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To Plan A Trip

February 2024
1min read

The St. Johns County Visitors & Convention Bureau offers visitors countless pamphlets on St. Augustine (800-OLD-CITY or 904-829-1711 or www.visitoldcity.com ). Some of them reflect the city’s history as an early tourist attraction (“The World’s Original Alligator Farm,” founded in 1893, and “The First Permanent Ripley’s Believe It or Not,” which dates from 1950). You’ll find several “oldests,” like the Oldest Store Museum, the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse, and the Oldest House.

As for the fountain of youth, don’t expect miracles. Over the centuries the imagined site of the mythic waters has shown up in several parts of town. The present location was “discovered” in 1909 by Louella Day McConnell, who had lived in the Yukon and claimed to be the poet Robert Service’s “lady that’s known as Lou.”

If you spend too much time in St. Augustine trying to separate out the strands of Oldest and Real, you’ll miss much of its charm. From the visitors bureau or from museum shops around town, pick up two excellent walking-tour maps published by the Historical Society, and just meander. Don’t overlook the quieter streets labeled “South of the Plaza,” home to Victorian cottages and Spanish-influenced villas of the nineteenth century.

North of the Plaza, Hypolita and Cuna Streets provide some of the same dreamy romanticism, even though they contain many shops and restaurants. St, George Street, a pedestrian walkway that has been Spanish-ized to the nth degree, is the town’s heart of commerce. One local spoke to me crankily of its emporiums devoted to T-shirts and rubber alligators. I don’t entirely buy his complaint, since early photos of St. George show a huddle of rundown shops and, in his book Houses of St. Augustine , David Nolan writes of the trinkets that were sold there. Past or present, rubber alligator or not, St. George is fun to stroll.

Casa Monica was what drew me to St. Augustine in the first place, and it didn’t disappoint (904-827-1888 or 800-648-1888). I felt buoyantly privileged every time I entered the front door. But as I walked around town, I saw numerous bed-and-breakfasts that also looked appealing.

One final recommendation: Don’t miss the river cruise on Victory III , which leaves from a downtown pier and is run by members of a family of Minorcan background that has lived in St. Augustine since 1777. As you sail past the harbor toward salt marshes and beaches, you come to enjoy the most peaceful of tourist moments. Aside from sporadic and useful commentary, the captain lets the sights, the sun, and the salt air speak for themselves. No intrusive music, no jokes.

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