Sea Oats

Thursday, June 21, 2012

St. Augustine Florida Historic and Fun

St. Augustine. If you have lived in Florida or South Georgia for any length of time you are familiar with the name. It is a place that floats around the conscience like a good dream. Many people have visited it at least once, long ago or they mean to soon. It is always there and everyone knows its name.
The original City gate.
Rumor has it that this is a very old city. Sixty or seventy years old. Maybe even eighty. I have my doubts. Did they even have traffic lights and cross walks seventy years ago? I think not. I decided to look around despite my misgivings.

Much to my surprise, most of the city had been covered up by a fort. The fort was probably built by the WPA. Created by  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, they built it to look like a fort from the 1560’s to attract tourists to the mosquito feeding grounds so popular during the early part of the twentieth century.

More checking turned up the fact that St. Augustine is actually the oldest continually occupied city in the nation. Officially established in 1565, people have lived here ever since. Not like those quitters in Virginia. 

One of the nice things about St. Augustine is that many of the attractions are within walking distance of each other. Park at the Historic Center parking garage near the Visitor's Center. You should be aware  that once you leave the garage with your car, you will have to pay again. So plan to park there for as long as you can. When I was there, the fee was $10.00 Not bad at all. The garage is very convenient to the fort, literally right across the street. You can walk through the Visitors Center just to the East of the garage and then on to the fort. The people in the Center are very friendly and knowledgeable. It’s worth stopping in and saying hello.
The stage at the Visitors Center.
The fort is a little surprising at first. You would expect this huge massive structure, but it is not. It’s built fairly low and close to the ground. However, it has withstood many attacks over the years from the British, the Indians and other ne’er  do wells looking to move in. It is surrounded by a moat that could have been filled with tarantulas, but more likely water. Either way, it would have been very difficult to breach those walls. Made of mortar and seashells, they actually absorbed hits from cannonballs and other projectiles, giving the invading Huns fits. The fort was also attacked by the governors of Georgia and South Carolina, but it was never taken.

Draw bridge over the moat.
There several options for getting around St. Augustine.  You may go by horse drawn carriage, by bike, on foot, by pirate ship, or by trolley.  You can fly over the city in a biplane or ride in a helicopter and prices are reasonable. If you can, tour the town on foot. It is a relatively easy walk with lots of places to sit on St. George Street and of course in the cafes, bakery shops, ice cream parlors and coffee stops. A little something for everyone. Take one of the two trolley systems. The Old Town Trolley or the Ripley’s (of Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum fame) Red Trolley system. Neither is cheap, but you get three or more days to use your passes. You could ride around on your first day, pick out the spots you want to go back to and maybe walk on the second or third day. If someone in your party is not able to walk in the heat and humidity of summer, taking one is a great option. Hop on and off at over twenty different stops.

On St. George St., the main avenue in old town, there are variety of shops. From a magic shop to lady's fancy lingerie. There are plenty of shaded areas to walk in and lots of benches to sit on. Take your time and stroll. Most shops don't open till after 9:30 AM, so no rush to get in early. 

A must see is the oldest school house. Amazing that the kids could learn anything with all the tourists walking around. Kids think they have it tough now, wait until they see this. There is a real anchor and chain draped around the building. Why? To keep if from being blown away during hurricanes. It must have worked as it’s still standing.

The fort and Spanish town are rich in history and taking them in at a comfortable pace it can make for a   very full day. This is a great place for history buffs, children and just strolling. Children can get bored easily, especially in the heat, so go to a place like the Pirate’s Museum or if you are out and about in the evening, a really fun adventure is the Ghost Tour

Close by to the historic district is Flagler College and the Lightner Museum. This is a must see stop for anyone interested in antiques and the history for Florida in the 1800’s. A treasure trove of wonderful items from clothing to home d├ęcor. Leave plenty of time to see this exhibit. At the above link is a virtual tour which while not the same as being there, is quite good. Some of the photos can be viewed in 360 degrees. Worth a look.

If you are older than you wish to be, try the Fountain of Youth. It may help. I look 10 years younger now, A fresh and spritely 80. How cool. Need a little redemption and historical art, try the Shrine. Want to get on the water for a little while, take the tour on a sightseeing boat, here.

The man can tell a story. Stop by and get his unique take on the history of the area.
Of course there is also the Lighthouse. Nice grounds and plenty of history also, along with ghost tours. Nice to be 200 feet in the air and have the crap scared out of you by a ghost. There are 219 steps to the top for great views. I think they made it taller since I was there over 30 years ago. Well, at least it SEEMED taller. Stop and see the man on the path sitting at a table for a great oral history of the lighthouse and surrounding area. He’s a great story teller. You have to drive over to the beach but it is definitely worth it.

Take at least one bottle of water for each person as walking can dehydrate you quickly, especially in the summer months.

A note about the links in this article. There are several that appear under the name St. Augustine. They are different, so explore. For a comprehensive history of the city, go to this link: History

St. Augustine has a lot to offer. Make it your next family vacation. I’m beginning to believe it might be older than I first thought. Such rich history. Such fun. A rare combination.

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