The longer we live the more we come back to previously visited locales. At least this is
true with me, as I recently revisited St. Augustine, Florida, where as a young child I accompanied my parents to this oldest of cities. At that tender elementary school age, I recall almost nothing, other than it was a pleasant experience.
St. Augustine is located on Florida’s East Coast almost half way between Jacksonville and Daytona Beach. One can take a leisurely scenic coastal drive from either city or a smooth inland interstate highway. The Hilton Hotel is the ideal place to stay, as it is in the middle of the action, and halfway between the old town gate and the new downtown area. Both are within walking distance as is the old fort Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, which you must visit either with a self guided or park ranger tour. The recurring firing of the cannon is a big attraction.
The Hilton Hotel is built on the site of a previous hotel but with modern amenities, underground valet parking, comfortable rooms and a restaurant. You could say the third time is the charm, as the original Monson hotel constructed in the Flagler architecture style, was razed in the fifties, another hotel built and then the present hotel built in the historic style of the district. It consists of 10 interconnected buildings and was upgraded from a Hilton Garden Inn to a full fledged Hilton Hotel, making it the smallest Hilton in the Americas.
Next door to the Hilton is the charming Casablanca Inn with its inviting Tini Martini Bar and veranda where you can sip and see St. Augustine’s bay front comings and goings of sea craft and horse drawn carriages. I joked with 3 senior citizen ladies who were passing through town, and they did not let their ages slow down their activities or humor. Also during my repeated visits the mixologist always knew her craft, which added to my most memorable and relaxed St. Augustine experience: one I certainly could not have experienced or remembered in my youth!
I was lucky to be introduced to a very unprepossessing street venue at the Tasting Room at 25 Cuna Street. It is a contemporary Spanish Restaurant complete with tapas, seafood and a delectable chefs choice experience. Chef Matthieu Landillon prepared for me the freshest and most flavorful dishes of the day, and he did not disappoint. The escargot was fantastic! While there is inside dining, I opted for the patio, which is more casual, and spoke more to the Caribbean style. The Tasting Room is also known for its wine parings, which helped the restaurant earn the Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence and Florida Trend’s Golden Spoon Award for the past three years, making it one of Florida’s top restaurants.
Of course everyone knows about the Fountain of Youth historic landmark park. While this primitive attraction it’s not for everyone, you can’t visit St Augustine without a stop here for some very potent and some would say distasteful, mineral water. Along with the waters original well there are a number of outbuildings including a Planetarium, a “Caravel Down” shipwreck exhibit, a re-enactor camp and the Ponce De Leon Monument commemorating his 1513 landing.
The shops on St. George’s Street will appeal to modern shoppers wanting old world atmosphere. Along with souvenir shops are art galleries, eateries and the Oldest Wooden School House at Number 14, which is included in the National Historic Register. It was in this area that I picked up a ghost walking tour one evening which, despite the valiant efforts of the guide, was less than haunting.
Among the many festivals throughout the year is St. Augustine’s November, Holiday Night of Lights, with its two million tiny lights throughout the old market square and downtown area. A block away down King Street is the architecturally stunning and historic Flagler College and across the street the impressive City Hall and Lightner Museum set in the 1888 Hotel Alcazar. If you are a mind, the Hotel Monica is near by and offers another great relaxing local beverage venue.
While my visit was brief it gave me new perspective on Americas Oldest City, being founded in 1565. I can see why it is such a tourist mecca, and I hope to pay homage to it again, as there is much more to discover and more memories to remember.