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Touring, Eating, and Drinking Your Way Through America’s Ancient City
By Sue Cocking, Guy Harvey Outpost Travel Journalist
The only zoological park in the world where you can see all 24 species of alligators and crocodiles. An eclectic museum of natural history, kitsch and fine furnishings that also houses a world-class restaurant. Emporiums of artisan chocolates, spirits and wine within staggering distance of one another. Haunted historic buildings, and arguably the most beautiful street in the world.
Welcome to St. Augustine, Florida– America’s first city and future site of the renovated and redecorated Holiday Isle Oceanfront Resort, a Guy Harvey Outpost.
If you’ve already enjoyed the lush white sand beach steps from the resort and indulged in some world-class inshore and offshore fishing, it’s time to check out St. Augustine’s cultural and culinary hot spots.
The first step is to board the Old Town Trolley beach bus which stops at the resort and delivers you to the trolley in the Old City. As the trolley winds through downtown, your driver/tour guide delivers a running commentary on St. Augustine’s history and points out both main and secondary attractions. Anytime you want to get off and explore a particular area on your own, you are free to do so and get back on board later. It’s a great introduction to a fascinating destination.
Since there are way too many attractions, museums, art galleries, restaurants, bars, historic sites and haunted houses to describe every one here, I’ll hit a few of the fun places I checked out:
ALLIGATOR FARM ZOOLOGICAL PARK
Waaaay more than just another roadside animal attraction, the Alligator Farm— established in 1893–is the only place in the world where the public can view all 24 living species of crocodilians. And there are plenty of birds, mammals and other reptiles to observe as well. The park’s central attraction — the Alligator Swamp– is crowded with the toothy reptiles and crowned with a spreading oak where all sorts of native birds nest– herons, ibis, spoonbills, wood storks and others.
The largest resident of the park is Maximo–a 15 1/2-foot, 45-year-old Australian saltwater crocodile who has lived there all his life. There are wildlife shows every hour, and even a zip line where you can tour the park like Tarzan and Jane.
Built by Florida pioneer tycoon Henry Flagler as the Alcazar Hotel in 1888, this repository of furniture, art, kitsch, toys, fine china, shrunken heads and a full-sized stuffed lion may be one of the most eclectic museums you will ever visit. Sprawled over multiple floors, the Lightner Museum once held the world’s largest indoor swimming pool– now converted to an antique mall and the Cafe Alcazar– a must-stop for gourmet lunch and wine accompanied by soft, live guitar music. Afterward, walk across the street to Flagler College– the former Hotel Ponce de Leon also built by the business magnate, and now a small, private college offering guided tours.
THE ‘SIN’ DISTRICT
Don’t miss your chance to sample the trifecta of self-indulgence at the Whetstone Chocolate Factory, St. Augustine Distillery and San Sebastian Winery– all located within easy walking distance of one another.
Along with about 15 others, I attended what the tour guide — only half-joking– called the “1 p.m. meeting of Chocoholics Anonymous” at Whetstone’s small artisan factory. We sampled white chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and probably a couple of others I forgot in my haste to gobble them all. Doesn’t matter; you can not go wrong here.
From there, I ambled over to the St. Augustine Distillery — maker and seller of craft spirits since 2014. The distillery currently offers rum, gin and vodka, but will be releasing its first batch of bourbon in the fall. Take a free tour and a taste, then load up your shopping bag and head to the Ice Plant Bar in the same building for lunch or dinner.
Conveniently located directly across from the St. Augustine police station is the San Sebastian Winery offering free tours and tastings(!!!) daily. My favorite was the Chardonnay, but you might really enjoy others in the assortment of red and white table and dessert wines. After the tour, head to the “Cellar Upstairs” open weekends with music, light bites, and more wine.
AND ALL THE REST
Stroll or drive slowly along Magnolia Avenue, reputed to be one of the world’s most beautiful streets with its cathedral-like canopy of oaks. Scare yourself silly with any of several nighttime ghost tours. Take a boat cruise on Matanzas Bay. Eat your way through the foodie capital of Florida. As one local put it: “There are no bad restaurants in St. Augustine. A bad restaurant would shut down in a week.”
Sue Cocking chronicles the Guy Harvey Outpost travel and adventure experience in regular blog posts on GuyHarveyOutpostNews.com/. For 21 years, Cocking covered the full spectrum of outdoors adventure opportunities in South Florida and beyond for the Miami Herald, including fishing, diving, hunting, paddling camping, sailing and powerboat racing. She is a certified scuba diver and holder of an IGFA women’s world fly fishing record for a 29-pound permit.
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