St. Augustine: Gateway to the Heart and Soul of Northeast Florida

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St. Augustine
The approach to St. Augustine from the Bridge of Lions reveals a spectacular skyline featuring Mediterranean-style and Spanish Renaissance architecture.

St. Augustine, Florida, Boating, Beer, and Walking

By Bruce Northam
Senior Travel Writer

St. Augustine‘s laying claim to being the oldest city in the U.S. (1565) is certainly remarkable. More impressive is that never before has a history lesson been this much fun.

It makes sense that a town born way before cars would be the ultimate pedestrian experience. This step back in time brings you immediately into an endless series of wonderful in-the-moments.

Flight of brew at the Dog Rose
Flight of brew at the Dog Rose

St. Augustine’s Epic Walking Tours

St. Augustine Experiences Perfect Pairing: Wine, Cocktail & Food Experience came highly recommended and did not disappoint as the best way to kick off my journey in America’s first-born city.

The tour meanders through the beautiful downtown historic district as you immerse yourself in St. Augustine’s eclectic culinary scene with an incredibly knowledgeable guide.

A Perfect Pairing Indeed

The Perfect Pairing Experience blends wine, cocktails, food, and history to create an incredible afternoon. You take in the picturesque streets and architecture between sipping on colorful cocktails, noshing on cheese and charcuterie, and tasting cuisine inspired by some of our chefs’ travels.

We dined and drank at three of the city’s best venues: Casa de Vino 57 (wine, cheese and charcuterie, and tunes nestled in a secluded courtyard in the heart of downtown), Mojo Old City BBQ (“Mojo” evolved from the blues, denoting a good-luck vibe, and this place surely delivers that.

City gates in St. Augustine.
City gates in St. Augustine.

Then on to The Floridian for innovative southern fare for omnivores, herbivores, and locavores.

Note: dining and drinking venues change depending on restaurant schedules; Forgotten Tonic is typically on their itinerary.

Perfectly mingled between food and drink moments, we beheld sites such as the City Gate the famous Castillo de San Marcos (a splendid fort that’s been under five different flags), Plaza de la Constitución, and America’s oldest thoroughfare, Aviles Street.

I also enjoyed learning about what St. Augustine is made of, literally, and that’s coquina: solidified blocks of seashell bits.

St. Augustine Experiences Ale Trail Craft Beer Tour was a revelation about Florida’s craft beer culture. This stroll back in time embraces the now as you discover St. Augustine’s breweries, historic streets, and what to love about the nation’s oldest town.

See for yourself why this place is one of the fastest-growing and most highly regarded beer-producing regions in the country.

This beer-sampling journey includes notable landmarks, unique brewpubs, and state-of-the-art taprooms.

You’ll visit a combination of these casual hangouts: Dog Rose Brewing (5,000 SF of inviting space to enjoy fine brews and a jam-band soundtrack), Ancient City Brewing (taste the history of beer while enjoying take-in from the Grilled Cheese Gallery), and Auggie’s Draft Room (a nifty self-serve taproom).

Local catch seafood in St. Augustine, Florida.
Local catch seafood in St. Augustine, Florida.

Local Catch Seafood

On my own, I fully enjoyed Catch 27, a fresh-local-catch seafood restaurant with a great atmosphere. Shrimp and clams make way for Snapper, Sheepshead, Mahi Mahi, Triggerfish, Flounder, and Black Drum. Nearby, Tradewinds Tropical Lounge is a classic live rock music bar that also dabbles in blues and country.

The No Name indoor/outdoor dive bar overlooks the fort where the million-dollar view caves into bargain booze prices. You can have fun learning about St. Augustine’s history at a number of museums, including the Oldest House Museum (check out their map room) and the Pirate & Treasure Museum.

Kayaking with St. Augustine Eco Tours.
Kayaking the harbor with St. Augustine Eco Tours.

St. Augustine Boat and Kayak Tours

Every visitor should experience this historic Spanish port city via boat, too. St. Augustine Eco Tours has an operation different than any other.

Professional and passionate kayak guides and boat captains have the knowledge and human skills to excite and educate customers of all ages.

The fertile marshes and saltwater rivers surrounding St. Augustine are full of unique habitats and an abundance of plant and animal life.

Over 300 species of both birds and fish, bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles, and manatees make these waters a fascinating system to experience. Eco Tour’s staff are masters of intimately communicating science to clients in a remarkable way.

Marine Research

The dialogue is natural, factual, and truly interesting as it’s based on the marine research this company funds with profits from boating, sailing, and kayak tours. As St. Augustine’s original kayak outfitter, daily guided tours offer paddlers a great perspective of the saltmarshes, historic bayfront, the Spanish fort, and other mind-blowing architecture.

It departs and returns from St. Augustine Municipal Marina in the historic district so hungry and thirsty paddlers are steps away from popular restaurants. Their most popular tour is the dolphin, birding, and nature boat excursion, a 90-minute excursion that’s limited to 12 passengers.

Underwater microphones are utilized to listen to dolphins, fishes, and other critters. Clients that enjoy sailing get an ultra-quiet two-hour tour for 6 passengers or less on a 27-foot sailing catamaran that follows the wind and discovers the ecology of St. Augustine on nature’s terms.

Explore St. Augustine’s gorgeous waterfront
Explore St. Augustine’s gorgeous waterfront

Beyond the professional adventures offered by St. Augustine Eco Tours, it’s the behind-the-scenes work that makes this an exceptional organization and a great company to support. The money generated by tour activities is used to respond to injured marine wildlife, which includes birds, sea turtles, dolphins, and manatees. Company boats are utilized with an experienced crew that is trained to respond and coordinate with state and federal wildlife biologists.

The company also participates under a federal permit to study the local population of bottlenose dolphins. There are no clients on these research runs, only scientists, researchers, and lucky students from Flagler College’s marine science program. This company and crew put their money and time where their mouth is and do the work necessary to preserve and protect critical habitats and the animals they support. Private tours are also available.St Aug Bayfront pano sgs Sr2YY4mrG6a75Yonav39yms18q0ABlZBh rgb l

Hang Your Hat: St Augustine Hotels

Old world charm defines the St. Francis Inn, a campus of gourmet B&B accommodations on the National Register of Historic Places. Each guest room and suite have a unique and distinctive layout and decor. A walled courtyard garden is a peaceful, private place to mingle with other guests.

 St Francis Inn's Ambrose Retreat in the 1894 House.
St Francis Inn’s Ambrose Retreat in the 1894 House

There’s also a temperature-controlled swimming pool, bicycles, and cozy living and dining rooms that add to the ambiance. Dating back to 1791, the Inn’s rooms and suites combine the atmosphere of yesteryear without skimping on today’s modern comforts. All guest rooms and suites have private baths, antiques or reproduction furniture, central heat and air-conditioning, queen or king beds, and color cable TV.

Several have fireplaces and spacious whirlpool tubs. Many rooms also have a refrigerator. I stayed at the Ambrose Retreat in the 1894 House, a terrific family-sized suite.

Journey to Florida’s Historic Coast for more information—and a great time!