Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Really Old Florida: Five Ways to Soak up History in America's Oldest City

Really Old Florida: Five Ways to Soak up History in America’s Oldest City

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By Mike Dojc
St. Augustine, just 45 minutes south of Jacksonville, is America's oldest city—and we're not talking about retirees. It's the longest continuously occupied city in the United States with roots predating the colonization of Jamestown and the pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock. The term Old Florida is bandied about a lot to nostalgically reference the classic beach bungalow era of Sunshine State tourism long before Wizarding Worlds and Art Basel, when the term “fast pass” still meant a move pulled by a lead-footed motorist on I-75. Laidback St. Augustine just celebrated its 450th birthday last year—it doesn’t get any more Old Florida. If that’s not enough of a reason to scope out this storied and architecturally rich seaside ville, here are five more.
Have a Buccaneer Blast
Sir Francis Drake, Robert Searles and their swashbuckling mateys spent time in port in theses parts back in the golden age of piracy. Inspired by the history, Pat Croce, up and moved his massive collection of pirate artifacts from Key West to St. Augustine, opening the city’s  Pirate & Treasure Museum in 2011. Highlights of the trove of plunder include ill-gotten doubloons, one of Blackbeard’s blunderbusses, an original “Jolly Roger” flag and a treasure chest that once belonged to Thomas Tew. Hands on exhibits where you can sniff and guess the cargo (mmm…butter rum), or fire a simulated cannon salvo make it fun for the whole family.
Take to the Sky
Slip on a pair of aviators and saddle into the open-cockpit of a 1935 Waco biplane replica, a barnstorming beauty of the golden age of aviation. While the wooden propeller whirs in the foreground you’ll glide over the shimmering intracoastal waters low enough to see the sea life. Architectural sights include the lighthouse on Anastasia Island, the star shaped Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the Continental United whose coquina shell rock walls repelled cannon fire and the magnificent orange tiled roof of Flagler College’s Ponce de León Hall. Flights start at $120 for a 15-minute tour and can cozily accommodate two passengers.
Peruse a Collection of Collections
The Lightner Museum is a dazzling example of Spanish Renaissance Revival architecture. Built as the Alcazar hotel in 1887, the museum houses the collection of Otto C. Lightner, the publisher of Hobbies Magazine, who once famously said: “Everyone should collect something." Peruse three storeys of everything from Tiffany glass and toasters to antique typewriters. Munch on shrimp scampi and escargot at the museum’s elegant café (open 11AM to 3PM seven days a week), where you’ll dine in what was once was the deep end of the world’s largest indoor swimming pool at 120 by 50 feet filled with sulfur water from an artesian well. Admission: $10 lightnermuseum.org
Go Fort Hopping
To protect the city’s coffers from marauding pirates, in 1672 the Spanish began to construct the Castillo de San Marcos using coquina, a shell and limestone compound. The fortress prevailed and never fell in battle, standing guard over St. Augustine through the late 1800s. The Castillo was also the site of Florida’s very first golf club, the St. Augustine GC, a little three-hole ditty, right outside the walls. South of the city you can take a free ferry ride to Rattlesnake Island to check out Fort Matanzas, erected in the aftermath of the siege of St. Augustine in 1740 to guard the inlet. Today the area around the fort offers plenty of outdoors fun with a 300-acre park complete with picnic areas and walking trails.
Putter about Golf’s Shrine
The World Golf Hall of Fame pays tribute to the game and its greats with engaging displays and interactive exhibits routed through a sprawling 35,000 sq foot exhibition space. Golf history comes alive when you try to roll a gutta-percha ball into the hole using a hickory putter on an 1880s style green or walk over a replica of the Swilcan bridge. While homages to the legends of the game fill this shrine, players personalities come to the fore in the member locker room area where inductees spruce up their cubbies with personal artifacts. Along with trophies and clubs you’ll spy the Barbie dolls Nancy Lopez’ father used to give her for winning tournaments, a harmonica Payne Stewart used to jam on, and “Jumbo” Ozaki’s samurai sword.

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