St. Augustine: Adventures By Land, Sea and Air

Matanzas Inlet, courtesy of the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra, & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau

Matanzas Inlet, courtesy of the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra, & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau

In St. Augustine, Fla., anyone on a quest for the Fountain of Youth will find outdoor adventures certain to get their juices flowing.

Known as America’s first city, St. Augustine is hip-deep in history, including being the site of the legendary Fountain of Youth “discovered” by Ponce de Leon in the early 1500s and the 17th century Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest surviving European fort in the continental United States.

But the attractions that make this Floridian gem even more special have been around for thousands of years –– the sparkling Mantanzas Bay, the murky shallows of the Guana River, and the dunes of Anastasia State Park, home to a rare species of nocturnal mouse.

St. Augustine is an ideal spot to keep Father Time at bay, walking through the charming historic district, jogging on wide beaches and swimming in the Atlantic.

Led by Rachel Austin of Kayak Adventures, I took part in a group that paddled through Guana’s prehistoric wetlands, snaking through stands of lush reeds and gasping at the sight of a baby alligator swishing through the water.

The 2,000-acre preserve is home to more than 260 species of birds. Paddling near a clearing, we spied a flock of ravishing roseate spoonbills, long-legged birds with preternaturally beautiful pink feathers that make flamingos look drab by comparison.

If you want to soar like a bird –– and get your heart pounding –– try parasailing over Mantanza Bay. Our guides, Smile High Parasail, offered three different heights ranging from “Wussy Flight” (700 feet) to “Cloud Observer” (1,400 feet).

I screamed all the way up, paused to look down at the boat, which now looked like a bobbing toy in a vast sea, and then started screaming again.

Boy, did that feel great!

Castillo de San Marcos, courtesy of St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra, & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau

Castillo de San Marcos, courtesy of St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra, & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau

At Marineland, a small dolphin conservancy, I swam with dolphins –– actually, it was more like wading –– and enjoyed an exhilarating, hands-on experience with these amazing mammals.

I also saw dolphins in the wild during an intimate boat excursion  led by  St. Augustine Eco Tours. Zach McKenna, the outfit’s owner and chief tour guide, is a passionate environmentalist who is studying the bottlenose dolphin. The water also offers a glorious view of the St. Augustine skyline.

After all that adventure, a gal needs refreshment.

For my money, the most authentic taste of old Florida is Cap’s on the Water, located on the Intracoastal Waterway between Ponte Vedra and St. Augustine.

Try to find a table on the deck overlooking the water, where you will be cooled by bountiful beer and vintage electric fans mounted in live oaks.

There’s an oyster bar and the menu is heavy on local seafood. In addition to shrimp, crab and fresh fish, I opted for the gator tail with a citrus dipping sauce. Served in chunks, it’s a mite chewy and doesn’t really taste like chicken.

But in the spirit of adventure, why not give it a try?