Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Something for Everyone: St. Augustine Combines Beaches & a 500 Year History

Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine Florida
Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine Florida (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Ponce de Leon first waded ashore at St. Augustine in 1513, he was searching for gold and the Fountain of Youth. He found neither. But in the centuries since, plenty of others intrepid travelers and residents have found a wealth of rejuvenation. And if you're searching for a destination that won't take all your gold, St. Augustine vacation rentals are good place to start.

St. Augustine, officially established in 1565, is the oldest permanent European settlement in the United States. During its 500 year history, it's been under Spanish, British and, of course, American rule. The United States took over St. Augustine, and the rest of Florida, in 1821, purchasing it from Spain. Americans had been moving over the border from Georgia and Alabama since the end of the Revolutionary War, causing border disputes.

St. Augustine's done a magnificent job preserving its past. You'll find 36 original colonial buildings, as well as 40 rebuilt structures. The Colonial Spanish Quarter and the fort Castillo de San Marcos offer easy, family-friendly sightseeing and shopping. Not coincidentally, Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest fort in the United States. Walking through these areas is like taking a trip back in time, they’re so well preserved. In fact, it’s fun to stroll through them in the evening when no one’s around, soaking up the architecture and feeling the past surround you.

Be sure to visit the St. Augustine Lighthouse, built originally in 1565 and rebuilt several times, Fountain of Youth Discovery Park, the Lightner Museum and take part in the Flagler College Legacy Tours. These tours showcase the former Hotel Ponce de Leon, built by railroad czar Henry Flagler as an exclusive resort. You'll see amazing architecture and get a glimpse into our nation's gilded age (think of the movie Titanic). Henry Flagler essentially opened up the eastern shore of Florida for tourism. Of course, rather than traveling by airplane or automobile, tourists traveled by Flagler’s trains and stayed in his hotels and resorts.

St. Augustine: Ancient city, modern luxury.
Is this what Ponce de Leon was looking for?
Anastasia State Park offers four miles of pristine, soft sand. You'll have a lifeguard from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Anastasia's also a protected bird sanctuary, where you'll have hiking and biking trails, canoeing, kayaking, Geocaching and a lot more. Needless to say, it’s also a birdwatchers heaven. You can get food and drinks the Island Beach Shop and Grill. If you’ve been to Florida and haven’t yet visited a Florida state park, you’re missing out. Put Anastasia State Park on the top of your things to do list—you won’t be disappointed.

St. Augustine Beach is home to St. John's County Pier, a pavilion, volleyball courts and a playground, restaurants and more. Vilano Beach is north of the Historic District. Crescent Beach is just south of St. Augustine Beach but seems like a world away. This pet-friendly beach doesn't get as much traffic as the others. Note that St. Augustine itself doesn't have any beaches since it's on a river. However, these beaches rank with the best Florida has to offer, and they're just minutes away from just about any point in the city.

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