Sun, His­tory and Fun

2017 Travel Guide to Florida - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - BY VANESSA CACERES

North­east Florida is of­ten called the First Coast or His­toric Coast, and with good rea­son. Span­ish ex­plor­ers first landed here more than 500 years ago, when Ponce de León named the re­gion “La Florida” in 1513. To­day, the His­toric Coast blends its Euro­pean in­flu­ence with South­ern hospi­tal­ity, wel­com­ing beaches and plenty of fun. North­east Florida be­gins where In­ter­state 95 crosses into the state from Ge­or­gia. The area in­cludes the ma­jor cities of Jack­sonville and St. Au­gus­tine as well as the pop­u­lar ar­eas of Amelia Is­land, Fer­nan­d­ina Beach, Ponte Ve­dra Beach and Palm Coast.

ARTS AND CUL­TURE

North­east Florida has no short­age of arts and cul­ture des­ti­na­tions. From a sym­phony orches­tra to well-re­garded mu­se­ums, visi­tors can find some­thing for every­one.

In St. Au­gus­tine, tours of places like Villa Zo­rayda give a glimpse into the past. The build­ing was orig­i­nally con­structed in 1883 as a win­ter res­i­dence and was made of poured con­crete and crushed co­quina shell. Villa Zo­rayda is built to one-tenth the scale of a sec­tion of the Al­ham­bra Palace in Granada, Spain. Tours of the build­ing de­tail its his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance in St. Au­gus­tine’s his­tory and re­view the many unique items on dis­play—there’s even a rug called the Sa­cred Cat that is more than 2,400 years old.

Nearby, Fla­gler Col­lege was built by rail­road mag­nate Henry M. Fla­gler in the late 1880s orig­i­nally as Ho­tel Ponce de Leon. Now a his­tor­i­cal land­mark, the stun­ning ar­chi­tec­ture and sights at the col­lege in­clude a 68foot domed ceil­ing, a din­ing room with 79 Tiffany stained-glass win­dows, and orig­i­nal ho­tel furniture and art.

For an in-depth look at St. Au­gus­tine’s vis­ual arts, take part in the First Friday Art Walk, which in­cludes more than 20 art gal­leries open­ing their doors for the evening. En­joy re­fresh­ments, re­cep­tions and live mu­sic for free. There’s com­pli­men­tary park­ing at San Se­bas­tian Win­ery on King Street, or catch a free ride on board the St. Au­gus­tine Sight­see­ing Trains and Old Town Trol­ley Tours.

If you want to take in a show, the St. Au­gus­tine Am­phithe­atre seats 4,100 and is con­sid­ered St. Johns County’s lead­ing mul­tipur­pose arts fa­cil­ity. Re­cent per­form­ing acts have in­cluded the Goo Goo Dolls, Wide­spread Panic and ZZ Top. St. Au­gus­tine’s Old City Farm­ers’ Mar­ket is also held on the grounds of the am­phithe­atre.

An­other place to en­joy mu­sic and shows is the Ponte Ve­dra Con­cert Hall in Ponte Ve­dra Beach. It fea­tures per­form­ing artists from around the globe as well as ac­tiv­i­ties and com­mu­nity gath­er­ings. The con­cert hall also has con­ven­tion and meet­ing spa­ces.

In Fe­bru­ary, the town of Green Cove Springs holds its an­nual North­east Florida Scot­tish High­land Games & Fes­ti­val. For a year-round glimpse at the re­gion’s Scot­tish con­nec­tion, just visit its his­toric and mil­i­tary mu­se­ums.

In down­town Jack­sonville, the monthly First Wed­nes­day Art Walk cov­ers 15-plus blocks of arts and cul­ture. Check out more than 40 gal­leries, mu­se­ums, cul­tural venues and restau­rants. The tour con­nects visi­tors to the dozens of artists and street per­form­ers in Hem­ming Plaza.

From Septem­ber to May, the Jack­sonville Sym­phony makes its home in the Robert E. Ja­coby Sym­phony Hall, praised for its great acous­tics, at the Times–Union Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts, and also per­forms at other venues in North­east Florida and around the state. The sym­phony is ranked among the coun­try’s top re­gional or­ches­tras.

Fea­tur­ing three stages of live mu­sic, lo­cal food, drinks and shop­ping, the an­nual Jack­sonville Jazz Fes­ti­val is pro­moted as one of the largest jazz fes­ti­vals in the US. The fes­ti­val has been part of the area for more than 30 years and takes over 15 blocks of down­town.

Amelia Is­land wel­comes its an­nual Cham­ber Mu­sic Fes­ti­val in Fe­bru­ary, March and April 2017, with a con­cert that will fea­ture Itzhak Perl­man.

AT­TRAC­TIONS

St. Au­gus­tine cel­e­brates more than 450 years of his­tory—in fact, it’s the old­est con­tin­u­ally oc­cu­pied Euro­pean set­tle­ment in the US. The city takes its his­tory se­ri­ously and has 36 build­ings of colo­nial ori­gin still stand­ing in the his­toric dis­trict. To get the real skinny on the city’s his­tory with­out wear­ing out your feet, take a trol­ley tour with the Red Train Trol­ley Tours or Old Town Trol­leys. Both sell all-day tick­ets so you can hop on and hop off as you please.

While in St. Au­gus­tine, em­brace your early ex­plorer on a visit to Castillo de San Mar­cos, a na­tional park that be­gan con­struc­tion in 1672. The struc­ture is con­sid­ered the old­est ma­sonry fort in North Amer­ica.

Over at Ponce de Leon’s Foun­tain of Youth Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Park, you can drink water from its “foun­tain”—but you may come away with fun mem­o­ries more than age­less qual­i­ties. It’s lo­cated on the ac­tual site of the first set­tle­ment in St. Au­gus­tine and was founded 42 years be­fore Jamestown and 55 years be­fore Ply­mouth Rock. Check out the cos­mos in the plan­e­tar­ium, visit the Timu­cua In­dian Vil­lage of Seloy or mar­vel at the sound of the Span­ish can­non. For all the dog lovers out there, the Foun­tain of Youth is a pet-friendly at­trac­tion.

St. Au­gus­tine has plenty of tours to guide you around town, from art walks and a “pup crawl” (a walk­ing tour on which you can bring your dog) to night­time ghost tours and culi­nary-fo­cused themes. There’s even the new St. Au­gus­tine Scav­enger Hunters, where you em­bark on a quest for trea­sures while dis­cov­er­ing the city’s many great sights.

A visit to St. Au­gus­tine isn’t com­plete with­out stop­ping by the St. Au­gus­tine Light­house & Mar­itime Mu­seum. Its newly launched ex­hibit, Wrecked, tells the story of a Revo­lu­tion­ary War-era ship­wreck off of the area’s coast. Re­cently, the mu­seum broke ground on a 2,500-square-foot Mar­itime Ar­chae­ol­ogy & Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­ter.

In Jack­sonville, the Jack­sonville Zoo and Gar­dens will take you on a world tour of an­i­mals with­out ever leav­ing Florida. From its Wild Florida area to Mon­soon Asia and Plains of East Africa, and more, you’ll view dozens of an­i­mals that are hard to spot else­where.

For a dif­fer­ent view of Jack­sonville, use the Jack­sonville Water Taxi in the down­town area. The taxi ser­vice also of­fers tours.

A pop­u­lar at­trac­tion in Fer­nan­d­ina Beach is Fort Clinch State Park, fea­tur­ing one of the best-pre­served 19th-cen­tury forts in the coun­try.

BEACHES AND OUT­DOOR GEMS

Out­door gems are abun­dant in North­east Florida. Whether you want to take a dip in the At­lantic Ocean, fish in the St. Johns River or take self­ies at a park, there are plenty of op­tions.

Marineland Dol­phin Ad­ven­ture in St. Au­gus­tine has two new res­i­dent dol­phins born in 2015 and 2016. Marineland teaches visi­tors about the beauty of dol­phins and pro­vides in­ter­ac­tive at­trac­tions.

When you’re ready to chill with some beach time, you can’t go wrong with a visit to St. Au­gus­tine Beach. In 2016 alone, this pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion was named one of Amer­ica’s Fa­vorite Beach Towns by Travel & Leisure Mag­a­zine, one of the Best 30 Beaches in the World for Fam­i­lies by the Travel Channel, and a Top 10 Beach in the US by TripAd­vi­sor.

An­other way to in­dulge in the area’s many water at­trac­tions is through a guided kayak tour that al­lows you to pad­dle the back­wa­ters of the Guana Tolo­mato Matan­zas Na­tional Es­tu­ar­ine Re­search Re­serve in the Ponte Ve­dra area. It’s been voted one of the best places to kayak in North­east Florida.

If you’re vis­it­ing Jack­sonville area beaches on week­ends in the sum­mer, hop on board the Beaches Trol­ley. For only US$1.50, you can ex­plore all of the area’s beachy neigh­bor­hoods and at­trac­tions.

For more pic­turesque ad­ven­tures on the water, Amelia Is­land of­fers Amelia River Cruises and Char­ters or a pri­vately char­tered sun­set cruise with Wind­ward Sail­ing. If you’re look­ing to reel in fish, Amelia Boat Club & Rentals pro­vides rentals for fish­ing, cruis­ing or sight­see­ing. And if you seek some­thing a lit­tle more ad­ven­tur­ous, the is­land’s Fly­ing Fish Ad­ven­tures or­ga­nizes jet-ski tours.

EN­TER­TAIN­MENT

In the mood for fam­ily fun? Foodie finds? His­tory? North­east Florida has a lit­tle of all of those things. Food­ies will re­joice at St. Au­gus­tine’s The Florid­ian Restau­rant where they can en­joy farm-to-ta­ble meals with a South­ern vibe. The restau­rant’s care­fully crafted dishes are sure to please meat and non-meat eaters alike.

The big talk in town right now is the St. Au­gus­tine Dis­tillery. The dis­tillery opened in 2014 in a for­mer ice plant and uses Florida-grown ingredients to make spir­its like vodka, rum and gin. Take ad­van­tage of its free tours and com­pli­men­tary sam­ples. San Se­bas­tian Win­ery, not far from St. Au­gus­tine Dis­tillery, also con­ducts free tours and tast­ings.

If you’re all about the food—and let’s face it, who isn’t?—then sign up for the tour at St. Au­gus­tine’s Whet­stone Choco­lates. Of course, you’ll get more free mouth­wa­ter­ing sam­ples. At Ker­nel Pop­per’s Gourmet Pop­corn on St. Ge­orge Street, try sam­ples of caramel sea salt, Dr. Pep­per or dill pickle pop­corn, among its cor­nu­copia of fla­vors, be­fore set­tling on your fave.

Golfers and nos­tal­gia lovers will want to dine at The Mur­ray Broth­ers Caddy Shack Restau­rant. It’s a fa­vorite in the World Golf Vil­lage with plenty of mem­o­ra­bilia from the classic movie, star­ring Bill Mur­ray.

In Ponte Ve­dra, Bar­bara Jean’s Restau­rant and Bar has a great view of the In­tra­coastal Wa­ter­way and out­door seat­ing. Go for seafood spe­cials like fried shrimp or cat­fish, or try South­ern com­fort food such as meat­loaf or chicken fried steak.

Jack­sonville’s nightlife is filled with bars, pubs and live mu­sic venues. Bar hop, dance the night away or buy that happy-hour cock­tail—it’s all ready for the tak­ing in vi­brant neigh­bor­hoods like River­side, down­town, Avon­dale and San Marco.

At Jack­sonville Land­ing in the down­town area, at­tend a show or a fes­ti­val, view fire­works or sim­ply peo­ple-watch. There are more than a dozen din­ing choices as well as an eclec­tic ar­ray of re­tail shops. The Land­ing also hosts spe­cial events such as free live mu­sic on Friday nights.

Jack­sonville is a leader in Florida’s boom­ing craft beer scene. One way to ex­pe­ri­ence all it has to of­fer is on the Jax Ale Trail, a self-guided tour of the city’s award­win­ning craft brew­eries. Grab a Jax Ale Trail Craft Beer Pass­port, and get a stamp at each of the lo­cal stops, which in­clude Bold City, Green Room, Pin­gle­head and Zeta Brew­ing.

In down­town Fer­nan­d­ina Beach, The Pa­tio Place pro­vides a com­fort­able back­drop to in­dulge in sweet or sa­vory crepes and sit out­side af­ter a long day on the beach.

ROAD TRIPS

Get a beachy view at a laid-back pace along A1A be­tween Fla­gler Beach and Fer­nan­d­ina Beach. This route runs par­al­lel to the much busier I-95, and you get to cruise along the scenic route while stop­ping off as needed for meals, sou­venirs or to snap an ocean shot.

Take in a coun­try view for more than 60 miles along US-17 be­tween Or­ange Park and Cres­cent City. Along the way, view the pic­turesque St. Johns River, en­joy rolling hills (hard to come by in Florida), and stop at places like the Log Cabin Win­ery.

On the Or­mond Scenic Loop & Trail in the Fla­gler Beach area, take the dou­ble loop along scenic roads where you’ll pass by the At­lantic Ocean and Old Dixie High­way. Other high­lights in­clude driv­ing past the win­ter home of John D. Rock­e­feller, the his­toric Or­mond Beach fire sta­tion and sun­set views near Granada Boule­vard Bridge.

Head off on SR-13 just south of Jack­sonville, and leisurely make your way to the small town of Spuds. This route gives you a near con­stant view of the St. Johns River, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you drive past older homes and trees cov­ered with Span­ish moss. Two high­lights along the route: the homes of writer Har­riet Beecher Stowe and com­poser Fred­er­ick Delius.

SHOP­PING

The newly re­mod­eled St. Au­gus­tine Out­lets right off of I-95 car­ries more than 75 brand­name re­tail­ers, of­fer­ing dis­counts up to 65 per­cent.

Nearby, St. Au­gus­tine Pre­mium Out­lets ad­ver­tises ex­cep­tional dis­counts rang­ing from 25 to 65 per­cent at more than 85 stores, in­clud­ing Ba­nana Re­pub­lic, Brooks Broth­ers, Calvin Klein, Coach, J.Crew, Nike, Ralph Lau­ren, Ree­bok and a Gan­der Moun­tain out­door store.

Ready for some unique finds? Then head on down to the pedes­trian-only St. Ge­orge Street in St. Au­gus­tine’s His­toric Dis­trict. Find a bo­hemian piece of jew­elry at Earth­bound Trad­ing Co. Nearby, stop by the Spice & Tea Ex­change, an 18th-cen­tury-like trad­ing post with dis­plays of teas and spices that will stim­u­late your taste buds. At Bath Junkie, you can per­son­al­ize bath and body prod­ucts with cus­tom­ized scents. Find a gift for the artsy folks in your life at any of St. Au­gus­tine’s 20 gal­leries lo­cated in the his­toric dis­trict.

The Old City Farm­ers’ Mar­ket, held at the St. Au­gus­tine Am­phithe­atre on Satur­days, wel­comes ven­dors from lo­cal farms, bak­ers, seafood mer­chants and ar­ti­sans.

The St. Johns Town Cen­ter in Jack­sonville is the place to hit for the lat­est up­scale mer­chan­dise from shops such as Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuit­ton, Ap­ple and Nord­strom. The town cen­ter also in­cludes bar­gain stores such as DSW Shoes.

Min­utes away from down­town, Jack­sonville Farm­ers’ Mar­ket is the old­est still-op­er­at­ing

out­door farm­ers’ mar­ket in Florida. Since 1938, ven­dors have of­fered fresh pro­duce, herbs and lo­cal fa­vorites, such as May­port shrimp. Browse for crafts and hand­made goods daily from dawn to dusk. For more mar­ket ex­plo­ration, check out Jax­sons Night Mar­ket, a craft mar­ket held on the sec­ond Thurs­day of each month at Hem­ming Park. There’s also River­side Arts Mar­ket, hailed as Florida’s largest open-air mar­ket. Held on Satur­days, find lo­cal arts and crafts, food ga­lore, a free yoga class, chil­dren’s ac­tiv­i­ties and live en­ter­tain­ment. The view isn’t too shabby, ei­ther—it’s right be­side the St. Johns River.

SPAS

There’s no short­age of spa re­lax­ation time to be found in North­east Florida.

Small In­dul­gences Day Spa in St. Au­gus­tine of­fers quaint charm with its Vic­to­rian dé­cor blended with 21st-cen­tury ap­proaches to beauty and health.

Debby’s Day Spa & Salon in St. Au­gus­tine has an ex­ten­sive menu of massage, cus­tom skin­care treat­ments, and hair and nail care ser­vices.

St. Au­gus­tine’s Hopcraft & Com­pany helps brides, res­i­dents and visi­tors re­lax and look their best. The spa fea­tures ecofriendly treat­ments and an eclec­tic se­lec­tion of prod­ucts, in­clud­ing gluten-free treat­ments. Any­one up for a papaya, macadamia and ar­gan oil body scrub or a Biore re­ju­ve­nat­ing fa­cial?

In down­town Jack­sonville, Nat­u­ral As I Wanna Be is a lo­cally owned des­ti­na­tion for or­ganic spa treat­ments. It’s op­er­ated by a regis­tered nurse with more than 20 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in health­care and was voted one of Jack­sonsville’s top spas by USA To­day.

Need to breathe in some aro­mather­apy to re­lax? Then Nat­u­ral Body Spa and Shop is on your spa bucket list. Lo­cated in St. Johns Town Cen­ter, the spa wel­comes guests with its large aro­mather­apy col­lec­tion as well as its lux­u­ri­ous body treat­ments.

Pam­pered & Pol­ished leaves visi­tors feel­ing, well, pam­pered and pol­ished, with its tra­di­tional spa treat­ments as well as spe­cial­ties like the Ormedic Lift (a non­chem­i­cal blend with pineap­ple, papaya and mango), Wrin­kle Lift, Teen Fa­cial and the Eye Res­cue.

Frenchy’s Well­ness Spa in Jack­sonville Beach fo­cuses on body treat­ments as well as mi­cro­der­mabra­sion and lash ex­ten­sions.

Amelia Is­land is known as a laid-back des­ti­na­tion, so the is­land’s spas fit right in with that theme. There’s Park Av­enue Nat­u­ral Day Spa, which aims for a re­lax­ing, Zen-like at­mos­phere while visi­tors en­joy mas­sages and other treat­ments. Then there’s the Dome Healing Cen­ter for a full holis­tic ex­pe­ri­ence. There are not only mas­sages and fa­cials; at­tend a com­mu­nity yoga and med­i­ta­tion class. The Dome’s sig­na­ture massage com­bines Swedish, deep tis­sue, re­flex­ol­ogy and aro­mather­apy.

At Magna’s in Fer­nan­d­ina Beach, re­fresh with full-body treat­ments like a sea salt body pol­ish and salon ser­vices.

OP­PO­SITE TOP: Gar­dens and Ponce de Leon Hall at Fla­gler Col­lege, St. Au­gus­tine. ABOVE: One Spark event in down­town Jack­sonville. SIDE­BAR: An­nual re-en­act­ment of the set­tle­ment of St. Au­gus­tine.

TOP: Ro­man­tic in­ter­lude at the beach in St. Au­gus­tine.

BOT­TOM LEFT: Kayak­ing through the marshes in Jack­sonville.

BOT­TOM RIGHT: Sail­ing off the coast of Amelia Is­land.

OP­PO­SITE LEFT: Golf out­ing at the World Golf Hall of Fame, St. Au­gus­tine. OP­PO­SITE RIGHT FROM TOP TO BOT­TOM: Fresh seafood on Amelia Is­land; Din­ing in Jack­sonville; Sam­pling wine at the San Se­bas­tian Win­ery, St. Au­gus­tine.

BE­LOW: The 3.5-mile paved River­Walk in down­town Jack­sonville. BOT­TOM: Shop­ping on Aviles Street in St. Au­gus­tine. RIGHT: Cy­clists on Amelia Is­land. OP­PO­SITE: Time for re­lax­ation.

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