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Published: March 3rd 2015
Rich in culture and beautiful cobblestone streets, St. Augustine has been on my “must-visit” list for quite some time. As a Floridian myself I find that it is often too easy to overlook a lot of activities and places that are deemed touristy; I live here year-round and always assume that I’ll have plenty of time to explore my own backyard when snowbirds and northerners attempting to escape the frigid cold aren’t flocking to bask in the sun. Recently, I made the drive from Tampa to St. Augustine and would recommend this quaint, yet beautiful town to anyone interested in exploring and learning more about the history of the Sunshine State.
After just a three and a half hour drive, I found myself in a town unlike any other I’ve visited in Florida. Two friends and I checked into our hotel, and immediately took off on foot towards many of the main attractions the town has to offer. Each of the streets in the town’s center are lined with small shops owned by locals, and no two were the same. Some shops held homemade soaps and candles, while others showcased hand blown glass and sculptures. Different restaurants with homemade cuisine were also spread throughout the town, including gourmet waffle shops and a hole in the wall taco joint selling the best burrito I had ever eaten.
There were several different historical sites we decided to visit during our weekend vacation. First on the list was Castillo de San Marcos, a national monument that has been standing for more than 450 years, making it the oldest masonry fort in the country. After purchasing tickets, we had access to the entire fort. There were extremely informative descriptions located in each room, giving insight into the daily lives of the soldiers who once lived in and defended the fort, as well as how it was constructed.
Within walking distance from the fort was Flagler College, which is a beautiful university that was originally constructed to serve as a luxury hotel. Sometime in the 1960’s it was converted into a liberal arts college and has been that way ever since. Though we didn’t have access to the majority of the school, as it’s sectioned off so visitors aren’t able to disturb students and classes, the entire building is a work of art. I marveled at the ornate ceiling in the main lobby, as well as the fountains in the courtyard of the school. Quite a bit of construction was taking place during our visit, so I am certainly looking forward to a return visit so that I can check out everything the university has to offer.
Yet another stop we made was to the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum. Though a little further out from the heart of the town, it was certainly worth the quick drive. After climbing the 219 winding steps in the lighthouse, I had breathtaking views of the entire town before me. I was standing in the first lighthouse built in St. Augustine, designed to help keep ships safe from becoming wreckage while traveling along the coast. I also explored the lighthouse keeper’s home, which features original wallpaper, furniture, and artwork.
St. Augustine and its inhabitants are dedicated to keeping the history of the town alive. I was welcomed kindly and no one was hesitant to share a quick ghost story or explain the history behind all of the monuments in the city. While I only got a quick glimpse into what St. Augustine is like, I was able to tell how rich in culture it is, and I can’t wait to come back sometime soon.
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