We just got back from a midweek family getaway to St. Augustine, Florida. Hali and I took Carlos last year to explore the oldest town in America and to drink from the Fountain of Youth. This time Carli came along for the history lesson where we adventured off the beaten tourist path. And the headliner in St. Augustine is Ponce de Leon.
We stayed in this Airbnb Steampunk Pirate Paradise hosted by local historian and self proclaimed pirate, Aruna. The space was essentially a downstairs apartment. Huge space for the three of us including private, pirate entrance, own bathroom, kitchen, sitting room, front porch and back patio where our host teaches aerial yoga. For just $85 a night we saved a bundle of booty and were within walking distance from all the historical action.
This Spanish Renaissance-style postcard perfect building was once the Ponce de Leon Hotel. The first “snow bird” hotel in Florida where folks from the Northeast stayed during their wintry months. In 1968, when they stopped coming and flocked to the hotels in South Florida, this architectural beauty became Flagler College.
Inside the iron gates of Flagler College we were greeted by a large fountain. The pillar casts a shadow on the stone frogs around the base indicating the time of day. That pillar and the bath below the fountain represents a reproduction of the hilt of Ponce de Leon’s sword. Do you see it?
St. Augustine Distillery
A few blocks over is the old ice plant where cold storage and ice was made and railroaded out of town to all parts of Florida. Vacant for fifty years, it is now home to the St. Augustine Distillery. The number one “thing to do” here according to Trip Advisor, and it’s FREE!
After showing our ID to the tour guide checking us in with the time clock, we were ushered through the original ice plant and into the distillery. Just celebrating its third year, this was the first craft distillery to open in Florida since prohibition. Jane, our tour guide and bartender, allowed us to sample a few cocktails including this Florida mule poured into a frosty copper mug. It’s called a “mule” for its kick. Hee Haw!!
Just up from the Ponce de Leon Hotel, in the colonial quarter, is the narrowest street in the country at only seven feet wide. It connects the waterfront Bay Street to the Royal Spanish Treasury. There’s just enough room for two men to carry a chest of gold from the docked ships to the treasury without fear that a horse-drawn carriage would ride by and snatch the loot. Today it’s a crosswalk for pirates.
Castillo de San Marcos
The Castillo de San Marcos‘ architecture and detail are distinctive and unique. It is the oldest masonry and only star shaped 17th century fort in North America. The major architectural variation was the “bastion system,” named for the projecting diamond or angle shaped formations added onto the fort walls, was the most commonly and effectively used of its time.
We arrived too late for a tour inside this fort but, nearing sunset, it was a good time to play pretend pirate on the castle walls above the moat once infested with gators.
A Tourist Destination
St. Augustine is a destination that offers something for everyone: history, architecture, booze, pirate lore, ice cream. Touristy? Yes, but if you could just imagine what this town was like one hundred, two and three hundred years ago, even as recent as fifty years ago with the Civil Rights marches, you might appreciate why people love to tour this town.
Thanks again, Aruna, for hosting us in your “halfway haunted” house for our brief visit. Haunted by what? Witches, pirates, bootleggers, Ponce de Leon? We couldn’t determine, but we thoroughly enjoyed our stay.