So, since my mom is from St. Augustine and I still have family in the area, Ellison and I visit often. While we visit more in the summer, the area is at its natural best when the temperature starts to drop. It is in this spirit of cooler weather that we decided to put together a list of our favorite places in St. Augustine to take beach walks, nature hikes and just enjoy the outdoors. By no means is this a comprehensive list - there are many places we still want to check out - instead these are places that never fail to brighten our day and lift our spirits.
Anastasia state park
There are three potential hikes - a walk along the beach itself, an exploration of the old Spanish quarries and then Ancient Dunes, which is considered the official nature trail of the park. It winds through a scrubby Live Oak and palmetto forest and offers a number of great trees for climbing, which is definitely one of Ellison's favorite things to do at any park. Anastasia also has a lengthy lagoon that is frequently used for windsurfing and paddleboarding, but also offers unique opportunities to watch wading birds and explore the shore.
washington oaks gardens state park
Conquina rock formations are found all along the shore and create little tidepools filled with tiny barnacles, hermit crabs, periwinkles and limpets that Ellison could (and usually does) spend hours investigating. As the waves crash on the rocks it causes water to shoot up through the thousands of holes in the conquina, creating a dramatic display not found on any other Florida beach. It's pretty cool to watch. This is also along the migration route for the northern Right Whale and if you're lucky, you can spot them off shore between December and March. We have never seen them, but do make multiple visits during the winter every year hoping our luck will change.
Because of it's unique beauty, you would think this would be a particularly crowded spot. It's not. In fact, that is one of the reasons we love it so much. We've been here in all seasons - peak and off times - and rarely are there more than a few people at any given time. The location has something to do with it, I'm sure (Washington Oaks is actually in Palm Coast, about 20 minutes south of St. Augustine proper ), but I would still think that more people would make the drive. Or maybe since the gardens are so phenomenal they never make it to the beach. Not that we're complaining - we'd love to keep it to ourselves!
fort Matanzas national monument
To reach the fort itself you have to take a ferry across the Matanzas River - which is free, but you do have to get a pass at the Visitor Center. There is a pretty (small) rocky beach area down by the ferry dock, and a 1/2 mile long boardwalk nature trail that loops around the park. Located on a small barrier island, Fort Matanzas is historically interesting, and also has a wide variety of plant and animal life (like gopher tortoises) as well as some amazing views of the beautiful natural scenery surrounding the island. On this particular visit, Ellison and I didn't go to the fort (take a virtual tour) because the timing wasn't right, but we are definitely planning a return visit.
castillo de san marcos
So where do you spend time when you're in St. Augustine? Do you have any natural areas you would recommend?