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St. Augustine

Every year my daughter’s elementary school has a 4th grade field trip (overnight no less) to St. Augustine, Florida.  It is almost seen as a right of passage at their school.  Our son, Rocco, had already taken this voyage in his 4th grade and it made a big impression on him!  Well, fast forward to 2020 and you know what happened…. The year of cancellations.  Violet had her 4th grade field trip to St. Augustine virtually.   Being the doting parents that we are, we promised to take her there ourselves (sometime.)  Well, she patiently awaited, and the time never seemed right until it was!  We decided to make the pilgrimage up north, about 4.5 hours from our home to visit the oldest city in the U.S.A.

My wife decided to add on a day and visit her friend that had recently moved near Jacksonville.   Even though we traveled on the 31st, traffic was not too bad.  We stopped a few times on the way up, once to get some fireworks and “Florida OJ” thanks to the large billboard on the side of the highway.  The employees at this highway tourist store were great sales people and very friendly.  We walked out with a new Florida Tee-Shirt, a quart of fresh OJ, and two boxes of fireworks! 

This friend also happens to work at a great hotel up in the town of Ponte Vedra Beach, where we stayed. What a fun surprise this hotel was!   It is really meant more for conventions, groups and sports teams.   In fact, when we arrived the University of Kentucky’s Football Team was staying there, preparing for the Gator Bowl!  The Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa has an atrium style lobby, which most kids love for some reason, ours included.  The front desk had their plexi glass set up and the typical COVID precautions.  The new normal at hotels is no housekeeping so we immediately requested more towels each day from the beginning and extra bedding for the kid’s pull-out sofa. We had a nice junior suite that had a king bed and a separate living space with a large pull out sofa.  Valet parking was available, but they also had self-park available by their convention center.  We arrived HUNGRY.  No surprise there. Alice & Pete’s Pub was open and had pool tables, fire pits, a mini driving range and pretty good food!  Oh, P.S. you also receive two drink tickets with the resort fee!

On New Year’s Day, we had a bit later start to the day than we would have normally.  The hotel had Starbucks in their lobby which helped us get going and make our way to downtown St. Augustine.  We decided that we could maximize our time by getting on a “hop on / hop off” trolley, where we could also park for free and visit the Old Jail.  Honestly, this was not that great of an experience, but I recognize that it is on a list of things to do that most kids want to see. 

The trolley was packed.  It was New Years Day and they were very busy.  It was so busy that we ended up not wanting to get off because we saw the long lines of people waiting to get back on at every stop.  Overall, I am not sure I would recommend the trolley.  Perhaps, if you are going during a slower time but I sight seeing on our own is how we prefer to see things.

The traffic was so bad too that we did end up hopping off the trolley to try to walk back to our car.  Of course, the kids found some places to walk into on the way, which was welcomed as they got rather bored on the tour.  The tour guide was very informative but talked incessantly. 

When we hopped off, we wandered into the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum.   Here the kids were excited to start their treasure hunt throughout the museum, which was the main highlight.  This museum is good for children or those who have a big aficionado for pirates, but that’s about it.  

Please note that at all these little museums, there is an entrance fee for adults and children, so plan accordingly.  If you do choose to go on the hop on / hop off trolley, you can buy advance tickets with a discount.     We then wandered a few steps on to St. George Street, which is the main street full of stores, restaurants, etc.  The street was packed beyond belief.   The kids eyed another museum.  It actually stuck out quite a bit so we forked up some more cash and entered in to see the “Oldest Wooden School House.”  The highlight here was ringing the large school bell.  Other then that, they had some strange facts to learn about how they basically just abused children in the olden days at school! 

By this time, we were starving…every restaurant and food stand we walked by either had dozens of people in line or over two hour waits.  So, we decided to keep walking back to our car to try and eat outside of the main area.  On our way back, we finally found a Thai restaurant who would take us!  It was nothing amazing, but we were hungry, and they gave us food and were nice.  Happy New Year!

We were just about done after a big dinner but since we were downtown already, we decided we needed to see the famous “St. Augustine Nights of Lights.”  For those of you who don’t know, this event happens annually pretty much from mid-November through January.  It is very festive, and it has received global recognition over the years. 

P.S. One thing that the Thai Restaurant did not have was any more dessert!  So, Violet asked for some ice cream!  What kid does not ask for ice cream when on vacation, right?  We strolled past the Cathedral and found our way back to St. George Street in search of the kid’s favorite, Ben & Jerry’s.  The night did not end there though nor did our appetites.  When you really think about it, the Thai food was our lunch.  So, we moved on to the “Taco Shop.” This place has officially converted me into a taco eater.  You see, I have never really been into Mexican food but my son Rocco, like many teens here in the US, is obsessed with Chipotle and tacos and burritos in general.  This place was packed but in a good way and I think I would go back to St. Augustine just for these tacos.

On the second day of the new year we decided we would check off another box on Violet’s list of must-sees, “El Castillo de San Marcos.”  We have done quite a bit of traveling and the kids like to collect stamps at the National Parks and Monuments like this one.  We had to wait our fair share of time to get in due to covid restrictions and only allowing a maximum of 100 guests at a time.  Please note, this monument is closed on Mondays.  You can also get great views just outside of the monument without paying admission and waiting lines.  Inside you will get more history and access to amazing views of the city.  

After yesterday’s debacle with lunch we made a reservation before we left the hotel at the famous, Columbia Restaurant.  It was a quick walk from the monument and I highly recommend making a reservation in advance.  The paella was great and so was the service. 

The Potter’s Wax Museum, or other wise known as “America’s first wax museum” was another short walk from the restaurant and it was on the list of “must-sees” for Violet. 

We were running late but wanted to visit the “Fountain of Youth” before they closed.  Their website stated they were open until 6 p.m. but they stop selling tickets at 5 p.m. We were not sure if we would be able to make it the next day, so it was important for us to visit right then.  We basically ran in, gulped up some of that famous water of theirs and ran through the park. It was historical, educational and had pretty grounds.  Loved their trees.  They had one of the earliest churches ever too.  I facetimed my mother from there…She always likes those things.

I forgot to mention that our dinner plans had also been secured by lunch time.   Once again, we learned quickly that we needed a plan for food here in this busy town!  We opted for dinner with a view!  We wanted to be on the water and a restaurant had caught our eye while driving to St. Augustine from our hotel.  It was called The Reef.  It was right on the water and they had lights illuminating the ocean.  Our table had a great view but unfortunately the service left us with a not wanting to return. There was a serious lack of management and supervision.

On Sunday, we checked out of our hotel and had a delicious breakfast at the Metro Diner in Ponte Vedra Beach.  They had quick, efficient service, delicious food and good prices.  We barely could finish our breakfasts.  My wife had the Avocado Toast with Egg and they must have used 3 whole avocados!  Rocco’s pancakes were ginormous, and we will be back!

We wanted to take some pictures of the Lighthouse before we left, or so we thought that would be the one last thing we would do.  We drove down to the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum.  However, if you may tell, we like to keep ourselves busy!  Upon arrival to the Lighthouse, we decided since we were there, we might as well climb to the top and take the tour of the house, grounds and do some shopping in the gift shop.  Our obligatory refrigerator magnet, and other items were purchased here.  The climb to the top of the lighthouse was a bit strenuous.  Due to covid, we had to take some stops and wait for others to pass and at the top they had an employee who ensured we all stayed in one direction as to not get too much in eachother’s ways.  The views were fantastic, and it was great to feel that fresh air from atop!

I had brought my drone on this trip but not had a chance to capture any images so we took some time after the lighthouse to do just that, which meant to go back into town as well and see if we could get some of El Castillo. While I did my droan thing, the kids did a bit more shopping. There are some fun little stores to roam around. 

We ended our visit to St. Augustine wanting a little something sweet.  We had passed by this nice gentleman during our visit who kept on offering us some cheesecake.  He was standing outside this old house by a beautiful large tree (called a Love Tree) and he would invite passers by in to try their cheesecake.  Yes, just cheesecake.  So, we decided to try it.  Plus, the name of the place was called “Bar Harbor Cheesecake Company” and my wife has an affinity with anything that relates to Maine. It turns out the owners had just recently opened this little café and they also have one up in Bar Harbor, Maine.  This café literally just serves “flights” of cheesecake or slices of cheesecake and teas, juices and some wines.  They offer complimentary tea to all guests if they wish.  We opted to each try a flight of cheesecakes with different flavors.  My favorite was the Orange Cheesecake, Rocco & Violet’s the Smore, Caitlan’s the Salted Caramel.  It was a nice, different want to end our trip.  I even brought some of that delicious Orange Cheesecake back home with me. 

We recommend visiting St. Augustine. It is a cool place. Maybe go to see those lights but if you can swing going there when it is NOT a holiday or weekend, perhaps you will have less people.

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