Bridging the Gap
Hop on the Bridge of Lions and head over the Matanzas Bay (Massacres Bay) to Anastasia Island, location of two must-see tourist spots and home to some of the best surf breaks in Florida.
Panoramic Views As the nation’s oldest port, St. Augustine is steeped in the maritime tradition. So the need for a solid lighthouse was imperative in the days before satellite tracking, GPS coordinates and radio signals relaying warnings of stormy weather. The St. Augustine Lighthouse answered the call in 1874, built in the same location as the Spanish watchtower dating back to the late 16th century, which was Florida’s first lighthouse (named such in 1824—Florida was ceded to the U.S. in 1819).
Now the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum is open to the public and visitors can trek up all 219 steps to the lantern room. Along the way visitors can lift barrels simulating the weight of the oil needed to light the lamp for the 1st-order Fresnel Lens, which comprised of 370 hand-cut glass prisms arranged in a beehive shape, measuring 12 feet tall and six feet in diameter. Step outside and peer across the bay for a panoramic view of the city. 81 Lighthouse Ave., 904-829-0745, www.staugustinelighthouse.com
Cowabunga The newest attraction at one of Florida’s oldest zoological parks, the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, may be the most exhilarating to hit the city in years. The Alligator Farm has long been known as the place to see crocodilians. Founded in 1893 by George Reddington and Felix Fire, the St. Augustine Alligator Farm’s Land of Crocodiles is home to all 23 species of the worlds’ crocodilians. But now visitors can get a completely different perspective of the largest reptiles on the planet.
The newly christened Crocodile Crossing takes brave visitors up into the trees and zips them across the park on steel-cable zip lines. Among the 10 zip lines, as tall as 50 feet high and 300 feet long, there are swinging log bridges, rope bridges and ladders, even a gliding board that surfs passengers from one platform to another. The course takes between an hour to an hour and a half to complete and is completely worth the price ($65 for the complete course) to get a bird's-eye-view of a day in the life of a crocodile. 999 Anastasia Blvd., 904-824-3337, www.alligatorfarm.us
Sideways, Florida Style
Widely known for orange juice, few people know that Florida produces some pretty palatable wine. One of the most prestigious wineries in Florida, the San Sebastian Winery, located along King Street, just west of St. George Street, in, you guessed it, a Flagler building, welcomes more than 100,000 visitors each year to the winery and extensive tasting room.
Founded in 1996, San Sebastian is the second largest winery in Florida (sister winery to Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards), and utilizes the local muscadine grape and other local bunch hybrid grapes suited for Florida’s harsh clime to produce eight premium table wines (2 red, 6 white), two dessert wines and a sparkling wine. The recipient of over 350 awards, San Sebastian wines have become a fan favorite not just in the state but also abroad, a common souvenir tucked into the checked baggage on outgoing flights. The Castillo Red and the Port are rich and complex in flavor and aroma, while the Reserva is a fine example of depth the Florida grape can yield.
Daily winery tours and wine tastings at San Sebastian are complimentary (no reservations necessary, running time: about 45 minutes), and the gourmet gift shop is a must stop for any oenophile. The popular The Cellar Upstairs wine, jazz and blues bar is open weekends and is a great way to enjoy the fruits of San Sebastian’s labors. 175 King St., 888-352-9463, www.sansebastianwinery.com
Contentions ran high as warring European nations vied for footholds in the newly discovered and resource-rich New World during the colonial era. St. Augustine was no exception, a point dispute ever since it was founded in 1565, leading to the construction of two colonial forts that still stand today.
Situated on the St. John's River and the Matanzas Bay, the bastion-style Castillo de San Marcos construction began in 1672 and was completed in 1695. Only one of two forts in the world made of coquina (the other being Castillo’s sister fort to the south, Fort Matanzas), it had a decided advantage against cannons and projectiles, absorbing the shot versus deflecting. As the United States' oldest masonry fort, and touting the moniker of unconquerable, Castillo de San Marcos weathered British sieges, the occupation of the Spanish, British and the U.S., and the test of time, now sitting as a historical landmark and the most recognizable attraction on St. Augustine. Open to the public seven days a week. www.nps.gov/casa
On Rattlesnake Island 15 miles to the south of Castillo de San Marcos, sits Fort Matanzas holding guard of the Matanzas Inlet at the mouth of the Matanzas River. The location of the French massacre in 1565 led by Spanish General Pedro Menéndez de Aziles (giving the fort/river/inlet/etc. their names), construction of the fort began in 1740 in response to the 39-day siege of St. Augustine engineered by Georgia Governor James Oglethorpe. Fort Matanzas, in collusion with Castillo de Sans Marcos, gave St. Augustine safe harbor throughout the remainder of the Colonial Era. Open to the public seven days a week. www.nps.gov/foma
Saint George Street
Once one of the city’s main thoroughfares, where colonists and settlers hocked their wares, pirates and privateers imbibed rum and ale, and raiding parties burned to the ground while beating hasty retreats, Saint George Street is now a tourist destination even Disney could be proud of. Now the heart of the city’s historic downtown area, museums and historic attractions, galleries, restaurants and storefronts line the street, each beckoning promenaders to explore and find that perfect souvenir.
Take a trip back to 18th-century St. Augustine in the Colonial Spanish Quarter Museum. A self-guided tour through the garrison town gives visitors a glimpse into the everyday at the Spanish outpost during the 1740s. As a living history museum, historical interpreters dressed in period costume man a blacksmith’s workshop and a leather craftsman workstation, carry out the daily activities of a soldier’s wife, and scribe using quill and parchment. The two-acre museum is open daily, 9 a.m.-4:45 p.m., 904-825-6830
After a heavy day of touring historic haunts, shopping and cultural hotspots, an evening of barhopping is in order. Following the ghost tours, continue the good times at these night spots.
- Colonial Libations Tucked away in the Colonial Spanish Quarter on St. George Street is a true throwback. Established in 1734, Taberna del Gallo is unassuming tavern with a small sign sitting above the door, but a great place to take a break from touring St. George Street and enjoy a drink. The small, dark tavern (candle/torch lit—keeping with the Spanish Quarter's historical integrity), where the barman is dressed in period garb, is a one-of-a-kind watering hole with a small, rustic courtyard and a few shadowed snuggeries where tourists can enjoy a small yet diverse and tasty beer selection, a few choice Spanish wines and a sangria, which is a house specialty. Open 12-7 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; 12-11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 35 St. George Street
- Gone with the Wind Scarlett O’Hara’s Pub & Restaurant and Rhett’s Piano Bar & Brasserie along Hypolita Street are two popular haunts for locals and tourists alike. Scarlett’s, housed in a 1879 house (another historic building—go figure), has three areas to enjoy a drink and food: the main inside bar, the outside oyster bar with live entertainment, and the upstairs Ghost Bar, said to be haunted by the original builder of the house. Come as you are; there is no need for a reservation. 70 Hypolita St., 904-824-6535, www.scarlettoharas.net
- Rhett’s Piano Bar & Brasserie, Scarlett’s neighbor (and third husband), is more of an upscale, modern piano bar, where specialty cocktails and martinis reign (try the Rhett Butler, a mix of Jack Daniels, cranberry juice, and lemon and lime). The food is phenomenal at Rhett’s. The small plates are perfect for a light bite, but if you’re looking for an entrée, we suggest the Organic Herb Crusted Grouper or the Maine Lobster Stuffed Chicken Roulade—out of this world. And the music at Rhett’s is first class, led by music director and house Pianist Samuel Clein. Dress is casual chic and reservations are recommended. 66 Hypolita St., 904-825-0502, www.rhetts.com
- Craft Brewed Enjoy more than just good times at the A1A Ale Works. The brewpub overlooking the Bridge of Lions is the perfect place to while away the time on a lazy afternoon. With a knack for fresh seafood, A1A’s true specialty lies in its beer. Multiple winners at both the World Beer Cup and the Great American Beer Festival, A1A Ale’s taps are always flowing with their five standards: King Street Light Lager, Porpoise Point IPA, Bridge of Lions Brown Ale, Red Brick Ale, A.Strange Stout, as well as dabbling in specialties and seasonals (an amber Maibock was on tap while I visited; quite tasty). 1 King St., 904-829-2977, www.a1aaleworks.com