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Docent at St. Augustine Fountain of Youth Archeological Park
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    Small balconies jut out over narrow lanes designed to thwart pirates and other invaders. Thick coquina walls hide the lush gardens of old Spanish-style homes. The sound of a horse-drawn carriage breaks the silence. From a hilltop, a 17th-century fort, Castillo de San Marco, watches over the citizens. This is St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest city in the USA.

    Castillo de San Marco in St. Augustine
    Castillo de San Marco was constructed in the 17th century.

     

    The Past

    In 1565, Pedro Menendez de Aviles established a military base for Spain on the eastern shore of Florida. It was the first European settlement in the country, and people have inhabited it continuously for almost 450 years. Signs with Spanish names, Iberian and Moorish architecture and Hispanic cuisine celebrate its old world heritage. Historic sites surround you, enticing you to learn more.

     

    Start at the beginning. Visit where St. Augustine was settled. The Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park (www.fountainofyouthflorida.com) shows what life was like at that time through reconstructed buildings, artifacts and costumed docents.( header image) The entrance to the park pays homage to Ponce de Leon who founded Florida in 1513. Drink from his fabled Fountain of Youth. Then explore 15 waterfront acres, along with the Spring House, Navigator's Planetarium and other exhibits. Be there for the hourly firing of a Spanish cannon.

          

    Continue your time travel at Colonial Quarter (www.colonialquarter.com). You'll stroll through the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries of Spanish and English colonial rule. Re-enactors will explain many aspects of the historic community, and interactive displays will engage you. Kids are challenged to complete a fun scavenger hunt. (But don't let them know it's educational, too.)

    :pirate" sleeps in hsi bunk with musket at the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum

    Families enjoy learning about the pirates who roamed the Florida coast
    at the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum.

     

    Arrgghhh! Long ago, pirates raided these Florida waters. The new St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum (www.piratesoul.com) tells the tales of infamous buccaneers and displays their booty. Adults and children can hunt for authentic treasures and enjoy thrilling adventures, such as a battle on the high seas and a chilling encounter with a pirate ghost in a ship's black hole.

     

    Treasure at the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum
    Pirate booty.

     

    The Present

    The past meets the present at Flagler College (www.flagler.edu). Tour the former Hotel Ponce de Leon that sits at the entrance to the college. Millionaire Henry Flagler wanted to create a place in Florida for his upper-crust pals to winter. He constructed a palace and opened it in 1888 with a room rate of $2,000 (by today's money) a night. Student guides take you through public rooms which are decorated with Tiffany glass, mosaic tiles, murals gilded with 24-carat gold and other opulent architectural elements.

    Flagler College in St. Augustine
    Flagler College is said to be the most beautiful college in Florida.

     

    Thankfully, today's travelers can find lodging at a more economical price. Tucked into the historic district is the St. Francis Inn (www.stfrancisinn.com), the oldest inn in St. Augustine. When Gaspar Garcia received land from the king of Spain in 1791, he built his residence. The property passed through many owners, and was turned into a hostelry in 1845. The St. Francis Inn has added modern amenities to its past perfect ambiance: cable TV, WiFi, telephones, air conditioning and central heating, a solar-heated swimming pool and free parking. Choose from guestrooms that offer private baths with whirlpool tubs, fireplaces, and balconies -- all decorated with vintage furniture. You can fuel up with a delectable buffet breakfast, and wind down during Happy Hour with complimentary beverages and munchies.

     

    Sign on St. Francis Inn in St. Augustine   Docent at Fort
    Stay at an  historic bed and breakfast.

    The docents in the fort represent the Spanish military  that was housed there.

              

    The Inn on Charlotte (www.innoncharlotte.com) maintains the traditional character of the old town. This B&B's eight rooms are appointed with graceful antebellum furnishings and private baths with whirlpool tubs fit for two. Innkeeper Lynne Fairfield oozes Southern hospitality. She has dedicated each room to a local legend. From the veranda off the Henry Flagler Room, guests can relax and enjoy the ocean breezes. For breakfast, Fairfield sets out antique china, crystal glasses on linen tablecloths.

     

    Columbia Restaurant (www.columbiarestaurant.com) is housed in an old sprawling hacienda. Owned and operated by Cesar Gozmart's family for 110 years, this acclaimed restaurant serves Spanish and Cuban dishes. One of their specialties is the "1905" Salad which is tossed at your tableside. From the Tapas menu, the Black Bean Cake is unforgettable. A taste of Cuba is the La Completa Cubana that samples national favorites. Of course, iconic Spanish and Cuban drinks are available.

    Diners at Colombia Restaurant in St. Augustine

     Columbia Restaurant specializes in Cuban and Spanish cuisine.

     

    The magnificent architecture in St. Augustine has made it one of America's most beautiful cities. Most of these buildings are open to the public. You can visit the Lightner Museum (lightnermuseum.com) which was Henry Flagler's second hotel, then called Hotel Alcazar, and his third hotel, Casa Monica. Villa Zorayda (www.villazorayda.com), built by Franklin Smith, is modeled after the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Memorial Presbyterian Church (www.memorialpcusa.org) takes its design from St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice, Italy, and was built by Flagler in honor of his daughter, Jenny, who died during childbirth.

            

    It's not only the buildings that have garnered national accolades for St. Augustine. Forty-two miles of caramel-colored and chalk-white sand beaches drew Ponce de Leon in the 16th century, and they continue to draw sun seekers in the 21st. The popular St. Augustine Beach has everything to make "a day at the beach" memorable: waterfront restaurants, a splash park, a fishing pier, a pavilion, water activities and more.

    Here on the Historic Coast, you'll experience a bit of very Old Florida.  For more information about St. Augustine, visit www.floridashistoriccoast.com.

     

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    Public Disclosure-- Please Read
    I recently learned of a FTC law requiring web sites to let their readers know if any of the stories are "sponsored" or compensated.  American Roads and Global Highways' feature writers are professional travel writers. As such we are frequently invited on press trips, also called fam trips. Most of the articles here are results of these trips. On these trips most of our lodging, dining, admissions fees and often plane fare are covered by the city or firm hosting the trip. It is an opportunity to visit places we might not otherwise be able to visit and bring you a great story. However, no one tells us what to write about those places. All opinions are 100% those of the author of that feature column.  

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