As you might know, I lived in St. Augustine, Florida while doing my undergrad at Flagler College and have so many good memories of my time there. From swimming in ocean in the mornings before class and hanging out at all of the cute cafés to riding my bike around the cobblestone streets and appreciating all of the historic architecture (in addition to all of the typical college experiences, too, of course), there was always something to appreciate.
But, I didn’t go back to visit St. Augustine for a really long time after graduating because the end of senior year was a weird time for me and for awhile, I felt really negative connotations with the town that I loved so much before. I finally went back for the first time last summer, three years (!!!) after graduation with my friend Ryan, who I had studied with and was back in Florida visiting from New Jersey. He admitted that he kind of had some of the same weird feelings being back, which made me feel so much better about the whole thing.
While it was weird seeing all the ways things had changed and all the old places where I had so many memories, it was a good way to get over the bad vibes. Since then, I had visited one other time but it was at night and rainy and wasn’t the most exciting. But, this past weekend, my friend Holly and I planned a day trip that I felt helped me to reclaim my old city as my own.
Holly grew up in North Carolina and only moved to Florida recently. She’d been wanting to spend some time in St. Augustine and I’ve become a pretty enthusiastic tour guide, so I was excited for the day. What made it even better was that she recently bought the same exact car as me, so it was like being a passenger in my own vehicle on the way up. Haha.
We started by getting donuts and driving up A1A along the beach to get there, which is one of my favorite drives. Sometimes when I had the time, I would take this route going back to school from my parents’ house in New Smyrna Beach in the evening. I always listened to Lana Del Rey on the drives for some reason (lol) and it was so magical. It’s an ocean view almost the entire way until you pass through some small, really Southern looking towns and then get into St. Augustine Beach.
Once we got into the beach side of town, we passed some of my old haunts like Café 11 (which had the best caprese sandwich and there were always dogs out on the patio), the beach outpost of Kookaburra Coffee, and the beach entry by the pier that was always my go-to.
Passing by the beach as we approached downtown, we passed the old office of the wedding planning company I worked for in school as well as the lighthouse and the touristy Alligator Farm, somewhere I’d never actually ended up visiting.
Crossing over the Bridge of Lions is always a kind of magical experience because you get the most amazing view of historic downtown as well as the portion of the St. John’s River that comes through town. Sometimes, you’ll get stopped if the drawbridge is up, but it’s fun because you can get out of the car and walk around. Didn’t happen to us today, but the view was perfect nonetheless.
So, we parked over on a street by my old dorm and walked up through campus so I could show her the amazing architecture and especially the courtyard which is one of my favorite places in town.
We walked around a little and stopped in this new self-serve tap room situation which reminded me of a scaled down version of a wine bar I love in Winter Park. We had some wine and pineapple cider, then walked uptown around where my former hairstylist’s salon is. I like the uptown area because it’s less touristy than much of downtown.
Our first stop was Juniper Market which is a super aesthetically pleasing coffee shop slash market slash art studio. It’s all white shiplap and there are tons of gorgeous paintings and paper goods created in house. There were some gorgeous postcards with painted magnolias and oranges that I’m very much coveting!
We went next door to Goldfinch, a boutique I loved exploring when I was in school. They have a really cute curated selection of chic, beachy bohemian dresses, bags, and jewelry. Next stop was the antique store across the street where I found a gorgeous pair of vintage earrings for $2! 😍
Next, we walked over to one of my all-time favorite restaurants in the world, The Floridian. I absolutely adored their original location which was right next door to my communications building and was sad to hear that they had moved but I ended up really adoring the new location. They were able to really retain and maybe even enhance the cozy, homey, Southern vibe.
What I love about The Floridian is how it celebrates Florida heritage in a way that’s authentic. There’s no Mickey Mouses or tacky neon palm trees. Instead, there are beautiful wooden antiques, the most stunning alligator painting (it might be charcoal), and a creative, well thought out menu that sources locally.
I got my go-to order, the Fried Green Tomato hoagie with side salad and sweet tea. My friend got a Fried Green Tomato BLT (with bacon jam instead of actual bacon) and a Garden Gimlet which was this really great herby cocktail.
After our early dinner, we went over to Ice Plant which is one of my favorites that I never visited enough when I lived in town. It’s this great bar inside a 1920s ice factory that serves a vintage inspired menu. I got my go-to Moscow Mule and we sat there for quite awhile talking about fun potential future plans and making friends with one of the bartenders who was a fellow Flagler graduate. He was definitely the kind of person who made me proud to have graduated from Flagler because was so intelligent and thoughtful about the issues we were discussing.
I took a couple photos while we were having drinks and sort of love them because they have an interesting vibe and look like they could’ve been taken in the 1920s, particularly the one at the bottom of this post. It really feels like it tells a story.
After drinks, we went over to the beach. My friend is from North Carolina but once came to St. Augustine for spring break and, coincidentally, one of the spots that meant a lot of her was the same pier that holds a place in a lot of my own memories.
So, we went over there and walked on the beach. It was getting dark and misty and I was wearing wellies, so it weirdly felt like being on a beach in England or something!
Last stop was ice-cream because how else would we end the day? We picked some up and then made the drive back home. It was super misty at that point so all of the fluorescent signs along the beach made it feel like we were in a film noir. Ultimately, it was such an inspiring day and made me feel really excited for the rest of the year!