Discovering Old Florida, Daytripping in St. Augustine

April 2010


St. Augustine is a perfect day trip or weekend getaway for women looking to discover Old Florida. This ancient old Spanish town has serious pedigree, founded in 1565, it holds the title of oldest permanent city in the US, if you like narrow cobblestone streets and beautiful historic architecture, you’ll love St. Augustine. We recently traveled to the ‘city of eternal youth’ from Gainesville, Florida, and the two hour drive was the perfect length for us to catch up on the gossip and dish about our lives.

As we neared the center of the town, we passed hundreds of massive posters and billboards begging us to visit the many attractions available in United State’s oldest city. One that we ended up not doing on this trip, although I would have loved to, was the Fountain of Youth. It is supposed to be the achievement of a quest for one of the Spanish explorers who first landed here nearly a century before the pilgrims of Plymouth Rock. A definite must on our next visit, can it be as hokey as it sounds? Inquiring minds want to know!

St. George Street

StAugustine_building_300Our first stop in St. Augustine was historic St. George Street where we spent a couple of hours wandering around and admiring the colonial style houses, most of which have been converted into lovely boutiques. The cobblestone streets glowed a deep rich copper brown in the sunshine and warmed our toes as we explored St. Augustine’s pedestrian-only shopping district. To escape the crowds and the heat I would recommend that you head out to St. George St. in the morning!

After our morning of retail therapy, we decided to go in search of a place to eat lunch, and soon came across a gorgeous eatery called The Columbia Restaurant, its doors having been open since 1905. The building was large and built in a Spanish colonial style with open courts, white stucco, bronze statues, and large windows throughout. We ate on the second floor, overlooking the dining room below. The food was absolutely fantastic, and although the Cuban Coffee could not compete with the Latin Café’s version back in Gainesville, the food and ambience had to be the absolute best I had experienced during the whole of my visit in the United States. I would highly recommend this restaurant to anyone in search of a authentic Cuban cuisine for a fair price in an impeccably beautiful family owned restaurant.

Castillo de Sans Marcos

After lunch we headed off to the Castillo, a large and historic fort credited to be a milestone in determination for American history. Taking twenty three years to build, this indestructible fortress has never been captured in battle and its walls have stood up against both tropical storms and enemy fire.

Something I found interesting about the fort was the material with which it had been built: it was not built from regular stone, but a natural form of limestone created from the shells of a coquina clam, which, over time, becomes a solid form of stone. Because this type of stone is soft and sometimes brittle, it was asked that we did not sit or lean on the ledges of the fortress in order to help preserve it.

We started off on the main level and wandered through room after room of dark coquina walls with wooden accents of benches and framed information boards. The very first room we entered was different from the rest in that it was the entrance to the armoury which held the gun powder and ammunition. The entrance into this room was tiny so as to create some safety in the case of accidental explosion. Another interesting room held a recreated version of the soldiers’ barracks, complete with wooden bunks and a set of stairs to a second level.

Up a set of coquina stairs was the upper level which held the cannons, two of which were still used in order to demonstrate the historic use of the fortress. We were fortunate enough to arrive at a time where a group of around 10 costumed soldiers carried out, in Spanish, the ancient process of firing two small cannons in the incredibly intricate and orderly fashion it would have been done hundreds of years ago. After a walk around the Castillo, we headed out for one of the near-by beaches.

St. Augustine Beach

StAugustine_stairs_300We decided that a visit to St. Augustine Beach would be the perfect way to relax and end our visit to the city. We arrived at the beach around 6:30 PM, and spent two hours trolling for sea shells, dipping our toes in the aqua blue Atlantic ocean and visiting the pelicans on St. John Pier. We watched the sun change the sky from a deep blue to a fiery red as we left the beach sometime before its closing at 8PM.

Before heading back to Gainesville we stopped for dinner at a very pretty restaurant called the Raintree, housed in a beautifully restored 1879 Victorian home. The food was good, albeit a little pricey, but despite the luxurious atmosphere it could not compare with the fare of The Columbia from earlier that day. The desert menu is Raintree’s saving grace, be sure to order the crepes! The mixed berry crepe was the ultimate in wrapped deliciousness.

All in all, the oldest city in all of the United States was very much the definition of a perfect girl’s getaway. Even though we didn’t end up having the time to visit attractions like the Fountain of Youth, or Ripley’s Believe or Not Museum, we had fun in the sun as well exploring the many Spanish charms of St. Augustine.

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