display.

Please check out my other blog posts on St. Augustine here and here.