Even after months at sea, the European explorers of the past kept true to their goals, and made countless discoveries while in Florida. But even the burliest of explorers needed a little R&R. In the spirit of Ponce de Leon, explore the 42-mile coastline, find hidden treasures along the sands of Ponte Vedra south to Crescent Beach. And when you’ve made enough discoveries for the day, rest and relax along the very beaches you spent combing for treasures. Who knows? The Fountain of Youth that eluded the Spanish explorer may be yours for the taking.
Day 1: Relax
After a long car, plane, or sailing excursion, claim the land to be yours and set up (day) camp at St. Augustine Beach. The main beach entrance at St. Johns County Ocean Pier is reached by the S.R. 312 bridge from St. Augustine and heading south on Anastasia Island. Get a feel for the white sand under your toes, try your hand at the volleyball courts, or get a taste of the finest and freshest catches at the beachfront restaurants.
If you’re getting in during the AM, sit for breakfast at the World Famous Oasis Deck & Restaurant before reaching the beach. Starting at 6 a.m., early birds can feast on pancakes, fried eggs and grits while watching the sun rise over the Atlantic. The crew can nourish themselves throughout the day with classic beach fare like hot dogs, fried shrimp, coleslaw and, arrgh, cold beer. If you’re past breakfast time, take a trip down Beach Boulevard to find the best oceanside restaurants that span the coastline.
Afterwards, park your car right on the beach, but only in certain sections. But always follow the signs to safely do so, AND keep in mind that parking at the beach is not free and that you need 4-wheel drive. Or you can park at the pier, a four-acre beachfront park with a playground, Splash Park, picnic tables, restrooms, showers, a pavilion, volleyball courts, a visitors center, and bait and tackle, concessions, and free parking await you and your crew for exploration.
Day 2: Explore
Now with a sense of your surroundings, set off to explore the historic forts of the Nation’s Oldest City’s beaches.
At the southern end of The Beaches is Fort Matanzas Beach and National Monument. A refurbished fort, originally built in 1742, sits at the mouth of the Matanzas inlet. Matanzas means "slaughter" in Spanish, and the area was so named after 300 French captives were executed here by the Spanish in 1565. A free 45-minute tour on an open-air, but covered, boat launches every hour from 9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
At Anastasia State Park just outside of historic St. Augustine is a quarry where the coquina rock that built the nearby Castillo de San Marcos fort and other area buildings was mined. A self-guided walking tour of the quarry is available.
Butler Beach, located about seven miles south of St. Augustine, was established in the 1920s and until 1965 was one of the few beaches on north Florida’s Atlantic Coast designated for the use of African Americans.
Day 3: Hunt for Treasure
The gold of the New World is long gone, but a bounty of seashells and natural beauty is yours to behold. South Ponte Vedra Beach’s dune-lined shore is ripe with maroon, pearl white and golden shells and maybe even a black-polished fossil shark’s tooth or two. Dogs are allowed on the beach, but must be on a leash.
Back near St. Augustine visit Vilano Beach and capture a priceless memory of your loved ones as they learn to surf or ride a wake board at on Porpoise Point. Beaches Restaurant at Vilano is close by with local seafood, a quaint beach area, and restrooms which makes this area an ideal place to spend a day.
Step out of the sun to visit the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. The site is believed by many to mark Ponce de Leon’s arrival point in America. Visitors can drink from the legendary spring. Even if you don’t believe in the water’s magical qualities, it can’t hurt to taste the fabled elixir that has brought visitor to these beaches for hundreds of years.