History flavors St. Augustine vacations

A trip to the Old City of St. Augustine wouldn't be complete without a look at the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda, Orlando Sentinel)

For those not interested in the B&B experience — the occasional creaky stairway, quirky rooms, breakfast with other guests — there also are major hotel chains.

It's possible to incorporate St. Augustine's cultural influences into dining options. The award-winning Spanish cuisine of Columbia restaurant is served in a beautifully designed indoor patio dining room on St. George Street, in the heart of the old city. For a quiet beer, the nearby Mill Top Tavern offers understated acoustic folk music in a rustic upstairs tavern away from tourists below.

It's only a short stroll from the Mill Top, near the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse and tourist shops in the Colonial Quarter, to the Lightner Museum, a nod to another part of St. Augustine's evolution. The museum contains three floors of costumes, furnishings, musical instruments, stained glass and other Gilded Age artifacts in the elegant setting of industrialist Henry Flagler's former Alcazar Hotel. The restored ballroom yields a glimpse into the splendor of that era.

Flagler's architecture also is showcased at Flagler College, where students sleep, dine and study in buildings that once were the winter retreats of the wealthy. The college conducts daily tours that include the Rotunda (with its 80-foot domed ceiling) and a glimpse of the 79 Louis Comfort Tiffany's stained-glass windows in the student dining room.

In the shadow of the old buildings, the historic district also offers an assortment of contemporary tourist attractions, such as Ripley's Believe It or Not and the kid-friendly St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum. And the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, founded in 1893, is still attracting big crowds.

Like so much of St. Augustine, the charm of the past hasn't grown old yet.

jcabbott@tribune.com or 407-420-6213

What else: St. Augustine will celebrate Ponce de Leon's landing on April 3 with a re-enactment near the Bridge of Lions, the firing of cannons from the Castillo de San Marcos, a commemorative Mass at Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine and other events.

St. Augustine

What: Discovered in 1565, the nation's oldest city still offers an array of historic diversions, including the Castillo de San Marcos, the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum, the Fort Matanzas National Monument, the Lightner Museum and more.

Getting there: St. Augustine is in St. Johns County on Florida's East Coast, 43 miles southeast of Jacksonville and 53 miles north of Daytona Beach. It's easily accessible from Interstate 95.

Activities and attractions: In addition to the historic sites, St. Augustine offers restaurants, pubs, nearby beaches and attractions such as the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Ripley's Believe It or Not. Accommodations include major hotels and an assortment of bed and breakfasts.

Call: 1-800-653-2489

Online: floridashistoriccoast.com