Florida: St. Augustine, Family Vacations with History, Beaches, and a Schooner.
Avoiding I-95 has obvious advantages - less stress and the chance to slow down and experience a sense of place. From ghost walks along cobblestone streets in St. Augustine to sunset ceremonies at the wharf in Jacksonville northeastern Florida is eclectic and enchanting. Sail on a tall ship; ride bikes along the beach; find bargains at and outlet mall; experience living history at an old fort; drink fresh-squeezed orange juice and sample alligator jerky. Try a grouper sandwich partnered with key lime pie, vacation bliss, and the list goes on.
Our suggestions for St. Augustine have one thing in common - fun for families. Sail with the wind.
Board an authentic schooner and see St. Augustine from the sea much like the first European settlers did. The 72-foot Schooner Freedom, St. Augustine's only tall ship, departs daily from the City Marina (next to Bridge of Lions) for a two-hour day and evening sail and a one-hour ghost cruise. Take a step back in time and experience the romance and adventure on the high seas while sailing the waters adjacent to historic St. Augustine. The activity aboard is lively and passengers are encouraged to take part in the hoisting of the sails. Wine, beer and soft drinks are served during the sail. Passengers may also bring their own refreshments. (Schooner Freedom 111 Avenida Menendez, Ste. D St. Augustine, FL 32085. (904) 810-1010 or www.schoonerfreedom.com
) Look for alligators with the birds.
The lush tropical grounds make an ideal habitat for not only a variety of alligators but hundreds of other wild residents as well. Within the Alligator Farm & Zoological Park complex monkeys, birds, crocodiles, turtles and snakes also thrive. In addition to daily wildlife presentations it is possible to meander along a raised boardwalk well above but in plan view of more than 50 alligators and reptiles. The wooded walkway makes it easy to observe nesting birds without being intrusive. (Alligator Farm & Zoological Park. 999 Anastasia Blvd. St. Augustine. 1-800-966-7275, (904) 824-3337 or www.alligatorfarm.com
) Catch a moonrise if you’re lucky.
There is something intriguing about being able to stay after closing and for a few lucky folks every month on the-full-of-the-moon that is possible at the Augustine Lighthouse and Museum. Completely automated, the lighthouse remains an active aid to navigation. Most days visitors explore the grounds, historic keepers' house and climb the 219 steps to the top for an exquisite view of the area. Docents and staff historians provide information about the lives of the keepers and their families. (Augustine Lighthouse and Museum. 81 Lighthouse Avenue (904) 829-0745 or www.staugustinelighthouse.com
) Drink the water.
Ponce de Leon landed in St. Augustine in 1513 searching for miracle water known in legends as the Fountain of Youth. Drinking the water is only one of the activities available within the grounds of the Fountain of Youth National Archaeological Park. Today visitors may walk among the gardens, view the excavations, and see the life-sized exhibits that depict life five centuries ago when the site was a Timuncuan Village. Bonus points:
It is even possible to have a drink of water. Though not exactly a taste treat, its reputation is ageless and said to be from the pre-historic Indian spring. (Fountain of Youth National Archaeological Park. 11 Magnolia Avenue. Toll-free 1-800-356-82222 or www.fountainofyouthflorida.com
) Time travel with an accent.
The Colonial Spanish Quarter at the heart of Old Town provides a living history window for visitors. Within minutes of entering the grounds the sights, sounds and smells of another era become all encompassing. Costumed interpreters recreate 1740; a time when St. Augustine was a remote outpost of the Spanish Empire. Tradesmen go about their occupations in blacksmithing, carpentry, leatherworking, and candle-making. Meals are prepared and livestock tended as if it was still the 18th century. Route 1 south of St. Augustine offers a pleasant low traffic way to enjoy the natural beauty of Florida. As with sections in northern states it continues to compete with I-95. What it sometimes gives up in speed it more than makes up for in ease of travel and natural beauty. (The Colonial Spanish Quarter. 53 St. George Street (904) 825-6830 or < www.historicstaugustine.com
) Treat your sweet tooth.
Who can resist visiting a chocolate factory? For almost four decades the Whetstone family has been making scrumptious chocolates in St Augustine. They specialize in the delicious, beautiful yet melt-in-your-mouth kind. The behind-the-scene Whetstone Chocolates Factory Tour is free, self-guided and there is a free chocolate sample at the conclusion. Bonus points:
The lime chocolate is the very best. (Whetstone Chocolates Factory Tour. 2 Coke Road, State Road 312 just east of U.S. Route 1 South. (904) 825-1700 or www.whetstonechocolates.com
) Take a walking safari.
Northeast Florida abounds with natural beauty and nowhere is it more obvious than at Jacksonville Zoological Gardens where the wonders of Africa and the world are showcased. The 73-acre zoo and botanical gardens provides habitat for rhinoceros, Cape buffalo, leopards, elephants, giraffe and zebra. In addition to a train within the park and gardens, they also have boat excursions along the adjacent waterways. From the baby animal nursery to the programs featuring up-close and hands-on encounters, it is and enchanting place for a day adventure. (Jacksonville Zoological Gardens. 8605 Zoo Parkway, Jacksonville, 32218. (904) 757-4463 or www.jaxzoo.org