Even though I’ve visited Florida numerous times over the past 30 years, I had never been to America’s oldest city, St. Augustine. I just spent a fun week in this fascinating city and found it combines all the necessary elements for a great vacation destination: warm weather, great restaurants and luxurious hotels. Add in great golf, Southern hospitality and just under 450 years of history and you really do have a place that has something for everyone.
About the city
St. Augustine is the oldest city in America, founded by the Spanish in 1565, before Jamestown or the Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock. It went back and forth between Spanish and British control until 1821 when it became part of the United States. The city has an amazing historic vibe to it, the pre-Colonial and Colonial history combined with the luxury of the Gilded Age. This was a popular holiday destination for some of America’s richest families in the years just before the turn of the 20th Century.
What to do
A Fountain of Youth visit is mandatory. Now more than a roadside attraction, the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park now provides a good overview of the history of the area, via recreated structures and re-enactors. Visitors interact with Native Americans and Spanish soldiers as they learn about the area. The park is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for kids.
After drinking from the Fountain of Youth, I had a fun time ziplining over alligators (really) at Crocodile Crossing at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park (999 Anastasia Blvd., St. Augustine). More an obstacle course than a long, continuous zipline, it was challenging and fun, and really does get you on cables above pools filled with alligators. They tell me they haven’t lost anyone yet. The 45 minute course I did is $35 and the 90 minute course is $65.
The area is one of the best places in the country for golf and I recommend playing the best, the TPC Sawgrass club (110 Championship Way, Ponte Vedra Beach) home to THE PLAYERS Championship. The course and clubhouse are open to the public and free tours are given daily. Golf can be booked online as even The Stadium course, where the big tournament is played, is open to the public. St. Augustine is also where you find The World Golf Hall of Fame (One World Golf Place, St. Augustine), a must-see for golfers and a fun experience for kids and families too.The Hall of Fame is open every day, adult admission is $19.50 and kids are $5.00. Admission is good for two days of visits and also includes a round of golf on their 18-hole putting course.
Where to eat
Three stand-outs from my trip remain in my mind and make me hungry to return. In historic St. Augustine, right in the heart of the tourist area, Taberna del Caballo (37 St. George Street, St. Augustine) was a real stand-out. Innovative, delicate, ingenious tapas and flatbreads, served with some tasty sangria.They’re open from noon to 10 p.m., 11 on Friday and Saturday nights. Part of the area is a performance space, where musicians play while diners dine under a large Cypress tree with lanterns in the branches.
Also in the historic area, known as the Colonial Quarter, we had a wonderful foodie dinner at The Tasting Room (25 Cuna Street, St. Augustine). Bold, contemporary Spanish dishes paired with some of Spain’s best vintages. Grilled Brussels sprouts, a shrimp salad and pan seared pork medallions, paired with a wine tasting including a Viura, an Albarino and a Tempranillo.
My final choice is Vernon’s inside the Sawgrass Marriott Resort (1000 PGA TOUR Blvd. Ponte Vedra Beach), where Chef Bret Smith does his take on some amazing Southern classics and new dishes, plus a whole lot of fresh seafood. You know a hotel restaurant is good when it’s filled with as many locals as hotel guests.
Where to stay
As a lover of history and historic hotels, I was in heaven in the Anastasia Suite at the Casa Monica Hotel (95 Cordova Street, St. Augustine), built in 1888. This is a beautiful castle-like grand hotel, created to accommodate some of America’s richest families who would come for the whole winter season, not just a few nights. Right in the center of town, the Casa Monica is an elegant base from which to explore St. Augustine. Standard room rates start at $159 per night.
Freddy Sherman is a world traveler and editor of the travel blog luxuryfred.com. In the past year, he has visited Turkey twice, done a foodie week in Hong Kong, cruised the Mekong river in Vietnam & Cambodia, stayed in an Ice Hotel in Canada, and toured Peru. You can follow him on Twitter -@luxuryfred and on Instagram – @luxuryfred.
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