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St Augustine, Florida

An interest in historical architecture prompted my visit to St. Augustine, but I soon discovered there was far more to see and do in that 10 square miles of Florida coast than simply gazing at a few pretty buildings.

Okay, I admit it; the tour of Flagler College was a highlight of my trip. Built in 1885-88, this masterpiece of Spanish Renassiance was the former Ponce de Leon Hotel. It was decorated by Louis Comfort Tiffany, lighted by Thomas Edison, and painted by muralist George Maynard. The lobby is a definite must-see, as is the student’s dining room. Pay close attention to one of the angels on the ceiling in the upstairs lounge – it “moves” as you move around the room!

Across the street, the Lightner Museum is another stunning Spanish Renassiance building. The one-time Hotel Alcazar now houses an impressive collection of Victoriana in the former hotel’s health facilities (the spa and Turkish bath) and three-storey ballroom.

At the other end of town stands the Spanish-built Castillo de San Marco. Colourful re-enactments bring this National Monument’s 330+ years of history to life. And you can’t beat the view from the parapet! The Castillo’s towers silhouetted against the setting sun makes a perfect photo op.

Other must-sees include, but aren’t limited to, Gonzalez-Alvarez House (the oldest surviving Spanish Colonial dwelling in Florida), and the Cathedral of St. Augustine (the oldest Roman Catholic parish in the US mainland). The Colonial Spanish Quarter (a living museum with costumed interpreters illustrating what life would have been like for Spanish soldiers and their families in the St. Augustine of 1740) is also worth taking in.

But there is more to see around town than old buildings and historic sites.

Nature lovers will find the St. Augustine Crocodile Farm memorable (it boasts 23 species of crocs!). Sports fans will thrill to the fishing opportunities in the area, and will want to visit the World Golf Hall of Fame when they’re not out on the local links. The scenic waterway from Fort Matanzas to Guana State Park affords the perfect backdrop for jet ski, kayak or sailboat adventures. Those with more macabre interests can scare up tour operators conducting ghost tours of the area.

Be sure to allow time to stroll the cobblestone streets of the historic district. Unique shops and art galleries can be found throughout the area as can quaint cafes and charming restaurants.

Several area attractions including the Colonial Spanish Quarter, The Oldest House, Potter’s Wax Museum, and Ripley’s Believe It or Not offer seniors discounts. St. Augustine Red Sightseeing Tours and St. Augustine Scenic Cruises also extend reduced prices for mature travelers. Ask at these and other area attractions if you qualify for a discount (“senior” means different things to different people). Also be sure to ask at area hotels – many honour AAA membership with reduced rack rates if they don’t have specific senior’s discounts.

Best deals in town? Fort Matanzas and the San Sebastian Winery are free for everyone!

I’m looking forward to a return visit to St. Augustine. With so much to see and do, it’s well worth a return visit.

Novel suggestion: “Salt Run,” a novel by Florida writer Chris Gallen, is set in St. Augustine. A friend recommended it as pre-trip research for my next trip to St. Augustine as many area attractions figure in the wacky plot.

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