A Side Trip To Old Florida – St. Augustine, FL
It’s an odd feeling to be back in Florida. It’s been over 6 years since we first crossed this state border, and when we left in 2011 we honestly weren’t sure we’d ever make it back here in the RV.
We made our decision to travel back East while we were sitting in the desert in CA over a year ago, and we started making our FL bookings around that same time (12-month-ahead planning is kind of a “must” for Florida in winter). Back then it seemed SO far away, both in space in time.
Then the whole year went awry (again and again, and again, and again) and we started wondering if it would ever really happen. So many plans had gone wrong that we’d kinda given up on relying on them. When we finally crossed the border it seemed almost surreal.
“Welcome to Florida” said Google Maps
“Wow…we made it, we’re really here”
But We had NO fixed Plans
In the style of pretty much everything that’s happened to us this year however, things didn’t go quite the way we’d imagined. Even though we’d made it to our target spot at (approximately) our target time of year none of our original plans had survived the trip.
After our accident last month, all the meticulous FL bookings that we’d made over a year ago had to be scrapped so we could prioritize fixing the RV. And since we had no idea how long that would take we couldn’t make any plans after the fix either. Not only that but we needed to find a quality shop that could fit us in ASAP and allow us to stay in the rig (with all 12 paws) while the work was being done. It was a tall call for the busy winter FL months.
In the end we found our spot (more on that in the next post), but they couldn’t take us until ~15th of the month. So we had 4 days of no-reservation time to fill.
Where to go?
We knew all the State Parks would be filled to the brim (not a flying moon-pigs chance of getting a booking anywhere this time of year, seriously), so we had to rely on other sources. In the end the convenience of an Elks Lodge*, the fact that we were (miraculously) able to get 4 nights there on a week-end, the draw of a lighthouse and the charm of the the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement within the contiguous United States provided the perfect outlet. Plus we knew there would be dog-friendly beach and sand too.
We’d never been to St.Augustine, but we had heard SO much about it. And did I mention the lighthouse?! YES, this would be our spot.
The Elks Lodge Was Perfect (Kind Of)
We swooped into Elks Lodge 829* on Thursday afternoon and nestled into our spot at the back of the lot.
It’s a sweet little location right next to the State Park (although you can’t access it from the Lodge) with a paved walking/biking trail that goes right into downtown. Plus it’s only ~1 mile from the lighthouse, it’s peaceful and quiet (during the day) and they open a cool outdoor Tiki Bar on the week-ends. At $20/night for water/electric it’s a steal of a deal too.
The only thing we didn’t anticipate were the night-time week-end concerts at the next-door Amphitheater. They’re LOUD and the Elks offers paid event parking at their site for the concert-goers, so the lot fills to the brim with people and cars. Then, depending on what music they’re playing you’ll either get a great little concert or the boom-boom-boom of heavy base vibrating throughout rig.
In the 4 nights we were there they had 4 concerts the first of which was punk rock (a tad too hard core for me) while the last was the Doobie Brothers (nice and easy). All concerts have to be done by 10PM (per city ordinance) so at least there’s an end-point.
The upside? On Saturday mornings the amphitheater lot hosts a fabulous farmers market. I was able to walk next-door to pick up fresh veggies, eggs and coffee. Superb.
St Augustine Lighthouse Was AWESOME
It’s probably no surprise that the VERY first thing we did when we landed in town was the lighthouse.
She’s a nice little walk or bike from the Elks Lodge and her candy-cane daymarker (= the way the tower is painted for daytime identification) lures you from miles away. For lighthouse nutters like us there’s some serious lighthouse history here too.
Believe it or not St. Augustine is the site of the oldest, permanent aid to navigation in North America. The Spaniards built a watchtower here in the late 1500’s, followed by a series of subsequent wooden watchtowers and finally a coquina tower (coquina is a super-strong building material of crushed shells, common along the FL coast) which was officially lit in 1824. It’s not known exactly how many of the previous structures were lit, but it’s likely several held a flame.
The current brick lady is a more modern girl dating from 1871 (she was first lit in 1874). She stands as the oldest brick building in the city and has been wonderfully restored to the colors and materials used in 1888. she rises 165 feet above sea level, contains 219 steps and still has an original first-order Fresnel lens as her beacon.
You can visit her any day during regular hours, take a special sunset/moonrise tour or even a paranormal tour (ooOOOooo). The onsite museum and keepers house is also excellent. We took a bike over and did the tour that way, but the grounds are also dog-friendly so feel free to bring pooch for the ride too. A beautiful lady well worth the visit!
VISIT NOTES/ Lighthouse is open 10AM to 4PM daily with special tours for sunset/moonrise. Tickets cost $12.95. Click HERE for more info. Grounds are dog-friendly.
Old Town St. Augustine Has Some Serious History
A little Wikipedia search tells us that St. Augustine has some serious historical roots
“St. Augustine (spanish name “San Agustín”) was founded in 1565, by Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, Florida’s first governor. The city served as the capital of Spanish Florida for over 200 years, and became the capital of British East Florida when the territory briefly changed hands between Spain and Britain.”
Of course the history doesn’t really start here, as it never does in the USA. St. Augustine was inhabited for thousands of years by Native Americans (The Timicua) whose archaeological sites have been dated back to 1100 and 1300 AD. The first Spaniard to touch shore was actually Ponce De Leon (who came in search of the legendary Fountain of Youth in 1513), and the long subsequent eras hide many other “firsts” -> The first permanent Christian church in the US (Mission Nombre de Dios), the first public marketplace, the oldest masonry fort (1695, Castillo De San Marcos) and (quite significant) the first legally sanctioned free black town in North America (1738, Fort Mose). There’s A LOT to take in here.
We Did Most Of Our Sightseeing In The Mornings
You feel the history as soon as you step into downtown too. The old fort dominates the view to the north as you cross the bridge while “old town” meanders through the core dotting it with historic buildings, cobblestone streets, cutsey shops….and tourists. So….many….tourists.
In some ways the town is almost over-run, especially this time of year. You’ll be inundated with people and the near-constant barrage of Trolley Tours that roll through the streets blaring historical facts on their loudspeakers. By about lunch-time it can feel a little too “disney-esque” if you know what I mean.
Being biking distance from downtown (just ~4 miles) we were able to sneak into town early AM most days (before the big daily tourist rush) to see the sights. Plus we discovered a few out-of-town gems, including some GREAT dog-friendly spots, so we were able to escape and bring Polly along for a few of the visits too. Here’s what we got up up to:
Castillo De San Marcos – If you love fort history you’ll go ga-ga for this place. Covering ~20 acres of strategic land to the north of town, it’s the oldest masonry and only extant 17th century fort in North America. Construction began in 1672, was completed in 1695 and withstood several wars, multiple sieges and three regimes (Spanish, British and finally the Americans). Lots of good stuff for history lovers here including canon/rifle firing demo’s and in-depth exhibits. Worth it!
Visit Info: Open 8:45AM to 5PM. $10 to visit (or free with National Parks Pass). Click HERE for more info. Dogs allowed on the outside grounds of the fort, but NOT within the fort itself.
Fountain Of Youth – Before we learned its history we imagined this place to be a total tourist trap. I mean with a name like “Fountain of Youth” what else would you expect? But this is actually one of the most historic spots in town. It’s the site of a native Tiimicua graveyard, the place where the first Christian Church was erected and the spot where it’s rumored Ponce De Leon discovered his legendary fountain of youth in 1513. Plus the ENTIRE grounds, including all exhibits and museums, are dog-friendly (just watch out for the peacocks)! We took Polly along for this one and totally loved it. We even took a shot of water from the Fountain itself (doggie did too), so we’ll let you know how that goes 🙂
Visit Info: Open 9AM-6PM. Cost $15/person. Click HERE for more info. 100% Dog-friendly!
Pro-bonus tip -> don’t miss the Cuban Coffee place across the street from here. Excellent!
Old Town – We didn’t do a specific tour here, although there are plenty you can take. We just walked around and read the various historic plaques (they’re everywhere), took shots of the old Cathedral, Flagler House, Lightner Museum etc. It’s a pleasant downtown, especially if you hit it before the noon tourist rush.
Visit Info: Take a Trolley Tour or hunt down the main sights using their interactive map HERE. You can bring doggie to walk around town (no problem), but none of the museums are dog-friendly so just depends what you want to do & see.
And We Had A Few Beers
We actually didn’t get out to eat/drink much in town although there are lots of options, but we did manage to try two brew places one of which we LOVED and the other which was so-so.
Bog Brewing Company – This is west of town in a little quiet neighborhood and doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it definitely delivers on the inside. Bright and airy interior, super friendly folks and wonderful beer. We enjoyed pretty much everything including their Red Rye, Saison, Belgium Tripel (wow!) and IPA. Plus they’re dog-friendly inside the brewery (Polly came with us)! Click HERE for more info. Dog-friendly!
A1A Ale Works – This is smack downtown and the upper balcony has a view of the marina, so it’s in a pretty prime spot. Plus they inhabit a lovely old building and offer both beer and food. Very average beers here (the red ale and mosaic were decent) and food was somewhat over-priced (but tasty). I say come for the atmosphere, but don’t expect to be blown away by the beer. Click HERE for more info. NO dogs allowed.
We Wrapped Up Our Visit With Some Beach Time
The only other thing we did in the area was explore the beach areas of St. Augustine.
This town has MILES of beach, and as long as you steer clear of the State Park (the ONLY place dogs are not allowed on the beach), it’s entirely dog-friendly! We took Polly to a spot just down the road and enjoyed a relaxing stroll in the sand. It was a nice bonus and provided a fitting wrap to our time in St. Augustine.
Overall we thoroughly enjoyed our visit. The town is wonderfully preserved, the history is fascinating and the beach and lighthouse provide some delightful escapes. Given how many tourists there are in town I don’t think I’d want to spend an extended period here, but we really enjoyed our short visit and would definitely come back for another taste.
Where To Stay in An RV?
There are several options to park your rig in the area:
- *Elks Lodge – If you’re an Elks Lodge member you can call ahead for a reservation at Elks Lodge 829. There are 8 sites with water/electric. $20/night. Members only!
- Anastasia State Park – A highly-rated State Park right on the beach. 124 sites mostly suited to smaller rigs (only FIVE sites rated for 40-feet or over!), but you have to book WELL ahead in order to get a spot for winter. Electric/water sites $28/night. Reviews HERE.
- Private RV Park – Several private parks in the area which can fit any-sized rig costing anywhere from ~$28-$70/night. Reviews HERE and more options HERE.
Useful External Links:
Coming Next -> We travel inland for RV Repairs. Will it be a good experience or a painful bust? We’ll update you in the next post.