Forty miles north of Daytona Beach, US-1 passes through the heart of charismatic ST AUGUSTINE. With a densely packed city centre and an eminently walkable Mediterranean feel, it bucks the sprawling feel of much of Florida’s East Coast. The oldest permanent settlement in the US, with much from its early days still intact along its narrow streets, it also offers two alluring lengths of beach just across Matanzas Bay.
Though Ponce de León touched ground here in 1513, European settlement didn’t begin until half a century later, when Spain’s Pedro Menéndez de Avilés put ashore on St Augustine’s Day in 1565. The town developed into a major social and administrative centre, soon to be capital of east Florida. Subsequently, Tallahassee became the capital of a unified Florida, and St Augustine’s fortunes waned. Since then, expansion has largely bypassed the town – a fact inadvertently facilitating the restoration programme that has turned this quiet community into a fine historical showcase.