St. Augstine, Florida – ‘gators and shrimp

Genie Davis November 18, 2010 No Comments

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St. Augustine Beaches

We loved the warm water and soft sand beaches near St. Augustine.

What’s the oldest city in the United States? Our kids guessed Boston, and I confess, I would’ve thought New England would be the regional winner for the longest inhabited in the continental US. But we’d all be wrong – America’s oldest is St. Augustine, Florida. And as such, the town loves it’s history. And because the history involves such sights as residents in period costumes and military re-enactments, your family will love the history it offers, too.

St. Augustine has beautiful beaches, and a relaxed Southern feeling to its family friendly shops and old fashioned wax museum and alligator farm. Positioned on the north eastern side of the Florida coast, this is a lovely city with historic buildings and a graceful central plaza that dates from the era when this town was a center of military activity and trading for colonial Spain.

We arrived in this gracious city just at lunch time, and with a desire for both seafood and the beach, we hit Barnacle Bill’s family friendly establishment right near the sand off Beach Boulevard. We had crisp and delicious fried shrimp – available at nicely reduced prices on the children’s menu. After lunch we strolled the pedestrian only by-way of St. George Street, where street musicians and street vendors compete with the tourist shops along this pleasant avenue. Reputedly the oldest wooden school house in the US is located here, too.

After exploring, we went to our accommodations for the weekend. We stayed at The Kenwood Inn, a charming bed and breakfast that welcomes kids with a sun room full of board games and a small but well appointed swimming pool in its courtyard. The house was built in the eighteen hundreds, and the part of the pleasures of this spot are the irregularly shaped rooms and comfortable canopied beds. The breakfast was plentiful and laid out buffet style in the mornings; cookies and sherry were served in the evening as an extra treat. The St. Francis Inn, down the street, is another gracious bed and breakfast in a town with many to choose from.

Once we’d checked in, as the sun light was waning,  we hit a few tourist spots. Potter’s Wax Museum isn’t a grand historical attraction from the colonial era, but it is a relic of the past – a simpler past, when tourists were amazed by wax replicas of movie stars and political figures. Our kids loved the hokey but well maintained site, and agreed to pass up the more prosaic chain- attraction charms of nearby Ripley’s in order to check out Potter’s.

Castillo De San Marco St. Augustine

Historic fort in St. Augustine, Florida

More conventionally historic is the stunning Castillo De San Marco, a fort built in 1695 to protect St. Augustine’s Spanish settlers from the British. Unfortunately, while it kept the citizenry safe, seven years later the Brits burnt out the town while the settlers stayed in the fort. The fort is a beautiful piece of Spanish architecture and from there it’s just a short stroll to the water. Look for dolphins, and watch the moon rise.

Next day, after breakfast at our b & b, we grabbed some tasty snacks to go from The Bunnery Bakery and Cafe on St. George. We enjoyed our feta cheese and spinach croissants on the sand. While there are beautiful beaches all around town, cars are allowed onto the sand – which is fun, too. If you’re not looking to drive onto the hard pack, particularly with small children in tow, you may want to drive for a few minutes to one of two more serene beach going locations.

At Fort Matanzas National Monument Beach, you can take a wooden walkway to a beautiful beach. A free ferry offers a short, ranger led hourly ride to the other side of the inlet. There you can take a tour of this fort which was built in the mid 1700′s. Anastasia State Park is clean, quiet and peaceful, and another prime dolphin watching site – and again, car free, with soft white sand.

St. Augstine Lighthouse

St. Augstine lighthouse – great coastal views!

For another look at this gorgeous coast line, check out the beautiful St. Augustine Lighthouse  which has led ships into port for over a hundred years. Recently restored, it’s now also an nautical museum with an observation deck that allows a great view of the city sky line and the river as well as the sea coast.

If you haven’t seen enough dolphins yet, you can check out Marineland in St. Augustine, sixteen miles south of the town proper down A1A. Dolphin and sea lion shows and memorabilia from the park’s beginnings in 1938 are on display.

Closer to town is the Alligator Farm. Watch these enormous creatures eat in the alligator lagoon, then walk through a bird rookery filled with egrets. Our kids were thrilled to watch the massive alligators and we learned a lot about their habits and intelligence, too. One of this area’s oldest attractions, the farm surprised us with its excellent, entertaining and educational programs. They run several times a day, with titles like Florida’s Forest Friends, allowing up-close interactions with native animals – no alligators involved; and In the Realm of the Alligator – full of facts and alligators participating in enjoyably dangerous looking interactions with their handlers.

Seeing those ‘gators eat might bring on an appetite. We had a great recommendation for dinner regarding a locals favorite, O’steens. Expect a wait, but enjoy the fresh fish, the sweet squash casserole, and the shrimp boat models – all at reasonable prices.

What we loved best about St. Augustine – other than warm ocean, beautiful beaches, and fresh shrimp – was the family friendly feeling of the entire town. From the historical sites to the souvenir shops, there were always friendly greetings and locals who were eager to share stories about the history and the flora and fauna of the region. As the oldest inhabited city in the U.S., St. Augustine retains a sense of abiding charm. Easy to relax in and explore, the town was a mix of Spanish architecture and Southern hominess at its best.

Related Articles:

St. Augustine Lighthouse: Illuminating America’s Oldest Port

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

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