St. Augustine, Jacksonville
Located along the bayfront in St. Augustine's Historic District, about 45 minutes south of Jacksonville, the Castillo de San Marcos is perhaps St. Augustine's biggest attraction. It was built in the late 1600's out of coquina, an unusual local shell/stone material. Previously, St. Augustine was defended by a wooden fort, but the burning of that fort and subsequent devastation of the town at the hands of Robert Searles, a notorious English pirate, necessitated the construction of a more durable fortification. While "the fort" (as it is commonly referred to today) was primarily instrumental during the Spanish and British colonial periods, it also played a role in the American Civil War and was later used as a prison for a time. Today though, the Castillo is operated by the National Park Service, under whose watch it is routinely stormed by hordes of tourists armed with cameras. Visitors (who have paid the reasonable admission cost) may cross the drawbridge, wander through the fort's series of chambers, cross through its courtyard, and climb its staircase to the cannon deck to enjoy sweeping views of the harbor and city. Cannon-firing demonstrations occur throughout the day, as costumed "soldiers" carry out the procedural duties associated with firing a cannon back in Spanish colonial times. Even when you know it's coming, that "BANG" can still give you a jolt! Children may want to be advised to cover their ears. Overall though, it is a great place to explore an authentic part of history and enjoy some great scenic views!
While it is one thing to watch dolphins through underwater viewing glass, it is quite another to actually interact with them. Marineland Dolphin Adventure, located about 15-20 minutes south of St. Augustine and about an hour south of Jacksonville, offers a variety of programs by which visitors may interact with dolphins. The most expensive, of course, is to actually swim with dolphins. That costs over $200 per person. I have not done this, but my family did get to take part in another kind of interaction. The “Touch & Feed” program offers a very memorable experience without requiring that anyone gets in the water. Our family was assigned to “Betty,” a spry dolphin in her forties (old by dolphin standards) who really seemed to enjoy her back and tail rubs by human hands. She was even a bit ticklish on her tummy. We also had the privilege to feed Betty chilled fishy treats. (soap and water are close at hand), watch her perform a few trained behaviors, and listen to her squeaks.
Just to the south of the city about 25 miles is a wonderful town, which is the first founded in the US, and the oldest. Spaniards made this are defense position and built a fort at the point. Trade with Indians and later with settlers developed this town into a vibrant community. The fort defended the residents by surrounding the whole area with a high wall. Sites a plentiful in the town, and so many old buildings from the founding to about early 1800's abound. There also is a great college; Flagler, and Lightner Museum which was Alcazar hotel in late 1880's. Fort San Marco was built in 1672 by the Spanish, and enhanced over the years.
YOu could spend a couple of days here to see and tour sites, and that excludes shopping at 200-300 places, and eating at maybe 50 spots. You do have to "weed" through a lot of touristy type junk and "cruddy" things to do besides, though.
'A Ghostly Experience' is a 1 1/2 hour walk through the ancient streets of St. Augustine featuring a guide in period attire with candle lit lantern relating tales of legends, lore and ghostly experiences. This nightly tour begins at 8:00 p.m. near the Oldest Wooden School House at the water wheel on North St. George Street. Special prices for groups of 15 or more. You may look forward to a frightfully good time!