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Beyond St. George Street

03.10.09 11:35 AM

By Kara Chalmers

In St. Augustine's early days, St. George Street was the main street, and today the thoroughfare is still considered the heart of the city. Here, visitors find historic attractions and some of the restaurants, galleries, bakeries and shops for which the city is famous.

However, no trip to the Nation's Oldest City would be complete without time spent traversing some of the roads less traveled. St. George is just one of many enchanting streets that make up the city's historic downtown district.

Also, sticking just to St. George Street would mean missing out on the city's must-see attractions located outside the downtown core. For example, St. Augustine's two outlet shopping centers – the Prime Outlets and Premium Outlets – are a short drive west of downtown, just off Interstate 95.

To make sure you see all that's beyond St. George Street, follow the proposed route below.

Begin on narrow, brick-paved Charlotte Street, where it intersects with St. Francis Street, and take an informative tour of the Oldest House, located on a site occupied since the early 1600s.

Make your way north along the street, stopping at clothing stores and art galleries. Take a café au lait break at Dénoël French Pastry at 212 Charlotte Street, where Guy Dénoël makes fine French pastries, croissants and bread on the premises daily.

Once you reach Hypolita Street, take a quick detour west and pop in to Claude's Chocolate, where the chocolate confections come in such unique flavors as Fresh Ginger and Earl Gray Tea. If tea is your thing, check out the cool tea house and garden Spice-Topia, a bit farther west on Hypolita.

Where Charlotte Street ends, check out the charming, old, wooden structure that houses the Crucial Coffee Cafe. Walk north away from downtown, and you'll reach San Marco Avenue, an antiquer's heaven. The road is lined with antique shops and great restaurants such as Raintree Restaurant and Cortesse's Bistro and Flamingo Room. A sure bet for a wonderful, authentic French meal is Le Pavillon, an intimate restaurant offering delectable quiches, crepes and specialties like escargots de Bourgogne and rack of lamb.

San Marco Avenue is also where you'll find the serene Mission of Nombre de Dios, the site of America's first mission. A walking tour of the beautiful grounds will bring you by a 208-foot, stainless steel Great Cross, a church built in 1965, a bronze statue of Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales (celebrant of the first Mass here), as well as the small, Spanish-style chapel of Our Lady of La Leche.

Off San Marco Avenue, on Magnolia Avenue, is the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, where visitors can drink from the very spring that Ponce de Leon thought was the sought-after fountain of youth.

Heading back toward downtown, pick up Cordova Street at Orange Street. Lined with art galleries, quaint bed and breakfast inns and ornate Victorian houses, Cordova is also where you'll find the historic Tolomato Cemetery and the architecturally stunning Grace United Methodist Church. Check out the hemp organic clothing at Alter ECO, jewelry made by local artists at Mullet Beach Gallery, and clothing and accessories for your pet at Paradise Poochie.

In the mood to splurge for dinner? Try the five-course tasting menu at Opus 39 Restaurant & Food Gallery, where rotating art exhibits adorn the walls and diners can sample wines in a wine gallery. Nearby is the happening pub, Scarlett O'Hara's.

At the corner of King Street, you'll see Flagler College, housed in eye-catching buildings that used to be the luxury resort, the Ponce De Leon Hotel, built by Henry Flagler in 1888. Across the street is the Lightner Museum, also housed in a former luxury hotel called the Hotel Alcazar, and also built by Flagler in 1888. Besides its galleries of decorative art, the museum buildings house several antique shops. Walk west on King to find more art galleries, shops and the Zorayda Castle, a reproduction of the Alhambra, Spain's famous castle.

One thing's for sure: no matter which way you turn in St. Augustine, you're bound to find lovingly restored historic structures, one-of-a-kind shops, welcoming cafés, romantic restaurants and impressive art and cultural attractions.

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