Picturesque St. Augustine, Florida is America’s oldest city, with over 450 years of history jam packed into quaint cobblestone streets and low coquina walls. It’s famous for many things: the shopping, the beaches, the food, the history, the hauntings, the churches, and the architecture (to name a few). Like any popular tourist destination, there are a certain number of “tourist traps” that seem to channel the bulk of the public’s attention. St. George Street is the main pedestrian shopping drag, and it’s always chock full of eager-eyed visitors looking for a unique gift or a bite to eat.
Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with these kitschy shops, all candy stores and beach towels, but if you’re looking for something a little more off the beaten path, you’ll have to get off St. George Street and seek out the local haunts. For starters, there’s Aviles Street; possibly the only place in the world where you can find a Polish deli, haunted antique store, an historic home, a Spanish military hospital, an art gallery, and a Cuban breakfast joint all within a couple of blocks of each other.
On any given summer afternoon, you’re likely to find a huge crowd of people on Anastasia Island, just over the well-known landmark that is the Bridge of Lions. The beachgoers flock to Crescent and St. Augustine Beaches in droves, but what many don’t realize is that there’s a second island right around the corner. Vilano Beach lies just over a tremendous bridge that offers unbeatable views. It’s home to some gorgeous – and less crowded – beaches of its own, as well as several phenomenal restaurants and hotels.
The history of St. Augustine, FL draws in a lot of visitors alone. Many come to catch a view of the well-preserved historical homes and buildings that make visitors feel as though they’ve stepped straight into the past. There are well-known historical places that get all the spotlight, but so much of old St. Augustine isn’t as frequented. Linconville is the name for the neighborhood that boarders the popular downtown area. A drive down King Street – which transects the historic tourist spots and continues on through stretches of residential neighborhoods, small gourmet restaurants, and treasure troves of pawn shops and furniture boutiques.
As with any “must see” destination, there is a lot more than what meets the eye here. St. Augustine truly embodies what it is to tour a popular destination and barely scratch the surface. It took us well over a year to fully realize all there was to the quaint little town and to fully appreciate the sprawling world outside of the downtown area. St. Augustine is more than just a five miles strip of beach and a long row of gift shops; it’s miles of deeply wooded hiking trails, unique houses with hundreds of years of history still called “home” today, and some secret little beaches that make you feel like you’re the only one around. Let this historic Florida town be an inspiration to you on all of your travels. Seek out the unseen, think like a local, and don’t always follow the crowds.