"Saint Augustine & its Beaches" Saint Augustine by noidiotsplease

Saint Augustine Travel Guide: 715 reviews and 1,954 photos

A STEP BACK IN TIME

You're walking down the cobblestone streets of a Spanish colonial town. Ahead, the narrow alley gives way to a broad, palm tree-lined promenade along the banks of a turquoise bay. At the end of the promenade stands a massive, coquina stone fort. Cannons perched along the fort's upper deck point toward the broad inlet and sandy barrier islands that serve as a picturesque gateway between the ocean and the harbor. A tall-mast ship emerges on the horizon, a sight that once signaled an attack by British imperialists or buccaneers looking to pillage and burn the town. Strange as it may sound, it's the 21st century, and you're standing in the United States.

St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the continental United States. It was founded by the Spanish in 1565, 42 years before the English colonized Jamestown and 55 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Today, St. Augustine is situated right in the middle of modern Florida -- about 40 miles south of the glassy skyscrapers of downtown Jacksonville -- but its nearly four and a half centuries of history make it seem worlds away.

THE HISTORIC DISTRICT

St. Augustine boasts a unique blend of qualities that warrants comparisons to many other renown places throughout the world -- the historic authenticity and architecture of Spain, the picturesque seaside beauty of the Mediterranean, the romantic allure of Paris, the Southern charm of Charleston or Savannah, and the relaxed, artistic spirit of Key West -- all blended together under the North Florida sun. By day, the city's attractions are diverse and plentiful, including forts, historic sites, living history museums, animal parks, sightseeing tours, specialty museums and areas for recreation and amusement. It's common to see authentically clothed soldiers and craftsmen walking around town, particularly at the Colonial Spanish Quarter and at the Castillo de San Marcos, where if you're lucky you'll see (and hear) a cannon firing demonstration. The Historic District is a walkable area centered around pedestrian-only St. George Street, which is lined with shops, restaurants, and small attractions. Numerous other surrounding streets also offer a variety of unique shops, restaurants and galleries from which to choose that are just a short walk away. In fact, two main entry corridors, King St. and San Marco Ave., are known for having large concentrations of art galleries and antiques shops respectively.

At night, St. Augustine reveals itself as the small town that it is. The Historic District becomes a ghost town of sorts, with
ghost tours and the occasional art walk reining as the only real nightlife. Just be warned that ghost tour operators tend to advertise themselves with scary window displays that can really frighten young children at night. (I know this from personal experience.) That said, the abundance of bed and breakfasts, quaint restaurants, and carriage rides can make St. Augustine a very romantic place for honeymooners and married couples seeking a quiet escape.

Outside the city limits, along I-95, travelers will also find two
outlet malls across the highway from each other at the SR 16 exit. Five miles north, just before the outskirts of Jacksonville, I-95 passes World Golf Village, home of the World Golf Hall of Fame.

A QUICK DASH TO THE BEACH

St. Augustine also boasts three small beach communities and two state parks along its historic shores. In the north, Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas Reserve serves as a protected natural area separating St. Augustine's beaches from Jacksonville's. South of Guana, at the very tip of the long barrier island that extends down from Jacksonville, is a quaint, mom & pop community of pastel Floribbean beach houses called Vilano Beach. Characterized by its mom & pop nostalgia, this resurgent community now boasts a fishing pier, a nature walk, and a community town center along a handful of blocks between the beach and pier.

Across the inlet that creates St. Augustine's harbor is
Anastasia Island, which includes pristine Anastasia State Park, small but commercialized St. Augustine Beach, and the beach homes and condos of sleepy Crescent Beach. While any of these beaches are sure to please visitors, parts of Vilano Beach, St. Augustine Beach and Crescent Beach, unfortunately, do allow cars to drive and park on the sand. Fort Matanzas stands sentinel in the Intracoastal marshlands near Matanzas Inlet, located at the southern end of Anastasia Island. Just a short drive south of the inlet, Marineland offers visitors the opportunity to interact or even swim with dolphins.

JACKSONVILLE METROPOLITAN AREA LINKS
(FLORIDA'S FIRST COAST)

Jacksonville | St. Augustine

JACKSONVILLE AREA BEACHES
Atlantic Beach | Neptune Beach | Jacksonville Beach
Ponte Vedra Beach | Amelia Island | Fernandina Beach
Hanna Park | Ft. George Island | Talbot Islands State Parks

JACKSONVILLE NEIGHBORHOODS
Downtown | San Marco | Riverside-Avondale
Ft. Caroline | St. Johns Town Center | Mandarin | Mayport

ST. AUGUSTINE AREA BEACHES
St. Augustine Beach | Crescent Beach | Vilano Beach | Marineland
Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas N.R.

OTHER METRO CITIES
Orange Park | Fruit Cove-World Golf Village | Callahan | Yulee

FLORIDA

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  • In a nutshell:An excellent day trip from Jacksonville
  • Last visit to Saint Augustine: Jan 2014
  • Intro Updated Jan 21, 2014
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noidiotsplease

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