(Long post warning, but I have so much to say about St. Augustine!)
We just returned from the first of our summer adventures–a trip that was originally going to be to North Georgia, but we decided we didn’t want to be in the car that long. Brett suggested St. Augustine (5 hours from us–8 if you count construction traffic and torrential rain on the way there) because I’ve been saying for years I wanted to visit. I’m so happy we ended up there because SO CHARMING–not to mention the fascinating history buried in every corner of the city.
I’ve never been so enraptured with a city’s history. After our historic carriage tour, I spent the evening in the Internet abyss of St. Augustine research, from the story of Henry Flagler who founded much of the city’s landmarks (and his three wives) to the important role the city played in the civil rights movement. Bonus–GHOSTS! St. Augustine is widely known for being haunted, a little fact we had a lot of fun with. We didn’t go on any of the ghost tours the city offers, but we did create our own nightly ghost explorations on our neighborhood walks, assisted by Lainey’s ghost app that alerted us to several ghosts lurking in deserted homes and properties.
Where do I even begin with this city? Let’s go back–way back to some of the history here. I took one historic tour and basically consider myself a St. Augustine tour guide now, so humor me. St. Augustine is our nation’s oldest continuously occupied city.
Many original houses and buildings restored from the city’s earliest days still stand, and most of the surrounding structures are reconstructions of buildings that were destroyed so that much of the city’s history and Spanish architecture has been preserved. You can feel that history everywhere–mostly on St. George Street and the narrow side streets that hold hours of exploration with restaurants and shops.
We knew we wanted to visit the fort on this trip, and it didn’t disappoint. Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest and largest masonry fort in the continental U.S., is now as a national park. Built in 1672 (when construction began–it took 20 years to build!) out of coquina stones, it served to protect and defend Spain’s claims in the new world. It can actually be classified as a castle, complete with thick walls, battlements, towers and a moat. Thank goodness the skies were a little gray the day we visited, cooling us down a bit (it was HOT).
As with everything else in St. Augustine, of course there is an interesting ghost history with the fort as well, especially the story of the secret lovers whose skeletons were found in the dungeon.
The top of the fort made me very nervous though–low walls, lots of openings, no railings…Dash.
Much of the city’s most impressive landmarks can be attributed to Henry Flagler, a Standard Oil partner with John Rockefeller, who arrived to St. Augustine in the 1880’s, bought up much of the local railroads and attempted to establish St. Augustine as a winter resort for elite Northerners. He poured money into the city, commissioning a fancy New York architectural firm to build a number of extravagant churches and buildings, including the Ponce de Leon Hotel which is now Flagler College. I took the Flagler College tour alone one morning, and it was impressive–another opportunity to learn more about the fascinating stories behind the city’s history but also a great way to see inside the old hotel. It’s like Hogwarts inside! The college houses the largest collection of Tiffany glass, and the Tiffany windows alone in the building are insured for $132 million.
I highly suggest a historical tour of the city–Old Town Trolley offers many, but we took the horse and carriage route. It was one of Vacation Brett’s famous spontaneous splurges (I love this about him on vacation). He saw a woman stop to feed her horses where the kids were playing, walked up to her and whispered, “How much to take my family on a tour?” And two seconds later, we were all climbing in.
I think my favorite history of the city was found in Lincolnville, the neighborhood where we stayed and a community founded after the Civil War. It contains the city’s largest concentration of late Victorian Era homes and played an important role during the civil rights movement. A reader sent me this article while we were visiting, a story I did not know but am so glad I read. It made me appreciate so much more the history behind the charming streets we walked every day and the beautiful homes we passed, many of them looking no different than I imagined they did then.
And finally, all my favorites from this trip, so many of them suggested by you all on Instagram (I always get my best travel recs from you!):
First, as touristy as some of these destinations may be, there’s something about that old Florida tourist vibe that makes me feel so nostalgic. I grew up going to Florida on vacation, visiting my grandparents while they wintered here in their Airstream and later visiting cities like Tarpon Springs and Orlando with friends. I love how so many parts of Florida feel like they’ve never changed–the old seafood restaurants, the shell shops, the tourist boutiques that sell salt water taffy and orange bubble gum balls next to “Wish You Were Here” post cards and shell necklaces. We did all the touristy things, and we loved them.
In the St. George Street area, we loved Pizalley’s Pizza…
Prohibition Kitchen late at night…
Mayday Ice Cream (the Parent Trap flavor with Oreos and Peanut Butter!)
Casa de Maya
We ran in the back covered patio there because it was the closest building when it started pouring and ended up trapped there for two hours. It was magic–kids played games and we drank cold beer.
Cousteau’s Waffle & Milkshake Bar (the Pele Dos Santos flavor–nutella and bananas–SO GOOD!)…
Theatre Magic Shop (the kids loved this sweet little place, and we came home with three tricks)
We also loved Davenport Park with $1 carriage rides (made a sweet memory there watching the kids under the carousel while we huddled under an umbrella and it poured around us)
And our very favorites were tucked in our neighborhood. We walked to Preserved restaurant for dinner one night, around the corner from our house, and enjoyed an enchanting evening listening to old cocktail music with wine and the most delicious dinner ever.
My favorite from the whole trip was Ice Plant, a few blocks from our house–loved it so much, we went twice. It looks like an old factory (and originally was an old ice plant) and feels like something out of the Prohibition era. Vintage bar, cozy and dark at night and known for their cocktails and ice pairings (who knew–ice is an art!). We had the BEST salty dogs there. And all the food is farm to table.
And a block from our house was The Blue Hen, a famous breakfast favorite. Darling retro decor and out-of-this-world biscuits with peach butter. I was smitten with all the old Pyrex and Tupperware.
We walked a lot, felt safe everywhere we were–even late at night–and made a lot of sweet memories in the house we rented. Best hide-and-seek house ever.
Grateful for adventure and my favorite people to adventure with…
And now I just got off an hour phone conversation with my brother, the history buff of the family, gushing about every little detail of our trip, this city, and all the stories we learned.