St. Augustine serves up centuries of natural beauty and more
Where in the United States can you find 500 years of history, scrumptious cuisine, beautiful views and natural wonders—and it’s all at your footsteps?
St. Augustine, Fla.
A walk through the city’s historic district will liven up the senses whether you’re a history buff, foodie or outdoor adventurer. On a recent family trip, our base was the lavishly beautiful and historic Casa Monica hotel. Built in 1888, the castle-like structure was remodeled in 1999.
Just blocks from Matanzas Bay and bordering both the Old Town section and the historic district, the options for a fun and busy day are plentiful as you step outside the hotel onto King Street.
Heading down King Street toward the bay, you soon find the cobbled streets of Old Town, with its pastel-colored homes and plant filled balconies. The Gonzalez-Alvarez House is the oldest Spanish Colonial dwelling in Florida and has been occupied since the 1600s. The home is now a museum.
Within view of the hotel are Flagler College and the Lightner Museum, both impressive Spanish Renaissance-style structures. The Lightner Museum was built in 1887 and is filled with relics and artifacts from America’s Gilded Age.
A short block from the hotel is St. George Street, which takes you into the heart of the historic district. The rich aromas of European cuisine, mixed with the sounds of live music and the sights of ancient civilizations give the area an eclectic feel.
Walking tours are prominent throughout the city, and we tried the newest offering from City Walks Tours—the Savory Faire Tour. This culinary treat combines food that can makes your tastebuds dance with an interesting history lesson about the food and culture, all at a reasonable price.
We sampled Spanish cuisine, Irish and British fare, a wine shop that feature wines made from Florida fruit, plus homemade gelato and flavored ice on a stick made on-site with fresh fruit. Perhaps indulged is more accurate than sampled.
The samples were was not just a bite of something served in little ketchup cups. We were treated to hearty portions at every stop. There were empanadas and peccadillo (Spanish chili) at The Spanish Bakery, coronation chicken salad at The Gourmet Hut, tapas, including the largest shrimp I’ve ever seen, at The Tasting Room, and a special take on a reuben and oysters Rockefeller at Meehan’s on Matanzas.
We also visited Vino del Grotto, where 40 different wines featuring Florida fruit are stocked. The two-and-a-half hour tour ended with a visit to The Hyppo for ice pops made with fresh fruit and Café del Hidalgo for gelato.
Throughout the tour our guide, Mia Bain, provided interesting facts about the food, restaurants and culture of the area. For instance, we learned that St. Augustine claims the first Thanksgiving. The city’s founder, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, met with Native Americans and feasted on venison, turtle, oysters and clams in 1565.
Available on Wednesdays and Fridays, the Savory Faire tour is expected to expand to up to five days in November, said the tour’s Alice Sutherland.
If you’re up for it after the tour, the historic district offers a look into the past with attractions including the oldest wooden schoolhouse, oldest drug store and Spanish Quarter.
After such a culinary excursion, something adventurous might be a good idea. Just a few blocks east of the Casa Monica, is the No. 1 attraction in St. Augustine, according to TripAdvisor.com.
St. Augustine Eco Tours operates out of the City Marina and offers guided boat and kayak tours on the inland waters surrounding the city. The newest tour offered by owner Zack McKenna is a catamaran excursion perfect for a family or group of about six.
The sailboat goes out twice a day and offers a stunning look at the area’s wildlife. McKenna makes no guarantees to his guests, but he has been on trips where guests have seen manatees, dolphins and several species of birds that were at one time nearly extinct, he said. On one trip, a 120-pound loggerhead turtle was rescued after being tangled in fishing line.
“The passion for eco-tourism is very much here for us,” McKenna said.
There is plenty more to St. Augustine inside and outside the historic district, including miles and miles of beaches. So no matter what adventure you’re up for, St. Augustine likely has it. For more about things to do in St. Augustine, visit www.getaway4florida.com.