I researched high and low before our day trip to St. Augustine, and here are 3 Reasons You Should Visit St. Augustine.
Last month we took a few days off, and got away from Panama City. Spring Break was in full force here, and I honestly hate our city during that time. It’s dangerous, crowded, and we avoid parts of it like the plague. We have been talking about visiting visit St. Augustine for some time now. It’s the oldest city, and full of history…and we love history! When we were planning out little getaway, we decided on Jacksonville, because we really wanted to go to the zoo there. Not to mention the hotel rooms were cheaper, and it’s a short drive to St. Augustine. I just wished that we had planned one extra day, and spent more time in St. Augustine, because the one day we did have wasn’t enough.
With only one day in St. Augustine, I wanted to make sure that we maximized our time. There is so much to see and do there that you could spend 3 days there and not see it all. We really hope to go back and spend several days in the old city.
When I was researching what to do there, I ask a friend of mine who used to be a school teacher, and has been many times. She gave me a huge list of places. I started looking at them and realized quickly that if you want to visit St. Augustine, plan on spending a lot of money visiting all the locations you want to see. Since we were also visiting Jacksonville on this trip, we couldn’t visit more than a couple of places, because we simply couldn’t afford it. I chose The Lightener Museum and Castillo de San Marcos. Vilano Beach chose us.
Our first stop of the morning was The Lightener Museum. The building was originally Alcazar Hotel built in 1888 by Henry Flagler. Now it houses a wonderful collection of fine and 19th century decorative art. Otto C. Lightener purchased collections that millionaires had acquired during auctions that were held during the depression. This museum is full of everything under the sun from the lion that belonged to Winston Churchill to a shrunken head. There is something to impress everyone.
For the kids they offer a scavenger hunt, that you can pick up at the ticket desk. Kelsie enjoyed reading all the plaques trying to figure out what the answers were. It kept her busy!
There are tours and musical demonstrations, but we decided that we could tour on our own, and we totally missed the musical demonstration. The room that it’s held in was packed out when we arrived, so we opted against trying to squeeze in. We would have loved to have heard/seen it, but the next one wasn’t for hours later, and we just didn’t have the time to stick around. When we finished up the museum we were starving. Lucky for us, there is a small cafe on site, Reflections Bistro. We enjoyed delicious (and huge) sandwich’s, while they accommodated Kelsie’s allergies with a gluten free bread, and apple slices, as opposed to chips. (there is a larger restaurant in the museum, Cafe Alcazar)
When we left The Lightener Museum, we didn’t want to lose our parking spot, because you have to pay to park everywhere in the city! There are meters in all the parking lots, and when there isn’t a meter, there are people in the parking lot’s to collect your money. We searched over the map to see what we could walk to. Nothing much really, everything seems to be closer to the fort, so we chose to just walk around for a bit. We found a beautiful park that the kids wanted their photos taken at. Between The Lightener Museum and the park that we found, there are so many little shops along the way. This city is set up to be done by foot. Yes, there are cars bustling through the streets, but people are walking around everywhere, all over the place.
When we were done walking around, we headed back to the parking lot, and headed towards the fort. It was much too long of a walk to walk to the fort from where we were parked, and we just knew that we would have to pay for parking again. We lucked out though, and a nice couple was leaving their spot as we arrived. The lady walked over to our car, and handed us their parking pass. Praises for nice folks!
Castillo de San Marcos was just as I had imagined it to be. Zack, nor the girls have ever been to a fort like this before. However, when I was a teenager, my family went on vacation to Charleston, and we visited Fort Sumter. I had anticipated it to be similar, and it was. But Castillo de San Marcos is different in it’s own right, and beautiful.
To imagine what it was like back in the time when it was used to defend the town is scary to think about. At one point it was even used by the United States to incarcerate members of Native American Tribes.
When we left the fort, we were tired, and ready to make our way back to Jacksonville. However, we like to take scenic routes whenever possible, so I pulled up Google maps, and found a way to head back to Jax, by driving the coast line. The girls and I had never seen the Atlantic ocean before. I grew up with a grandmother that lived in Panama City, so when we went to the beach, we went there. Since Panama City is where we call home, there has never been a reason to go to the east coast to go to a beach. Zack on the other hand grew up in Indiana, so when they first started going to the beach, they went to the east coast, because that is what was convenient for them.
We drove along the beautiful coastline of Vilano Beach. It reminded me a lot of our drive east of us to Cape San Blas. Straight stretches of highway along the coast, with nothing but homes. It’s a lot different from Panama City Beach, where all that lines our coast line are condos. There were many beach accesses along the route, and we chose to stop at one. It was situated in a long stretch between homes. No one was there. Of course it was late afternoon, about 4pm local time. But even at that time, our beaches are full of people.
The sand isn’t like what I’m used to at all. It’s not white and sandy, but more of a tan color. The water was rough, it reminded me of red flags along the gulf coast, and the water isn’t emerald green. It wasn’t completely as gross looking as I have heard, but it’s not the same as the Gulf of Mexico. There are hundreds of shells everywhere you looked along the beach, and the girls were thrilled to pick up shells. Again, not something you get a lot of on our beach, because of the crowds. There was a smell that wasn’t like our beach at all. It smelled fishy, and reminded me of the river. It was still a beautiful beach, and the smell could have been the time of the year it was. I know that at times our beach doesn’t smell so pleasant either.
We decided that when we come back to St. Augustine that we would stay at one of the few hotels in the Vilano Beach area. It’s right outside of St. Augustine, and a wonderfully quiet little area.
Have you been to St. Augustine? What was your favorite part?