Exploring St. Augustine
I've been to St. Augustine, the oldest city in the U.S., just a handful of times despite being a Florida resident for the better part of my life. I've never fallen for it's charm the way others have. It always had the stench of school field trip on it, and truthfully I can name quite a few cities within pleasurable driving distance that I'd visit over and over again before St. Augustine would make the list. Despite that, I found myself visiting the Old City with a few friends over a three-day weekend and I was intent on changing my mind by finding some gems both in and away from high traffic tourist areas.
FOOD & DRINK
Away from the hustle of St. George Street Gas got it's name for a very on the nose reason. This old gas station was converted into a causal eatery. Due to the conversion of the space you can imagine this isn't a palatial local spot to gather with large groups, but it had charm and a welcoming atmosphere. We didn't have to wait too long for our table and were able to kill time at the beer counter until we were seated.
They claim to do their best to source local ingredients and everything down to the sauces are believed to be made from scratch.
The menu is full of your standard American cuisine sometimes with little twists. A crowd favorite seems to be their huge stuffed burgers. While I abstained, my husband got the Jalapeno Popper burger. He claims it was one of the best burgers he's ever had, and he isn't one to rave about anything. I tried the fried oysters, and got a small Tiki salad with an order of Island chicken wings which were marinated in pineapple, soy and ginger, and then flash fried and tossed in a thai chili glaze.
The food, down to a tofu salad got rave reviews from everyone. To add to the great experience our server was knowledgeable and charismatic. All around, I'd be my pleasure to have Gas again.
The Distillery is doing some pretty cool things in St. Augustine, and it's easy to see why people are traveling from all over Florida to visit it.
The tours are short and sweet, since the facility itself isn't that large, and comes to an end with free samples for the whole group. To me, it was much more interesting to hear the tales of their battles with the state than how the spirits are made. I love a good stick-it-to-the-man story and the Distillery fought old antiquated state laws that simply made no sense and were not allowing them equal opportunity to sell or even allow people to sample their spirits while wineries and breweries didn't have such steep limitations. Thanks to their tenacity they have certainly opened the door for other distilleries in Florida to get their crafted products to the people with ease. When you visit and make purchases you are truly supporting a local business doing big delicious things in the state of Florida.
The visit upstairs to the Ice Plant restaurant and bar was just as satisfying. Cocktail options are a bit overwhelming but our server was patient in explaining any foreign ingredients to us. The drinks were all amazing, and more impressive was the pricing. Orlando restaurants have no problem charging $12 for a drink, so I expected to pay a much steeper rate here. I was surprised to see $8 and $10 cocktails on the menu.
I tried to Dolce Vita which featured the St. Augustine Distillery vodka with Honeydew, lime, salters, and Shishito Pepper.
Next was the Delta Spirit which featured Old Forrester, raspberries and Altoids syrup, along with crushed Altoids on the mint leaves. Any drink that lets me skip a tooth brushing is alright by me.
I don't know the link between Jack Cousteau and delicious waffles, and frankly I didn't care to ask. The smell of these freshly made waffles hits you as you walk down Hypolita Street, and you are foolish if you don't carve out time to treat yourself here.
We went twice during our 3 day weekend. On the first trip I got the Life on Mars waffle. Topped with toasted coconut ice cream, espresso whipped cream, mocha drizzle and shaved toasted coconut, the serving size could easily be split for two. Despite being open as early as 9AM this isn't a breakfast spot (unless you have a Leslie Knope type of sugar addiction) but perfect for a mid-day treat or after dinner dessert. Ice cream options abound on the cobblestone streets but this place captured my full sweet-toothed attention.
The shake I got on my second trip had Nuetlla and banana mixed with ice cream. Both options are equally decadent and worth as many trips as your stomach can handle. Pack a red beret with you and wear it to get 10% off your bill.
Leaving the bustling tourist area is always the best way to find foodie gems and no exploration is complete without the search for the almighty taco, the friendliest of the hand foods. Once you cross over the Bridge of Lions (real name) and get back on A1A you'll come across Mojo Tacos.
It's a small relaxed eatery with a slow beach vibe. The people working there all seem to be killing time making a few bucks before they are off to catch the perfect wave. The taco menu offers different meats, as well as some specialty tacos. I got a beef taco and their special for the day, the avocado taco. It was love at first sight when I saw they came individually wrapped in aluminum foil and served in a brown paper bag with chips at the bottom. Don't all good things come in greasy bags?
The tacos were bursting with ingredients and they are not shy with their protein portions. They came double wrapped with hard and soft shells and the mixture of flavors and seasoning had me scarfing them down in a less than ladylike fashion. They were so good in fact we ate them two days in a row.
If it's busy you may wait a solid ten minutes for your taco bliss, but it's well worth it. Make sure to bring cash, no plastic is accepted here.
St. Augustine is believed to host 6 million visitors a year, which is pretty staggering for a historic city its size. With that factoid in mind, it's a bit unbelievable that finding good coffee was harder than expected.
In the historic downtown district there is an adorable small cottage that houses Crucial Coffee. I got a basic iced latte and while it did the trick it wasn't anything extraordinary. To-go container snob that I am I was irked by the dome lid that came with my non-whipped cream drink. I know, how pretentious can I sound, but I'm a flat lid girl, it protects me from spillage! However if you plan on staying around the shops and restaurants near St. George street this is probably your best and more adorable bet for coffee.
After some internet searching and Instagram cross-referencing I found DOS Coffee, another spot tucked away from the busy historic streets. It had all the trappings of a hipster coffee spot. Slow drip coffee tower, Edison-style string lights, baristas wearing floppy hats and Bill Cosby sweaters, and bags of beans with countries listed on them. It was everything I had been searching for.
Everyone ordered their own version of liquid happiness and I stuck with a latte and for bonus hippie points purchased Ezekiel bread with peanut butter smeared on it.
Everything about the place was comfortable and our drinks were great, in my opinion better than anywhere else I had gone in town. The barista did forget about my toast, but besides that they were all friendly and welcoming and for workers their age that's honestly all I'm ever looking for when I visit a place where I know the cool kids probably hang.
When you hit a certain age, bars tend to be full of the types of people that you can no longer stomach. My friend pointed out a bar I had on my list as we walked by and praise-be-to-all-that-is-good the bar was completely empty. Maybe it was a gift, maybe it was because it was only 1PM, but we took advantage of this beautiful circumstance and went in for some light day-drinking.
They had a lot of cocktail options, beautiful floors, and vintage furniture. I could take as many pictures as I wanted in peace while leisurely sipping and telling my friends stories of travels past. All cocktail hours should be so peaceful.
If you drive North on San Marco Avenue past the historic fort, you will find a small strip with some boutiques and antique shops for some light shopping. One of them is Declaration & Co. It's definitely a feminine candyland filled with literal candy along with jewelry, stationary, accessories, clothing and housewares. Prices are moderate depending on what you are looking at, but it's definitely hard to leave the eye-catching inventory without something for yourself. I walked away with a memo notebook mug and a cute pair of earrings for under $35.
DHD Home is one of those shops that you enter and think, yes, this is how I envision my dream home would look. Which should come as no surprise since the owner is Debi Hanks, founder and principal of the Interior Design firm d. Hanks Design, Inc. The boutique which she also owns houses furniture, home accessories and gifts. My friends grabbed some home accessories and I bought an awesome kitchen towel with the wording "Check yourself before you wreck yourself" a mantra I can be heard saying quite often.
Overall I think St. Augustine is a pretty special place, considering the lack of interesting history the state of Florida has. You can't beat the quick drive from Orlando and it seems new places are popping up on a pretty regular basis, so there should always be something new to check out. I can only imagine how it will continue to grow as it courts more local businesses that will have more to lure millenials.
Also, if you are thinking, "wow Lindsey, that wasn't really that many places for 72 hours", I did visit other places and if they weren't listed here it's because they were pretty awful and/or forgettable. Additionally getting back to our vacation home to watch Season 2 of Kimmy Schmidt was also a top priority.