Take a step back in time as you wander the quaint cobbled streets of St Augustine. Known as the First Coast and steeped in centuries of history, this is a place where you can soak up the past, but still be on the beach within minutes. An enticing mix of fascinating museums, old architecture, superb sands and stunning State Parks, St Augustine holidays have it all. It’s even claimed the fabled Fountain of Youth is here.
St Augustine really does have a unique appeal. This handsome little town is choc-full of captivating buildings like the Oldest House and the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse, where atmosphere seems to ooze from every doorway. But the charm doesn’t stop there, since the narrow lanes and winding streets are also dotted with cute cafés, one-off shops, antiques emporiums and cosy lamp-lit restaurants. Some of the townsfolk even dress in period costume.
But if it’s the Great Outdoors you want, then head out to the beach to take advantage of St Augustine’s mild winters, hot summers and boundless sunshine. The wide white expanse of the main beach sees the most action, with sunbathing, surfing and watersports. But if it’s something a little more laid back you want, head to Vilano Beach, or to gorgeous Anastasia State Park, where you can wander amongst the dunes with only the waves for company.
Other things to do on St Augustine holidays are countless. You can take a cruise on the ocean to spot dolphins, pelicans, cormorants and kingfishers; you can play a round of golf at a number of top-hole courses; you can visit forts, an old jail, and a lighthouse; you can even take a tour of a chocolate factory. And just like that first chunk of chocolate, St Augustine holidays will most definitely leave you wanting more.
There’s a whole list of fascinating historical buildings to discover. A firm favourite is the Ximinez-Fatio House, a 1798 inn and boarding house, restored to look just the way it did way back when. Also the theatrical Ponce de León hotel, now part of Flagler College, with its Spanish Renaissance turrets, towers and Tiffany glass.
St Augustine Lighthouse
This striking black-and-white striped lighthouse with its dashing red top was Florida’s first, built in 1874. Climb the 219 steps to its summit for spectacular views over the town and coast. Then tour the museum to discover the life of a lighthouse keeper – but beware of passing shadows, since the lighthouse is said to be haunted!
Castillo de San Marcos
Built by the Spanish in 1695 to protect the town from marauding English pirates, this massive structure is the town’s centrepiece. Rangers explain the fascinating history behind its 16-foot thick coquina walls, plus you can wander amongst its turrets and enjoy the displays of cannon and musket fire.
Anastasia State Park
This four-mile stretch of beach backed by picturesque dunes offers picnic tables, windsurfing and sailing at one end, and deserted isolation at the other. Simply stretch out on the soft sand and admire the varied birdlife, or choose something more active instead: canoeing in the lagoon and saltwater fishing for bluefish, pompano, redfish and flounder are both on offer.
Take the free ferry out to Rattlesnake Island 15 miles offshore to discover Fort Matanzas and its bloody history. The leisurely boat trip, with the chance of dolphin-spotting, is as much a part of the experience as the fort. Plus there’s fabulous views and a beautiful 300-acre park with nature trails to explore.