Although Jacksonville has its share of appealing attractions, residents and visitors should be aware of the many recreational choices available just a short drive away. St. Augustine and Ponte Vedra are two of the most interesting cities in the United States and boast many repeat visitors.
Historic St. Augustine is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The attractions of this great city are numerable and worth visiting.
Listed are just four that are consistently highly recommended.
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The 7-acre St. Augustine Wild Reserve is not to be missed, but call ahead as the two-hour guided tours are by appointment only on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Run solely by volunteers, this wild animal refuge exudes love and compassion. Each rescued animal has a story that the tour guide is happy to impart. The animals respond well to human interaction as many were privately owned and domesticated. The tax-deductible donation is reasonable and well worth the amount, especially considering that all of the money goes towards making these previously sad and unwanted wild animals comfortable. Anticipate being moved by your experience. Many visitors are inspired to donate an additional amount to this worthy cause once they witness the obvious neediness, love, and affection between the animals and their caretakers.
This 1800’s boarding house is hosted by knowledgeable and personable guides who transport the visitor back to yesteryear. Furnished in the era by the three women who originally owned the boarding house, this is a historical and archaeological site brimming with captivating information about the living conditions in the 1800’s.
Imagine having to impress the residents with only an outdoor kitchen, no electricity, running water or air conditioning. Questions are welcome and interest is so high that often the 40-minute tour turns into a much longer visit.
Once named the Ponce de Leon Hotel, Flagler College was a luxurious winter retreat for the elite. Named after its builder, Henry Flagler, the original hotel was built in the late 1800’s. The architectural details alone make the visit worthwhile. There are Tiffany stained glass windows throughout and an impressive courtyard. Access is limited unless on a tour; the guides are students of the college and do take you to places inside that you could not see on your own.
Basilica Cathedral is a working parish, with reverent visitors welcome for the masses, but if coming to simply tour check out the available visitor times in advance. Real candles, quiet corners for solitude, exposed beams, ornate furnishings, an impressive pipe organ, and beautiful brightly colored stained glass windows filter through the dark shadows of this traditional, old church.
Ponte Vedra, FL
In Ponte Vedra, one can shop at the huge Sawgrass Village mall or golf at one of the challenging golf courses and country clubs.
But Ponte Vedra is particularly renowned for its tropical, natural attractions. One of the most impressive is a natural reserve.
A combination of museum and aquarium, Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve offers an outstanding overview of the flora and fauna native to Florida. Bike, hike, rent a kayak and fish, crab or take a swim. The tranquil river is surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of Florida’s natural scenery.
Accommodations and Dining
Of course, accommodations and dining facilities abound in both St. Augustine and Ponte Vedra. There is much dining variety; choose from laid-back casual beach fare to world-class cuisine. Accommodations vary from modest efficiency to beautifully decorated beachfront condos, single-family homes, quaint hotels and luxurious resorts.
Residents of Jacksonville have a wealth of activities from which to choose in either of the nearby cities of St. Augustine or Ponte Vedra. Just a short drive from the big city and visitors can be in another world. Neither city should be missed whether one lives full-time or is a temporary visitor of Jacksonville.