Local knowledge: Superlative St. Augustine

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St. Augustine, Florida, is one of my favorite cruising destinations. (And I’ve been to quite a few.) It’s pretty, historic, has a timeless ambience and celebrates with festivals year-round. And it has beaches and golf.

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Want more? While you’re enjoying all this, you can conveniently take care of boat business. And you don’t need a car or plane to get there because St. Augustine also has an ocean inlet and access to the Intracoastal Waterway.

Hundreds of boats use the inlet every week, including many that head offshore to fish. The inlet opens into the ICW, which borders the city and develops shoals from time to time, as do most inlets. If this or strong onshore winds are an issue for you, then the ICW is a beautiful way to go.

A 280-foot-tall stainless steel cross on shore welcomes you to St. Augustine; it commemorates the first Roman Catholic mass on this continent, celebrated Sept. 8, 1565, when Pedro Menendez de Aviles came ashore and established what would become St. Augustine. Heading south, approaching the ornate Bridge of Lions, you’ll see Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States, completed in 1695.

Just north of the inlet, Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor offers dockage within a protected basin, as well as a first-class, full-service yard, marine and chandlery services at First Mate, restaurants and more. This is one of my favorite marinas. It has two loaner cars for slip holders if you have to shop or want to head to the historical district two miles away. A short walk across a high-rise bridge, with a spectacular view, gets you to an ocean beach, not to mention a Publix supermarket. And Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor can be reached without a bridge opening.

Several other marinas and yards are in the area, including St. Augustine Municipal Marina, Hidden Harbor Marina, Conch House Marina and Oasis Boat Yard & Marina. Watch for strong currents at the docks at most of these facilities. If you grab a mooring or berth at the municipal marina, note that this area can be rough when northerly or southerly winds blow against the strong current.

St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the contiguous United States. Early Spanish influence predominates in architecture and place names. There are approximately 144 blocks of buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, hundreds of annual festivals and events, and more than 150 restaurants, in addition to shopping, museums and tours.

The historical district, near the waterfront, is known worldwide for the Nights of Lights celebration during Christmas. The World Golf Hall of Fame and a number of championship courses are nearby. Concerts, art walks and shows, wine tastings, celebrations and festivals range from Rhythm and Ribs to Greek Fest to historical re-enactments.

A trolley or a carriage tour is a good way to get acquainted with the historical area while enjoying the ride. Visit floridashistoriccoast.com for a free vacation planner.

Ponce de Leon came here for the mysterious fountain of youth, not to mention conquest for Spain. The fountain and its historical museum are near the cross, and you’ll find displays depicting the life of the early Spanish explorers, artifacts of their discovery, early Native Americans and more. You’ll be offered a drink from the “fountain of youth.”

For a different experience, check out the Alligator Farm. It is home to 23 species of crocodilians from around the world, including rare white alligators. Maximo, at 15 feet, 3 inches, is reported to be the largest crocodile on exhibit in the Western Hemisphere. Beautiful St. Augustine Beach, the historic lighthouse and Anastasia State Park are nearby.

Here’s a small sampling of the area’s many restaurants: The Reef, on Route A1A, serves an incredible view, along with excellent food. Costa Brava, at the Casa Monica Hotel, offers fine dining in the downtown historical district. The Floridian, also in the historical district, is a farm-to-table restaurant serving local and Southern fare. Trendy options include Prohibition Kitchen, on St. George Street; Preserved, on Bridge Street in historic Lincolnville; and The Ice Plant, on Riberia Street in Lincolnville.

It’s not unusual for southbound cruisers who are planning a short layover in St. Augustine to stay for the season. They often become residents. It’s a great place.

This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue.