Florida’s Historic Coast has been welcoming vacationers for more than 125 years, but, as Jay Humphreys reminds Historic City News readers, our history is not the same old story.
Located midway between Daytona Beach and Jacksonville, spring and summer visitors to these special 42 miles of northeast Florida coastline will quickly find there is much that is new and exciting to experience. Whether visiting the nation’s oldest city of St. Augustine, playing the world-class golf courses of Ponte Vedra or soaking up the sun at one of the Historic Coast’s beach communities, exciting new attractions and amenities await.
Crocodile Crossing: Visitors can discover their inner Indiana Jones traversing this fun and challenging zip line above the canopy of trees and swamps that are home to hundreds of alligators and crocodiles at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. Open for less than a month, this adventure is providing thrills to intrepid souls who “zip” between more than 50 platforms scattered throughout the seven-acre course. The world’s first zip line located above a zoo, Crocodile Crossing offers a thrilling adventure that is truly one-of-a-kind.
St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum: Less than six months old, this new shrine to everything piratical has already proven to be a major attraction in the Oldest City. Located across from the Castillo de San Marcos, the Spanish fortress built in 1672 to stop pirates from pillaging the town, the museum not only houses the world’s finest private collection of pirate artifacts, it features a Disney-like approach to history that is both educational and entertaining. Interactive exhibits bring the Golden Age of Piracy to life while clearly separating the reality of pirate life from the Hollywood version of the Rogues of the Sea. Plus, for pirates who want to do a little plundering in cyberspace, the museum has just opened an online Treasure Shoppe.
El Conquistador: For visitors who want a breath-taking look at St. Augustine’s nearly 450 years of history, El Conquistador is ready to transport them on a high speed thrill ride on the waters of Matanzas Bay, the Tolomato River and maybe even the wild Atlantic. This speedboat with the colorful paint and distinctive Conquistador helmets mounted on the exhaust stacks, takes up to 14 passengers on a one-hour, thrill-packed, narrated tour through history – with some marine science added as well. So as not to “intimidate the squeamish,” El Conquistador’s top speed is not posted, but it’s sure to excite and delight every passenger.
Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park has been entertaining and enlightening visitors to St. Augustine for generations. Spanish Admiral Pedro Menendez landed here in 1565 to found the city of St. Augustine, the Timucua Indians lived here for hundreds of years and it is thought Ponce de Leon himself landed nearby. But for visitors this spring and summer, the Fountain of Youth is definitely not the same old story. The Planetarium that has thrilled visitors for more than 50 years now has a cutting-edge projector that projects the night sky as it appeared on any night in history, including the night any visitor was born, Plus, the seats in the Planetarium are brand new. Just a short walk takes visitors to the waterfront where an authentic conquistador stands guard, fires a replica of a 16th century Spanish cannon several times a day and entertains with his stories of war and conquest in the New World.
Horseback Rides on the Beach: It can be romantic or it can be the perfect family activity. St. Augustine’s Country Carriages now offers daily one-hour, private horseback rides at the edge of the sea. These unforgettable rides depart from Surfside Park on Vilano Beach. For details and reservations, call 904 826.1982.
Marineland Dolphin Adventure: On the National Register of Historic Places, Marineland recently underwent a renovation that turned it into one of the most beautiful and modern dolphin facilities in the world Now, the historic facility where the word “oceanarium” was invented, has become an affiliate of the incredible Georgia Aquarium. With a new name and new plans for further transformation and evolution, Marineland Dolphin Adventure offers an unmatched heritage in dolphin research and a place where guests can experience unhurried interactions with dolphins which will build important connections and a better understanding of marine mammals.
St. Augustine Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre: Solve the mystery of the Murder at the Café Noir while enjoying a delicious Italian dinner! This new addition to the Oldest City offers an exciting, inter-active adventure each night Wednesday through Sunday and special matinees on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons. It’s an exciting and entertaining delight for the entire family.
Haszard’s Open Pit Beef: New at Anastasia Island’s Butler Beach, this restaurant offers something tastefully different – chargrilled organic beef sandwiches, open pit turkey and ham, half-smokes and hot dogs. Plus, their Maryland-style crab cakes have quickly become a beach favorite – along with their hand-cut Boardwalk fries. Live music every Friday from 6-9 p.m.
Ponte Vedra’s luxurious seaside resorts have been long-known for their elegance and attention to details that make a stay there truly special. Just completed renovations and upgrades mean this summer’s arrivals will be greeted with pleasant surprises.
Ponte Vedra Inn and Club: For the tenth consecutive year, this beautiful property has received the coveted AAA Five Diamond Award – the American Automobile Association’s highest hospitality honor. AAA has bestowed this distinction on only eight properties in Florida and the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club is the only recipient in North Florida. In addition to enjoying the level of service this distinction demands, guests will now enjoy the results of a total renovation of the Inn’s popular Summer House – one of the resort’s 10 accommodation buildings. All 26 oceanfront rooms and suites at Summer House have received new king and queen bedding, carpets, elaborate window treatments, designer furniture, art work ceiling fans and crown molding with recessed lighting. Other extras include flat screen televisions, wall safes large enough for laptop computers and generously-sized desks ideal for the business traveler.
The Lodge & Club in Ponte Vedra Beach has just completed a new and dramatic front portico entrance for guests arriving by car. The new entryway to this AAA Four Diamond resort features a new steel-framed canopy supported by cast stone columns. New accents such as glass mosaic tiles, driveway pavers, aesthetic lighting, plantation shutters and ornamental landscaping insure arriving guests will immediately feel the welcoming warmth and sophistication of this beautiful oceanfront property.
The Oldest City has also been busy with makeovers that are sure to appeal to visitors.
Casa Monica Hotel: The first phase of a $1 million renovation of this AAA Four Diamond hotel has been completed. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this majestically-restored 1888 hotel is the founding property of Marriott’s new Autograph Collection of hotels – an elite group of upscale and independent hotels with distinctive personalities in destination cities. The renovation gives spacious guest rooms all new, custom-designed luxury interiors with classically-inspired rouge carpet, elegant custom furnishings with gold accents and plush velvet-tufted headboards. The Signature Suites located in two tile-topped towers and in an impressive central turret have also been updated. This spring and summer, the hotel has partnered with the Pirate & Treasure Museum to launch a wonderfully fun “Rogues, Romance and Riches” package that is ideal for couples and families. The package includes luxurious accommodations, a special Captain Morgan Rum Punch, admission to the museum, breakfast at the hotel’s famed 95 Cordova, an authentic “pieces of eight” necklace and valet parking.
At St. Augustine’s World Golf Village, home of the World Golf Hall of Fame, the largest 3-D IMAX theatre in the Southeast, and two championship golf courses, new additions are sure to delight visitors and guests.
Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village: After undergoing a dramatic $10 million renovation in 2008, this magnificent resort has made a new addition who is already making culinary headlines. Multi-award winning Chef Brett Smith has been named Executive Chef of the resort. A former American Culinary Federation Chef of the Year, Smith leads an outstanding culinary team at the resort and has introduced creations based on sustainable, local agricultural products.
Spa Laterra: Adjacent to the King & Bear golf course, the 9,000-square foot facility designed by renowned spa architect Robert D. Henry has re-opened after a complete makeover of both facilities and services. Featuring 11 treatment rooms, including its signature floating cabanas, Spa Laterra provides the ultimate in pampering to its guests.
Throughout the spring and summer, Florida’s Historic Coast will also welcome an array of special concerts and events at the beautiful St. Augustine Amphitheatre and the brand new Ponte Vedra Concert Hall. These include John Mayall (May 1), Jefferson Starship (May 13). Wiz Khalifa (July 17), Selena Gomez (July 31) and Allison Krause & Union Station (Aug. 19).
And for those who enjoy the sounds of Motown, Myles Savage, former lead singer for The Platters, will perform every Saturday evening at Fort Menendez located at St. Augustine’s Old Florida Museum.