4. Beach Time
St. Augustine is home to 42 miles of beaches, each offerings its own unique appeal. The shores of the serene Ponte Vedra Beach, for example, are lined with elegant resorts with challenging golf courses. Guests can stroll along the sand and search for shells and shark teeth or try out surfing of kayaking. Also make sure to check out the 40-ft. sand dunes at Ponte Vedra Beach as they are among the tallest in Florida.
Meanwhile, Anastasia State Park offers four miles of pristine beach featuring white quartz-sand. With a tidal marsh teeming with plant and animal life, a nature trail that leads to ancient sand dunes and ample parking, permanent restroom facilities, and food and beverage stands, the park makes for an easy family day at the beach. For a more secluded beach, your clients will want to check out Vilano Beach. Said to be one of St. Augustine’s best-kept secrets, this little gem is tucked away in this charming beach town and is the ideal location for surfing. Guests can also charter a sailboat or go deep-sea fishing boat from nearby Surfside Park.
3. Fort Adventurers
In 1695, Spanish settlers built the Castillo de San Marcos, a formidable fort with distinctive omni-directional bastions built to defend against hostile powers that preyed on the Spanish treasure fleets returning from Peru and Mexico. Now a national monument, the fort represents the oldest masonry fortress in the U.S. The Castillo is also unique for the material used in its construction as it is one of only two fortifications in the world built out of a semi-rare form of limestone called coquina. Guests can explore the Castillo de San Marcos and learn how the fort was planned and constructed to protect the St. Augustine community through cannon firing demonstrations and historical re-enactments. Tickets cost $10 per adult (ages 16 and over); and it’s free for children ages 15 and under. Guest’s ticket allows entrance to the fort for 10 consecutive days.
2. History Lesson
Being that St. Augustine is our nation’s oldest continuously occupied European settlement, it would be remiss of visitors not to explore its storied history. At The Oldest Wooden School House, guests can listen to an animated schoolmaster and his pupils as they depict what school life was like in the 1700s. This original building is more than 200 years old and made of red cedar and cypress.
Guests can figuratively step back in time at the Spanish Military Hospital Museum, which offers guided tours recounting the Colonial Spanish days of medicine. The journey begins as the skilled surgeon performs surgical demonstrations, followed by a visit to the apothecary for a look at how colonial-era herbs were the origins of some of today’s most popular medicines.
The city’s Old Jail, which was completed in 1891 by the same company that later built Alcatraz, once housed 72 inmates in crowded cells with no indoor plumbing until 1914. When visitors arrive, a costumed deputy puts them under arrest, marches the new prisoners through the gallows, throws them in an iron-barred cell and threatens to leave them in the maximum-security area complete with shackles. Entrance to all of these attractions is $10 or less pp.
1. Offbeat Amusement
Some of St. Augustine’s celebrated firsts are a bit unexpected, such as the Villa Zorayda Museum. Built in 1883 at one-tenth the scale of part of Spain’s Alhambra Palace, it houses unique treasures inside, including the world’s oldest carpet. Legend has it that the more than 2,400-years-old Sacred Cat Rug was woven completely from the hair of ancient Egyptian cats and bears a curse; it was stolen from a tomb and wrapped around a mummy’s foot, which is also on display. Entrance to the museum is $10 or less pp.
At another quirky museum, guests can wander through three floors of more than 800 interactive and totally bizarre exhibits. Set in a beautiful historic castle, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! St. Augustine, FL houses shrunken heads, a bone motorcycle, the largest operational erector set Ferris Wheel, and some of Robert Ripley’s original collection. Tickets cost $15 per adult ($12.99 when purchased online); $6.99 per child.
For more information, call (800) 653-2489 or visit floridashistoriccoast.com.