When you think about taking a long weekend in the Florida sun, it’s inevitable to assume you can opt either for activities in Orlando or misadventures in Miami. But just 30 minutes from Jacksonville International Airport (non-stop flights available) you’ll find the perfect combination of things to do and unique entertainment. Welcome to the Historic Coast.
Florida’s Historic Coast stretches for 42 beautiful miles along the Atlantic, and includes St. Augustine and Ponte Vedra Beach. The area was colonized more than 50 years before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, as Juan Ponce de León was poking around St. Augustine more than 500 years ago. To this day St. Augustine is the oldest continuously inhabited European-established city in the U.S. And by night the place really lights up.
Phantoms of Florida
If you like a good ghost story — and potentially a supernatural encounter — grab a ticket for the Dark of the Moon paranormal tour of the St. Augustine Lighthouse. After exploring the Keeper’s House, climb the tower manned with an electromagnetic field meter, and meet some of the spooks who dwell there.
Still looking to commune with the dead? Visit Tolomato Cemetery, a beautiful, manicured acre home to ornate headstones that reveal the real stories of the lives of around a thousand St. Augustinians who made their way to the Historic Coast from Spain, Cuba, France, Haiti and across the U.S. Be forewarned before lingering under the great Apopinax tree on the grounds — legend has it the funeral procession for a young woman walked beneath its shade on the way to her plot, and she came back to life minutes before burial. She apparently sticks close to that tree to this day. The cemetery is open the third Saturday of each month, and private tours are available.
More of a swashbuckler than a slimer? The St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum may be just for you. From the golden age of piracy (when it involved doubloons and rum rather than the internet and elections) to the modern movie characters of Jack Sparrow, navigate your way through interactive exhibits (you can fire a cannon!) and see one of only two known Jolly Roger flags in existence.
You didn’t come to Florida for tastes you could just as easily acquire at home, so hit up Catch 27 for fresh, seasonal and local food and drinks. Their seafood is caught just off the coast daily, and the menu reflects what’s biting. Blackened fish tacos, anyone? Or how about a Florida catfish po’boy? Throw them both back with some grits and determination, as well as a cocktail.
If you’re really leaning into the whole ‘historic’ thing, you’ll enjoy a meal at Columbia Restaurant. With a rich history as the state’s oldest restaurant, this family-run Cuban and Spanish resto goes back five generations. Start with a refreshing Sangria – either white or red -and then order several tapas (don’t forget the pinchos morunos!) to accompany what’s billed as “The Original Cuban Sandwich.”
It might seem antithetical to saddle up to an Irish bar so near a beautiful Floridian beach, but Meehan’s is definitely worth a visit. Housed in an over 100-year-old building just down the street from the historic Castillo de San Marcos, Meehan’s hosts three venues in one — a tropical backyard bar, a fish house and oyster bar, and your traditional Guinness-on-game-day Irish outlet. The atmosphere’s inviting and you’re bound to meet friendly locals on site.
Love your cocktails on vacay? Visit the St. Augustine Distillery for a free tour. They are masters of small batch whiskey, rum, gin AND vodka. The local collective has one mission — bring some of the world’s best distilling experts to the oldest and coolest small city in America, with access to locally grown sugar cane, wheat, corn and citrus, and produce a finer quality spirit than just about any other place in the world. Put them to the test and grab a bottle to go.
For more information or help planning a trip, visit floridashistoriccoast.com