Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, St. Augustine, FL

One of the best and most interactive historical experiences you can have in St. Augustine is visiting Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. It’s the only existing 17th century military construction in the United States, and its oldest masonry fort. San Marcos is designed in the Bastion System, of 15th century Italian origin, angular and star shaped.

The most easily accessible natural resource to build the fort in Florida was coquina stone, light and porous. You would think that this wouldn’t be a great material to use for a fort, but it’s air pockets made it compressible and cannonballs were absorbed into the wall rather than shattering it.

Walking up on the walls there is an incredible view,

including the St. Augustine Lighthouse.

Inside there are many examples of 18th century Spanish cannons and mortars.

The fort successfully held through two sieges by the English in the 1700s. While the structure was steadfast, in Europe a treaty was signed during the Seven Years War passing Florida over to Britain in 1763 – in exchange for its other more strategic colonies of Cuba and Philippines back. You can walk into a replica British-era bunk.

Again, the fort would pass hands of which it remains today, and the United States would rename it Fort Marion. It would hold captive Native Americans during the Seminole Wars. Later during the Civil War Confederates took hold of the fort, but deemed the war would end quickly and never reach as far south as Florida. Artillery was sent to other tactical locations and the fort was all but abandoned when in 1862 Union forces arrived and maintained the area until the end of the war.

There is so much to learn through the interesting interactive informational plaques, walking in the rooms, through events, and in the visitors center. Visiting the fort is $10.00 and tickets are good for 7 days. Children 15 and under are free, as are America the Beautiful pass holders.

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Walking around Historic St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine is the kind of place you can do some easy McDonalds tourism in. You’ll find pirate museums, wax museums, the fountain of youth, fudge, and t-shirts all on one block! Don’t be turned off if that’s not your kind of thing. Fight through the crowds, there are some really interesting things to see and learn in this popular place.

Just walking down the streets within a half a mile range, find a free history lesson. Over 400 years old, St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in America. For over 200 years the city was a capital for Spanish Florida, it was the capital of British East Florida, and the capital of the Florida Territory of the United States. The Bridge of Lions crossing the Matanzas River leads you into the city, just beyond is the Atlantic Ocean.

+At the base of the bridge is Plaza de la Constitucion, the oldest public space in America is filled with stories. Find a statue of Juan Ponce de Leon – the European discoverer of Florida in 1513, who landed close to this very spot.

The Public Market Place was established in 1598, and for the first time a standard system of weights and measures was used to protect the consumer. The Government House from the 16th century was the governor’s residence for approximately 250 years under Spanish and British rule, and an American federal building then on after through the 1960s.

From 1573 when it was laid out by Spanish Royal Ordinances, through the 1960s, this plaza stood steadfast and did not loose its significance. Andrew Young led a march for civil rights at this spot in 1964, staying true to the preaching of MLK Jr. and abstaining from violence even when he was beaten down.

+Branching off from the plaza is Aviles Street with its marvelous architecture.

One building to note is the Segui Kirby Smith House – one of the 36 Spanish colonial houses still remaining in the city, from the late 1700s. It was the birthplace of a confederate general, Edmund Kirby Smith, who was the last to surrender. Now, the house is the St. Augustine Historical Society research library, open to the public for research on Florida history, the civil war, and the Kirby Smith family. Another noteworthy structure is the Ximenez-Fatio House which is one of the best preserved Spanish colonial dwellings, that shows life in the boarding house of Florida’s territorial and early statehood period. You can take a (paid) tour Tuesday-Saturday. You’ll want to wander down the side streets,

narrow alleyways all but deserted,

with some of the most picturesque entranceways.

+Henry Flagler, the lesser known name of Standard Oil Company, was a co-founder along with John Rockefeller. After spending an enjoyable winter in the city, he decided to improve upon the hotel and transportation systems. He brought railroad lines down and opened up Florida’s Atlantic coast for development. He built two luxury hotels the Ponce de Leon Hotel and Hotel Alcazar in the 1880s. They are known for being the first of their kind entirely constructed of poured concrete. Also, some of the first buildings wired for electricity. Today, the Ponce is a part of Flagler College. The Alcazar is the (paid) Lightner Museum filled with American Gilded Age pieces.

Local Tip: Driving in St. Augustine is hectic and parking is expensive. If you’re okay with walking and would rather not pay – about half a mile away from the main hubbub is a residential area with no parking restrictions. Try looking around Lemon Street.

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Watering Holes of Jacksonville, Florida

+Veterans United Craft Brewery, 8999 Western Way #104, Jacksonville, FL 32256

You’d never find it if you weren’t looking. You’ll almost feel like your GPS is taking you on a ride. But faithfully there, is some of the best beer brewed on site in Jacksonville.

I’m not in the military, but my dad was in the Navy. Whether you have a connection or not, everyone is welcomed in this comfortable atmosphere. A group of veterans formed the brewery and keep the motif alive with aptly named brews and décor of military memorabilia.

Fridays there is live music, there are board games such as battleships, people bring take out to eat over a beer, and it’s dog friendly.

The beers really are top notch, Jeff was buying Scout Dog from the grocery store of the rest of our stay and I was raving bout the Buzzin’ Bee. Maybe it’s because my dad was a Seabee, but really it’s probably that awesome honey aftertaste. The taproom is open Wednesday through Saturday and $7 tours on Saturday a include tasting glass and sample pours.

+Rain Dogs, 1045 Park St, Jacksonville, FL 32204

Riverside is a happening little neighborhood and this dive has one of the best atmospheres you could hope for in a bar. By definition (of the bar), a rain dog is a dog caught in the rain, with its whole trail washed away by the water so he can’t get back home. The art on the wall is equally as deep, dark, and fitting.

We came on a night with live music, the band was jamming with an instrument I’d never even seen before.

As if it couldn’t get any better, there is a Simpsons pinball machine.

A glass of red wine in hand, this is my happy place.

+Engine 15 Brewing Co, 1500 Beach Blvd #217, Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250

A popular brewery with two locations, one downtown and the other by the beach.

The lively atmosphere has indoor and outdoor seating, and is stacked with arcade games (no pinball!). Skimming the brews, you may hiccup when you read the name of one of their most population libations, the nut sack double brown ale’s tagline reads: give our nut sack a taste.

Don’t blush, it’s a great brew and all the other ones are very tame!

+Budweiser Brewery Experience, 111 Busch Dr, Jacksonville, FL 32218-5546

Since the 1960s, Bud has been brewing beer in Jacksonville, one of a dozen locations throughout the US. Grab your complimentary sample and take yourself on a free self guided brewery tour.

Learn about the brewing process which takes 30 days or more to produce one of the worlds most famous beers.

Delve into the story of the company, from its origins to prohibition, and even advertisements throughout the decades – those who aren’t interest in drinking might like to know the history of such a successful corporation. Guided tours, beer school, and a big gift shop are among the paid programs you can participate in.

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Ice Cream in Jacksonville, Florida

+Whit’s Frozen Custard, 1232 Beach Blvd, Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250

Not ice cream. I know this post is supposed to be about ice cream, but this is frozen custard and they are not the same thing. Frozen custard is creamier, thicker, and smoother than ice cream. It uses a higher butterfat content, it’s a slower process, and it’s served 10 degrees warmer than ice cream. It’s got a cult following and I’m drinking the kool aid. Whit’s is a franchise found at multiple locations in Florida and around the US. They have a standard chocolate, vanilla, and rotating flavor of the week. This week is Chocolate Covered Strawberry, next is an Almond Custard with Maraschino Cherry Halves. It can be a bit of an addiction to check out what’s coming next. When I went fate was on my side and my favorite flavor was there – Sea Salt Caramel. You can mix in toppings and paired with reeses cups this was an indulgent out of this world treat.

It hooked me on custard and Whit’s for life. You can use the custard in a banana split, milkshake, or malt.

+M Shack, 1012 Margaret St Jacksonville, FL 32204

Kind of ice cream. You may start to think I’m untrustworthy, but this is a milkshake…it has ice cream in it, so I guess it’s a compromise. Thick hand-spun shakes with flavors such as bananas foster, pecan pie, and oreo cheesecake, my mouth was watering. The only option for me though, was the marshamallow brulee. The flavor was so right on, like drinking a liquid marshmallow, and the texture was perfect! That toasted marshmallow on top was the icing on the cake, this is truly a legendary shake.

Jeff was tempted by the tale of the man at the register telling of a ‘shake wizard’ in the back who mixes incredible concoctions. To this very day we have no idea what he put into this magical creation – but it was epic. The portions are huge, even for a small, and affordably priced. There are multiple locations, but we went to the one in the Riverside Neighborhood and parking was very easy. We came solely for the shakes, but this place is also known for their burgers.

+Five Fx Ice Cream, 9802 Baymeadows Rd #6, Jacksonville, FL 32256

Ice cream! Pure and true. This is ice cream of the trendy variety. I had been seeing rolled ice cream on social media everywhere and Jacksonville is hip to the game. One of the fun elements of this place is you get to watch your ice cream made fresh.

It’s a friendly to those with lactose allergies because you can pick the kind of milk you want your ice cream made of. There are so many flavors to choose from, interesting ones including taro, thai tea, spice chai, lavender, cream cheese, red bean, lychee, and avocado. Along with toppings, your possibilities are virtually endless.

Loaded into a waffle cone, this sugar overload was incredible. Another trendy constituent offered is their Taiyaki fish with over a dozen flavor options – both sweet and savory variety.

Been there done that still looking for something trendier? Try a Korean style Patbingsu which is shaved ice with sweet toppings and red beans. The five F’s stand for fresh, fruits, fun treats, friendly, franchise. The first location opened in Jacksonville and the company uses only natural ingredients.

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Maple Street Biscuit Co in Jacksonville, Florida

What was your first concert? Britney Spears was mine. But why are we getting so personal? You’ll have to be open to visit Maple Street Biscuit Co, they are going to ask you a question like this or:

…Your favorite vacation spot?

…Your first model of car?

…Who do you admire most?

Instead of calling out a number or a persons name, it’s very funny to hear these responses when your food is ready. The franchise started in Jacksonville. I went to the Murray Hill location because it was near to where I was staying, but there are multiple locations in the city, and throughout the Southeast.

The BLT called to me, fresh and crisp on a fluffy biscuit, while Jeff went for the Ralphie.

If you can’t tell what’s underneath that perfect over easy egg, it’s a flaky biscuit with sausage gravy. It’s safe to say we were both very happy with our choices, the service, and the comfortable atmosphere for breakfast. However, the display case is devious at breakfast time. A side of breakfast dessert was inevitable, the iced cinnamon pecan biscuits were calling.

I love the combination of sweet and savory! If you walk down the block from this location, there is a beautiful mosaic wall that adds to the experience.

Parking was easy and I’d like to go back to try a fried chicken sandwich around lunch sometime!

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Safe Harbor Seafood Restaurant in Jacksonville, FL

Right on the waters edge you know the food is going to be fresh and with a line like this – you can bet your bottom dollar it’s going to be good.

Safe Harbor Seafood Restaurant [2510 2nd Ave N Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250] is the promise land in Jacksonville for seafood lovers. While you wait online someone may bring out a menu for you to look at. This is great, because when you get up to the counter you order there. Then someone will bring you your food when you sit down.

The atmosphere is casual, but classic on the partially open air deck – perfect at sunset. Meals are very aptly price for the nice location and the quality of the food. Food comes out piping hot and I was 100% satisfied with our plates. Blackened shrimp nachos were so juicy and perfectly cooked, the flavor just hit the spot.

The portion was very filling. The blackened fresh catch of the day was equally as pleasing – hot and tender flaky fish.

Watched the sun dip down into the horizon from the parking lot after a perfect meal.

Nothing better!

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Places to Play Pinball in Jacksonville, Florida

There are many dives, bars and restaurants, where you can find a stray pinball or two around Jacksonville. If you’re looking for a solid collection of machines these three locations are for you.

+Fernandina Beach Pinball Museum, 2106 Sadler Rd, Fernandina Beach, FL 32034

Almost thirty pinball machines in mint condition, this is the premiere spot to play the silverball in the Jacksonville Area in a very clean and friendly atmosphere. Rates are unlimited free play, all day for $14 or just for an hour at $10. Make sure you check the hours, as they are limited. Older classics and brand new machines like Game of Thrones and Ghostbusters.

Some of my favorites such as Tales from the Crypt and the Simpsons.

It’s interesting, but I’ve never seen a Space Jams machine outside of the Jacksonville, but they seem to be at a few different locations.

+Video Game Rescue, 2415 Blanding Blvd, Jacksonville, FL 32210

The collection of machines here is really nostalgic for those of us who grew up in the 90s, but great for anyone, including Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters,

Super Mario Bros, Street Fighter,

and another Space Jams!

There are other vintage arcade games like Pacman and this is also a video game store where you can purchase games to play at home. Open daily through the early evening.

+Solids and Stripes Billiards, 175 Blanding Blvd #4, Orange Park, FL 32073

A bar where you can play pool with a side of pinball.

The Addams Family is one of the most popular machines of all time, and I personally love the Sopranos because it’s a great machine and I enjoyed the show. What was really exciting for me was the Golden Eye pinball, because I’d never seen it until this bar!

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