St. Augustine is my favorite weekend getaway destination. Founded in 1565 by Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez, it is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the U.S. (Plymouth Colony only existed from 1620 to 1691.)
First stop was the Mission of Nombre de Dios, established by the expedition’s chaplain. The mission is about a half mile north of the old city gate at St. George Street.
To celebrate the 400th anniversary of Menendez’s landing, a 200+ foot cross was erected on the mission grounds.
To protect St. Augustine, the Spanish constructed the Castillo de San Marcos fort at the entrance to Matanzas Bay. The Castillo is the oldest mason fort in the U.S, and constructed from a type of limestone called coquina which is found in the area. The porous coquina acts as a “shock absorber” to lessen the impact of cannot fire. Cannon balls become stuck in the walls rather than shattering them. The Castillo was never captured in battle.
From the Castillo, it is about a five minute walk to the St. George Street historic area, which is lined with shops and restaurants as well as historic buildings. (The “oldest schoolhouse” is actually from Ohio.)
Whenever I’m in St. Augustine, the first lunch is always at the Columbia, originally established in Ybor City (Tampa’s Cuban area) but now in seven Florida cities. And, the meal is always the same: the classic “half and half”… half a Cuban sandwich with their iconic 1905 salad. Their homemade red sangria is a good accompaniment! The 1905 salad dressing is so good they sell it. A lot of it.
St. Augustine is closely associated with Henry Flagler, a founder of Standard Oil. Flager also founded the Florida East Coast Railroad. To further the railroad’s business, he developed two luxury hotels which were the winter getaways for the Northeast’s rich and famous.
Today, the Flagler Hotel is Flagler College, a small liberal arts college where a year’s tuition, room and meals are about $29,000. Limited tours of the college are given twice a day.
The Ladies Parlor is very ornate, with numerous chandeliers. All are made from Austrain crystal from a Tiffany design. The “small” chandeliers are valued at $2 million. That clock has gold numerals and is set in the largest single piece of onxy in North America.
Across the street from the college is Flagler’s second luxury hotel, now City Hall and the Lightner Museum.
If you enjoy wine, be sure to visit San Sebastian Winery on King Street. We took a free tour and sampling of eight wines. We took advantage of a 20% case discount to “mix and match” their popular Vinter’s White and Vinter’s Red, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and a Rose. Many of their wines are made from local muscadine grapes, which are sweet, but they also “import” grapes from other regions to make less sweet wines.
Around the corner from the winery is a “small batch” distillery. Many of their products are made from sugar cane, a Florida crop. Their sugar cane vodka and gin were interesting.
Beginning the weekend before Thanksgiving and continuing through January, the downtown is decorated in lights.