St. Augustine is one of my favorite places in Florida. I gravitate toward natural and/or historic places when choosing a vacation destination and here, there are both. Most know St. Augustine is famous for being the oldest city in the United States, born in 1565 when the Spanish arrived on its shores. Before that the Timacuas occupied the land for 4,000 years. The scope of the history here is mind-boggling. Much of that history, coupled with spectacular scenery, is along the Matanzas River and the ocean just beyond. Private, state and national park entrances are reasonable, if not free, and so worth the beauty you will enjoy within.
Entrance to this national park is free and you get a lot for your non-buck. The attraction is an old coquina fort built in 1740 on Rattlesnake Island. To get there, jump aboard a park ranger-driven pontoon boat from the entrance and ride across a beautiful section of the Matanzas River. Once there, you can explore the fort and climb a narrow ladder all the way to the top for spectacular 360-degree views of the mostly undeveloped river. You're likely to see osprey flying overhead and dolphins frolicking in the waters below. The tour takes about an hour. Boats leave every hour starting at 9:30 am until 4:30 pm every day. Only 36 passengers are allowed at a time, so get there early. After the history lesson, go directly across the park on the other side of A1A for public beach access. Plan ahead by bringing a picnic lunch and gear to enjoy the surf. 8635 A1A South, St. Augustine
Washington Oaks Gardens State Park
Heading just a few miles south of Fort Mantanzas on A1A, you’ll run into this botanic and geological gem. The $5-per-vehicle admission gets you access to the formal gardens (once an estate of wealthy New Yorkers who bought the property in the 1930s), and to the spectacular coquina beach just across the street. On the riverside, a formal rose garden lies within a few hundred feet of a scenic stretch of the river where you can cast a fishing line or roam along the bank. An old citrus grove and a kitchen garden sit among gorgeous oaks and mature palms. But the best part is going over to the beach. Large coquina sandstone rocks line the shore, and the sand is tinged a pretty shade of pink. The rocks are porous and are full of holes, turning them into excellent tide pools during high tide. 6400 N. Oceanshore Blvd., Palm Coast
SLIDESHOW: Scenic St. Augustine for Just $5
Images ©Shelley Preston