NORTH­EAST FLORIDA: Where his­tory and present day merge

You won’t run out of things to do in North­east Florida. You’ve got award-win­ning beaches, glob­ally fa­mous his­tory, pris­tine parks, and a bur­geon­ing food and bev­er­age scene. The area is nick­named the First Coast and the His­toric Coast and, while no one can



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 his­toric sig­nif­i­cance in St. Augustine’s his­tory and dis­play many unique items— 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 and a free shut­tle at San Se­bas­tian Win­ery on King Street where you can board the Old Town Trol­ley or Ri­p­ley’s Red Train 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 Jack John­son, Paul Si­mon, 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 spe­cial events and com­mu­nity gath­er­ings. The con­cert hall also has con­ven­tion and meet­ing spa­ces.

South­west of St. Augustine in Putnam County, Palatka fea­tures more than 30 out­door mu­rals.

In Fe­bru­ary, head north on US Route 17 to Green Cove Springs for the 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 Park.

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 2018, with a con­cert that will fea­ture Itzhak Perl­man.


With more than 450 years of his­tory, St. Augustine is 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, step aboard the Ri­p­ley’s Red Train 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.

For some­thing truly unique, travel south­west of St. Augustine to Putnam County to ride the Fort Gates Ferry, the old­est op­er­at­ing ferry in Florida.

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.


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.

South­west of St. Augustine, Putnam County is known as the “Bass Cap­i­tal of Florida” and is rated No. 3 of the top 10 bass fish­eries in the state. The county is also the trail hub of North­east Florida and of­fers am­ple hik­ing, bik­ing and pad­dling trails. Be sure to check out the 59-acre Ravine Gar­dens State Park cre­ated in a nat­u­ral steep­head ravine.

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, 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.

The city of Jack­sonville ac­tu­ally has the largest ur­ban park sys­tem in the US. So, plenty of nat­u­ral ad­ven­tures await you in North­east Florida, be it in a city or ru­ral area.

Jack­sonville boasts 22 miles of spec­tac­u­lar beaches. If you’re vis­it­ing Jack­sonville area, con­sider us­ing its new free Beach­side Bug­gies to get around At­lantic, Nep­tune and Jack­sonville beaches and eas­ily ex­plore all of the 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.


In the mood for fam­ily fun? Foodie finds? His­tory? North­east Florida has some­thing for ev­ery­one. For in­stance, you can dine at Florida’s old­est diner, An­gel’s Diner, in Putnam County. In St. Augustine, food­ies will re­joice at 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.

Duf­fers might also want to check out an orig­i­nal Don­ald Ross-de­signed golf course in Palatka, due west of Marineland.

In Ponte Ve­dra Beach, 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. The Land­ing also hosts spe­cial events such as free live mu­sic on Fri­day and Satur­day 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. Jack­sonville also has a full-scale or­ganic dis­tillery called Man­i­fest Dis­till­ing.

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.


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 in Putnam County.

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.


The newly re­mod­eled St. Augustine Out­lets right off 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 and Ree­bok.

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.

OP­PO­SITE TOP: The Down­town Art­walk in Jack­sonville. ABOVE: Amelia River Cruises sight­see­ing ex­cur­sion.

BELOW: Bik­ing through Egans Creek Green­way Park on Amelia Is­land. RIGHT: Driv­ing along beau­ti­ful Mag­no­lia Street in St. Augustine. BOT­TOM: Shop­ping on Aviles Street in St. Augustine.

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