36 Hours in St. Augustine

What started in 1893 as an improvised attraction where tourists waiting at a train stop paid to see locally captured gators, has evolved into one of the country’s oldest zoos: The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, which claims to be the only one that features all 24 crocodilian species. You can take a zip line over a lagoon habitat, and see an extraordinary array of exotic birds, reptiles and mammals. Save time to become acquainted with Maximo, a beast of a crocodile from Australia who is nearly 16 feet and 1,250 pounds. It took almost a year to convince the farm he grew up on — which raises crocodiles to make handbags — to agree to sell his lady friend, Sydney, but his mood improved considerably once they were reunited in their Florida habitat.

Treat yourself to an indulgent Southern brunch on the wraparound porch at Preserved Restaurant in the heart of the Lincolnville neighborhood. Set in a Victorian home once occupied by Thomas Jefferson’s great-granddaughter, Preserved is run by Brian Whittington, a James Beard-nominated chef who transformed a minimarket into one of the city’s best restaurants. The Mayport shrimp and grits, warm scones with jam, and roasted oysters are all outstanding. Expect to pay about $20 for brunch. History buffs should linger in the neighborhood, which was settled by freed slaves and played a significant role in the Civil Rights movement. The first stop (#101, 79 Bridge Street) on the ACCORD Freedom Trail walking/driving audio tour — described as “the first medical/dental office constructed in St. Augustine without racially segregated waiting rooms” — is just a block from the restaurant. (Dial 904-335-3002 and enter each stop number to hear commentary.)

Pick up a shark tooth identification guide at one of the many local shell shops and head to Vilano Beach. Anastasia State Park has softer sand and is a better spot for swimmers, but Vilano is a local favorite that’s ideal for surfing. When the tide is turning out, comb the shore for fossilized shark teeth. With a little patience, you’ll go home with the ultimate souvenir.

Opened in December 2018, the Embassy Suites St. Augustine Beach Oceanfront Resort is a comfortable resort on a lovely stretch of beach. Children will love the oceanfront pool, and there are plenty of recliners and fire pits, perfect for stargazing during the free nightly cocktail and hors d’oeuvre hour. Rates start at $169 for a double room.

In the Historic District, try the uniquely designed Collector Inn (from $189), built on a cluster of nine landmark buildings dating to 1790, or the Casa Monica (from $193), a luxury hotel in an extraordinary Moorish Revival style building built in 1888 by Franklin W. Smith, the owner of Villa Zorayda.

If you’re looking for a vacation rental, check for listings near the beaches, particularly in St. Augustine Beach and Vilano Beach, where rates start at $100 a night for no-frills cottages and go up from there, depending on size, proximity to the beach and season.

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