The conquistadors would have thought it a mirage — a luxury resort appearing on the coquina shell sands of the Palm Coast just a short sail south of St. Augustine, the site where they planted their flag after a harrowing voyage from Spain in 1565. Now renovated to provide every amenity a guest could desire, the Hammock Beach Resort is one more reason the oldest city in America charms all who visit. St. Augustine provides an intriguing mix of Spanish colonial history, “old” Florida feel, family fun attractions, pristine beaches and cuisine infused with the area’s multicultural heritage — not to mention, it’s also the site of the mythic Fountain of Youth.
Situated along the east coast of northern Florida, St. Augustine is easily accessible from Jacksonville or Daytona airports, or by car via Interstate 95, U.S. Highway 1 and scenic Florida Highway A1A. Once in the Old City, it’s best to park at the Historic Downtown Parking Facility adjacent to the Visitor Information Center, an easy walk to the historic district. You can also purchase tickets to a guided train or trolley tour of the main attractions.
Forts, Pirates and Gilded Age Hotels
St. Augustine’s more than 40 historical sites include Castillo de Marcos National Monument, the oldest masonry fort in the continental U.S., and Fort Matanzas, another remnant of the Spanish Empire. At its height, the city was a magnet for pirates, so the Pirate and Treasure Museum’s immersive pirate ship experience and largest collection of genuine pirate artifacts in the world is a major tourist draw. Every November St. Augustine also stages a weekend Pirate Gathering where people dress like pirates or mermaids, dine at the Buccaneer BBQ Bash and shop at the Thieves Market.
Fast forward to the 1800s, when St. Augustine underwent a renaissance thanks to railroad tycoon Henry Flagler, who built several grand hotels worth visiting today: the Ponce de Leon Hotel, now Flagler College; Alcazar Hotel, now the Lightner Museum; and Casa Monica, recently restored to its former glory. Villa Zorayda Museum, a Gilded Age mansion designed to resemble The Alhambra, is another must-see.
Other entertaining attractions include The Fountain of Youth Archeological Park, where you can sample the water of life; World Golf Hall of Fame; and St. Augustine Alligator Farm, Zoological Park & Rookery, the only place in the world housing every species of crocodile.
450 Years of Flavors
St. Augustine cuisine is noted for its fusion of flavors drawn from the influence of Spanish, French, Minorcan, Greek and British peoples who populated the city at one time or another.
The datil pepper, introduced in 1777 by immigrants from Minorca, a Balearic Island in the Mediterranean, is the most famous local food. Every October St. Augustine hosts The Datil Pepper Festival and Cookoff, while November brings the Great Chowder Debate featuring 2,000 gallons of the seafood stew served by Florida’s top chefs.
With 42 miles of white quartz beaches on the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, St. Augustine has a bounty of fresh seafood prepared by restaurants that run the gamut from elegant to waterside shacks. The nearby Island of Ponte Vedra is especially known for locally caught seafood of the highest quality.
Hammock Beach Resort
In this day and age, it’s hard to imagine how the conquistadors would have felt if, after a long day in heavy armor under the Florida sun, they could have checked into one of the 300 oceanfront guest suites or villas at the Hammock Beach Resort (Palm Coast, Fla.) and indulged in a massage at the spa, followed by a gourmet meal. Or, if they could have played a round at the resort’s Ocean Course, known as The Pebble Beach of the East Coast, and cooled off afterward in the Aquatic Water Park. Never in their wildest dreams could these adventurers have pictured such an extravagant experience would someday await visitors in the New World.