Most of North Florida is only 19-250 feet (6-76 meters) above sea level so, when it rains for successive days, many trails are closed or are so mucky that they’re nearly impassible. At these times, I resort to an urban hike.
This week, I walked from Vilano Beach Town Center (115 Vilano Rd A, St. Augustine, FL) and looped the historic district of St. Augustine, a distance of roughly seven miles.
I parked at the northern periphery of Vilano Beach Town Center (as of this writing, free). The allotted spaces allow people to visit the quarter-mile Vilano Beach Nature Boardwalk, or access the pedestrian walkway along the Francis & Mary Ursina Bridge (part of A1A).
After parking at the Town Center, I crossed A1A and walked toward Francis & Mary Ursina Bridge. A pedestrian walkway edges the westbound lane of the bridge, while a bike lane edges the eastbound lane.
Although the bridge is 65-feet (20 meters) high, the slope is gently tapered and easy to walk.
As I entered St. Augustine on May Street, I crossed to the opposite side, so I could turn left at the roundabout onto San Marco Avenue (also part of A1A).
Various cafés, restaurants, and amusements are found throughout the St. Augustine historic district, so there are many opportunities to rest or explore. Be sure to budget for food, drink, and admissions however. This is a tourist town, and prices are on the high side.
When I reached Ripley’s Museum, I crossed the road to the Visitor Information Center. Here one can get a map of the area, rest in the AC for a bit, or use well-maintained restrooms.
Exiting toward the rear of the building, I continued on Cordova Street, turning left at the wax museum onto Orange. From here, I went to the Old City Gate, turning right onto St. George Street.
St. George Street is filled with shops, restaurants, and taverns. Buskers perform on side-streets. Here and there, public restrooms are available. Although there are benches to rest on, don’t disturb the bearded homeless man. He is a regular here and stacks his belongings next to him. I wonder if he sleeps during the day to stay awake and safer at night.
I often visit the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, where I take a few moments to meditate in the building’s serenity. Today I lit a candle for my mother (the requested candle donation is $4; entry to the cathedral is free).
Inside the cathedral, people pray at all hours. Remember to remove hats upon entering, keep voices low, and refrain from using the camera’s flash.
Leaving the cathedral, I turned left onto Cathedral Place, which parallels Plaza de la Constitución park. After crossing A1A to the Bridge of Lions, I turned left and continued on the waterside sidewalk, toward the historic fort, Castillo de San Marcos.
At the coastal edge of the fort there is a perimeter wall which people are allowed to walk. It’s advisable to watch one’s footing, since the stone is weather-worn and the water below is filled with stone projections. Be on the lookout for dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, and stingrays. Occasionally park rangers ask visitors to pause their journey so that the fort’s cannons may be fired.
The wall ends in a wooden steps and a short boardwalk. One can exit the fort by taking the wooden steps to the right, or enter the dry moat by taking the short boardwalk to the left. Today I headed toward the moat and continued until I saw a few tall steps in the fort’s exterior wall. These lead to a sandy path which ends at A1A.
Taking A1A back to May Street, I again crossed Francis and Mary Ursina Bridge, and took a moment to visit the Publix supermarket at Vilano Beach Town Center, where I picked up a few groceries.
NOTE: If one wanted to shorten this hike, parking is also available west of the bridge at Vilano Landing, which is a boat-launch area. Day parking is also available inside the city for $10-15 (be aware that prices fluctuate in an upward direction). A few free spots are available on the opposite side of the Bridge of Lions, but these fill quickly.