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Reporting back to King Ferdinand empty-handed, he swore he’d located the mythical Fountain of Youth. Here, robber baron Henry Flagler, a Standard Oil founder turned land developer, built spectacular hotels for the billionaire class.
Legend has it that Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon swashbuckled ashore in 1513 looking for gold.
The perpetually spouting mineral spring still draws the hopeful here. This tiny Northeastern Florida town of only 14,000 — America’s oldest city — is very old and very new at the same time. Augustine Lighthouse (staugustinelighthouse.org) has kept a light on for sailors since 1874. (He also masterminded the cities of Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Miami, and Key West, plus the Florida East Coast Railway to connect them.) Unfurled in 1888, Flagler’s Alcazar Hotel kickstarted the snowbird phenom: Northerners wintering in Florida.
Try rich blue crab beignets, Georgia beef burger “the works,” or Frogmore stew. George St., stfrancisinn.com) is quiet, with full breakfast, a pool, and bikes.
“This town has always stood behind its creative people,” said Wendy Mandel Mc Daniel, a Queens-born artist who moved here in 1994. Many rooms have a balcony, fireplace, whirlpool tub; 9 to 9 a night.
“Henry Flagler supported a stable of artists-in-residence. Augustine is a little more than an hour’s drive from Jacksonville and Daytona Beach airports. - Downtown’s Spanish-Mediterranean castle is Casa Monica (95 Cordova St., casamonica.com), built in 1888 and soon owned by Henry Flagler.
Today, lots of us here are artists, and there’s a proud sense of non-conformity.” Her shrine-like mixed-media creation, “Tribute to Tibby,” mesmerized me at Amiro Art & Found (9C Aviles St., amiroartandfound.com). Jet Blue flies nonstop from JFK to Daytona from 0 roundtrip; American goes nonstop to Jacksonville from La Guardia from about 8; United flies nonstop to Jacksonville from Newark from around 8. It has a restaurant, cafe, martini lounge, spa, and pool with daybeds. Eat: - The Floridian (72 Spanish St., thefloridianstaug.com), resembling a designer surf shack, updates Southern comfort food with a seasonal farm-to-table approach and vegan options.
At ,500, it’s a collector’s piece; my budget was more in line with the eclectic shop’s subtly beaded, eco-friendly fish-leather wristlets by local artisan Lori Hammer ( to ). Popular: cheddar-veggie cornbread with blackened fish or tofu, lemon-sage fried chicken with carrot-beet slaw.
By the way, there’s a beach, endless and spotless, across a bridge from the historic district. - O’Steen’s Restaurant (205 Anastasia Blvd., osteensrestaurant.com) is the locals’ fried-shrimp dive: no reservations, no atmosphere, no cards, no-question dreamy seafood.