Sunday, November 9, 2008
GETTING THERE: US Airways and AirTran offer nonstop flights from Washington area airports to Orlando, a 40-minute drive from St. Augustine, starting at about $175. Several airlines have one-stop flights from about $150. Delta has connecting flights to the smaller Daytona Beach airport, starting at about $280. (Daytona is also about a 40-minute drive from the St. Augustine historic district.)
STAYING THERE: There are plenty of inexpensive places outside the historic district along Highway A1A, and there's camping at the state park, said park ranger Jeffrey Edel. In town there's the Pirate Haus Inn, a hostel at 32 Treasury St. (904-808-1999, http://www.piratehaus.com), where bunk rooms, including pancakes for breakfast, go for $18.35 a night. Private doubles with bath are $50-$75 weeknights, $85 weekends.
Inns and hotels within the city limits include the 23-room Casablanca Inn (24 Avenida Menendez, 904-829-0928, http://www.casablancainn.com). It has three suites off a secret garden that are particularly covetable ($159-$199 per night regular season, $169-$269 peak season, Feb. 14-May 31). Other rooms and suites run $99-$349 in peak season. The lavish circa-1888 Casa Monica Hotel (95 Cordova St., 904-827-1888, http://www.casamonica.com) has rooms starting at $152.
For more possibilities, http://www.staugustineinns.com lists 26 bed-and-breakfasts starting at about $100 per night.
WHERE TO EAT: Bistro de Leon (12 Cathedral Pl., 904-810-2100, http://www.bistrodeleon.com), the U.S. outpost of fifth-generation chef Jean Stephane Poinard, is moderately priced and very French. Harry's Seafood Bar and Grille (46 Avenida Menendez, 904-824-7765, http://www.hookedonharrys.com) is one of an eight-restaurant group featuring well-priced New Orleans-style dining, here in a circa-1740s home and walled courtyard. One of Edel's favorites is Schooner's Seafood House (3560 N. Ponce de Leon Blvd., 904-826-0233), just north of town, "with no ambiance at all, but where all the locals go for fresh seafood."
THINGS TO DO : GhoSt Augustine (123 St. George St., 904-824-8840, http://www.ghostaugustine.com) offers Hearse Ride Ghost Tours in a 1974 hearse. Stops include haunted houses, the lighthouse and the site of the 1974 murder of the mayor's wife. Tours vary from an hour to 90 minutes, $20-$35 for adults, $12-$18 children ages 6-12. There's also a three-hour Haunted Pub Tour ($55 per person).
The Freedom Trail covers sites significant in St. Augustine's 1963-64 civil rights drive led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Free brochures for a self-guided tour can be found at the St. Augustine Visitor Information Center (10 Castillo Dr., 904-825-1000, http://www.historicstaugustine.com).
For history buffs, there are several other must-sees. The Colonial Spanish Quarter Museum (33 St. George St., 904-825-6830, http://www.historicstaugustine.com), St. Augustine's version of Colonial Williamsburg, features a living-history tour of life in the 1740s. Open seven days a week, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Adults $6.95, students 6 to 17 $4.25, seniors 62 and older $5.95. Government House Museum (48 King St., 904-825-5033) displays more than 300 artifacts from archaeological digs and Spanish shipwrecks. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Adults $2.50, seniors $2, students $1. Florida's Oldest House Museum Complex, whose site has been occupied since the 1600s, includes the Gonzalez-Alvarez house (14 St. Francis St., 904-824-2872, http://www.staugustinehistoricalsociety.org or http://www.oldesthouse.org) and a delightful subtropical garden, which date to the early 1700s. Open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Adults $8, seniors 55 and older $7, students 6 through college $4.
For a perfect taste of olde Florida kitsch, there's Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth (11 Magnolia Ave., 800-356-8222 or 904-829-3168, http://fountainofyouthflorida.com), a commercial park with peacocks, a planetarium, Indian burial grounds, shipwreck exhibit and, of course, fountains of youth. Open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Adults $7.50, seniors 60 and older $6.50, children 6-12 $4.50. More Florida kitsch: the St. Augustine Alligator Farm (999 Anastasia Blvd., 904-824-3337, http://www.alligatorfarm.com), which has an elevated nature trail that winds through a natural lagoon filled with alligators and native wading birds. Open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Adults $21.95, children 3-11 $10.95.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: There's lots of basic information at http://www.oldcity.com. Also, the area convention and visitors bureau has information on cultural and natural attractions of St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and their beaches at http://www.getaway4florida.com.