By Jim Abbott, Staff Writer
11:05 PM EDT, March 23, 2013
With most of its diversions clustered within walking distance, smart planning and a pair of practical shoes are enough to start a weekend getaway on the right foot. It's possible to visit several of the area's signature stops before even checking in to the hotel.
Here's a timetable:
•Approaching St. Augustine from Orlando or South Florida, take Interstate 95 to Exit 305 (Route 206) and follow the signs to Fort Matanzas National Monument. Admission is free and the fort can be toured easily in an hour.
•From the park entrance, the drive north on State Road A1A offers the option of sand and surf at St. Augustine Beach. Eventually, the road winds into downtown St. Augustine, but first take the time to stop at the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum (81 Lighthouse Ave.).
•After the lighthouse, it'll be time to check in at a hotel, then embark on an afternoon stroll in the Colonial Quarter. (Those interested in bed-and-breakfast options can visit bedandbreakfast.com/saint-augustine-florida for listings and rankings of the city's numerous options.)
•It's worth the time to stop at the St. Augustine Visitor Information Center at San Marco Avenue and West Castillo Drive, which is a one-stop spot for tickets to an array of attractions (Lightner Museum, ghost tours, Old Jail and others).
•Consider booking a ghost tour for that evening, an outdoor attraction for the following morning and museum for the following afternoon. In addition to trolley tours, there are ghost-hunting excursions that focus on local bars and pubs, an option that makes a good group activity.
•Tickets in hand, it's time for browsing in the old city or a beer at the Mill Top Tavern (19-1/2 St. George St.) before dinner. There are a variety of restaurants, but the Spanish dishes at Columbia (98 St. George St.) are a reliable favorite.
•After an evening ghost tour, it's time for a late nightcap at one of the cozy watering holes. Stogies Jazz Club and Listening Room (38 Charlotte St.) is an ambient setting.
•It's possible to take a morning meal at a hotel or bed and breakfast, but it's perhaps more fun to hit the streets early for a hot cinnamon roll or pecan sticky bun at The Bunnery Cafe (121 St. George St.).
•It's a good idea to tackle the outdoor attractions first, before the energy-sapping heat of the day. The St. Augustine Alligator Farm (999 Anastasia Blvd.) is one of the oldest zoos in the country and worth at least a couple hours, especially with kids in tow. In addition to dozens of gators, the rookery showcases an impressive bird population.
•St. Augustine is bordered by 43 miles of Atlantic Ocean beaches, so sunbathing would be another outdoor option. There are also deep-sea fishing charters, boat and kayak rentals, surfing and parasailing available.
•For lunch, consider the New Orleans fare at Harry's (46 Avenida Menendez), a nod to St. Augustine's French influences, or the casual elegance of Cafe Alcazar (25 Granada St.), a lunch option in the Lightner Museum Antique Mall.
•After lunch, it's time to move indoors for a tour of the Gilded Age treasures of the Lightner Museum (75 King St.). In the same realm, Flagler College conducts daily afternoon tours of its ornate buildings, once part of Flagler's Hotel Ponce de Leon.
•For dinner, try the seafood and regional cuisine at Florida Cracker Cafe (81 St. George St.), a fixture for two decades.
•Another relaxing option is a wine-tasting tour at the King Street headquarters of the San Sebastian Winery. On weekends, there's a wine, jazz and blues bar on the winery's rooftop, a nice spot to celebrate the dimming of the day.
There's nothing like a little wine to set the mood for a St. Augustine sunset.
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