Friday, May 19, 2006

A Little About St. Augustine

While Don Juan Ponce de Leon first sighted the Florida coast in 1513, the area wasn't settled until 1565. The kind of Spain had named Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles as governor of the territory and he and a group of settlers and 600 soldiers established the first town, naming it after St. Augustine.

Here you can visit the Nombre de Dios, the first mission established in 1565 for the Indians. You'll spot the huge 208 foot stainless steel cross on the grounds of the mission while driving down Hwy. 1 or crossing the Vilano bridge. You'll also find Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth if you're willing to pay the price of admission.

St. Augustine is a mixture of the historic and beautiful and the typical tourist tacky. Flagler College's flagship building is the former Ponce De Leon hotel built by Henry Flagler, cofounder of Standard Oil. Originally the interior was designed by Louis C. Tiffany as Flagler intended St. Augustine to be a huge tourist draw. The historic district with its narrow streets (don't drive your dually down there) offers a living museum and pastel buildings housing a variety of shops. The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind is a huge complex of 47 buildings on 72 acres and provides a free education to eligible Florida residents who are hearing or vision impaired.

The Spanish fort, Castillo de San Marcos, built in 1672 is part of the National Park system, so you can use your Golden Age passport or any of the park passes to enter. But many of the attractions in town will have fees, so perhaps taking a trolley train guided tour first would be a good idea to give you an overview of the area. Several of the trolley train companies will send out a free bus to your hotel or campground to take you to the trolley ticket area and tickets start at $20 or so for an adult fare, but the tickets are good for three days and you can get off and on the trolley to wander the city at your leisure. You'll certainly not be able to explore this city in just a day or so. And of course, you have miles of beaches to enjoy, too!

I first came to St. Augustine on my honeymoon with my first husband, and then Denny and I brought our boys down in 1984 while in Jacksonville for the Police Olympics. In 2001 Denny and I returned again (the dangerous dually drive through Old St. Augustine) to visit the World Golf Hall of Fame and now that we've discovered this campground I'm sure we'll come back again. You can run around like crazy doing the tourist-thing or you can sit and listen to the surf, but you'll enjoy the town whatever you choose to do.

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