St. Augustine

We found a new favorite place in Florida. Well. . . another favorite place 🙂 We were told St. Augustine was a great city and now we know why. In fact, we ended up spending a few extra days than originally planned.

Our first stay was at the Bryn Mawr Ocean Resort, just south of St. Augustine and right on Butler Beach. The park was not our favorite, but it didn’t matter because we were right on the beach and were able to take advantage of some beautiful weather. The beaches were wide and uncrowded and perfect for running and biking.

In between beach time, we went into St. Augustine and wandered the nation’s oldest city. Founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers, the city went from Spanish to British and back to Spanish control until it was ceded to the United States in 1819. The history here is deeper than we could have ever explored during our time. The Old Town Trolley tour we took gave us a good overview.

We also enjoyed wandering the old, narrow streets, one day in the sunshine and another day in the rain. Even Bob and Mia enjoyed window shopping and Bob got a new shirt!

After a few days at Bryn Mawr we moved up the beach to the incredible Anastasia State Park. We were lucky to score three days here, where people book campsites up to a year in advance. With a robust turtle habitat and the occasional snake next to the campsite, we settled in for a fun weekend. The park’s beach goes on forever and we got lucky with three gloriously sunny days which we spent on the beach, in the park, and at the campsite.

On Saturday mornings, adjacent to the park, the Old City Farmers Market is held. We walked to the market without thinking that if we bought fresh stuff we’d have to carry it back. It was only about a mile walk, and Steve just added it to his workout records!

The centerpiece of St. Augustine is the impressive Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. The oldest masonry fort in the United States dates back to 1672 when it was first constructed by the Spanish out of the local coquina quarried from the land that is now Anastasia State Park. The seashell-based stone has stood the test of time.

We wandered the grounds from bottom to top and absorbed the history as best we could. Through two Spanish periods, a British occupation, the Civil War, and now hoards of tourists, the fort has protected St. Augustine from invaders, served as a military prison for members of various Native American tribes, and been a popular tourist destination. 

Just when we thought our time in St. Augustine was coming to an end, we learned of a vacancy at the North Beach Camp Resort where we could stay for two more days. The site, the premier site in the campground, put us facing the Intercoastal Waterway with views of fishing boats, dolphins, and great sunsets. It was only two days, but we enjoyed a little extra time in this beautiful area.

We’re now heading north and have more adventures planned. Stay tuned!

HipCamp, the Suwannee, and World Class Horses

Over the past ten days we’ve been bopping around north central Florida. There’ve been no major adventures, but we have had some fun. Here’s a quick recap.

After leaving Cape Canaveral we headed inland to just outside of Ocala. We tried out a new booking option called Hipcamp, which is an app that’s kind of like Airbnb for camping. Landowners list their spaces, specify the services they can offer, and travelers like us can book right on the app.

We were lucky to find The Homestead in Anthony, FL and the ranch of Allison Cumley. Allison welcomes RVers with full-hookups located on her 25 acre ranch that is home to cows, horses, a donkey, and numerous dogs. We loved the beautiful setting which gave us an opportunity to explore the nearby Ocala countryside. We hit the farmer’s markets but spent most of the time indoors to stay away from the rain. 

The rain persisted off and on throughout our next stop: Suwannee River State Park. Another great Florida state park, this campground was a beautiful setting right along the river, and we enjoyed a few nice hikes.

We learned that we were a little too far north to avoid the terrible winter weather that hit most of the country last week. In fact, we experienced tornado warnings one night and received about two inches of rain on another night. It was pretty chilly too! Still we were grateful to be out of the path of the worst weather unlike our family in the midwest. 

From Suwannee River we headed south again to the cute little town of Williston. We were really impressed with Williston Crossing RV Resort and the very warm welcome we received. Upon arrival we were invited to join others around the roaring fire that night. Everyday the resort has activities and events (pickle ball, poker, live music, etc.) and the people were super friendly. 

As the weather turned beautiful again we were able to get out and enjoy some new adventures. For me the biggest highlight was exploring the newly opened World Equestrian Center in Ocala. Having grown up showing horses, this place was like Disneyland.

Billed as the largest equestrian complex in the United States, the over 300-acre facility has 22 outdoor arenas, four climate-controlled indoor arenas, and a world-class stadium, all surrounded by barns with over 2000 stalls, a hotel, an RV resort, and more to features to come. 

We walked the barns, checked out the RV resort for a future stay, and watched several jumping competitions in various arenas. We then returned on Saturday evening to see the $75,000 Grand Prix, a show jumping competition with the world’s top horses and riders. This was Olympic-level competition and beyond impressive.

Also while in Williston we checked out the Cedar Lake Woods and Gardens, a botanical garden set in a 110 year old abandoned lime quarry. Dr. Raymond Webber purchased the property for his own private use, initially intending to use the quarry as a fishing pond.  

He dug out what was left behind, including old mining remnants, and began to transform the old, polluted, swampy quarry. Now, almost 30 years later it is a multi-level botanical garden with three waterfalls, gazebos, and lots of koi fish.

We visited Cedar Lake at the same time they were hosting a large radio-controlled truck “rally.” Having never seen anything like this, it was just as fascinating as the gardens. Ten custom courses had been carved into the woods, and “drivers” guided their custom trucks through natural obstacles like roots, rocks, and embankments.

We also walked through their expo where vendors were selling components, parts, and accessories for every kind of radio-controlled vehicle you could imagine. We particularly liked the radio-controlled Winnebago motorhome, which Steve said looked like one his brother Brian had back in the day. Only you had to push Brian’s Winnebago!

Despite some wet weather, we enjoyed our time in the north central part of Florida and will likely return, but probably a bit later in the season next time.

The Space Coast

Jetty Park Campground is THE place to stay when visiting Florida’s Space Coast. The park is run by Port Canaveral and is set right on the tip of the cape, with direct access to sweeping white sand beaches, views of the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and its launch pads, and the now quiet cruise ship terminal. We could have stayed for weeks but it’s tough to get in here. We’ve already booked for next year and could only get five days at that.

Jetty Park is a perfect jumping off point for exploring the Space Coast, named for the presence of NASA’s activities throughout the area. Our primary goal was to fully explore KSC and we are confident that we did it!

Over three days we strolled the theme park-like complex watching movies, viewing exhibits, and riding simulators. We learned about the history of the US space program, saw the Atlantis Space Shuttle, reviewed our progress on Mars exploration, and tried out various space capsules.

Due to the pandemic, the bus tours of the launch areas and vehicle assembly building were not available. We are already planning a return trip in late 2021 with hopes of experiencing these highlights at that time. 

While visiting the Space Coast we also explored the Canaveral National Seashore. The land was preserved shortly after NASA began launching rockets in the area. It provides a buffer for the Space Center activities, but creates a quiet, natural environment for birds, alligators, and nudists. Yes, two of the beach areas are designated as clothing-free, and no, we didn’t participate and no, there are no photos.

During our picnic stop Bob met his first armadillo. He was ready to take the little armored guy on, but the armadillo didn’t have any interest in taking on a toy poodle.  

Within the boundaries of the National Seashore there are also a few short hikes that feature the history of the area. In particular, we did the short Castle Windy Trail which led us across the peninsula to the Mosquito Lagoon where we found a couple fly fishing amidst curious dolphins. No good photos of this but it was cool.

Another trail led us to the top of ancient Indian midden, which is a huge pile of shells, seven stories tall, created by some of the original inhabitants of the area. We followed the boardwalk up, up, up which ended with sweeping views of the lagoon to the west and Atlantic ocean to the east. 

One thing we try to do as often as possible is give blood. It’s our way of giving to the community, and we also get helpful health information in the process. We visited the bloodmobile in Cape Canaveral and as a result learned we are both negative for the COVID-19 antibodies.

We are extra careful with masks and hand sanitizer, avoiding large crowds as much as possible. It’s reassuring, but sometimes surprising to know we’ve avoided infection with all of our travels. While we stayed very busy on the Space Coast, we barely scratched the surface and look forward to returning.