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Florida's Ancient City: St. Augustine

Explore Florida's ancient history and the nation's oldest community.

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St. Augustine
Compliments of Dawn Henthorn
Saint Augustine stands today as a tribute to its past. It has survived five centuries of history – more than 435 years – to stand as this nation's oldest city. Florida's ancient city was founded 42 years before the English colonized Jamestown and 55 years before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Its history began with exploration; now you can explore its history.

In the late 1950s, an ongoing effort to preserve and restore many historical structures began. Its "living history" includes remains and structures from each of the centuries including a seventeenth-century fortress and eighteenth-century buildings. Sprawling giant architectural structures from the nineteenth-century, when Henry Flagler launched the "Gilded Age" of hotels and railroads, still stand in awesome splendor.

We spent two days in Saint Augustine, to rediscover the city as tourists, and recently returned to enjoy even more of the city. It was a delightful time spent strolling through shops in the historic district, admiring historically significant structures and grand architecture, and enjoying nearby beaches.

The first thing we did upon arriving was park our car and purchase tickets for one of the narrated sightseeing trains. It was well worth the price to sit back, relax, and avoid navigating the narrow one-way streets. Come along with us.

Touring St. Augustine

There are several ways of seeing the sites in and around St. Augustine. Choose according to your budget and preferences. There are a couple of tram-type trains that offer tours and transportation between the major attractions, shopping and restaurants. Although it is a bit more expensive, you may prefer a romantic turn-of-the-century horse and carriage ride which originates on the waterfront, a pedicab, or to rent a bicycle, scooter, moped, or electric car, which are available by the hour or day.

We chose Ripley's Sightseeing Trains which offers three consecutive days of narrated transportation to all the major locations for a reasonable price. These trains operate throughout the day on a 15-20 minute schedule making more than 20 convenient stops, so we spent little time waiting on the next train. You can also take advantage of one of their many package rates that include admission to some of the most popular attractions.

Another way to enjoy the city is take a relaxing scenic cruise on the waters of historic St. Augustine where you can view numerous waterfront landmarks and observe native wildlife. Cruises provide many photo opportunities from a different perspective – the water – including the Bridge of Lions, Castillo de San Marcos, the St. Augustine Lighthouse, and much more. Cruises depart on regular schedules from the Municipal Marina in downtown St. Augustine.

Shopping in St. Augustine

You won't want to play hooky when you visit the small shop next to the Oldest Wooden School House and you'll relive a part of St. Augustine's colorful past when you visit the Oldest Store, a turn-of-the-century general store museum, which features over 100,000 items from the stock of the original store.

If you like antiques, there are many shops to indulge your gathering instincts. Just beyond the city gates on San Marco Avenue, you will find the greatest concentration of antique shops situated in turn-of-the-century homes and more modern storefronts. We easily lost ourselves one afternoon in the maze of furniture, knick-knacks, and collectibles that fill these stores to overflowing.

If all that is not enough shopping for you, there are two centers of Outlet Shopping in the area — The St. Augustine Premium Outlets and Prime Outlets St. Augustine. Combined they offer over 150 stores offering factory outlet prices with savings up to 75 percent. They are located at the intersection of I-95 and Highway 16.

When you need a break, fine restaurants catering to every cuisine are scattered throughout St. Augustine — many within walking distance. The choice seems endless; fresh local seafood, the finest steaks, French cuisine, English pub fare, and the list goes on and on. One of the most popular is the famed Columbia Restaurant, a good choice for capturing the prevalent Spanish flavor of the area. In addition, I've named the 10 Best Places to Eat in St. Augustine.

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