St. Augustine is the oldest city in the United States, founded in 1565 by the Spanish. Its 450 years of history and beautiful, Atlantic Ocean beaches make it an ideal destination for history buffs, beach bums and natural lovers alike. St. Augustine grew from a seaside colonial town to a tourist destination in 1888 when wealthy Standard Oil executive Henry Flagler built a railroad through St. Augustine and the glamorous Hotel Ponce de Leon for his wealthy friends to stay the winter. The hotel is now home to Flagler College, but the magnificent Spanish-Renaissance architecture remains here and throughout the city.
St. Augustine has the charm of an old European city with modern amenities and distinguished Southern hospitality. History lovers wander narrow cobblestone streets for tales of pirates and ghosts, while the college crowd and 20-something hipsters gather at trendy eateries to sip craft beer and cocktails made with St. Augustine Distillery rum, vodka or gin. A thriving artist community draws inspiration from the Old City’s architecture and surrounding natural beauty. On the beach side, locals and visitors gather for free summer concerts, dine on fresh, local seafood from waterfront restaurants or throw a line out from the fishing pier.
No trip is complete without going to the Fountain of Youth. Even if you’re not sold on the water’s magic abilities, you can still see the Timucuan Indian site where Pedro Menendez landed in 1565. The Old City is easily walkable, especially the pedestrian-only St. George Street, but hopping on a carriage ride or a sight-seeing trolley is a fun way to soak up the history. Flagler College’s architectural tour is a must, as is a visit to the impressive Castillo de San Marcos and the enchanting Spanish mission on the waterfront. The Alligator Farm and St. Augustine Lighthouse offer thrills for everyone in the family.
After visiting St. Augustine’s Historic Old City and enjoying the beaches, take a drive up the famous Highway AIA toward Ponte Vedra. For miles the road meanders just feet from the Atlantic Ocean. To the west are acres and acres of scrubby palmettos and dunes, part of GTM Research Reserve, one of the world’s largest estuaries. Explore the area by boardwalk or kayak, or keep driving north to Ponte Vedra Beach, a luxury seaside community made famous by THE PLAYERS held at TPC Sawgrass each year. World Golf Village, featuring the World Golf Hall of Fame, is another popular stop for golfers.