Monday, 5 November 2018

St Augustine Florida, A Charming Historic City In The US

As a family we love Florida. The constant beautiful weather is one reason we enjoy visiting and with a 21-year-old son, the theme parks in Orlando are another reason too. However, there are a million reasons we have started to love exploring the beautiful 'Sunshine State'. 

When you think of Florida, you may think of the wonderful beaches, the warm blue waters, the culture of Miami, or the laid-back charm of the Florida Keys, but have you ever thought of visiting St Augustine? 


St Augustine is a city on the northeast coast of Florida that is buzzing with vibrancy, history and culture and is a short two-hour drive from Orlando. I've wanted to visit for a long time so recently I got in contact with Florida's Historic Coast, the tourist board of the area, and was delighted when I applied and was accepted for a press trip. So in September, we drove from Orlando to St Augustine, ready to be wowed by some much-needed charm and culture after an Orlando abyss.

Day one

The Red Train Tour

After arriving in St Augustine and checking into our hotel, the Bayfront Marin House, a luxury boutique bed and breakfast,  our first stop was a Red Train trolley tour to get orientated to the centre of the historic city. This hop on, hop off tour is well worth doing. As well as getting your bearings it takes you to many of the top attractions in the historic heart of the city.



I was surprised how for a city, the historic heart was generally walkable if you have a reasonable level of fitness. It's flat but of course in the Florida heat, a tour like the Red Train Tour is great as you can reserve your energy for eating and drinking! 

With a commentary along the way, we heard a potted history of St Augustine. Founded in 1565 by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, a Spanish admiral and Florida's first governor, it is the oldest continuously inhabited European established settlement within the borders of the continental United States. Now that's a pretty big mouthful but what that means is that this reflects on the architecture, the place names, the history and the general feel of the city, with the narrow streets reflective of a European vibe and not what you come to expect in America. If you love historic things to do and see then are in for a real treat in St Augustine that's for sure. 


The Reef


That night we ate at The Reef. Situated right on the ocean front, the menu of fish was so fresh it was practically swimming away, and we tucked into a number of delicious dishes. Unfortunately, it was a little too dark to take a photo of the view but I can tell you it's definitely the place to go for an ocean front meal. 

I had the grilled seafood trio, a delicious dish of prawns, lobster and scallops. The prawns were juicy and big, and the lobster sweet and tender. While Mr W had the pretzel chicken salad. A mix of chicken in a crispy coating with local greens, baby spinach, strawberry vinaigrette, fresh strawberries, heirloom tomatoes and sunflower seeds. Mr W a man of few words when it comes to food, declared his chicken salad 'good'. Only happy when he is complaining that is high praise from him indeed! Only joking but he did enjoy the salad.




I must admit I was really tempted by Florida Orange cake, so I ordered it and was not disappointed.  The cake was sweet and moreish - one mouthful and you wanted more, and it was topped with an orange frosting glaze that was out of this world. It's certainly a place we would return too for sure!

Day two

Castillo de San Marcos



After a delicious breakfast at the Bayfront Marin House, we went off to explore the city more. First stop was Castillo de San Marcos. This oldest masonry fort in the continental US, it's an iconic landmark on the waterfront in St Augustine. 


It was built in 1665 to defend the area from the pirates and the British, which were basically one and the same at that time in history!


There's plenty of things to do at the castle, we spent some time exploring the rooms that once housed soldiers and prisoners, looked around the large interior courtyard and also the gun deck which offered a great view of the city. 

Spanish Military Hospital


We decided to walk over to Aviles Street next and visit the Spanish Military Hospital. Now as an ex-nurse I really found this visit incredibly interesting. A 40 minute guided tour really brought the history to life.

This was a time pre ether, so no anaesthetic. Everything had to be done quickly, to stop blood loss and contamination, and the patients were awake. Can you imagine having your arm amputated like this?!


Plant-based medicine such as herbs and spices were used to treat illness and disease, and flour and cotton were used to pack wounds. The floors were washed with hot water and lavender and lavender was widely used to calm patients pre-op.  It is a fascinating tour and I highly recommend it.

Aviles Street


The Spanish Military Hospital is on Aviles Street. Aviles Street is the oldest street in the US and the early home to the St Augustine’s arts district. There are a number of independently owned shops, restaurants and cafes including the cute La Herencia cafe, a Cuban American cafe.



We stopped for a Cuban sandwich, which was mouthwatering and big enough to share for a snack. Jammed packed full of meat, pickles, and mustard the crunch of the toasted bread added that extra touch. The owner apparently roasts the pork daily for this speciality. Great for a lunch or brunch stop.


  
Flagler College



Our next stop was Flagler College for a tour. This college is beautiful inside and out due to its ornate structure and architectural heritage.  It was formerly the Hotel Ponce de Leon and is listed as a National Historic Landmark. Built by railroad magnate, Henry M. Flagler in 1888, in its day it was one of the most luxurious and exclusive resorts around.



The hotel was the first of its kind constructed entirely of poured concrete using the local coquina stone as aggregate. Coquina is made of the shells of molluscs and other invertebrates.  I was totally wowed by the 68-foot domed ceiling inside the foyer.



One of the finest examples of Spanish Renaissance architecture, inside you can see a number of stained glass windows by Louis Comfort Tiffany and this ceiling is in Tiffany blue. How beautiful is that?!

Whetstone Chocolate Factory Tour


After some serious sightseeing, the Whetstone Chocolate Factory was our next stop, well I had to get some chocolate eating in somewhere! After donning a rather fetching white gauze hat (it's a working factory and of course they take hygiene very seriously), we watched a video about the factory and then it was time for the tour and tastings.



Whetstone makes a lot of the chocolate in a bigger factory, but it was still cool to see the chocolate made by hand here. Throughout their time they have made chocolate for Nestle’s, Hershey and M&M Mars as well as Disney. 


The chocolate we tasted - a mix of white chocolate, milk and dark was truly divine, rich and delicious. Definitely, a place to visit if you adore chocolate that's for sure.

St Augustine Distillery


Of course, we needed to wash all that chocolate down with something, so what better than bourbon? The St Augustine Distillery tour is free and runs every thirty minutes or so. It's worth it to see inside this distillery, hear about their history and of course taste some samples.


The company is locally founded and community-owned, they use local farms to grow crops unique to the region and produce small batch whiskey, rum, vodka and gin. We tasted some cocktails made with the spirits and they were excellent, as well as neat versions. We bought some of the 'Old Fashioned' mixer to make that perfect Old Fashion cocktail, the citrus taste made the perfect accompaniment to whiskey.  

Catch 27


Dinner that night was at Catch 27, a cool little restaurant that prides itself on locally sourced seasonal food, prepared from scratch.  


I started with Minorcan clam chowder which was incredibly tasty in a rich tomato broth. The croutons added a great crunch to this dish too.



The main course was a no-brainer for me. Now since I visited New Orleans a couple of years ago, I've been a big fan of shrimp and grits so when I saw it on the menu I was in heaven and I had to order it. The grits were cooked with white cheddar and bacon and made into a cake, then seared on the outside.  It was a fabulous accompaniment to the juicy shrimp and the red pepper relish, sherry and cream sauce.  Amazing! 


You really have to visit if you are in the area, you won't be disappointed.

Ghost and Gravestone Tour



That night we went on the ghost and gravestone tour. A trolleybus took us around St Augustine where we visited Tolomoto Cemetery and heard about the spirit of a five-year-old who jumps from tree to tree. We also visited Potter's Wax museum Chamber of Horrors which was really eerie before our final stop the old jail. Public hangings used to take place outside the prison. 

The tour guide was informative and fun and the actors they use were brilliant. Not for the faint-hearted, the tour still had the odd laugh and is something different to do in you are in the city.

Day three


Day three was a little less hectic as we crammed so much in before, so after a beautiful breakfast of fresh fruit, fresh juice and bagels and quiche at the Bayfront Marin House, we headed off to St Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum. 

St Augustine Lighthouse And Maritime Museum


The St Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum is a non-profit museum dedicated "to discover, preserve, present and keep alive the stories of the Nation's Oldest Port as symbolized by our working St. Augustine Lighthouse".



As well as a trip to the top of the lighthouse by Mr W (I must admit, halfway was high enough for me), you can go on a free guided tour. I liked the fact that there are exhibitions here that are child-friendly and that they work to educate local children. There are lots to see including the Keepers Office,  wooden boats being made by hand in traditional ways and exhibitions about the Florida shrimping industry and St Augustines role.  The volunteers that work here really know their stuff too. 

Savory Faire Food and Wine Tour



The Savory Faire Food And Wine Tour is how we spent our afternoon, and what an excellent way to find out about the city and it's foodie scene.  Our guide, I think it was Ed, was a right character and had lots of stories of his travels and also of St Augustine's history. Our tour had a Meditteranean feel and looked at how St Augustine has been shaped by different cultures and nationalities.


The food eaten included chicken Milanese, pierogi, hummus, waffles, chocolate, ice-cream, even snails and an olive oil tasting.  I must admit, I don't think I've eaten snails before but they were incredibly tasty with the cheese and garlic sauce they were served with. 



You definitely will not leave hungry and there is an option to buy a wine pairing with each tasting. Recommended!

Harry's

That night we weren't very hungry after our food tour, but popped out to Harry's which is a New Orlean's themed restaurant where I had the Bourbon Street salmon which was good. We were seated outside in the courtyard which had live music and a great atmosphere. 

Day four



After another amazing breakfast at the Bayfront Marin House bed and breakfast, we were sad to say goodbye to St Augustine. Our last stop before we left was a visit to The Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park


The Fountain Of Youth Archaeological Park is a 15-acre historical attraction, where visitors can learn about the first Spanish settlers who came to St Augustine in the 1600s and the native Timucuans who were there to greet them. With a working archaeological dig on site, as well as several re-created Spanish and Timucuan buildings and dwellings, the park is bursting with history. 



Of course, Mr W had to try the water from the Fountain Of Youth, but I don't think it worked! The water contains over 30 minerals and the spring would have been the perfect replenishment site for explorer Juan Ponce de Leon’s ships upon landing on Florida’s shores 500 years ago. We were lucky to see a recreation of cannon firing when we were there and crossbow firing. If you are a lover of history you can spend half a day here for sure. They even have a planetarium.

Where to stay



We stayed at the Bayfront Marin House, a luxury boutique bed and breakfast with an intercoastal waterfront view. The owner Sandy couldn't do enough for us and was so welcoming. She really is a true Southern host with amazing hospitality.



Our deluxe room had all the usual amenities and we liked the calming decor in cream and brown and the supremely comfortable bed. 


The luxury touches in the room were amazing and included a huge jacuzzi bath and a marble shower in the bathroom.



We loved the incredible breakfasts cooked to order with daily specialities such as scrumptious quiche, tasty Eggs Benedict, and light and fluffy banana pancakes. Every night between 5 and 7 we also partook of the 'happy hour' with complimentary sangria, beer and wine and appetisers too. It's a place to stay if you want amazing hospitality and a high standard of accommodation. Highly recommended.

pin for later

So our time in St Augustine was now up. We thought St Augustine was a fabulous place to spend some time whilst in Florida. Full of southern charm, the historic heart has so much to do it's unreal. If you love history, interesting architecture, and great food you will be well and truly spoilt. We packed so much in but you can also take it easy and spend time by the beautiful beaches too. It's also only a short two-hour drive from Orlando, so it's the perfect break from the Disney bubble. We will definitely be back - St Augustine you stole our heart and that can only be a good thing.

Check out the video Mr W and I made for our other blog www.flydriveexplore.com




For what to see and so in St Augustine Florida, the Floridas Historic Coast website is excellent and can help you plan that perfect vacation. Tell me, would you like to visit St Augustine? What would you like to do on your trip?

* Thanks to Floridas Historic Coast for our press trip 

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23 comments

  1. We’ve yet to visit the sunshine state, as my folks are waiting until I’m a bit older to take me to Disney and Orlando. However after reading this we’d love to stay longer and explore St Augustine! Postcard perfect!

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    1. It is exactly postcard perfect. Hope you get the chance to visit one day.

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  2. the Spanish hospital scenery freaked me out a little :) But I lovedthe chocolate factory and all the photos of the delicious food you had! x

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  3. You have definitely made me want to visit St. Augustine. The food looks fantastic and the history interesting. It is good to find out there is more to see in Florida than just Disney.

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    1. There is SO much more to see in Florida than Disney for sure. We have visited many places in the state and we keep going back!

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  4. Lovely photos. The food looks amazing, kind of really want it! Sounds like you had an amazing time.

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  5. We live in Orlando, so just a couple of hours from St Augustine! You guys really got to see a lot of the city, it sounds like you had a great time (we did that Ghosts and Graveyards tour a couple of years ago and LOVED it!) It's also a beautiful city at Christmas if you ever get back there, they light up the whole city and it looks amazing.

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    1. Glad to see you enjoyed the Ghosts and Gravestone tour too!

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  6. This looks like it was the most amazing place to visit, ever. So historic and full of scarily cool information about 'back in the day'. Great photos, too!

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  7. HI Melissa, wowwwwww I wish I could go to florida! Looks like a spectacular dreamy trip! I really want to eat all those food bites now! LOVE the pics, continue food pics pls

    xtineloves.co.uk ;) x x x xx

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    1. Hope you get the chance to visit one day Christine.

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  8. What a lovely place to visit. All of this yummy food is making me hungry. Beautiful pictures, I would love to visit :)

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  9. Looks like you had a wonderful time. My kids are obsessed by the weird and spooky, so the Ghost and Gravestone Tour would be awesome for them.........fingers crossed we get to visit next year

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    1. Yes they would probably enjoy it then. It was very creepy.

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  10. What an amazing place to visit. The Red Train Tour looks like a lot of fun xx

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  11. I've never heard of St. Augustine before, but it looks like an amazing place to visit. xo

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  12. The red train tour would be perfect for me to explore st Augusta as I love learnjng about the local history

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  13. Oh wow, there is just absolutely so much to do there! St Augustine looks like it is absolutely oozing with culture and history and an amazing place to visit. I will add it to the list if I ever make it to Florida!

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    1. It's a cultural oasis in Florid that's for sure.

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  14. What an adorable town. We love Florida too and this is one we would love to visit, I love all the history there and it certainly has lots going on.

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    1. It does have a lot going on Nichola, lots of people of all ages too.

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  15. Wow it looks gorgeous here. I’ve never been to Florida but it’s on my to go to list

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