By Lisa Codianne Fowler
Birders, fishermen, nature enthusiasts and just plain fun-lovers will delight in the bounty of outdoor activities in St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and The Beaches. Here are some of the highlights to mix and match for a great itinerary on and around our sunny shores.
A visit to Anastasia State Park is a beautiful way to start the day and provides abundant opportunities for bird watching. Located just one and a half miles from downtown St. Augustine off State Scenic Highway A1A (Anastasia Blvd.), the park features five miles of wide beach bordered by sand dunes, and a lagoon surrounded by rich tidal marshes. Expect to see great blue heron, little blue heron, tri-colored heron and green heron. snowy and great egrets can also be spotted, as well as the white ibis, wood stork and roseate spoonbill. Along the shore you’ll see gulls, sandpipers, willets, terns, pelicans and sanderlings. Late morning presents raptors like the red-shouldered hawk, bald eagle and osprey. The marshes and sea meadows also boast a varied bird population as well as further back in the coastal hammock and along the campground roadside.
As you leave the park, keep your eyes peeled for the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park – it’s just across A1A. No need for binoculars at this rookery; close encounters are guaranteed. The birds build their nests just feet above the boardwalk, knowing the alligators below will protect them by discouraging dangerous tree-climbing predators such as raccoons, opossums and snakes. These birds show little fear of people and often perch in trees and shrubs at eye level. Look to the large live oaks to the north and east of the swamp for nesting great egrets, and in the treetops for wood storks. The lower elderberry bushes host snowy egrets, tri-colored herons, little blue herons and cattle egrets.
A Taste of Old Florida
Deciding on lunch is difficult; the streets of St. Augustine spill over with eclectic restaurants. Cap’s on the Water is further north, but offers dining in an Old Florida setting, away from the crowds, under the oak trees and on the Intracoastal Waterway. Head north on A1A for about five miles, turn left at the castle (3rd Street) and right on Myrtle. The restaurant blends New World elements with traditional Southern dishes like an authentic Florida gumbo of crawfish, crab, shrimp, okra, peppers, onion and garlic.
Fortified for Fishing
The Vilano Fishing Pier is just minutes north of St. Augustine on A1A in the quaint community of Vilano Beach. This local "best-kept secret" is an ideal location to land a big one. Try your luck from the pier, the jetties or the surf where fishing promises speckled trout, yellow-mouth trout, black drum, red bass, flounder, sheepshead, whiting, bluefish or pompano.
Fiddler’s Green is an old seafaring term for a sailor’s paradise, "where credit is good and there is always a lass (or lad), a glass and a song." It’s also the name of one the area’s top restaurants, smack on Vilano Beach. Local seafood caught daily is served in a warm, lodge-like ambience with panoramic views of the Atlantic, a natural way to end the day.