St Augustine, FL was established in 1565, making it the first city in the U.S. To mark the 450th birthday of America?s first city, the Celebrate 450! event took place from September 4-8, 2015 with fun events all through downtown St. Augustine. Another commemorative event, Tapestry: The Cultural Threads of First America, was an?educational exhibit that ran through September 20, 2015. The exhibit explores how multiple cultures formed the longest lasting European colony and began ?American? culture in the process.
This historical coastal town and the surrounding area definitely have something for everyone to enjoy. The award winning beaches allow for relaxation and offer every beach related activity imaginable. The stunning views keep visitors coming back year after year. Even the most die-hard technology addict will want to unplug and ?chill? when they see the gorgeous clear blue water and feel the powdery sand between their toes!
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
Since there is so much going on in St. Augustine all year long, it?s important to plan ahead and research gluten-free dining options, attractions and special events to enjoy the best possible trip. There are various museums in St. Augustine and each of them is unique. First things first though – the city was built before there were cars and even though public parking is available these days, it?s usually not free. And who wants to drive when they can ride the Old Town Trolley anyway? This hop-on-hop-off tour is the stress-free way to see the sights in downtown St. Augustine. The three-day pass offers a great value with unlimited boarding all day long at most of the attractions in the area. To get a feel for the venues you plan on visiting, it?s a great idea to ride the trolley full circle before you start your hopping-on-and-off fun!
History buffs of all ages will want to visit the famous Castillo de San Marcos, an impressive fort constructed of coquina stone located on the water in downtown St. Augustine. There are tours where you can learn about the history of the fort while taking in beautiful views of the ocean. This attraction is fun for the whole family!
There are many home and estate tours in the area and two of our favorites, Villa Zorayda and the Lightener Museum, are located within a block of each other. Originally named Zorayda Castle because of its Spanish-influenced architecture, this former single family house was uniquely constructed of poured concrete and coquina shells. This fire resistant building style would later be duplicated in the area. The Lightener Museum is pretty extensive and could easily take all day to fully explore. One thing not to miss there is Caf? Alcazar located in what was once the deep end of the pool of this grand estate. The gluten-free menu options are limited, but it?s a great place to enjoy wine and maybe a fruit and cheese plate, sans crackers.
Located almost directly across the street from the two attractions mentioned above is Flagler College. The type of tours and tour times vary based on school sessions. If you?re lucky, you might take the front stairs into the famously Tiffany-window-adorned main dining hall. To say this is a pretty fancy college dining room is quite the understatement. In addition to the gorgeous surroundings, students with food allergies are accommodated with allergen-free foods based on their needs. This is actually a necessity since all students are required to purchase the meal plan during their first year.
For more kid-geared attractions, two great options are the Pirate & Treasure Museum and Ripley?s Believe It Or Not. The latter museum often has multiple school and church groups touring and can be a bit noisy. However, this is true even if the kids are quiet since the museum itself is full of fairly loud exhibits. The Pirate Museum is fun and educational for kids of all ages. Visitors can participate in a ?treasure hunt? and can even fire a cannon complete with life-like firing cannon sound! We were glad we overlooked the kitschy exterior and checked out this surprisingly entertaining attraction.
Also on the trolley route, at various stops, the Authentic Old Jail, the Oldest House Museum and the Colonial Spanish Quarter are all fun exhibits to tour.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse offers spectacular views of the area and has a wonderful museum onsite. For nighttime activities, Ghost Tours of St. Augustine offers an array of tours. We enjoyed the popular night walking ghost tour, but tour options now include pub crawls, maritime tours and even trolley tours.
One of the best known sights in the area is the Fountain of Youth National Archaeological Park. Visitors get to roam the grounds where Spanish explorers first came ashore in the U.S. and Ponce de Leon discovered the fountain of eternal hope – later known as the fountain of youth. Park guests can even drink from the famous spring, but beware, the water does have a slight sulphur smell and taste to it.
Geared more for adults, two wonderful attractions are the St. Augustine Distillery and San Sebastian Winery. Kids are actually welcome at either stop, but obviously no one under 21 can sample the alcohol served during each location?s free tours. San Sebastian wines are made from hybrid and muscadine grapes and therefore, are a little on the sweet side. In fact, the port makes for a very nice dessert wine! The distillery specializes in handcrafted small batch spirits. Their current wares include vodka and gin and future offerings will include bourbon and rum. Interestingly, the vodka is made from 100% Florida farmed sugar cane. Both the winery and distillery have fun shops stocked with appropriately themed gadgetry.
Sometime during your visit, build in time to stroll the famous St. George Street ?walking mall? (also on the trolley route). Unique shops and boutiques line both sides of the pedestrian-only street and offer something for everyone. St. George Dinnerware is a great place to discover interesting kitchen gadgets and decor. And, when you?re in need of a break from shopping and browsing, be sure to stop at The Hyypo for a gourmet ice pop. Since all the amazing flavors are gluten-free, it?s tough to choose just one!
WHERE TO EAT
Whether you?re looking for brunch, lunch or dinner, you won?t go hungry in St. Augustine! The gluten-free dining choices are plentiful and some of our favorite finds are listed below.
The Floridian ??????? ?www.thefloridianstaug.com
This place is without a doubt one of the most unique eateries in the area and the menu offers gluten-free bread for sandwiches and amazing desserts for lunch and dinner. In addition to gluten-free selections throughout the regular menu, the daily specials usually have something safe for gluten-free and vegetarian guests as well. The ?N Grits is a version of shrimp and grits we?re crazy about! Not only is the presentation lovely, with aioli drizzled grit cakes, the flavors in this dish are simply amazing. The creative menu here is seasonal, but typical items offered include Fritters Sandia, Georgia Cheese Board, Pickled Pepper Shrimp and Chips and Dip. Dishes marked with a double asterisk (**) can easily be made gluten-free. Remember to save room for dessert here?the coconut pecan chocolate bar with caramel sauce is out-of-this-world decadent!
Michael?s Tasting Room ??? www.tastetapas.com
For a fancy, yet relaxing lunch or dinner, we love this gourmet tapas hotspot! While there is not a gluten-free menu here, everything is made from scratch and many small plate and entr?e selections are gluten-free as prepared or can be modified on request. Whether you?re in the mood for chicken, seafood, beef or even just veggies, Michael?s definitely has you covered!
MOJO Old City BBQ???? www.mojobbq.com
Southerners definitely love their barbeque so it?s no surprise that this BBQ joint is busy day and night. The expansive outdoor patio is a great place for al fresco dining as well as people watching. Most meats and sauces are gluten-free as are many of the sides ? just remember to skip the Texas toast.
Known for its Spanish cuisine, Columbia is a tourist favorite in the area. The gluten-free selections include soups, salads, tapas, entrees and desserts. The famous Original ?1905? Salad is prepared tableside and is simply delicious! All paellas here are gluten-free and those portions are huge. Other favorite dishes of ours include the Gambas Al Ajillo, Mussels y Chorizo Andres and Pompano Lido Key. The Flan and Crema Catalana desserts are both gluten-free. There are several vegetarian options available as well. Wine lovers will want to try the lovely red Sangria!
The Raintree????? www.raintreerestaurant.com
Located in a historic 1879 Colonial Victorian home, The Raintree offers gourmet dining just off the beaten path of downtown St. Augustine. Its quiet courtyard is simply lovely and the blended American, Mediterranean and Asian menu selections keep tourists and locals coming back for more. Gluten-free guests should make note of their needs when making reservations. Many dishes are naturally gluten-free or can be prepared as such. This St. Augustine find is more upscale and has a less casual feel than many other places, making it a perfectly romantic spot for special occasions!
Purple Olive???????? www.purple-olive.com
The strip mall exterior of Purple Olive in no way conveys the deliciousness found within this local bistro. The gluten-free menu covers starters, salads, entrees and desserts. Wonderful starters include Grilled Stuffed Eggplant, Mussels in White Wine Garlic and a bountiful Fruit and Cheese Plate. With main courses like Grilled Salmon with Dijon Cream, Herb Roast Chicken topped with Marsala Sundried Tomato Jus and Herb Lamb with Rosemary Pesto and Balsamic Reduction, there is something that will appeal to everyone?s tastes. There are three desserts offered here and two of them are atypical for the gluten-free set ? the Chocolate Espresso Flamb? and the Chocolate Pecan Gateau. We opted for the latter and found it to be hands-down the best dessert of our trip!
The Reef ????? www.thereefstaugustine.com
The oceanside location of this seafood restaurant at Vilano Beach makes it a natural hotspot for tourists. We enjoyed an early dinner so the chef was able to come sit with us and go over the gluten-free selections (there is no printed gluten-free menu). By subbing corn tortillas in the Grilled Scallop Tostadas, we had an amazing start to our meal. There are many seafood and fish dishes that can easily be modified to be gluten-free, but the Lobster Risotto had us at ?hello.? Tender lobster atop fluffy, flavorful rice with a succulent lemon butter sauce ? enough said!
La Cocina International Restaurant ?? www.lacocinarestaurants.com
Located within the Castillo Real Resort Hotel at St. Augustine Beach, this gem of a gourmet establishment exceeded all expectations we?ve ever had of a ?beach hotel restaurant.? Despite its location, the only view here is a filtered glimpse of the pool, but the incredible food more than makes up for it. Unlike any other place we discovered in the area, all the soups, dressings and sauces here are gluten-free. This is impressive and very surprising, to say the least! To start, the creamy crab bisque was perfection in a cup. Next up was the La Cocina Pear Salad ? a refreshing and light option that was also delicious. Frutos del Mar was unquestionably the best ? and most beautiful – entr?e of our visit to St. Augustine. This amazing dish consists of a Crab Meat Stuffed 6 oz. Maine Lobster Tail, Shrimp, Scallops & Mussels flamb? with Tequila, simmered in a Cilantro Garlic Butter sauce and accompanied with Mashed Potatoes and Vegetables. Flan and sorbet are available for gluten-free desserts.
Spring, fall and winter are all wonderful seasons to visit St. Augustine and there are more wonderful places to explore and impressive dining options than you can pack in during one visit. Disfruta de tu viaje!