Continued from Region 6 Northeast Florida:
For those seeking simpler pleasures in the sun and sand, just minutes away is Jacksonville Beach. Here the Beaches Museum and History Park houses a restored 19th-century house used by the Florida East Coast Railroad Section Foreman, a 28-ton 1911steam locomotive and Beaches Chapel built in 1887. Kids will enjoy a different sort of fun sliding at Shipwreck Island Water Park or at Adventure Landing playing miniature golf, laser tag, hitting in the batting cage or riding a roller coaster.
Nearby, state parks offer abundant seaside educational and recreational activities. Visitors looking offshore might spot endangered Right Whales in the only known right-whale calving area. Jacksonville Beach hosts an annual Right Whale Festival every November.
To the north, Amelia Island provides a refreshing change of pace for RVers. On this small barrier island, visitors find blocks of old mansions, miles of beaches and lots of seafood. The island’s seaport village of Fernandina Beach showcases a collection of shops, fine restaurants and historic homes. Tours of the historic district are conducted from the Amelia Island Museum of History where a story-telling tradition makes it the first spoken history museum in Florida.
Explore the Civil War-era Fort Clinch, one of the most well-preserved 19th century forts in the country, at Fort Clinch State Park. In addition to the fort, the park offers swimming, picnicking, bicycling, beach combing and wildlife viewing. On the first weekend of each month, costumed interpreters perform re-enactments of 1864 life at the fort, including military drills and working in the infirmary, kitchen and carpenter shop. At sunset, watch for shrimp boats laden with the day’s catch as they return to the docks.
Families can explore the area’s colonial past at the Fort Caroline National Memorial, the first French colony in the present-day United States. Guided tours of the reconstructed 16th-century French fort explain the struggle between European colonial powers for control of Florida.
The fort is part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, along with Kingsley Plantation, a state-owned historic site. Visitors here can listen to the story of Zephaniah Kingsley, a plantation owner and slave trader, as they tour the restored antebellum plantation house and tabby slave quarters. The site also showcases the low land area’s natural beauty with spectacular views of barrier islands and savannahs and of the Theodore Roosevelt Area; 600 acres of hardwood forest, wetland and scrub vegetation.
Just south along the coast from Jacksonville, visitors escape to the past in St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest continuously occupied Europeanestablished settlement and port in the continental United States. Founded in 1565, 42 years before the English colonized Jamestown, St. Augustine has diligently preserved much of its rich heritage in the downtown historic district. Tour by horse-drawn carriage (something visitors have done since 1877) trolley, or on foot armed with tour maps. Visit the 17thcentury fort Castillo de San Marcos, the reconstructed Spanish Quarter, historic churches, and see colorful re-enactments of colonial days. St. George Street, a cobbled lane that bisects the St. Augustine historic district, offers shops, restaurants and several historic attractions.
Across Matanzas Bay, by way of the fabled Bridge of Lions, you’ll find yourself on Anastasia Island, home of the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum. Various tours are available including a ghost tour to explore the paranormal experiences of previous guests and staff in the keeper’s house.
After exploring St. Augustine’s amazing attractions, parents may need a drink from the Fountain of Youth, which fortunately is nearby. Commemorating Ponce de Leon’s 1513 landing in the area, the legendary fountain is located on a 25-acre landscaped archaeological park overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. Visitors can actually sip water from the famed spring of eternal youth.
Golfers won’t want to miss the World Golf Village, home of two championship golf courses and the World Golf Hall of Fame. The World Golf Village showcases golf’s rich heritage and growing popularity in a world-class resort setting and includes hotel accommodations and upscale shopping and dining.
In Flagler County, between St. Augustine and Daytona Beach, the Flagler Beach Pier & Boardwalk overlooks smooth sandy beaches and serves as a prime location for sunning or fishing. Known as the quiet side of Florida, the area offers spectacular natural beauty and charm, plus some of the best golf in the state. In Palm Coast, you’ll find a number of courses with interesting layouts designed by Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.
Ponte Vedra Beach is home to beautiful beaches (the area’s 40-foot sand dunes are among the highest in Florida), as well as world-class tennis and professional golf.
Inland, Clay County offers a taste of rural life in close proximity to Jacksonville’s enticements. Bordered by the St. Johns River to the east and Jacksonville to the north, Clay County encompasses Green Cove Springs, established around a warm mineral spring in 1854; Orange Park, originally created as a southern retreat and small farming community; Keystone Heights, named after the state of Pennsylvania; Penney Farms, where department store magnate J.C. Penney founded a retirement community in 1926; and Middleburg, an unincorporated settlement near Black Creek, a tributary of the St. Johns River.
In Putnam County, visitors can tour the Welaka National Fish Hatchery and Aquarium, Florida’s only warm-water fish hatchery used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to raise fish for stocking programs throughout the southeast. Instead of driving off the birds attracted by the ponds, the hatchery constructed a viewing tower for birdwatchers, who see bald eagles, ospreys, egrets, herons, anhingas, white ibises and wood storks. Nearby, the Welaka State Forest offers more birding through exploration of a mosaic of ecosystems, including wetlands, sandhills and bayheads. In addition to 12.7 miles of trails, the 2,287-acre forest includes an equestrian facility and training center.
The small town of Palatka rests along the banks of the St. Johns River. Although known for its bass fishing, there are plenty of other reasons to explore this back-road treasure, including historic Victorian-era homes (some are now bed and breakfast inns) and river cruising. A local highlight is Ravine Gardens State Park. A ravine created by water flowing thousands of years from the sandy ridges on the shore of the St. Johns River was transformed in 1933 into a dramatic garden by the federal Works Progress Administration. Much of the original landscaping still exists as formal gardens and an extensive trail system. Peak flowering period is azalea season, late January to April.