St. Augustine is a magical place to visit. The history, the architecture, the food, the weather. It's all gorgeous!
The Epic Roadtrip with Friends
St. Augustine was the final destination during the epic, whirl-wind road trip I went on with Margarita, Paula, and Sandy. I swear there was this weird frisson of excitement that rippled through our car the moment we drove into town!
We could tell right away that this town is filled with a ton of history, and fun, and we had less than 48 hours to enjoy as much of it as possible!
And honestly, this post is only showing a smidgen of what we managed to get up to!
The Hotel - TRYP by Wyndham
A great trip begins with a great hotel. TRYP by Wyndham is a fabulous place to rest between your explorations of St. Augustine.
One side of the hotel overlooks the San Sebastian River, and is only minutes away from downtown by car.
The Queen rooms are spacious. A ton of room to spread out and chillax. You and your roommate can easily navigate the space without ever bumping into each other, which is particularly awesome if you've just spent hours in a tiny plane, boat or car with them.
Rooms come with a small kitchen-like area with a microwave, refrigerator, coffee machine, and sink.
Bathrooms are also comfortable with the right amount of space for sink/vanity, toilet and stand-in shower.
I hadn't been familiar with the Blue Harmony line of products, but as someone who is generally choosy about what they use in their hair, I was happy with using these samples for the day.
And YAY for that hair-tie. It came in handy more than once during our stay.
The Tour - Red Train Tours
St. Augustine is seriously jam-packed with destinations to explore. Honestly, you could look at the map and wonder what to see first. The Pirate & Treasure Museum? Flagler College? The Fountain of Youth?
Taking the Red Train Tour (run by Ripley's) is a must. This train tour should be the first thing you do to get a general sense of what there is to see and do around town.
The cool thing is that your tour ticket works for the day, so you can hop on and off at different stops/tourist destinations that are listed on their map. That way, you can go explore the areas that intrigue you the most right away.
Here is Paula taking in the sites around town...
And, Sandy helpfully showing the map of Red Train Tours destinations/stops.
The González–Alvarez House (built 1625,) is the oldest house in Florida, if not in the United States, and is driven by during the Red Train Tour.
Hop off at this stop to visit the Oldest House Museum, run by the St. Augustine Historical Society.
The Other Tour - the Segway Edition
While I absolutely loved the Red Train tour, we all decided that we wanted to try out a Segway tour of St. Augustine as well!
St. Augustine Bike Rentals is a fantastic place to get a more intimate tour of the local area, on a multitude of single-ride transportation, including bikes and Segways.
I had never been on a Segway before. I've been intrigued by them ever since they became a thing, but never had the chance to stand on one until our road trip.
OMG, THEY'RE SO MUCH FUN!!!!
My first step onto a Segway was a shaky one. I wasn't familiar with where pressure needs to be applied to keep a Segway either moving or standing still.
But after a bit of practice in the parking lot, it was a wild tour ride for the evening!
And this is one feature that St. Augustine Bike Rentals should be known for. Before your tour, they actually teach you, and let you practice how to get on and off a Segway, and how to move around, until you're comfortable with it.
Out of all the tours we did on our 48 hour trip, the Segway tour from St. Augustine Bike Rentals got us closest to the Matanzas River, for a spectacular view.
Meet Juan Ponce de Leon, the Discoverer of Florida
I'm not sure what Juan Ponce de Leon's statue is "looking" at, but there could always be a significance to the direction a statue is pointing towards.
Its general direction is north, but not sure of what lies that way that would hold the 1923 statue's steadfast interest.
Do you ever stand by a statue and imagine it being the key to some BIG secret? Some historical controversy that would sweep you away on an adventure worthy of great movie treasure hunters like Indiana Jones, Robert Langdon (The Da Vinci Code), or Ben Gates (National Treasure)?
Yeah, me neither. *cough*
While staring up into the bright blue, sunny sky, at first I thought the statue might have been pointing towards the Matanzas River, where a massacre of Protestants occurred in 1565.
"Matanzas" means killings or slaughter in Spanish, so you can imagine how despairing this execution was.
Ponce de Leon wasn't involved in that tragedy though, as it had happened decades later.
So I'm wondering now if the statue is pointing towards "his" Fountain of Youth.
There are conflicting stories of whether or not Ponce de Leon was searching for the fountain during his voyages, or whether it was a side-line joke added by journalists of the time, as there aren't any official documents suggesting this search was on Ponce de Leon's list of things to do back then.
By 1923 though, when the statue was presented, stories of Ponce de Leon's quest for the Fountain of Youth was more prevalent than what may be the truth.
Regardless, the Fountain of Youth is a big attraction in St. Augustine today, and is part of an archeological park that I truly wished we had time to explore.
The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Augustine
Regardless of your religion, the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Augustine is truly impressive in its architectural design, and the role it plays for the city.
Originally established in 1565 (this current building first opened its doors in 1797), is the oldest church in Florida. It is also home to the oldest parish to have continuously run in the United States.
Absolutely gorgeous, and brilliantly coloured stained glass windows.
Awe-worthy interior murals, and statues, such as this one of Our Lady of La Leche.
The Alcazar Hotel, Lightner Museum, and Downton Abbey
The Alcazar Hotel was one of three hotels in St. Augustine that were built with the intent of rich luxury. Its doors were open from 1889 until 1930 (closing due to economic depression.)
Along with being a prestigious hotel, the Alcazar was home to the world's largest indoor pool, the Casino. Today the pool floor has been filled in and is now the gorgeous setting for The Cafe Alcazar.
While the Alcazar is now where you'll find the Lightner Museum, there are other tenants in this massive building, including city offices, and a wedding chappel.
The Lightner Museum, embedded within the historic Alcazar Hotel, is three stories of local history. Right now, you can appreciate that history with a touch of Downton Abbey, with their Dressing Downton exhibit.
36 costumes and accessories from the popular British television drama Downton Abbey are paired with Otter Lightner's collection of fine art and turn of the century furnishings.
If you're visiting the Lightner Museum for the Dressing Downton collection, you have to end your adventure with a High Tea at Cafe Alcazar!
Timing just wasn't on our side for High Tea, but we did stay for lunch. This was a delicious Roast Beef Signature Sandwich with Yellow Rice, at Cafe Alcazar.
A table setting ready for High Tea at Cafe Alcazar.
The Ponce De Leon Hotel / Flagler College
This college makes me want to go back to school, if only so I could live in residence here. WOW. There isn't a nook or cranny in this massive building that isn't decorated/carved in some fashion.
Opening its doors in 1888, this location was better known as the luxurious Ponce De Leon Hotel, built by Henry Flagler (a railroad pioneer, and co-founding partner of J.D. Rockefeller for the Standard Oil Company.)
It was one of the first buildings in the world to be wired for electricity.
An instant success, The Ponce was visited by many well-known personalities, including Mark Twain, Babe Ruth and President Roosevelt.
In WWII, The Ponce was taken over by the federal government and used as a coast guard training facility.
Today, it's a National Historic Landmark, and a private college for a variety of studies.
Imagine having your lunch break between classes in a dining hall that is surrounded by Tiffany glass-paned windows...
The Pirate & Treasure Museum
I've only recently learned that Florida has such a colourful history with Arrrggh, Matey, pirates! Some Floridian cities have season-long celebrations.
My first introduction to the life of a pirate along the Florida coast was St. Augustine's Pirate & Treasure Museum.
It's an eclectic collection of pirate history, embedded within "life of a pirate" installations. You'll see pirates taking a nap, or being fitted for an eye patch.
There is even a talk head.
Children will be absolutely enthralled with the entertainment. Who wouldn't want to fire a real canon?
Adults will be amazed at the history displayed beautifully before them.
Possibly one of the most important tools, and skill, a pirate could have: Navigation....
An actual pirate flag from the Jolly Roger!
It seems that to be a pirate, you have to be really good a bookkeeping.
On September 6th, 1622, two Spanish ships, the Neustra Senora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita, were lost along the Florida Keys due to a hurricane.
It would be more than 350 years later for the Atocha to be found, and below are treasures found from that shipwreck.
The museum also carries an awesome collection of memorabilia from Hollywood's greatest pirate films.
Check out One-Eyed Willy's map from The Goonies!
Also a sword from one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies! Is it Jack Sparrow's? You'll have to visit the museum to find out!
What would a Pirate & Treasure Museum be without out a treasure to take home? The gift shop is amassed with all kinds of pirate booty to enjoy.
There is even authentic pirate's treasure to collect! It was difficult to walk away from this, without a bit of history in hand.
The Ghosts - Apparently There's a Lot of Them
As the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States, it's no wonder that there are a ton of ghost stories embedded within.
It is such a big part of the local culture, that there are many ghost tours to choose from.
On our last night in St. Augustine, we joined Ripley's tour, which includes a train trip around town to some of the city's most haunted locations.
Travelling in the pitch dark, on a fast moving train, does not make for good photos, unfortunately.
Creepy ghost stories are creepy though! Especially when paired with creepy portraits of children, eek.
I am a fanatic for ghost hunting "reality" TV. I can't get enough of watching scientists, engineers, and all-around tech enthusiasts trying to capture a spectral phenomenon on IR, or some other measuring spectrum.
So being given a EMF reader to hold onto during the whole ghost tour for an attempt to capture a ghost was exciting all on its own. I was totally geeking out.
EMF readers gauge the immediate local electromagnetic field surrounding it (and by extension, surrounding you.) A massive spike in the field is supposed to signify that a ghost is lurking around you, as they are determined to be floating masses of energy.
If I held this meter beside any electrical current (ie. wires,) the meter will light up and dance in the red zone.
In theory, this meter shouldn't be active at all if it's in the middle of a room that is void of anything electric. So the question is, what is lighting the meter up when it's away from any visible electrical units?
It doesn't pick up smartphones or anything battery powered, we tried.
This meter did light up sometimes in instances that can't be explained by me. So does that mean a ghost or two had crossed my path during the tour?
The tour was fun & freaky.
I would definitely suggest taking a ghost tour, if only to get a glimpse of St. Augustine's darker history, regardless if you're a hardcore believer in the supernatural or not.
BUT, I can't stress this enough, it's not for kids.
I guess tours leave it up to parents to determine whether the tour stories are something their children can handle. Ripley's tour? No. They can't. There were a number of children crying throughout the tour, because the ghost stories were scary for them.
Heck, the stories were gruesome/scary for adults.
The Music Scene - Colonial Oak Music Park
St. Augustine loves live music. Many of their restaurants and pubs boast live music entertainment every night throughout downtown.
The Colonial Oak Music Park is home to a number of celebration events (the Songwriter Fest occurred earlier in October.)
After an emphatically delicious dinner at Catch 27, we stopped by the open park, under a massive oak tree, to enjoy the local fest.
Listen to this awesome cover of Radiohead's Creep. (Please note that there is strong language used in the song.)
You may recognize Margarita, Sandy, and Paula here, but there is also our fabulous new friend Barbara, a local of St. Augustine! We had an absolutely fantastic time seeing St. Augustine through her eyes.
Take a Trip Down to St. Augustine, Florida #FloridasHistoricCoast
Honestly, if you have a love for history. A love for pirates. A love for food. And/or a love for great entertainment embedded within a city that embraces its eclectic culture and architecture.
You must make a visit to St. Augustine the next time you hit up Florida.
We spent two days there, which just isn't enough time to appreciate the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States.
At the minimum, book four days of your holiday to visit this scenic city. Though if you can stretch it, book your hotel for a week.
Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Visit Florida in a partnership with Geek with Style to provide you the most up to date facts, helping you make better-informed decisions. All opinions in this article are my own.