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St. Augustine: The "Other" Florida

By Maureen Austin, PassPorter Guide and Co-Owner of Grand Getaways Travel

It's hard to believe, but the Walt Disney World Resort hasn't always been Florida's premier vacation playground. Fifty years before Walt spotted the swampland in Central Florida on which to build his dream, another Florida city was welcoming visitors to city gates with history and hospitality. Today, St. Augustine is still an enchanting destination that takes you back in time and can offer a vacation you will remember for years to come.

St. Augustine is sometimes referred to as Florida's hidden secret. Florida natives often visit here. Whether you are looking for a quick two day break from the hustle and bustle of Orlando parks or for a week long "something different vacation", St. Augustine delivers something for everyone in the family to enjoy.

Gasp! Can you possibly be educated and entertained on vacation? Here you can certainly do both. History is the city's claim to fame. St. Augustine dates back to 1565 and has the distinction of being America's oldest city. It was founded just short of 50 years before the settlement at Jamestown and went through decades of change and turmoil. Spanish and British occupation ended, and later, Union Army troops occupied the city during the Civil War.

Oil businessman Henry Flagler is unofficially known as the city's founding father for his efforts to turn the city into a destination for those who wished to escape harsh winters elsewhere. He built luxury hotels as well as public buildings. The old Ponce de Leon Hotel is now home to Flagler College, one of the most enchanting campuses in the South.

As you cross the exquisite Bridge of Lions into the heart of the city, you'll be sure to notice Castillo de San Marcos. It's the oldest remaining fortification in the continental US and is a great place to explore.  Kids and adults alike enjoy the cannon fire demonstrations, held most weekends throughout the year. Admission is just $5 for adults and $2 for kids.

Visit a true "old" neighborhood at Old St. Augustine Village and see a block of houses dating back to 1790 with lots of old world charm. Also, be sure to visit the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse. If your kids think school is rough, they'll get an eye opener here!  An animated teacher and students give you an idea of what education was like in the 1700s. The Old Florida Museum allows you to step back in time to live as the early settlers did with all sorts of hands on experiences and activities. 

You can venture beyond the historical a bit -- why not check out some weird and wacky stuff at Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum? Or check out likenesses at Potter's Wax Museum -- the first of its kind in the US.  Venture out towards the beach to visit Marineland. You won't find huge whales or roller coasters here but check out some beautiful aquarium displays and friendly dolphins that perform daily.

Of course, St. Augustine wouldn't be a true Florida hot spot without ocean access and miles of gorgeous beaches. These await you at St. Augustine Beach.  Be sure to visit and have the kids look for the lovely coquina shells that are scattered along the sand. 

When it comes to shopping and dining, you'll be delighted by lots of quaint options -- especially along St. George's Street in the historic district. Whether you are looking for traditional souvenirs or a special antique, you can certainly find it here.

Needing a break from hotel living? You can feel like family at one of the city's wonderful bed and breakfasts. Many of them are located in the heart of St. Augustine and are landmarks in themselves. Condominiums and hotels are also widely available both ocean side and surrounding the city for easy access to all St. Augustine has to offer. 

Sounds tempting? You won't be disappointed in this wonderful Florida treasure. Visit the St. John's County Convention and Visitors Bureau web site at for details and to plan your Old City getaway! 

This article appeared in our December 30, 2004 newsletter -- subscribe to our popular newsletter today for free!

Related Articles:

  • Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida
  • Miami, Florida
  • Pensacola, Florida
  • Space Coast, Florida
  • Key Largo and Islamorada

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    Updated 01/22/07 

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