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Exploring Saint Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine’s Bridge of Lions in Florida, USA — Image by © MedioImages/Corbis

Start your visit with a stop at the Visitor Center on San Marco Avenue. Then walk through the old city gates and stroll down St. George Street to partake of what St. Augustine has to offer. Visit the Spanish Quarter Museum which shows through living history, how the city unfolded through the centuries and changes in ownership. Florida was claimed by France, Spain, Great Britain, and the Confederacy. The self-guided tour is $10 for adults, and $5 for children, and entitles you entrance to the Government House and the de Mesa-Sanchez Home, too.

Then, stop at the Spanish Bakery, one of our favorite rest stops, between 9 and 3 for a delicious empanada, a spicy Spanish meat pie. You can eat under the oaks. Very nice! The Castillo de San Marcos is across the street, on Matanzas Bay. It’s the fort which once guarded St. Augustine, and definitely worth some time. Rumors of ghosts, too! Also worth a look are the grounds of Nombre di Dios, just north of the fort, on San Marcos Avenue. A 208 foot stainless steel cross marks the site of the Spanish Thanksgiving (the real first Thanksgiving) when they landed. Look for the book about it, The Real First Thanksgiving, by Robyn Gioia, at the Visitor’s Center. There is an old cemetery and a tiny Roman Catholic Church once used by the Spanish settlers. If you’d like to see the town by water, cruises are offered.

Scarlett O’Hara’s is an example of Florida fare. We had gator tale, soup, and potato skins with a Blue Martini each (a house specialty). Very good! Choose the front porch, the inside first floor, or go up to the Ghost Room for more atmosphere. At the Prince of Wales Pub on Hypolita Street, we sat on the porch people watching while we enjoyed our Scotch eggs and fried pickle (it really is tasty) and a beer. It’s on the corner of Cuna and Spanish Streets. For something a little different, visit the San Sebastian Winery on King Street. Taste the wine and then go up to the rooftop for lunch. The fruit and cheese platter is ample for 2. Add two glasses of wine, and it’s a delightful treat. If it’s breakfast you’re looking for, the Bunnery on St. George Street is classic American. We had two delicious espressos and two savory feta and spinach croissants. We loved Casa Maya, a Mayan restaurant on Hypolita Street! We enjoyed a breakfast of sweet potato pancakes, pablano eggs and excellent, strong coffee. The prices are not expenisive. One of our favorite stops is The Rendezvous in the St. George Mall. There are beers from around the world and the bartenders are knowledgeable and helpful in selecting a beer. Late in the afternoon, (or earlier if you want, because it’s always 5:00 somewhere) stop by the Tini Martini Bar on Avineda Mendez, sit on the porch or out on the patio and sip while you enjoy the scenery. If you’re celebrating a special occasion, The Tasting Room is just the place. The food is exquisite! It’s on Hypolita Street. Of course, if you want pizza, ice cream, or fast food, there are plenty of choices there, too.

So what about the romance? A horse drawn carriage ride around the old city is reasonable, and you’ll get history, too, if you want it. Go to the water on Avenida Mendez. Maybe a martini at the Tini Martini afterwards? Or something at The Tasting Room? Or a quiet stroll down by the water? If you like lighthouses, there’s one for you a short drive away on Anastasia Island, along with a beautiful, quiet beach. More romance. The lighthouse tour entitles you to spectacular views of the ocean and the island, and a look at the house the lighthouse keeper and his family lived in. We were there on a Saturday, and were happily surprised to find a greenmarket with live entertainment. It was a bonus to an already wonderful day.

There are lots of boutiques and specialty stores in the old city and beyond. You can find Irish goods, garden statuary, clothes, nautical memorabilia, toys, spices, and more. There are photography studios that specialize in “old time “photographs. At the I-95 exit, there are two outlet malls.