St. Augustine, Florida
Distance from Charlotte: 422 miles
Set along forty-two miles of coastline and just an hour’s drive from Jacksonville (less than six hours from Charlotte by car), St. Augustine is easy to get to and perfect for the beach-loving family. Dating back to 1672, it has the distinctive title of being the nation’s oldest city. It has the country’s oldest fort, Castillo de San Marcos (nps.gov/ casa), and the oldest wooden schoolhouse (you can even learn how kids lived in the 1700s). For some old-world ambience, stay at the circa-1888 Casa Monica Hotel (from $159 per night, casamonica.com). The 138-room hotel also boasts Spanish-style interiors like rich mahogany furniture and sink-into-me beds as well as an antique car collection and close access to the area’s popular St. George Street. Once there, peruse the shops, boutiques, and bakeries for fun gifts for friends back home. A must-stop: the sweet chocolate treats at Claude’s Chocolate (claudeschocolate). When you get hungry, local favorite Sea Oats Caffé (seaoatscaffe.com) boasts a burger menu with favorites like the Breakfast Burger and the Classic Old City Burger. To take in the Spanish atmosphere, make reservations at Columbia Restaurant (columbia restaurant.com/st_augustine) and order plates of tapas and paella — both perfect for sharing. End the night with a horse-drawn carriage ride. — T. B.
Sign up for the Ghost Hearse tour with St. Augustine Ghost Tours ($23.95 per person, ghostaugustine.com). During the one-and-a- half-hour tour, you’ll be escorted in a vintage Cadillac funeral coach with your own EMF reader (to detect electromagnetic fields). Along the way, take in the haunting stories of the city’s historic streets and homes. Final stop: the St. Augustine Lighthouse
Dating back to 1824, the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum (staugustinelighthouse.com) is Florida’s first lighthouse. And with at least 270 known shipwrecks off the coastline, there are a lot of tales to be told. Climb the 219 steps of this city icon, situated 165 feet high, and stand where the light keepers once stood watch. (Note: give yourself at least an hour to see it all.)
For something milder, grab a seat at the St. Augustine Hop-On Hop-Off Trolley Tour (trolleytours.com/st-augustine). The hour- plus tour includes twenty-three stops and a comical conductor telling stories along the way. Fun sites include the Fountain of Youth, Castillo de San Marcos, the Old Jail, and even Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Want to stay longer at one of the stops? Go ahead; the trolley comes by every twenty minutes.